Credit card lenders roll out interest-free deals ahead of the silly season

Credit card lenders roll out interest-free deals ahead of the silly season

Credit card companies are ramping up their interest-free credit card deals in a bid to woo new customers ahead of the busy Christmas spending season. 

RateCity.com.au research shows there are currently 15 zero per cent deals on the market, offering interest-free periods of up to 15 months – up from 14 months last year. 

Purchase cards are credit cards where you don’t pay any interest on the balance until the interest-free period ends. But instead of getting the 45- or 55-days interest free, they offer up to 15 months with no interest. 

RateCity.com.au research shows Coles currently offers the longest interest-free period at 15 months on all of its cards. 

St George, BankSA, Bank of Melbourne and Virgin Money have the second longest offers, with 14 months’ interest-free on selected cards. 

Sally Tindall, research director at RateCity.com.au, said that while interest-free purchase cards can be tempting, they should be approached with caution. 

“Being able to shop for Christmas and not have to pay a cent of interest until February 2020 is an incredibly attractive proposition…until you have to pay it back,” she said. 

“Lenders are counting on customers to go silly in the holiday season and put more purchases on the card than they can afford to repay, leaving them with a costly debt hangover. And the interest rates on these cards can often carry a pretty big sting. 

“If you do take out one of these cards, set yourself a strict limit and set up a fool-proof plan to pay every cent back, within the interest-free period. 

“Lastly, make sure you cancel the old card. There’s no point having two credit cards; that means double the annual fees and potentially double the debt by the time the Christmas tree is back in its box.” 

How to beat the banks using an interest-free purchase card

  • Set your own credit limit (don’t just accept the maximum limit the lender gives you);
  • Plan to pay the card off in chunks throughout the interest free period, so you’re not hit with a big bill at the end;
  • Cancel your old credit card before taking out a new one;
  • If you’re not planning on keeping the card for more than a year, cancel it before the second annual fee is due.

Tips for looking for an interest-free purchase card

  • Find a card with at least six months’ interest-free to give you time to pay off your debt;
  • Look for a card with a low annual fee;
  • Try and find a card with a low ongoing interest rate. Be aware that some cards revert to the cash advance rate.

Some of the longest interest-free purchase card deals

Company Product name Interest rates Annual fee
Coles No Annual Fee Mastercard 0% for 15 months, then 19.99% $0 
BankSA, Bank of Melbourne, St.George Bank Amplify Classic (Amplify Rewards) 0% for 14 months, then 19.49% $79 
Virgin Money Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card 0% for 14 months, then 20.74% $129 
Bankwest Breeze Classic 0% for 13 months, then 12.99% $79 
NAB Low Rate Platinum 0% for 9 months, then 13.99% $100 

Data is accurate as at 27 November, 2018. Cards are ranked by the longest interest-free period, then by the lowest annual fee.

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Learn more about credit cards

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 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 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.

How to get a free credit card

There's no such thing as a free lunch. All credit cards come with associated costs when used to make purchases, even if it’s simply the cost of making repayments.

However, many lenders offer incentives for customers such as a $0 annual fee or 0 per cent interest on purchases during an introductory period. Additionally, paying off your balance in full during an interest-free period means you could only have to pay back the cost of purchases without interest. You could also be eligible for additional rewards such as cashback during that time, saving you more money.

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.

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. 

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.

What is a credit card?

A credit card is a payment method which lets you pay for goods and services without using your own money. It’s essentially a short-term loan which lets you borrow the bank’s money to pay for things which you can pay back – potentially with interest – at a later date. Credit cards can also be used to withdraw money from an ATM, which is known as a cash advance. Because you’re borrowing money from a bank, credit cards charge you interest on the money you use (unless you repay the entire debt during the interest-free period). When you apply for a credit card, the bank gives you a credit limit which sets the maximum amount you can borrow using your card. Credit cards are one of the most popular methods of payments and can be a convenient way of paying for goods and services in store, online and all around the globe.

Current Interest Rate

This is the current interest rate on your existing credit card.

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. 

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 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.

Which credit card has the highest annual percentage rate?

The credit card market changes all the time, so the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate is also liable to change.

Keep in mind that credit card interest rates are expressed as a yearly rate, or annual percentage rate (APR). A low APR is generally good but also consider:

  • There can be different APR's for each feature of the card (e.g. purchases may have an APR of 14 per cent, while cash advances on same card could have an APR of 17 per cent.
  • Credit cards with a variable rate can change throughout the year, affecting your APR, so check the full details.
  • If you pay your balance in full every month, having the lowest APR is not as important as the other fees associated with the card. However, if you carry a balance from month to month, then you want the lowest APR possible.

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.