Yes, you can secure a credit card without employment, but you might need to prove you can responsibly repay the debt through savings, assets or a good credit history.
Being unemployed, regardless of the circumstances, will affect your financial opportunities and the amount of consumer choice you have. Banks assess credit card applications through your income, assets and liabilities.
The way banks view ‘income’ is broader than just traditional employment. NAB, for example, offers various ways to verify income beyond a salary. This includes various types of employment, overtime, commission or bonuses, business or self-employment revenue, Australian government allowances, child support, rental income, superannuation and income from assets.
What counts as income when you apply for a credit card?
If you don’t have a job, you can use:
- Rental income
- Investment dividends
- Self-funded retirement income
- Centrelink payments and government pensions
- Maintenance payments.
To strengthen your chance of credit card approval if you don’t currently have a salary, make sure you provide the most up-to-date, accurate documents.
Credit card options for unemployed
With no income
If you’re unemployed, you’re best off starting with a no-frills credit card — low fees, a small credit limit and no rewards points scheme. Use the card responsibly to build your credit score. Look for options with low fees or no fees, extended interest-free periods or even zero-interest cards. Provide documents clarifying other forms of income (investments, rental income or Centrelink) to prove you can pay back the debt.
If you’re on Centrelink, you can still apply for a credit card. While having a salary or business income is better for banks, they do still treat Centrelink payments as income.
With JobSeeker, the maximum you’ll receive is $749.20 every fortnight if you’re single and don’t have children. That’s still under $20,000 per year, which alone might disqualify you from certain credit cards, such as the Westpac Low Rate. This card requires a minimum income of $30,000 per year. Aim to provide proof of additional income sources.
Investment income — real estate, stocks or super
Just like Centrelink payments, there isn’t a specific type of credit card that’s best for income from investments such as dividends, rental income or superannuation. Stick with a simple card with a low credit limit that you can confidently manage. Look at the Big Four, as well as the smaller banks, for the best credit card product for you.
The frequency of income matters, but what banks really care about is your total annual earnings. If you run a business or work as a freelancer, they’ll want to see your most recent bank statements and tax return. You might want to explore if a business credit card is better for you.
What to consider if you apply for a credit card while unemployed
Credit cards are unique in offering a revolving, neverending line of credit. Unlike a loan, which has an end date, the credit grows as you pay down the debt. For those who are unemployed, this is something to be wary of. Be careful about using your credit card to help pay for your everyday living expenses while in between jobs.
If you do apply for a credit card and you’re unemployed, consider one that offers an interest-free period (12-18 months), a fair fee structure, and a manageable limit. Make an intentional plan for when you’ll use it and for what transactions. Where people get caught with credit cards is unconscious spending. Be honest with yourself and what you can handle.
Alternatives to getting a credit card
You always have options beyond getting your own credit card. You could:
- Become an authorised cardholder on a family member’s credit card
- Look into personal loans (which will have an end date and typically a lower interest rate)
- Hold off until you get a job or additional source of income
- Borrow money from a family member or friend
- Before you apply, get a copy of your credit report and work on increasing your score to improve your chances.
If possible, avoid buy now, pay later schemes, short-term loans and any offers that seem too good to be true. Improving your personal finances is a marathon — not a sprint. Talk to a few banks about your situation and see how they can help you. Banks serve all types of customers every day, many whom are just like you. Tell them what you need and see who can help you best.
Frequently asked questions about getting a credit card while being unemployed
The unemployed consumer who is between jobs but has savings and a strong credit history is different from an individual with no income and a poor score. However, having bad credit (below average) doesn’t automatically disqualify you from securing a credit card. You’ll likely start with a small credit limit of $300 to $1,000. For example, many financial institutions offer beginner credit cards, such as student and low-rate cards, with $300 and $500 limits.