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Ouch: that $28.6bn bill could be hard to shift

Credit card debt

February is set to be a tough month for those attempting to pay off credit card debt as average $4,000 holiday bills and back-to-school expenses join forces.

That’s according to RateCity analysis of Reserve Bank of Australia data which found that the average Aussie credit card holder spent $3,679 in December. Together, that makes a “whopping” $28.6 billion spent by Aussie credit card holders.

That average spend is based on Roy Morgan figures which state there are 7.765 million credit card holders in Australia.

To RateCity money editor Sally Tindall, this holiday splurge means escaping debt in February can be especially hard.

She explained: “Families are not only dealing with debt from the holidays, they’re now racking up more expenses on their cards to pay for essential back-to-school items.

“Most people have between 45 and 55 interest free days, but once they dry up, people get hit with interest rates as high as 24.99 per cent.”

In fact, RateCity’s analysis argued that if those with a $3,679 debt only made minimum repayments, it would take them 24 years and nine months to eliminate the debt. It would also cost an extra $6,849 in interest.

Noting this, Ms Tindall advised: “If you are carrying a large amount of debt, transferring the balance to a card that offers an interest-free period can give you some breathing space.”

According to CommBank data, this back-to-school season is set to be even more financially painful, with laptops and tablets pushing costs up by 43 per cent.

As such, Aussie families are predicted to spend $1.7 billion on supplies, or about $829 per family.

As it stands, Australians owe about $52.2 billion on credit cards and $31.6 billion of that is accruing interest. This means that for the average $6,595 debt, $4,073 is gathering interest.

To the Australian Bankers’ Association, that $52.2 billion figure is good news. The Association argues that the figure represents a $260 million reduction in debt and is “evidence of prudent use of credit cards”.

However, quoting the same figure, the Consumer Action Law Centre said balances have increased by nearly 20 per cent in the last 10 years. They warned that the design of credit cards “encourage long-term indebtedness”, and said increasing balances owed can lead consumers into “harmful debt spirals”.

“It is our experience that many consumers struggle for years at a time to make repayments to their credit accounts without ever reaching the point of default.”

Ouch: that $28.6bn bill could be hard to shift
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