The perfect murder: Slaying credit in a recession market

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By Jack Han,
17 April 2009

Before Kevin Rudd’s confession last month that Australia was yet to see the devil’s side of the global economic downturn, Australians had already begun to cut back their credit card spending.

Credit card purchases totalled $17 billion in February, down by almost $4 billion from December 2008. Consumers know the dangers of debt in a recession, but burying credit card debt is easier said than done when you’re worrying about your next pay check. Total balances on credit cards were $45.42b in February, the highest ever recorded. 120 thousand new accounts were also opened in the month, increasing credit card accounts in Australia to 14.42 million, another record.  

So why are new cards flying into the market, when the sensible thing to do is to cut the plastic? The simple answer is spending - with the stimulus package handing out Tax Bonuses and banks upping credit limits to $124b in February, it’s easy to forget the burden of debt. However, consumers also forget that credit spending is one of the biggest sources of revenue for banks, and they’ll be putting up a hard fight to let go of the cash flow in a recession.

Since the beginning of rate cuts in September 2008, lending rates for home loans have fallen from 9.6%, to 5.85% in March. Credit cards however, have only decreased from 19.9% to 18.05%. Low rate cards have barely budged, dropping 0.4% to 12.55% in March. Less than half of the RBA cash rate cuts have been passed on to credit card consumers.

Now is the time to start planning for your credit card funeral and budget for debt-free days ahead. Start today by making a lump sum payment to cut down as much debt as possible. A recent survey by St George Bank found that 35% of Australians are planning to use stimulus payments from the government to reduce credit card and personal debts.

Some choose to transfer their balances on to a new card, which will allow them to pay it off at a lower rate during the introductory period. Others consolidate it into cheaper rate loans such as their mortgage, so that they can pay it off comfortably over a long term.

The average credit card transaction was worth $151.63 in 2008. When you budget, consider what your typical spend is, and try to give yourself lower limits so that you shop less frequently with credit. Treat spending as digging into your hard earned savings, and realise that credit is shopping with cash that you don’t have. When you know how long it will take you to pay off the debt, mark a credit card death date on your calendar, and switch to a convenient Visa debit card.

Clever Aussies are preparing for harsher times by pushing off the debt weight. Don’t let yourself sink in the recession. Start planning today and you’ll be attending your credit card funeral with all smiles.

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