ANZ customers fighting to have late payment fees of up to $35 reimbursed were dealt a unexpected and bitter blow today when the High Court ruled in favour of the bank.
The six-year saga sought to restore a range of fees, including dishonour, late payment and over the limit fees, to hundreds of thousands of customers which litigators labelled "unfair" and "poorly disclosed".
While ANZ customers involved in the class action will miss out on back payments, the cost of the six year case will be worn by class action firm IMF Bentham.
In a statement to the ASX, ANZ's group executive for Australia Fred Ohlsson said: "Today's decision by Australia's highest court brings to an end a lengthy and expensive litigation funded by IMF Bentham which we have long held is without merit".
The firm leading the class action on behalf of customers, Maurice Blackburn, said the onus is now on the Government and regulators to ensure banks don’t see the ruling as a green light to raise fees.
“Many of the late payment fees charged have been reduced, but we are concerned in light of today’s decision that the banks now have a license to hike those fees back up,” said head of class actions Andrew Watson said in a statement.
With the final attempt to recoup some of those past fees rejected, the key questions for credit card customers now include ‘what fees do I have to watch for’ and ‘how can I avoid them?’
Fees common, but vary significantly
RateCity analysis shows the average fee for late payments and over-the-limit penalties is a whopping $18.04. Earlier this year it was revealed Australian households collectively pay $4.3 billion a year in avoidable bank fees, with late payment fees a top offender.
The good news is there are dozens of credit card providers who charge no late payment fees and a handful who charge a moderate $5.
Here are some tips for customers who want a fee-free relationship with their credit card provider.
Switch to a no-fee account
For customers who want to avoid unnecessary fees, there are dozens of products on the market that charge no annual fee and no late payment fees, while others charge up to $40 in late payment and over limit fees. Calculate how much you are spending on total fees each year and if it’s more than 1 per cent of your annual spend, consider moving to a competitor.
Repay on time
The simplest way to avoid interest charges or fees is to pay off your balance by the due date. Set a calendar reminder each month and stick to it.
Only use fee-free ATMs
Many lenders charge fees in the vicinity of $2-$3 to withdraw cash from their ATM network. For someone making withdrawals twice a week, that could amount to $24 a month. Avoid any ATM that charges you.