The holiday’s over for credit card debt

Many Aussie travellers pay off their credit card debt when they return from holidays while others take 12 months or more.

There’s something about heading off on holiday that can see us throw financial caution to the wind, and it may mean arriving home with the excess baggage of an overloaded credit card. In fact, last year 41% of Australians returned from vacation in hock to their credit card, with the average holiday-induced debt being a staggering $2,705.

Taking a well-earned break is important, and I’ve come across plenty of research showing we get more joy from great experiences than we do by filling our homes with more stuff.

Nonetheless, being on holiday can see us take a relaxed approach to spending. New research by Finder shows shopping sprees are the biggest cause of vacation blowouts. One in four of us pull out the plastic to pay for luxury accommodation, and one in five use a getaway to dine at flashy restaurants.

These things are fine as long as you can afford it. However, the same study found significant numbers of Australian travellers return from holidays having built up a large credit card debt. Half of these people were about to pay off the debt straight away, but 10% took at least 12 months to clear the balance, and that means adding interest charges to the cost of a trip.

There are ways to avoid adding high interest debt to your vacation souvenirs. Drawing up a holiday budget and setting a daily spending allowance is a good start. Prepaying a number of holiday costs using your own funds before you head off is another option.

Travel cards are useful for managing holiday spending. You simply preload the card with the foreign currency of your choice, and use it like a debit card while you’re away. If the balance starts to run low, it can be reloaded with additional funds while you’re on the go. It’s an easy way to bypass the expensive foreign currency conversion fees and high interest charges that go hand in hand with many credit cards.

If the end of the holiday season sees you facing a top-heavy credit card balance, the most effective solution is to work out the maximum you can afford to pay each month to clear the debt sooner. Then aim to stick to these repayments even if it means cutting back spending in other areas for a while. Paying only the card issuer’s minimum repayments will only drag out the debt for longer and increase the overall interest charges.

The large range of balance transfer deals available can be worth a look if your credit card sits at the high end of the interest rate spectrum. In general though, extra repayments are the key to wiping the slate clean sooner.


Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.

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