Stuck with stubborn credit card debt after a holiday? You may be experiencing 'debt lag'.
Credit cards and travel seem to go hand-in-hand these days.
A recent survey conducted by finder.com.au found that 85 per cent of Australians used their credit cards on their last trip and 48 per cent of us paid more than half of our trip using our card.
It's not hard to see why credit cards have become such a popular addition to any trip. There are currently more credit cards which waive foreign transaction fees than debit cards and cards can come with a range of features such as the ability to earn rewards points or the offering of complimentary travel insurance.
Unfortunately when you're on a holiday it's not hard to overspend on your credit card and forget about the consequences.
The result of this overuse of your credit card is 'debt lag' - credit card debt which lasts long after the memories of your holiday do.
According to our survey, $401 million in interest has been amassed by Australians through trips taken over the past year from October 2013.
And when it comes to paying our trips back, 15% of us won't be able to pay off our trip within six months and 5% of us will have gone on another trip before paying this previous trip off.
Let's look at a simple example of how debt lag can occur.
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Mandy’s Mauritian debt dive
Mandy found a great holiday package to fly to Mauritius with her friend. She paid for her flights and hotel accommodation with her credit card - a total of $4,000 for eight nights. While she was over there she spent a total of $2,000 in activities, food and shopping.
Mandy comes back home and realises that while she's tanned and relaxed, she has a bill of $6,000 on her credit card. Later on she finds that a hefty sum of money has gone towards the foreign transaction fees and international ATM withdrawal fees she was charged, making her part of the 29% of Australians who come home after a trip to credit card shock.
Mandy budgets to pay off her trip within six months and puts $1,000 onto the balance each month. By the time her debt is paid off her total interest bill is $233.
Let's look at how much interest would be charged on different balances and over different time periods.
finder.com.au’s debt-lag remedies
If you've found yourself in debt-lag there are a few key ways to wriggle out from underneath.
Conduct a balance transfer
If you've got a pile of travel-related debt accumulating interest each month you could do a lot worse than switching it over to a credit card with a low or 0% p.a. interest rate. This is known as a balance transfer and can save you a lot over the course of the loan.
If Mandy had transferred her $6,000 over to a card with a 0% p.a. balance transfer offer and an annual fee of $55 she could've saved $178, provided of course her $1,000 a month repayments were kept up.
There are a few considerations to make when comparing balance transfer cards.
Be sure to compare the annual fees they charge and know what the revert rate is. If Mandy decided to apply for the above card and then failed to pay off her balance transfer in the promotional time period, she'd start paying interest at the revert rate. This can be the purchase rate or the higher cash advance rate, so know what this is if there's a chance you won't pay the balance off in full.
Find a debt reduction strategy which works
If you're not able to carry out a balance transfer, or don't want another credit card to tempt you, there are still some ways to reduce your debt faster and avoid interest.
The biggest and most obvious is to pay more than the minimum repayment amount. Minimum repayments can be as small as 2% of the outstanding balance or $10 per month.
A $6,000 debt at 17.70% p.a. with minimum repayments of 2% or $20 will take 34 years and six months to pay off and interest will balloon the total sum paid to $20,126.
Bumping these repayments up to $500 a month would cut this time down to one year and two months and bring your holiday cost to a total of $6,545. If you bumped them up to $700 a month you'd pay your debt off in nine months, bringing your debt to a total of $6,332 when interest was factored in.
If you fly back home to a mountain of debts including your trip, loans and other credit cards, it may be good to put your debts into some kind of order before paying them off. One way to do this is the debt snowball method, which sees you order your debts from smallest to biggest. You then focus on these smaller debts first, slowly ramping up your repayment size until you tackle your biggest debt
Alternatively you could pay off your debts with the highest interest rate first.
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If you are struggling to pay down the balance of your credit card, consider transferring your balance to a new account.
Prevention is better than a cure
The next time you're thinking of going overseas, plan ahead. If you're going to use a credit card to pay for your flights, accommodation or even spending money, think about a card with 0% interest on purchases. This will give you a number of months in which you can spend on your card and then pay it off free of interest. If you still haven't paid your debt off in this time frame you could then try to apply for a balance transfer card.
If you're going to use your card for spending while overseas look for one which doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. This will help keep more money in your pocket, which is invaluable when you get home and need to pay off your debt.
Above all, if possible, budget for your holiday before you leave. If you manage to save up the money you need for your trip, you can take a debit card with no foreign transaction or ATM fees or a travel money card. This removes the temptation to spend - you literally won't have any money left if you go overboard with one of these cards.
Steer clear of being part of the one quarter of travellers who travel abroad without cover. An injury or sickness overseas can be extremely expensive, so this cover can protect you from bringing these kinds of debts back home.
Don't let a dream holiday turn into a debt nightmare. Follow the tips above and avoid getting into the vicious cycle that is debt-lag.