Looking to blast away credit card debt with a balance transfer? This is how the January 1 changes could affect you

Christmas presents, food, overseas travel - the summer holidays are without a doubt one of the best times of the year for many Aussies. But at the end of the day all that fun needs to be paid for, so it’s hardly a surprise that many let their credit card spending balloon out more than it should over the period.

But now that the summer holidays are officially over or coming to an end for most Australians, a financial reality check may be setting in for those who need to face up to their credit card debt.

Traditionally one popular option for dealing with unmanageable card debt has been to make use of a balance transfer, but a number of recently enacted credit cards reforms may make it harder for some Australians to apply for a balance transfer card this new year.

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As of January 1st, credit card providers will have to adhere to a number of ASIC and government backed reforms including:

• Lenders will need to be stricter with their approval and vetting process to ensure new cardholders are able to repay the card’s credit limit in under three years. This could affect existing cardholders with debt wanting to make a balance transfer.

• Credit card providers can no longer charge interest on balances, retrospectively. Previously they would have been able to backdate the interest to the date of purchase if you hadn’t paid your full balance off for that period.

• Providers are obliged to let credit card holders ask for their limits to be reduced or for the contract to be cancelled. Both of these options must all be made available online.

The reforms come on the back of an extensive review conducted by ASIC of 21.4 million credit card accounts between 2012 and 2017 which found that 1 in 6 (18.5%) of consumers were struggling with credit card debt.

And given that any Australians who are nursing credit card debt are likely to begin looking at debt-reducing options soon, Michael Blyth, ARCA Responsible Lending Expert at consumer education website www.creditsmart.org.au, believed that this could be the first time many become aware of the reforms.  

“One of the peak times of the year is in February as people start to look at refinancing the debt which they picked up over Christmas, so for many the changes probably won’t become real until they actually apply for their next credit card,” he said.

“My expectation is that the vast majority of consumers who were previously entitled to a credit card will probably still be able to get a credit card, although it might have a lower credit limit.”

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For Aussies who are unsure about their credit health or are wanting to take some proactive steps to ensure they will be able to apply for products like credit cards in the future, CreditSmart have offered the following tips:

Take control: Information is power, so a great first step to take is by actually finding out what’s on your credit report. The best thing is that Australians can get a copy of their credit reports for free from major credit reporting bodies like Experian and Equifax.

Be realistic: Whether it’s a credit card or a personal loan, limiting yourself to an amount of credit which you can realistically handle and pay off could keep you out of trouble down the track.  

Maintain good habits: While the implementation of comprehensive credit reporting will likely mean that providers have greater access to the positive aspects of your credit history it’s still important to make your credit card, personal loan and home loan repayments each month.     

Don’t despair: If you are struggling to make your credit card repayments or repayments on any other loan, make sure you contact your provider because they may be able to help you through a difficult spell.

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