Credit card hangover: how to pay off your holiday debt

Credit card hangover: how to pay off your holiday debt

Credit cards can seriously come in handy in the holiday season, particularly when it comes to buying decorations, presents and food for visiting family members. However, if you find yourself struggling with a debt hangover come January, there are steps you can take to get your finances back under control.

The latest credit card statistics show that Aussies have slashed national credit card debt levels to $19.71 billion in October – the first time levels have been under $20 billion in almost 16 years.

However, the rate at which we’re paying off debt slowed. This may be a sign of what is to come as the data catches up to Christmas spending figures.

The good news is that if your January credit card statement is higher than expected, or if you’re unsure how to pay it off, you’re not alone.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re struggling with your holiday debt.

Identify your window of opportunity

Some credit cards may require you to pay off your statement balance in full immediately upon receiving a bill. However, many offer cardholders a handy window of opportunity – also known as interest-free days – to pay down your card debt without accruing interest.

Once you’ve got your holiday credit card bill:

  • Identify how many interest free days you have. This may be on your card statement, or you may want to double check online or speak to your card issuer directly. The most common number of days is usually around 44-55 but can be higher or lower.
  • Identify the card purchase rate. You want to know exactly how much an outstanding bill is going to cost you if you’re unable to pay it off in full during the interest-free window. This will help for your budgeting.

Keep in mind that if you have any credit card fees, such as annual fees, monthly fees or late payment fees, these may factor into your January bill.

Work off your debt

Now you know just how many days you have to pay down your debt before accruing interest, you can work on the plan. Even if you don’t have any interest free days, these steps may be able to help you get on top of your card debt.

  • Make a budget and stick to it

It’s obvious, but it’s the most important part of paying off any debt. Go through your finances with a fine-tooth comb. Take stock of your income, how much you save each month, regular expenses (like bills and rent/mortgage payments) as well as other expenses, such as memberships, subscription services and dinners out. Now, consider ways you can reduce these expenses and put more of your income towards your credit card debt. Even cutting down from two to one coffee a day alone may save you $192 in 55 days.

  • Sell your belongings

While it may not feel that glamorous, selling your belongings is a tried-and-true way to make some much-needed cash. Online platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree make this process easier than ever before. You may even have a few Christmas presents you’re not keen on (sorry Aunt Judy) that could be better served in someone else’s hands, with their cash in your wallet.

  • Consider a balance transfer card

If you’ve taken stock of your interest free days and your purchase rate, and you know you won’t be able to pay off your debt for some time, you may want to consider if a balance transfer card could help you. These handy credit cards allow a cardholder to transfer the balance of one card to a new one, typically with a large interest-free window. You may be offered a balance transfer deal of a few months or even two or more years, depending on the card issuer. Keep in mind these come with their own risks and fees, so do your due diligence before applying.

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Learn more about credit cards

What is a balance transfer credit card?

A balance transfer credit card lets you transfer your debt balance from one credit card to another. A balance transfer credit card generally has a 0 per cent interest rate for a set period of time. When you roll your debt balance over to a new credit card, you’ll be able to take advantage of the interest-free period to pay your credit card debt off faster without accruing additional interest charges. If your application is approved, the provider will pay out your old credit card and transfer your debt balance over to the new card. 

How to pay a credit card from another bank

Paying or transferring debt from one lender to the other is called a balance transfer. This involves transferring part or all of the debt from a credit card with one lender to a credit card with another. As part of the process, your new lender will pay out the old lender, so that you now owe the same amount of money but to a new institution.

Many credit card providers offer an interest-free period on balance transfers to help new applicants better handle their debt. During this period, cardholders are not required to pay interest on the debt they brought over from the other card. This can be a great opportunity for consumers to pay off credit card debt with no interest. There are often fees associated with balance transfers; normally, these are a percentage of the amount transferred.

So make sure you read the terms and conditions of the card before transferring any debt across.

How to get rid of credit card debt

  1. Calculate your debt. Credit card calculators make it easy to determine the repayments required to chip away at your debt in the shortest timeframe possible for your budget.
  2. Repayment plans. Take some time to formulate a credit repayment plan. Consider increasing your income, scaling back your lifestyle or refinancing.
  3. Talk to your credit provider. If you’re still struggling with your debt, give your credit provider a call. You may be able to come to a new arrangement.

How do you use credit cards?

A credit card can be an easy way to make purchases online, in person or over the phone. When used properly, a credit card can even help you manage your cash flow. But before applying for a credit card, it’s good to know how they work. A credit card is essentially a personal line of credit which lets you buy things and pay for them later. As a card holder, you’ll be given a credit limit and (potentially) charged interest on the money the bank lends you. At the end of each billing period, the bank will send you a statement which shows your outstanding balance and the minimum amount you need to pay back. If you don’t pay back the full balance amount, the bank will begin charging you interest.

How to pay a credit card

There are a few ways to pay a credit card bill. These include:

  • BPAY - allows you to safely make credit card payments online.
  • Direct debits - set up an automatic payment from your bank account to pay your credit card bill each month. You can choose how much you want to pay of your credit card bill when you set up the auto payments.
  • In a branch.
  • Via your credit card provider's app.

How is credit card interest charged?

Your credit card will be charged interest when you don’t pay off the balance on your credit card. Your card provider or bank charges you the individual interest rate that is associated with your card, which is usually between 10 and 20 per cent. 

The interest will be added onto your bill each month or billing period if you don’t pay off the balance, unless you are in an interest-free period.

You will be charged interest on anything that hasn’t been paid for inside the interest-free period. Usually you will receive a notice on your bill or statement saying you will be charged interest so you have some form of notice before you’re charged.

How do you use a credit card?

Credit cards are a quick and convenient way to pay for items in store, online or over the phone. You can use a credit card as a cashless way to pay for goods or services, both locally and overseas. You can also use a credit card to make a cash advance, which gives you the flexibility to withdraw cash from your credit card account. Because a credit card uses the bank’s funds instead of your own, you will be charged interest on the money you spend – unless you pay off the entire debt within the interest-free period. If you pay the minimum monthly repayment, you will be charged interest. There are many different credit card options on the market, all offering different interest rates and reward options.

Can I transfer money from my American Express credit card to my bank account?

If you’re an American Express credit card customer, you may not be able to transfer money from your credit card to your bank account. However, you may be eligible for cash advances, which involves withdrawing money through an ATM. 

To qualify for a cash advance, you’ll likely have to enrol for American Express Membership Rewards. Consider checking your online credit card account to see if you can withdraw a cash advance and, if so, the fees and charges you’ll incur for this transaction. 

You should remember that cash advances are different from balance transfers, which were available with some American Express credit cards earlier. Balance transfers allow customers to consolidate debt from high-interest credit cards to a credit card offering a lower interest rate. If you only recently applied for an American Express credit card, balance transfers may not be available irrespective of the card you own. 

What should I do if my ANZ credit card has expired?

Your ANZ credit card is considered expired only after the last day of the month and year marked on your card. For instance, if your card’s expiry date reads 03/22, it is valid until 31 March 2022 and expires on 1 April 2022. Typically, you should have received a new credit card by that date, and you won’t have to request a new card. 

Once you get the new card, you should remember to switch any automatic payments you have - such as a utility or mobile phone bill - from your expired credit card to your new credit card. Equally, if you are using CardPay Direct to repay your ANZ credit card debt, you may need to update the credit card account details for that service as well. 

In case the new card doesn’t arrive by the expiry date of your current credit card, you can call ANZ on 13 22 73 to find out the reason and if you need to request an expedited card. Please note that if you were planning to close your credit card account or request a credit card upgrade, you may need to call ANZ at least before the 25th of the month your current credit card expires in, as that’s when they may send you the new credit card.

How does credit card interest work?

Generally, when we talk about credit card interest, we mean the purchase interest rate, which is the interest charged on purchases you make with your credit card.

If you don’t pay your full balance each month (or even if you pay the minimum amount), you are charged interest on all the outstanding transactions and the remaining balance. However, interest is also charged on cash advances, balance transfers, special rate offers and, in some cases, even the fees charged by the company.

The interest rate can vary, depending on the credit card. Some have an interest-free period, otherwise you start paying interest from the day you make a purchase or from the day your monthly statement is issued. So avoid interest by paying the full amount promptly.

How do I apply for a BOQ credit card limit increase?

If you’re an existing BOQ customer, you can request a BOQ credit card limit increase over a phone call. However, you should remember that owning and using a credit card is a matter of financial responsibility, so it might be worth thinking this decision through. 

When requesting a credit card limit increase, you’ll need to be just as responsible in terms of how much you earn and can set aside to repay the outstanding card balance. A credit card company may approve a credit limit increase only if you can show that you have either the income or the disposable income, which is the amount you have left after all expenses have been paid out.

For this purpose, you may need to submit your latest income documents and bank statements for an increase. You may want to estimate how much you usually have left after deducting your expenses, and then use this amount to try and convince the credit card company. Also, you may prefer to pay off the card balance in full each month and thus avoid paying interest on the card, helping you back up any claims of financial responsibility, as well. 

Remember that you may not be able to apply for a credit card limit increase beyond any limitations on the type of card you own. For instance, if you own a card whose ceiling is $10,000, and your current limit is $5,000, you won't likely be able to apply for a $10,000 credit card limit increase.

How to calculate credit card interest

Credit card interest can quickly turn a manageable balance into unmovable debt. So being able to understand how interest rates translate into dollars is an important skill to acquire.

The common mistake people make is focusing on the credit card’s annual percentage rate (APR), which often sits between 15 and 20 per cent. While the APR does provide a rough idea of how much interest you’ll pay, it’s not entirely accurate.

This is because you actually accrue interest on your balance daily, not annually. So, you need to work out your daily periodic rate (DPR). To do this, divide your card’s APR by the number of days in a year (e.g. 16.9 per cent divided by 365, or 0.05 per cent). You can then apply this figure to the daily balance on your credit card.

Can a pensioner get a credit card?

It is possible to get a credit card as a pensioner. There are some factors to keep in mind, including:

  • Annual income. Look for credit cards with minimum annual income requirements you can meet. 
  • Annual fees. If high fees are a concern for you, opt for a card with a low or $0 annual fee. 
  • Interest rate. Make sure you won’t have any nasty surprises on your credit card bill. Compare cards with a low interest rates to minimise risk.

Should I get a credit card?

Once you've compared credit card interest rates and deals and found the right card for you, the actual process of getting a credit card is quite straightforward. You can apply for a credit card online, over the phone or in person at a bank branch.