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Cash flow crisis: Millions of Australians turn to credit to make ends meet

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Millions of Australians are relying on credit cards to bridge financial gaps, according to new research by Finder.

According to Finder's Credit Card Report 2024, almost half of credit card holders (44%) have made unplanned purchases on their card in the past 12 months.

That's 4.6 million Aussies who have been caught off guard by expenses in the past year.

Nearly 1 in 10 (7%) – almost 750,000 individuals – have turned to plastic after running out of money before payday, while 1 in 5 (21%) got caught out by an emergency expense.

A further 14% got swept up in the sales, admitting to spending more than they could afford at events such as the Black Friday sales.

Amy Bradney-George, credit card expert at Finder, said as expenses overwhelm incomes, Aussies are reaching for their credit cards to bail themselves out of trouble.

"Stubborn inflation and aggressive interest rate hikes have weighed heavily on finances.

"Savings are being depleted, leaving credit cards as many people's only option to get by."

Women (12%) are 4 times as likely as men (3%) to turn to plastic because they've run out of money before payday.

Millennials are most likely to revert to their credit card in an emergency, with a quarter (25%) saying they've done this in the past 12 months.

Bradney-George urged Aussies to rein in spending and avoid discretionary purchases if they are concerned about meeting their financial obligations.

"Many of us may be nursing a Christmas debt hangover so it pays to be extra cautious when using your credit card at this time of year.

"If you have credit card debt you're paying interest on, you could consider transferring it to a card that offers an introductory 0% interest rate on balance transfers.

"This gives you a period of time when you can repay what you've spent without the added cost of interest. Just make sure you have a plan for repayments to avoid higher interest charges at the end of the introductory period.

"If you're feeling stressed or can't make a repayment, contact your lender to find out what options are available – or contact the National Debt Helpline for free financial counselling (1800 007 007)," Bradney-George said.

Have you made any unplanned purchases on your credit card in the past 12 months?
Yes, I had an emergency expense21%
Yes, I got swept up in sales (e.g. Black Friday)14%
Yes, I had run out of money before payday7%
Yes, I was trying to keep up with friends and family1%
No56%
Source: Finder's Credit Card Report 2024 of 546 credit card holders, January 2024

Click here to see how the average Australian uses their credit card.

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