Learn exactly how your credit card interest-free period works to avoid paying any interest.
Credit card interest, statement cycles and billing periods can be confusing concepts. As a result, people may unknowingly incur interest fees which could then lead to serious debt. One way to avoid these charges is to take advantage of the interest-free days offered by many credit cards. Use this guide to understand how the interest-free period works and how you can use your credit card to manage your cash flow without accruing debt.
When does the interest-free period start?
Your interest-free period begins on the first day of your credit card statement cycle and ends on the payment due date for that statement. For example, if your card offers an interest-free period of 55 days and your billing or statement cycle begins on 1 April, you will get 55 days for purchases made on that day, 54 days for purchases on 2 April and so on. This means that at the end of April (which is a 30-day month) you will have 25 interest-free days left to pay for your eligible transactions. The due date for your statement would be 25 May in this scenario. So if you have a purchase in mind and want to take full advantage of the interest-free days, try to make the purchase as early in the statement period as possible.
How can I use interest-free days on my credit card?
It is crucial that you fulfill these two key requirements in order to enjoy your interest-free period:
- Pay your statement in full. You must clear your entire credit card balance by the payment due date on each statement to be eligible for this interest-free period. Once you have an outstanding balance, the interest-free period no longer applies, and interest will accrue each day on all your transactions.
- Make eligible purchases. Your interest-free period applies to purchase transactions, but excludes balance transfers, cash advances, and most utility payments and government charges. Interest accrues on those types of transactions from the moment they take place.
Here’s an example of how someone can take full advantage of their interest-free period. Karen’s credit card offers her 44 interest-free days, and her billing cycle starts each month on the 5th. Karen diligently pays off her full account balance every statement cycle, and enjoys the interest-free period because of this.
On 5 September, Karen bought a new computer for $2,000 – a purchase which would be eligible for the full 44 interest-free days (until the statement due date on 19 October). On 30 September, her car breaks down and Karen charges the purchase of parts to her card for $3,000. This purchase will only get 19 interest-free days. This means Karen will have to pay her card balance of $5,000 before 19 October in order to enjoy her interest-free period for September.
Compare up to 55 days interest-free credit cards
Compare up to 44 day interest-free credit cards
What happens if I carry a balance?
Unfortunately the short answer is that you may have to pay interest through the nose. Carrying a balance not only affects the interest-free period for that statement cycle, it also affects the next one because the next cycle will inevitably start with an outstanding balance on your card. This means that until you clear the full balance on your next statement cycle, you will not be eligible for interest-free days, and interest will be charged immediately from the transaction date of every purchase you make.
Important: Note that this situation also applies if you transfer a balance to your new credit card. As long as there’s an outstanding balance on your card, you will not enjoy the advertised interest-free period.
Other types of interest-free periods
As well as the interest-free period on purchase transactions, there are some other interest-free offers you may find on your credit card:
- Promotional 0% purchase rate offers. This type of deal provides you with a 0% interest rate on purchases for the first 3-12 months. After that, the standard variable rate of interest will apply to purchases (unless you take advantage of interest-free days).
- Promotional 0% balance transfer offers. A balance transfer credit card promotion could offer an interest-free introductory period for between 3 and 24 months. While this means you can enjoy paying 0% interest on your transferred balance for that stipulated period of time, you may have to pay a balance transfer fee initially, and you’ll still have to make minimum repayments on your balance each month. Other fees may apply (e.g. annual fee, late fee, etc.) and, as explained earlier, you will not enjoy the interest-free period on purchase transactions until you’ve paid your balance in full.
- Interest-free payment plans. Some credit cards provide interest-free options for selected purchases. Examples of some of these are the Gem Visa, Myer Visa and the David Jones American Express credit cards.
Tips for using the interest-free period
Consider the following tips if you want to take advantage of interest-free days on your credit card:
- Plan your purchases. Interest-free periods may vary from 14 to as long as 62 days. Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to make larger purchases at the beginning of a billing cycle so that you’re getting the greatest number of interest-free days.
- Look at your statement regularly. Stay on top of your credit card bill by checking your online statement regularly. This will help you plan your repayments and better manage cash flow.
- Prioritise repayments over purchases. If you have an outstanding balance, focus on paying it off in full before making any new purchases. This strategy will help reduce the amount of interest you incur and help you meet the requirements for interest-free days in future billing cycles.
- Only buy what you can afford. As you’ll need to pay off your balance in full each month, it’s important to only use your card for expenses you can afford to repay by the statement due date.
- Set a budget. Creating a budget for your credit card expenses and repayments will help ensure that you can settle your monthly balances and continue to take advantage of the interest-free period on your card.
Armed with this knowledge of how your credit card interest-free period works, you can now plan your purchases and repayments to make the most use of those interest-free days. Always remember the bottom line though: pay your balance in full!