As of January 2020, there were 14.6 million credit cards being used in Australia. Overall, the total amount of debt accruing interest on those cards came to around $29 billion. Good for card providers making money off those interest payments, but obviously not so good for cardholders paying it out.
So what happens to all that debt now? With so many Aussies losing their jobs or being stood down due to the coronavirus, their ability to cover the cost of everyday living – never mind pay down outstanding credit card balances – will become a challenge. For some, they will already have balances owing on their credit cards, with no way to pay it off. For others, they may be using their cards to get by now as they wait for government assistance or other income to come in.
Where do they stand exactly? Is the spiral of debt for these cardholders simply inevitable? While help may not be currently offered across the board, the good news is there are some card providers now stepping in to offer assistance to those who find themselves in financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus. So, what can you expect as a cardholder as these uncertain times unfold?
In this post, we’re going to look at the various measures each of the big four banks are taking, to then cover what’s on offer at many of the smaller card providers, including international and challenger banks. From there, we’ll go over some important questions you may have regarding applying for a credit card during the coronavirus crisis, whether it’s a good idea or not, and what you can do if you find yourself in financial strife.
Last week, both NAB and CommBank announced their intentions to help cardholders doing it tough due to coronavirus. CommBank said it would refund both late fees and interest payments for cardholders who were unable to pay their minimum payment in March.
In an interview with the AFR, CommBank’s executive retail banking services Angus Sullivan said, “This support is focused on customers who are finding it difficult to meet their current commitments before further government stimulus arrives in April and May.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg applauded this move, and called on other banks to follow CommBank’s lead to provide fee waivers and other assistance to cardholders struggling due to the coronavirus economic downturn.
“Following discussions with the CBA, we welcome their announcement to automatically refund late fees and interest for the month of March for their credit card customers,” Mr Frydenberg said. “I now look forward to hearing from other banks to hear what relief they can provide to their customers at this time.”
NAB was listening, it seemed. The following day, it announced it would waive the late payment fee on all its credit cards for at least the next three months. Not only that, from April 27, NAB said it would lower the minimum monthly repayment threshold for all of its credit card customers over the next three months to either $5 or 0.5% of the closing balance, whichever is larger.
In addition to that, NAB lowered the standard purchase rate on its NAB Low Rate Card by 100 basis points. Which means, from April 27, the rate on that card will be 12.99% p.a. for both new and existing cardholders.
In a statement, NAB Chief Customer Experience Officer, Rachel Slade said, “We recognised that for some customers meeting financial obligations may be difficult at this time. Where possible we strongly encourage customers to reduce their debts as much as they can to limit interest payments over the long term.”
And what of Westpac and ANZ? While both are offering relief to those hit hard financially by coronavirus, they continue to focus on business banking and home loan customers rather than credit cardholders.
On radio, ANZ boss Shayne Elliott said the bank was looking into the possibility of putting measures in place to assist cardholders, but home owners remained their priority.
“Just to give you the numbers at ANZ, we’ve got almost $300 billion of home loans and our total credit card book, including personal loans, is about $7 billion,” Mr Elliott said. “What we don’t want to do is encourage people to take on even more credit. If we make it too cheap and people keep running up debt, that’s not the right thing to do. People shouldn’t be living their lives using their credit cards to buy groceries.”
While some card providers are obviously offering more assistance than others, the main message seems to be: pay down your debt – and don’t create more. How do you do that exactly? We’ll cover that in our FAQs section later.
On to more pressing matters. You’re in trouble now. You don’t think you can afford to pay your credit card bill. What happens if you miss the payment? While it may vary according to the card provider in question, ordinarily, the following may happen.
|You may be charged a late payment fee. Depending on the card provider, this fee may range from $9 to $35, and will be applied to your balance. |
You’ll be charged interest. Missing a payment means you will be charged interest on all transactions made during the statement period. You will also be charged interest on any late payment fees.
You won’t get any interest free days. Similar to when you don’t pay your balance in full, when you miss a payment you don’t benefit from any interest free days going forward. That means, not only will your current balance be accruing interest, any new transactions will also start accruing interest from the day they are made.
Your rewards points may be affected. Card providers typically freeze points earning on their rewards cards when cardholders are in arrears. In some cases, membership to the rewards program may also be cancelled, with earned points lost if the payment remains unpaid for a certain period of time.
Your credit may take a hit. Changes to credit reporting back in 2019 mean that credit reports now include cardholder monthly repayment history for the previous two years. When you miss a payment, this is recorded on your credit file. Depending on how late the payment is, this could cause your credit score to drop making it more difficult to get approved for credit in the future.
You may receive a default notice. Payments over $150 that remain overdue for 60 days or more are classed as ‘defaults’. If your missed payment defaults, you will receive an official notification from your card provider and a listing on your credit report. This major black mark will remain on your credit report for up to five years.
You may have to deal with debt collectors. If the payment remains unpaid for more than 60 days, your card provider may pass on your debt to a collection agency.
Obviously, you want to avoid those consequences wherever possible – and, while you may not believe it, card providers do as well. Understanding that many cardholders here in Australia are struggling with their repayments, card providers are putting in place temporary measures that should help to relieve some of the financial pressure felt by those affected by the coronavirus.
Want to know what you can expect from your card provider? Let’s take a look, starting with the Big Four.
For cardholders who were unable to pay their minimum repayment in March, CommBank will automatically refund their late payment fees and interest (including interest on purchases, cash advances, balance transfers and SurePay plans). CommBank says it will process refunds as soon as possible in April, with the adjustment displayed on each cardholder’s April statement.
And ongoing? CommBank says it will continue to monitor the impact of coronavirus on credit card customers, and will make a decision accordingly. To stay updated, check out CommBank’s regularly updated Coronavirus FAQs page. This includes contact details cardholders can use if they need further assistance.
NAB introduced a number of measures to help its cardholders. First up, it reduced its minimum monthly payment, meaning the minimum cardholders will have to pay will be either $5 or 0.5% of their closing balance (whichever is greater). This will take effect from April 27, and will apply for at least three months.
NAB has also stated it will waive its late payment fee for at least the next three months, starting from April 3. This will be applied automatically, so cardholders don’t need to do anything. The bank does state that cardholders should still pay their minimum monthly payment to ensure they can continue to use their card.
Lastly, NAB reduced the purchase rate on the NAB Low Rate Card. From 27 April, the rate for new and existing cardholders will be 12.99% p.a. The change applies indefinitely.
For cardholders who are unable to pay their minimum payments, or who need additional support, NAB is offering Hardship Assistance. To apply, cardholders can submit a request for support online or call NAB’s Customer Care team on 1300 683 106. Long wait times should be expected.
For more, check out NAB’s dedicated coronavirus Customer Support page for credit card customers.
ANZ advises cardholders worried about their credit card debt and their ability to make repayments to contact the bank. If you’re an ANZ cardholder, you can request a call back to talk to ANZ about financial hardship assistance.
Similar to ANZ, Westpac advises its cardholders to apply online for hardship assistance if they are worried about making their minimum repayments. If you are a Westpac cardholder in need of help, you can apply for hardship assistance online by filling out a secure application form on the Westpac website.
Westpac also has a dedicated support page providing details of support options offered to customers financially affected by coronavirus.
So, what about the contenders and internationals? Let’s take a look at what some of the other credit card providers in Australia are offering to cardholders in need.
On its coronavirus support page, American Express doesn’t offer any information about financial hardship options for cardholders here in Australia. However, it’s expected that the financial giant would offer assistance on a case-by-case basis. If you’re worried about making your repayments, contact the Customer CARE team on 1300 660 562. Long wait times are to be expected.
Bank of Melbourne
According to the Bank of Melbourne Disaster Relief page, affected credit card customers may apply to defer their repayments for up to 90 days. Those customers who are experiencing severe hardship may also be offered a halt on all interest accrual on unsecured credit products for a period of up to three months. To apply, call the Bank of Melbourne customer helpline on 1800 600 266 or visit a branch.
BankSA is another bank that is currently focussing its support on home loan customers. However, if you are a credit card customer in financial hardship due to coronavirus, you can fill out a request for hardship form online and nominate your BankSA credit card account as one that needs support. For more, visit the COVID-19 Customer Support page.
While it may offer support for home loan customers and business banking customers financially affected by coronavirus, Bankwest’s dedicated coronavirus support page doesn’t specifically mention assistance for credit card customers.
However, the bank does say it’s assessing each situation individually, so Bankwest cardholders with concerns over meeting minimum repayments should contact the bank via email at [email protected], or by calling Payment Solutions on 1300 787 144 or Financial Assistance on 1300 769 173.
Bendigo Bank currently has a financial assistance package in place, which focuses on home loan, personal loan and term deposit customers. However, on its coronavirus information page, it does say, “If you are worried about your finances it’s important that you contact us as soon as possible. The earlier you contact us the more assistance we will be able to provide.” You can request assistance here.
BOQ is currently offering access to Fast Track Hardship Assistance, through which impacted customers can urgently access a range of financial relief measures. While its page does not specifically mention credit card customers, if you are in need of hardship assistance, you can call BOQ’s COVID-19 customer hotline on 1800 079 866, or visit a branch.
Citi credit cardholders experiencing financial hardship can access assistance based on their individual circumstances. This may include the opportunity to vary the amount and frequency of repayments. Like most card providers, Citi says it is experiencing high call volumes, so customers are advised to make contact via email at [email protected]. More info can be found here.
HSBC is currently allowing credit card customers to defer their repayments by up to six months, with a review after the first three months. Cardholders may also apply for temporary credit limit increase if needed.
To apply online, download and complete the Statement of Financial Position Form, then email it to [email protected] Or, to find out more, call the HSBC financial hardship team on 1300 555 988 or visit the bank’s Guidance Page.
ING cardholders can apply for a ‘payment pause’ on their credit card payments over a period of three to six months. During this payment pause, credit card repayments are not required, but the card will be inactive, meaning cardholders will no longer be able to use their card.
Interest and fees will also continue to accrue, so at the end of the payment pause, the total balance will be higher than it was before the payment pause began. However, ING will then convert the balance to an installment plan, which cardholders pay off at a variable rate of 9.99% p.a. Once the installment plan is paid off, all card functions will be reinstated.
As an alternative, cardholders may reduce their repayments to the minimum monthly repayment, allowing them to continue to use their card as needed.
If you want to talk to ING about either of these options, or anything else, you can contact the bank on 133 464, available 24/7. For more, visit the ING Coronavirus Update page.
Latitude credit cardholders – such as those who have a 28 Degrees Mastercard – can access the card provider’s coronavirus support package if they are financially affected by the crisis. Assistance includes reduced monthly payments and reduced interest. To apply, complete the online form, and you will hear back from Latitude within seven days to finalise the arrangement.
For more, visit the provider’s Hardship Support page.
As of March 20, personal credit cardholders at Macquarie may defer their repayments for up to six months if they are experiencing financial difficulty. There’s not too much information provided that specifically talks about payment pauses on credit card payments, as this feature is typically offered by Macquarie to home loan customers.
If you want to find out more, check out the Payment Pause FAQs page, or call 1800 674 922. High call volumes have been noted by Macquarie, so an alternative could be to visit the Coronavirus Support Hub. You can complete a Payment Pause Request form here.
ME has a specific COVID-19 support package for home loan, personal loan and credit card customers. If you are a credit cardholder, you may pause your repayments for up to six months. Alternatively, you can seek general financial hardship support here. To find out more, visit ME’s coronavirus information page.
With a range of hardship assistance packages available for personal and business customers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, St.George is currently offering options such as reducing or deferring payments in the short term. To find out more, call 13 33 30 (Personal) or 13 38 00 (Business), or visit the bank’s dedicated support page.
According to Virgin Money, it offers a range of ways to assist customers experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus, recent weather events or bushfires. This assistance may allow customers to vary the levels of their repayments, or the frequency of their repayments. It states assistance measures will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
You can talk to the Virgin Money Hardship Team by calling 1800 255 304, or find out more about hardship assistance options here. General information about what Virgin Money is offering during the coronavirus crisis can be found on this page.
So, now you know more about what each card provider is offering cardholders who are in need of financial assistance (if your provider is not listed here, give them a call or check their website), what else do you need to know?
We’ve put together some FAQs you may find helpful regarding credit cards and coronavirus.
To apply, or not to apply, that is the question. If you’re thinking of applying for a credit card right now, it would be wise to consider your application carefully. While applying for a credit card could offer any number of benefits, you will need to think about your current financial situation, and how that may affect your application.
When you apply for a credit card, providers want to make sure you will be able to repay what you spend. That means checking your income, your employment status, and your assets and debts. If you currently have no income, have lost your job, or have racked up a large credit card debt, you may find it more difficult to get approved. On top of that, applying for a credit card and not getting approved will negatively affect your credit, making it more difficult to get approved in the future.
On the other hand, if you are stable financially, your income is solid, and you know you will be approved, this could be a good time to reassess your options and apply for a card that better suits your needs, or your budget.
Use CreditCard.com.au to check out your options, taking into account interest, fees and features. Here are some types of card to keep in mind:
Applying for a new credit card could also allow you to take advantage of a great introductory offer. Look out for these types of offers:
When used correctly, a balance transfer offer can be an awesome tool. But, these offers are not for everyone. So, how do you know if a balance transfer offer is right for you?
So, you’re obviously not going to be travelling for a while – is it worth keeping your frequent flyer credit card? While no one really knows how long this travel ban will last, estimates are putting it at around the year mark before travel starts to get back to normal.
In order to decide whether you should cancel your frequent flyer card, you may want to consider the following:
Credit cards can be incredibly helpful in the way that they help you manage your finances day-to-day. So, what if your financial needs increase and you need access to more funds? Should you increase your credit limit?
In the short term, this could be helpful. But, you should only increase your credit limit if you know you can pay back your increased spending. Spending more on your card and not being able to pay it back will only lead to worse financial stress.
At this point, it’s also worth mentioning cash advances, as some cardholders may think of turning to this as an option when times get tough. Again, this can lead to more trouble than it fixes. Not only will you have to pay a higher cash advance rate on your withdrawal from the day you make it, you will also have to pay cash advance fees.
If you think you may be struggling with your credit card repayments, or your financial situation has changed significantly, your first course of action should be to contact your card provider. As you can see from the list above, each card provider is doing things a little differently, so it’s best to contact your own provider to see what it can offer you.
Whether you’re applying for a new credit card, or simply looking for ways to be smarter with your current card, check out our post How to Improve Your Financial Health During The Coronavirus Crisis to find some great tips.
And, if you have some time on your hands – Netflix can wait – visit our sister site Credit Card EDU to find seven easy-to-understand FREE courses, which can help you learn more about credit cards, and how to use them. Your credit card smarts will be on point in no time.
Disclaimer: The information contained within this post is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a financial adviser.
Pauline is a personal finance expert at CreditCard.com.au, with 8 years in money, budgeting and property reporting under her belt. Pauline is passionate about seeing Aussies win by making their money – and their credit cards – work smarter, harder and bigger.
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