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Smart Money

Make Your Credit Card Work For You This Christmas

Last updated

Pauline Hatch      

For many, the past couple of years have been pretty hard-going, and it looks like Aussies are ready to really celebrate. Maybe it’s the loosening of Covid-19’s grip on our lives or the stress of rising living costs and interest rates, this year is set to be one of Australia’s most expensive.

To help you out, we’ve put together nine ways you can keep on top of your spending this Christmas and make the most of your credit card. 

girlshopping

#1. Create a Budget

Whether you’re planning to spend big on gifts, socialising, travel, or anything else this festive season, it’s a good idea to get all that planned spending down on paper first. Yep, we’re talking budgets.

By creating a budget, you can decide in advance what you want to buy and how much you want to spend, helping you to avoid overspending in the frenzy of Christmas. Tracking your spend can also be helpful. Check out ASIC’s MoneySmart’s TrackMySPEND app for more.

#2. Plan Ahead

It always pays to plan ahead. By purchasing what you need earlier, you could avoid missing out – or paying more – as demand starts to rise in the lead-up to Christmas. This is especially true if you’re buying online or overseas, as some supply lines are still slow and postage can be sketchy. 

#3. Understand your Options

Want to use your credit card to cover the cost of Christmas? First, you need to know what kinds of cards are available to you.

  • Cards with 0% purchase offers provide a fixed interest-free period on purchases, usually ranging between three and eighteen months. You can use the card to cover your Christmas spending, to then pay it off before the end of the intro period, when interest starts accruing.
  • Most cards charge an annual fee, but by choosing a card with no annual fee – either as an introductory offer or offered over the life of the card – you can save money that could be spent more wisely elsewhere.
  • Allowing you to earn points on your spending, rewards credit cards and frequent flyer cards could help you save on Christmas gifts or Christmas travel. You can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise or travel, plus you can earn points on all the rest of the Christmas shopping you put on your card.
  • If you have a balance on an existing credit card, you could save on interest by transferring it to a balance transfer card. Over an introductory period, you would pay low or no interest, allowing you to pay off your balance faster.

Over the longer term, choosing a credit card with a low annual fee and then clearing your balance each month could provide the best way to save money on your credit card. Always think about what would work best for your personal circumstances.

#4. Save on Interest 

Now we’ve touched on the various types of credit cards available, it’s time to look more closely at some of those options to find out how your card could help you save money over Christmas, starting with interest.

Balance Transfers 

With a total credit card spend of $24.3 billion last December, the average credit cardholder had a holiday debt hangover of around $1,748. So, what would it take to pay off that debt?

  • If you were making the minimum repayments on a card with an interest rate of 20% p.a., you’d pay back $6,312 in total, over a period of 21 years and 9 months.
  • If you kept that 20% p.a. card and aimed to pay it off within two years, paying back $88 each month, you’d repay a total of $2,100. This would save you $4,212 in interest, and around 20 years of being in debt.
  • If you opted for a 0% balance transfer offer, you could save $352 in interest over the above two-year option.

 

Of course, these examples don’t factor in any further credit card spending, which would add to the overall total and the amount paid to the provider in interest.

Purchase Offers

Is there another option? Instead of relying on a balance transfer to pay off Christmas debt, you could get proactive, by applying for a card with a 0% p.a. purchase offer before you start your Christmas spending.

By choosing a card with a long 0% p.a. purchase offer, you could use that card to cover your Christmas spending – whether that’s Christmas presents or a trip overseas – and then pay it off before the intro period ends, to enjoy interest-free shopping.

If you want to make this work for you, it can help to calculate how much your monthly repayments will need to be to pay it all off within the intro period, and then set up automatic payments from your bank account.

Interest-free Shopping

As an alternative option, some cards offer interest-free shopping with partner retailers. With one of these cards in your wallet, you could do your Christmas shop, and then pay off what you owe over the typically longer interest-free period.

If you’re a keen David Jones shopper, the David Jones American Express Credit Card or David Jones American Express Platinum Credit Card could be worth looking into. 

Aside from the many other DJs extras on offer, these cards provide a 3 Months Pay Later option on David Jones purchases of $50 or more, as well as 12 months interest free with no deposit on store purchases over $500, and 60 months interest free with no deposit on store purchases over $1,000.

#5. Maximise Rewards

Obviously, the idea behind rewards cards is that they reward you for your spending. They do this by providing you with a certain number of rewards points for each dollar you spend. You can then redeem those points within the rewards program, for travel, merchandise or gift cards.

With this in mind, you can see how a rewards card could be a great option come Christmas. Not only could you earn points on all your Christmas spending, you could also use the points you’ve earned to buy Christmas gifts or even an overseas trip over the festive season.

How could your rewards card reward you this Christmas? Well, that would depend on the spending you do most. If you tend to rack up spending on food and alcohol, you could choose a credit card affiliated with Coles or Woolies, allowing you to maximise your points earn.

If you plan on taking a trip over Christmas, you may want to choose a credit card that provides points on your travel spending, while also offering extras such as airport lounge access and overseas travel insurance.

Once you’ve got enough points in your pocket – we’re talking next Christmas now – you can use the points you earned this Christmas and throughout the year to reduce your travel costs.

  • Gifting gift cards: What do you buy for someone who has everything? A gift card, of course. Most rewards programs allow you to redeem points for gift cards for a wide selection of retailers, with gift card amounts ranging from $25 to $500. If you don’t want to gift the gift card, you could use it yourself to buy the perfect present instead.
  • Booking travel: Whether you have rewards points or travel credit, you can use that stockpile to book travel over the festive period. This could cover flights, hotel stays, car hire or experiences. It could take you to see your family, or bring them to you. If you don’t have enough points to get where you want, you may be able to utilise a ‘points plus pay’ option to make up the difference.
  • Using statement credits: Some rewards cards allow you to use your points as statement credits. This allows you to pick certain items on your credit card bill that you want to cover with your points. You may also be able to cash in your points as a direct deposit into your bank account, so you can spend them on whatever you please.
  • Redeeming points for merchandise: Most rewards programs allow you to redeem points for merchandise within an online rewards store. From coffee machines to sports equipment, you could use your points to buy the perfect gift for someone special.
  • Booking experiences: Whether you’re looking for an experience for someone else, or an experience you can share, your card could allow you to redeem your points for that once-in-a-lifetime event or experience as a special Christmas gift.

 

As with any type of credit card, when it comes to rewards cards you need to be smart – in both choosing them and using them. To make those points count, choose a card that rewards your spending, while giving you access to rewards and features you value.

Clearing your balance each month by the due date can help you avoid interest accruing. High interest payments and annual fees can negate the value of any points you earn, so be sure to weigh up how much you are paying out against what you are getting in return.

introoffer

#6. Utilise Intro Offers

The credit card industry is seriously competitive, which means card providers need to work hard to win customers. One way they do this is with the introductory offer. These offers entice new customers with bonus rewards points, balance transfer or purchase offers, or a low annual fee.

By choosing a card with the right offer, you can make it work to your advantage this Christmas. But, you need to know what each offer can provide, by looking at the pros and cons of each.

0% Purchase Offer: With this offer, you will pay no interest on purchases over the introductory period. This could let you do all your Christmas shopping interest-free, to then pay it off before interest starts accruing.

  • Choose a card with an intro period that will allow you to pay off your entire Christmas spend.
  • Find out what rate your purchases will attract at the end of the intro period.
  • Consider the card’s annual fee. A card with a high annual fee may negate any savings you make on interest.

 

Bonus Points Offer: With this offer, you will be credited with a certain number of bonus points to spend within the card’s rewards program. This could let you take a Christmas trip or buy Christmas gifts.

  • Look at what you can do with the points on offer, for example where they could take you, or how much you could redeem them for in gift cards or cashback.
  • Find out if there is a required minimum spend to be eligible for the points. If it’s more than you can afford to pay back within each month, it may not be worth it.
  • Weigh up how many points are on offer against how much you will pay in annual fees.

 

Balance Transfer Offer: With this offer, you will pay low or no interest on transferred balances over an introductory period. This could let you save on interest, allowing you to pay off what you owe faster, so you’re in better financial shape for next Christmas.

  • Choose the offer with the lowest introductory interest rate over a period that allows you to pay off your transferred balance.
  • Find out what interest rate the transferred balance will attract if left unpaid after the intro period ends.
  • Avoid spending on the card until the balance transfer has been paid off.

 

No Annual Fee Offer: With this offer, you will pay no annual fee for an introductory period or for the life of the card. This could give you some extra cash to spend on your Christmas shopping, or you could use it to take the family out for a nice meal over the festive period.

  • Find out what the annual fee will revert to after the intro period ends.
  • Think about what the card has to offer in features and extras to work out whether the standard annual fee is worth it.
  • You may choose to cancel the card before the standard annual fee kicks in, allowing you to maximise what’s on offer while paying as little as possible.

 

#7. Get the Most out of Credit Card Features

In the war for market share, card providers work hard to make their products as appealing as possible. Alongside introductory offers, providers use features and extras to entice new customers. Fortunately for you, many of these features can be of benefit at Christmastime.

Plenty of credit cards offer retail cover on purchases, most often in the form of extended warranty, purchase protection and price guarantee. When buying Christmas gifts – whether for yourself or for others – these covers can offer some useful benefits.

  • With extended warranty, your credit card will usually double the manufacturer’s warranty, up to a maximum of 12 months. This can come in especially handy on big ticket items such as electronics and toys.
  • Purchase protection can offer cover on items purchased on your card if they are lost, stolen or damaged after you buy them, usually within a 90-day timeframe.
  • As for price protection, this can help ensure you get the lowest price on your Christmas shopping – on the more expensive items at least. If you buy an item and then find it in another store nearby at a lower price, your card may reimburse the difference. Purchases usually need to be made instore and cannot be compared to prices found online.

 

If you plan on jetting away this Christmas, your card could make your trip even more exciting with the various features it has to offer. You could enjoy airport lounge access, VIP hotel membership perks and airport limo services.

Many credit cards also provide a range of travel insurances, which could offer valuable cover while helping you to save on standalone insurance. For the most part, credit card insurance will not cover COVID related claims, so read the PDS carefully before you rely on the cover offered.

#8. Make Smart Decisions

While credit card providers may compete for customers, they rarely give anything away for free. If you want interest-free Christmas shopping or bonus rewards points to spend on a Christmas vacation, you need to understand what your provider expects in return if you want to make the most of them.

That means being aware of all fees involved and any small print that may apply, while also avoiding any interest accruing. Card providers pack cards with all these extras as they hope to gain something back from you. It’s up to you to make sure you give them only what’s strictly necessary.

In terms of annual fees, these may be higher on feature-packed cards or high-earning rewards cards. If you’re willing to pay a higher annual fee to enjoy these extras, make sure what you get back is of higher value than what you’re paying out.

As for other fees, you should be able to avoid most of them, such as late payment fees and dishonour fees. If you plan on doing Christmas shopping at international retailers, or you’re thinking of travelling overseas, a card with no overseas transaction fees could save you heaps.

Interest is a big one. Cards offering an abundance of extras usually charge more in interest. As soon as you start paying interest though, the value of those extras decreases. If you want to get the most out of all your Christmas extras, clear your balance by the due date each month.

#9. Get Approved for Christmas

There’s no point applying for a card for Christmas if it’s not going to arrive until after the stockings are stuffed and the turkey has been digested. Check out the following table to get a rough idea of how long it will take to apply for a card so you can get your application in on time.

Card brand Application time Approval time Estimated time to receive card
American Express 10 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 10 business days
ANZ 5 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 10 business days
BankSA 5 to 10 minutes 60 seconds Up to 7 business days
Bankwest 10 to 30 minutes 60 seconds 3 to 7 business days
Bank of Melbourne 5 to 10 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 7 business days
Bank of Queensland 10 to 20 minutes Within 2 business days 7 to 10 business days
Citi 15 minutes 60 seconds 7 to 10 business days
Commonwealth Bank 10-15 minutes 60 seconds Up to 10 business days
HSBC 15 minutes 60 seconds 3 to 5 business days
ME Bank 5 to 10 minutes Within 2 business days 5 to 10 business days
NAB 15 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 10 business days
St.George 10 to 15 minutes 60 seconds 7 to 10 business days
Suncorp Bank 10 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 7 business days
Virgin Money 10 minutes 60 seconds Up to 10 business days
Westpac 10 minutes 60 seconds 5 to 10 business days


It should be pointed out that these application times are just estimates. Credit card applications can be shortened or drawn out according to the circumstances surrounding each one. If you want to help speed up your application time, make sure you meet eligibility requirements and provide all documentation required.

Pauline

Pauline Hatch

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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