Avoid the interest-free rip off

Avoid the interest free rip off

by Andrew Willink
2 July 2008

Buy now, pay later – there’s no shortage of interest-free offers from stores selling everything from designer furniture to home theatre packages. While it’s tempting to take home the very latest gizmo and worry about paying for it later, be aware of how another big debt could affect your finances after the novelty wears off and real life kicks back in.

Like any financial product, store finance, as it is known, is great if you play by the rules and pay it off before the promotional date expires. The sting in the tail is the hefty interest charge at the end of the term. Rates approaching 30% are incentive enough to pay out the loan early. However, events that come out of the blue always have the potential to cause your finances to hit speed bumps on the road to timely repayment. Paying nearly 30% interest on an outstanding amount after the end of the special offer negates any price saving you made have made on the item in the first place.

In an ideal world, an interest-free deal paid off before the expiry date is hard to beat. You simply pay the original ticket price of the item at the store and you have extra time to pay it off. However, it’s when good intentions go astray that the lender (usually quite separate from the retail store) makes money. Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario of buying furniture or a home theatre package worth $10,000 using store finance of 18 months interest free or a personal loan at 10% over three years.

By using a personal loan, the regular monthly repayment of $322 sees the $10,000 debt completely paid out after three years for a total cost of $11,616.

Using store finance of 18-months interest-free but paying only $5,000 during the interest-free period will result in the remaining $5,000 accruing just under 30% interest. After a further 18 months paying off what’s owed, you will very nearly catch up to the personal loan total, diminishing the savings benefit you signed up for in the first place.

Worse is to come though, in the form of not paying anything during the first 18-month interest-free period. Not only will your monthly repayments double to $691 for the next 18 months, but you will pay a total of $12,449 when the loan reaches maturity. That’s over $800 more than the personal loan.

There’s no doubt interest-free store finance is excellent if used properly. If not, things can easily unravel. A personal loan can sometimes be seen as a tortoise-and-hare approach but if you like to be in full control of your finances and don’t want any surprises derailing your debt elimination plans, a personal loan is the safest way to go.

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Learn more about personal loans

Can you refinance a $5000 personal loan?

Much like home loans, many personal loans can be refinanced. This is where you replace your current personal loan with another personal loan, often from another lender and at a lower interest rate. Switching personal loans may let you enjoy more affordable repayments, or useful features and benefits.

If you have a $5000 personal loan as well as other debts, you may be able to use a debt consolidations personal loan to combine these debts into one, potentially saving you money and simplifying your repayments.

What is a bad credit personal loan?

A bad credit personal loan is a personal loan designed for somebody with a bad credit history. This type of personal loan has higher interest rates than regular personal loans as well as higher fees.

How much can you borrow with a bad credit personal loan?

Borrowers who take out bad credit personal loans don’t just pay higher interest rates than on regular personal loans, they also get loaned less money. Each lender has its own policies and loan limits, but you’ll find it hard to get approved for a bad credit personal loan above $50,000.

What is the average interest rate on personal loans for single parents?

Like other types of personal loans, the average interest rate for personal loans for single parents changes regularly, as lenders add, remove, and vary their loan offers. The interest rate you’ll receive may depend on a range of different factors, including your loan amount, loan term, security, income, and credit score.

Should I get a fixed or variable personal loan?

Fixed personal loans keep your interest rate the same for the full loan term, while interest rates on variable personal loans may be raised or lowered during your loan term.

A fixed rate personal loan keeps your repayments consistent, which can help keep your budgeting consistent. You won't have to worry about higher repayments if your rates were to rise. However, on a fixed loan you’ll also potentially miss out on more affordable repayments if variable rates were to fall.

Can I repay a $3000 personal loan early?

If you receive a financial windfall (e.g. tax refund, inheritance, bonus), using some of this money to make extra repayments onto your personal loan or medium amount loan could help reduce the total interest you’re charged on your loan, or help clear your debt ahead of schedule.

Check your loan’s terms and conditions before paying extra onto your loan, as some lenders charge fees for making extra repayments, or early exit fees for clearing your debt ahead of the agreed term.

What is a personal loan?

A personal loan sits somewhere between a home loan and a credit card loan. Unlike with a credit card, you need to sign a formal contract to access a personal loan. However, the process is easier and faster than taking out a mortgage.

Loan sizes typically range from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, while loan terms usually run from one to five years. Personal loans are generally used to consolidate debts, pay emergency bills or fund one-off expenses like holidays.

What do credit scores have to do with personal loan interest rates?

There is a strong link between credit scores and personal loan interest rates because many lenders use credit scores to help decide what interest rates to offer to potential borrowers.

If you have a higher credit score, lenders will probably classify you as a lower-risk borrower. That means they’ll be keen to win your business, so they may offer you a lower interest rate if you apply for a personal loan.

If you have a lower credit score, lenders will probably classify you as a higher-risk borrower. That means they might be concerned about you defaulting on the loan and costing them money. As a result, they might protect themselves by charging you a higher interest rate.

Are there any interest-free emergency loans?

The No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) allows low-income borrowers to take out no-interest loans for up to $1500 to purchase essential goods and services.

There are also similar low-interest loan schemes available to borrowers in financial hardship who are having a tough time getting finance approved.

How long are $3000 loans?

Medium amount loans can be repaid between 16 days and 2 years. Many personal loans have terms between 1 year and 5 years, though some are as short as 6 months while others last for 10 years.

Generally, the shorter a loan’s term, the more expensive your regular repayments may be, but the less total interest you’ll pay. Loans with longer terms mean more affordable repayments, but more interest charges over the full term.

What are the pros and cons of debt consolidation?

In some instances, debt consolidation can help borrowers reduce their repayments or simplify them. For example, someone might take out a $7,000 personal loan at an interest rate of 8 per cent so they can repay an existing $4,000 personal loan at 10 per cent and a $3,000 credit card loan at 20 per cent.

However, debt consolidation can backfire if the borrower spends the extra money instead of using it to repay the new loan.

Is it hard to improve your credit score?

It can be hard to improve your credit score, as it usually requires sacrifice and discipline, but hard doesn’t necessarily mean complicated. Some simple ways you can give your credit score a boost include closing extra credit cards, reducing your credit card limit, pay off any loans and make loan repayments on time.

As a general rule, the lower your credit score, the more remedies you can apply and the greater the scope for improvement.

Can I apply for a quick loan online?

While some lenders will require you to provide paperwork in person, many lenders will allow you to make an application for quick personal loan online. You’ll still need to provide information on your identity, income, and loan purpose in most cases.

Can I get a fast loan if I’m unemployed or on Centrelink?

Even if a lender has no credit checks, they will usually still need to confirm you can afford to repay a fast loan on your income before they’ll approve your application.

If 50% or more of your income comes from Centrelink payments, you may find it more difficult to have a fast loan application approved. Consider checking with the lender before applying to confirm if they lend to people on Centrelink.