Total credit card debt in Australia currently stands at around $40.57 billion, based on the total balance of all cards, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia. This is down considerably from the peak of more than $52 billion in 2018.
However, of the overall balance, interest is being charged on less than half (45% or $18.5 billion). This means the majority of credit card spending in Australia is repaid within the card's interest-free period.
There are 13.4 million credit card accounts open in Australia. However, there are around 17.7 million actual cards on issue, meaning for around a third of accounts there is more than one cardholder, on average.
Based on Australia's adult population, there are around 0.69 credit card accounts per person, or 1.4 per household.
According to the RBA, around 92% of all credit card purchases in Australia are made using a Visa or Mastercard credit card. The remainder are made using American Express credit cards or cards issued by Diners Club.
But as the trend chart below shows, the number of credit card accounts (including charge cards) has fallen by around 20% since early 2018 when it was at its peak.
The reason for this drop is the higher levels of mortgage borrowing we've seen since 2018, according to Money.com.au's credit card expert, Brad Kelly. Borrowers are dropping credit cards to free up their borrowing capacity.
"Because of the way the consumer lending works, your credit card impacts the amount you can borrow with a mortgage. The bank will say, if you get rid of that $10,000 credit card limit, we can give you another $100,000 on your mortgage. That can be the difference between getting a house and not.
So people cancel the extra cards they don't need and reduce the limits on the ones they do."
Brad Kelly, Money.com.au's credit card expert
The average credit card debt in Australia is $3,019 per account based on monthly balance. However, for balances being charged interest, the average is much lower at $1,375 per account.
The average credit limit is $9,497, meaning the typical credit cardholder spends well within their limit. In fact, the gap between the average credit card limit and the average monthly balance has grown over time.
Average credit card debt levels have also come down from their peaks, but they have stayed relatively stable compared to the number of credit card accounts.
As we've seen already, there are far fewer cards in circulation and they are also carrying less debt overall. However, that is not to say that overall credit card usage in Australia has fallen. The opposite is true in fact.
Credit card usage in Australia has never been higher. Following a relatively brief lull during the COVID-19 pandemic, spending has surged to almost $35 billion per month. That's almost 20% higher than it was pre pandemic.
Transaction volumes have also increased significantly. In fact, they have more than doubled in the last 10 years – from around 10 monthly transactions per credit card on average in 2023, to more than 22 monthly transactions today.
This has caused the average transaction value to drop too, from around $140 in 2013, to the current level of around $113 for an average transaction.
Kelly explained this is because the way people spend money has fundamentally changed.
"People are now prepared to put a cup of coffee on their credit card and other little bits and pieces, because no one wants to carry cash. That's why you get these massive transaction volumes," he said.
However, he added that as overseas travel continues to increase following the pandemic, the average transaction amount will likely rise again.
The average overseas credit card transaction is higher at $173, than domestic purchases at $111, although overseas transactions make up just over 3% of the total value of all credit card spending.
Australian credit card users who use their card for an overseas purchase will on average be charged a currency conversion fee of 2.58% according to Money.com.au analysis. However, there are plenty of credit cards with no international fees.
As for people using their credit card to access cash (e.g. at an ATM), not surprisingly this has been falling steadily and is now back around the level it was in 1996.
|Credit card||Debit card|
Number of accounts
Cards in circulation
Total monthly spend
Average monthly spend per card
Total number of transactions per month
Average monthly transactions per account
Average transaction value
While Australians now carry less credit card debt on average than they have in the past, it can still be a significant problem for some. Compared to other forms of credit, credit cards are relatively easy to access (e.g you may be offered one when you shop in a department store or book a flight). They also have comparatively high rates of interest and fees.
According to RBA data, the average credit card interest rate is 17.92% p.a., compared to 7.70% p.a. for a fixed term loan (e.g. personal loan). The average credit card annual fee is around $135, based on a market analysis by Money.com.au.
According to Australia's largest lender, Commbank, 0.55% of its credit card accounts have fallen behind on their repayments. This is a relatively small portion of customers, but if expended to the whole population of credit card accounts, that would mean almost 75,000 Australians in arrears on their credit card debt.
Our credit card expert Brad Kelly explained there are two key things those struggling with credit card debt can consider.
"The number one thing to do is to call your bank and say you need hardship support. They'll put you through to a special team who will help you. Banks are very effective at doing this because they don't want the bad debt.
"This can be anything from suspending payments, reducing payments, reducing interest, doing all sorts of stuff.
"Keep in mind that there is an impact on your credit file if you get hardship support. But before you get into real trouble, you call the hardship support line and they have to, by law, help you."
"Number two, consider refinanceing the debt to a personal loan or another credit card with a long-term zero interest offer.
"The latter is known as a balance transfer and can be very effective, provided you don't use the new card while you're paying it off. That can be difficult, but if you cut up the card or whatever you need to do to avoid using it, that's the best way forward."