Whether it’s the annual fee, currency conversion costs or balance transfer fee, find out everything you need to know to avoid credit card fees in Australia and overseas.
Credit cards have a wide range of features and benefits, but also come with many different fees and charges. These costs quickly add up and can lead to serious credit card debt when they’re left unchecked.
The good news is that you can avoid most credit card fees if you’re aware of them. Here, we outline the most common credit card fees, how much they’re worth, and what you can do to stop or minimise their impact on your card.
Most credit cards charge an annual fee, with the cost usually ranging from as little as $20 to $700 or more. If your credit card offers a lot of features and benefits – such as a rewards program or complimentary travel insurance – it's more likely to have a high annual fee.
Annual fees usually start when you first activate a card, and are then charged on the same monthly statement for every year you have the card. Some cards also waive this fee in the first year, so be sure to check the ongoing rates and fees before you apply.
How to avoid it: If you take advantage of credit card perks, you could find that the value they offer outweighs the cost of the annual fee. Otherwise, you should consider a card that offers a lower fee or one that charges no annual fee for life.
How Alex avoided annual fees
Alex currently pays an annual fee of $199 for her platinum rewards credit card. While she earns 1 point per $1 spent on the card, she only spends about $12,000 per year. This is just enough points to get a $100 gift card, which means Alex is paying $99 more for the card than what she gets from the benefits.
By switching to a no annual fee rewards credit card, such as the Qantas American Express Discovery or Coles Platinum No Annual Fee Mastercard, Alex can save between $99 and $199 on the card and still get rewards.
Compare no annual fee credit cards
Credit cards charge interest when you carry a balance. The amount you pay is based on a percentage of your balance. This percentage is represented by an annual rate, such as 19.99% p.a., but is calculated daily and charged monthly. Depending on your card, you could have any or all of the following interest rates applied to your balance:
- Purchase rate. This is the interest rate charged for new purchases made on the card and can be anywhere from 10% p.a. to 22% p.a. (variable).
- Cash advance rate. This is the interest rate applied for cash advance transactions, such as ATM withdrawals. It is usually between 19% p.a. and 22% p.a. (variable).
- Balance transfer rate. This is the interest rate applied to any balance you have moved from an old card to the current card. If you get a balance transfer credit card, you will usually pay a low or 0% promotional rate for the introductory period. Standard balance transfer rates (after the intro period) are usually based on the card’s cash advance or purchase rate and can be as high as 22% p.a. (variable).
- Promotional interest rate. This interest rate is usually offered to new cardholders for a set period of time, such as the first 12 months. If you’re looking at getting a card with a promotional interest rate for purchases or balance transfers, make sure you also check the standard interest rate that’s applied.
How to avoid it: If you pay your balance in full by the due date on your statement, you won’t be charged interest. But if you do carry a balance, aim to pay more than the minimum each month or choose a card that has a low ongoing interest rate, or a 0% promotional interest rate. These strategies will help you keep costs down, at least in the short term.
Thien's interest savings
Thien has a credit card with a $5,000 balance and an interest rate of 19.99% p.a. (variable). If he only makes minimum payments on this card, he will be charged around $955 in interest for the year.
If Thien switches to a card that offers a low ongoing interest rate of 12.99% p.a., he could save around $354 in interest over the course of the year. He could save even more money by making larger repayments. He would also be able to avoid interest charges completely if he transferred the debt to a 0% balance transfer card and paid it off before the end of the introductory period.
Compare 0% purchase credit cards
Balance transfer fees
Some balance transfer credit cards charge a fee for moving your existing debt from a current card to the new account. Balance transfer fees get charged as soon as you transfer a balance and get added to the principal amount of the debt you transferred, not accruing interest until the introductory period expires. Balance transfer fees (also known as balance transfer processing or administration charges) are usually between 1% and 3% of the total debt you move, which quickly adds up if you have thousands of dollars of debt.
How to avoid it: Compare balance transfer credit cards and look for options that don’t charge a balance transfer fee. Remember, the fee should be listed in the “Fees” section for any card you consider. You can also find out the fee by looking at a card’s Key Fact Sheet or Product Disclosure Statement.
Move your debt and save like Miranda
Miranda has seen a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% interest for 12 months and charges a 2.5% balance transfer fee. She has a $6,000 debt she wants to move, but would have $150 for the transfer fee added to her balance if she got this new credit card. Instead of applying, Miranda compares a range of balance transfer options and finds a different card that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee. This means she can transfer her debt, save money on the process and pay off her balance faster.
Foreign transaction fees
Most credit and debit cards apply a foreign transaction fee when you use your card overseas or when you shop online with an international merchant. This charge – also known as an “international transaction fee” or “currency conversion fee” – is usually between 1% and 3.5% of the total transaction.
How to avoid it: Look for a credit card that doesn’t apply a foreign transaction fee, such as the Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard or any platinum Bankwest credit card. You could also consider a prepaid travel card that lets you load and use funds in several currencies, cash, traveller’s cheques or a combination of travel money options that can help reduce the fees you pay when you’re overseas or shopping online.
How Jai saved on transaction fees on holiday
Jai has just got back from a trip to Brazil, where he spent $3,000 on his credit card. He checks his statement and sees that a 3% foreign transaction fee was applied each time he used the card, adding $90 to his total bill. While Jai has to pay the fees this time, he decides to shop around for a card with no foreign transaction fee so that he saves money on all his future trips.
Cash advance fees
This fee is charged for “cash advance” transactions, including when you withdraw money from an ATM, buy foreign currency or pay with plastic whilst gambling. In these instances, you’ll be charged between 2% and 3.5% of the total transaction. Some cards also have a minimum cash advance fee of between $20 and $35. But this isn’t the only cost for using your credit card for cash transactions: you’ll also be charged the cash advance rate of interest from the day the transaction is made.
How to avoid it: Don’t use your credit card to get cash out. Avoid using it to buy foreign currency or for transactions in a casino. Also check with your credit card provider about other transactions where this fee applies and steer clear of them. If you need to get cash at any time, use a debit card or set up a savings account so you will have cash if you need it in an emergency.
Valentina's cash advance mistake
Valentina has run out of cash at a music festival. She isn’t sure of the balance of her everyday transaction account, so she withdraws $1,000 using her credit card. When she gets her next statement, she sees she has been charged a 3% fee worth $30. The cash advance interest rate of 21.99% p.a. has also been charged for 20 days, totalling $12, which means Valentina has paid $42 for using her credit card. In the future, she decides to keep more cash on hand and make sure she has some available on her debit card to avoid these fees.
Late payment fees
If you don’t make a payment on your credit card by the due date on your statement, you could be charged a late payment fee worth anywhere from $0 to $30. Some providers charge this straight away, while others may not apply a late fee unless they have to contact you to make a payment. Note that even if a late fee is not charged, other penalties could apply and it may affect your credit history.
How to avoid it: Always make payments before the due date on your statement, and make sure you factor in processing times for the payment method you choose. You may even want to set up an automatic payment from your transaction account so that you always meet this deadline. It’s also a good idea to check your credit card Product Disclosure Statement for terms and conditions around late payments so that you know exactly how much you will pay and what else could apply.
Over limit fees
You could be charged an “over limit fee” if you max out your credit card in a statement period. Not all credit card companies apply this charge, but if they do it could be anywhere from $5 to $35 extra.
How to avoid it: Regularly check your credit card balance so that you know what your “available credit limit” is when using the card. If you regularly get close to going over the limit, you may also want to consider requesting a credit limit increase.
Reward program fees
Some rewards credit cards charge an annual fee for choosing a particular rewards program. Usually this only applies to cards that give you a choice between standard rewards and Qantas rewards, such as the Citi Qantas Rewards program that you can opt into with a Citi Rewards card. This fee is usually between $30 and $50 and applies on top of the card’s annual fee.
How to avoid it: Carefully read the terms and conditions of any rewards program you’re considering. If a fee is charged for opting to earn Qantas rewards, make sure the value of the card will outweigh this cost (and the annual fee). You may also want to consider a Qantas frequent flyer card that doesn’t charge a reward program fee.
How Antony got the most out of his rewards credit card
Antony has opted to earn Qantas rewards on his current credit card, at a rate of 1 point per $1 spent. He pays an extra $30 per year for the program, along with an annual fee of $200. He decides to switch to the NAB Qantas Rewards card, which has an annual fee of $95 and offers 0.5 points per $1 spent on a Visa and 1 point per $1 spent on an American Express card linked to the account. This saves him $135 a year, while also giving him the opportunity to earn just as many points.
Credit card surcharges
This fee is actually charged by businesses rather than your credit card provider. Credit card surcharges are usually between 0.8% and 3% of the total transaction cost, but some merchants apply a flat fee that could be much higher (such as airlines).
How to avoid it: You can avoid this fee by having another payment option available – such as a debit card, cash, direct transfer or by using a service such as POLi or PayPal. Remember that all merchants legally have to notify you of a surcharge before you make a payment. It’s also important to note that the regulations around surcharges have recently changed, so the cost should be reduced if and when you do have to deal with this cost.
Other credit card fees
These credit card fees are less common, but it’s still good to know when they may apply and how you can avoid them.
- Chargeback fee. If you need to reverse a credit card transaction through your credit card provider, you could be charged a fee of around $10–25. You can avoid this fee by trying to get a refund with the merchant before going to your credit card provider.
- Card replacement fees. Most credit card companies don’t charge a fee if you need a replacement card in Australia. But for fast-tracking or overseas replacements, you could pay anywhere from $30 to $200 for the service. Check with your credit card company to find out about these costs, and have a backup payment option so that you don’t need to speed up the process of getting a new card if yours is lost, stolen or damaged.
- Additional cardholder fee. Some credit cards charge an annual fee when you request an additional or supplementary cardholder for your account, usually around $5 to $35. If you know you want to share your account with a partner or family member, make sure you check for this fee, as there are many cards that don’t charge it.
- Paper statement fee. Some credit card companies will charge you a fee if you request paper statements for your account. Usually this will be around $5 to $10, but you can avoid it by opting for paperless statements delivered to your email or via Internet banking.
- Non-bank ATM fee. If you use your credit card to withdraw cash or check your balance at an ATM outside of your credit card provider’s network, you could be charged a fee of up to $5. There may also be additional charges from the ATM operator, so avoid getting cash out and check your balance via Internet or mobile banking instead.
While credit cards come with many different benefits, they often have just as many fees. But now that you know more about these charges, you can make informed decisions about how and when you pay with plastic to avoid them and keep your card working for you.