CREDIT CHALLENGE

REPORTER: DAMIEN HANSEN

It's the third degree bank employees receive for allowing customers to do what they want. Banks call it business retention, but former bank manager turned author, Stephanie Retchless, calls it a con job. Australians owe $45 billion on our credit cards and, with Christmas, it'll go up. $32 billion of that accrues interest, so it's in the banks interest for it to stay that way.

Pensioner Annie Palfrey owes $2,800 on a St George card. Today she's wiping that debt. The sixty four year old struggled for years to reduce her card debt and our hidden cameras followed Annie to the bank .for her final deposit. It is supposed to be a simple transaction, but Stephanie says bank staff are trained to talk you out of closing accounts.

And is it any wonder banks try so hard to keep our accounts open. Last year we paid 1.3 billion dollars in credit card fees -- that's up by almost twenty five percent over the last seven years.

On top of that, the banks raked in $1.2 billion from late payment and overdraft fees alone last financial year. "There is actually less money around this year than there has been in previous years. Credit is still quite easy to come by and people want to give their family things that they haven't had in the last twelve months", said Jennifer Grace, from the Wesley Mission Credit Line.

Jennifer is seeing an increasing number of people drowning under credit card debt. "What they will do is rush out and say, I want to spend some money on my children or the rest of the family and don't think about what the consequences might be", Jennifer said. "You can beat the banks and pay 0% interest on your credit card", said Jeremy Cabral, from online financial services website Credit Card Finder Jeremy says, "I think it's something where the banks realise the cost of a new customer to them, so they're obviously putting up some barriers in place", he added.

If you want to cancel your card there is a right way to do it.First -- pay your balance off in full. "It's not always the case but it's a possibility where the interest rate can rise on that balance if you advise the bank prior to cancelling your card", Jeremy said.

Stay firm and focussed -- don't be talked out of it by a teller.

But if you don't want to cancel your card, shop around for a better rate. "A balance transfer credit card essentially allows you to transfer your existing credit card balance to a new credit card, generally at an introductory rate", Jeremy said.

The Citi Clear Platinum card has zero per cent interest for six months on both purchases and transfers, rising to 10.99% after six months with an $85 annual fee.

The Jetstar Mastercard also has a six month interest free period on balance transfers, an annual fee of $49.00 and you won't pay credit card fees on the cost of Jjetstar flights.

If you pay off your credit card balance regularly, go for a card with a zero annual fee. An HSBC Credit Card or the Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard are the best options. If you are a day to day spender and carry a balance each month you should have a card with an interest rate under 15%. Jeremy suggests the Bankwest Lite Mastercard and the ANZ Low Rate Mastercard.

For anyone consolidating debt, consider a card that offers a balance transfer for life. Citibank Emirates Platinum allows you to transfer personal loans, other credit cards and even store cards, and if you're disciplined enough to pay your balance off in full each month, you could look at a rewards credit card like the Woolworths Everyday Money option.

Now that her cards are in order, Annie's free of more than just the financial burden.

For further information visit the website at: www.creditcardfinder.com.au