Finance Your Budget While cash rates fall credit card holders are paying more

While cash rates fall credit card holders are paying more

ANZ rate cuts.
Credit cards are getting costlier despite record-low official rates. Photo: Getty
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Credit card debt holders have not benefited from the collapse in official interest rates in recent years and are actually paying higher interest margins now than they were 10 years ago.

Figures sourced from research group Canstar show that the average interest rate on credit cards is now sitting at 16.98 per cent while the Reserve Bank of Australia’s cash rate is stuck at a record low of 1.5 per cent.

Three years ago, in January 2014, the average credit card rate was actually marginally lower, at 16.88 per cent. And that is despite the cash rate being 2.5 per cent back then.

Go back 10 years to the start of 2007 and the average credit card rate was lower, at 15.24. But remarkably, back then the cash rate was a whopping 6.75 per cent and a few months later 7.25 per cent.

Credit card interest rates. Source: Canstar
Credit card interest rates. Source: Canstar

The figure the banks look at is the margin they make on credit cards above the cash rate. Back in January 2007 it was only 8.49 per cent. Three years ago it was 14.38 per cent and now, despite the record low rates, it is a whacking 15.42 per cent.

As the above chart shows, even the margins on low rate credit cards have been widening against the cash rate over the last year. While the banks don’t release full details of credit card business, the higher rate cards have more members and those with debt have larger licks of it.

The ANZ hit the headlines in recent days with its decision to cut interest rates on its lowest rate credit cards by 2 per centage points, but its big bank competitors won’t be matching its move.

Spokespeople for the Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac said their banks had not “made announcements,” meaning they had no plans to follow suit.

And despite ANZ’s unexpected move, Erin Turner, campaigns manager for consumer group Choice, says there are better deals elsewhere. “If you’ve got credit card debt with the big four banks, you’re paying too much.”

That reality is starkly portrayed by the following charts. Here are the top 10 credit card deals on the market, according to data provided by research house Canstar.

Given that the ANZ 2 per cent cut brings its lowest cost credit card down to 11.49 per cent, there is still far better value elsewhere. The institutions listed above are all mutual banks or credit unions who don’t have dividend demands from shareholders so they can give borrowers a better deal.

Canstar’s financial services chief, Steve Mickenbecker, said it is vital for consumers to have the right credit card. For people who regularly pay down balances within the standard 55 day interest free period, a higher rate card offering rewards points might be appropriate.

However “it can be a trap for people who roll over their debt regularly. They can be beguiled by rewards but if they leave debt on the cards the rewards are swallowed up by higher interest rates”.

That category represents a significant number of people as research from Choice shows that 58 per cent of people pay off balances every month and 10 per cent almost every month. That leaves 32 per cent of card holders with 5.3 million card accounts, with significant balances that are racking up interest on a regular basis.

If you’re locked into credit card debt “you’d be better off looking at a personal loan with lower rates. If you get caught in a debt spiral it will affect every part of your life,” Ms Turner said.

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