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Credit card interest rates dwarf official rates

Consumers lose out to the tune of $3.49 billion since mid-2011.

closeup of gold chip on credit card
Last updated: 06 March 2017


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A credit card is one of the worst ways to borrow money, with the average card's interest rate now a whopping 11.5 times higher than the RBA cash rate.

Here's a case in point. The historically low official interest rates of recent times have generally meant lower borrowing costs for consumers – with one glaring exception, credit cards.

The RBA cash rate has fallen a notable 3.25% since June 2011 and now sits at 1.5%.

Compare that to the drop in credit card interest rates over the same period – from an average of 17.41% in mid-2011 to 17.35% currently. Yes, a mere six basis points.

Some might call that a tad tight-fisted – especially if you're one of the many Australians who lean on their credit cards to get through to the next payday.

Credit card costs writ large

The cost to Australian consumers as a whole is even more striking.

The failure by credit card issuers to pass on official interest rate cuts since mid-2011 has seen cardholders collectively paying about $3.49 billion more in interest payments than they would have otherwise, according to recent data provided by Mozo.

Such tactics would seem to have something to do with the nation's staggering credit card debt, which now stands at about $32 billion, or roughly $4300 per cardholder.

It's food for thought as the banks front a parliamentary inquiry this week to explain such behaviour.

Sector needs a shakeup

"The banks' failure to put their customers first in this historical low interest rate environment doesn't bode well as we enter what could be a more inflationary part of the interest rate cycle," says CHOICE's head of campaigns and policy Erin Turner.

"The sad fact is that many Australians live off a credit card to get through to payday and the banks seek to capitalise on this by charging excessive interest rates and making it difficult to exit these toxic products."

Mozo director Kirsty Lamont says the sector could use a shakeup in the interest of consumers.

"In 2012 the average credit card rate was five times higher than the cash rate, now it's a whopping 11.5 times higher. There is simply not enough competitive pressure in the Australian credit card market to stop the banks from charging excessively high rates."

"If credit card providers gave as much thought to offering genuinely competitive rates as they do to the glossy marketing of so-called rewards and other card perks, Aussie credit card customers would be far better off."

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