Smart credit strategies

For CommBank personal finance expert Jess Irvine, when credit cards are used wisely, they can help you pocket some handy savings.

1 July 2024

As a personal finance expert, I caution people to be careful in how they use credit and urge anyone who finds themselves in over their head to contact their lender to discuss options. But credit cards are a tool I’ve safely wielded at various times – by always paying my balance in full each month – to help move me towards my financial goals. In fact, after a hiatus from credit cards, I’ve recently reopened one and I reckon it will save me hundreds of dollars this year. Here are some of my credit tips to make that happen. 


As with all financial products, it’s important that you understand the benefits and costs of any credit card you consider applying for. You also need to consider how the card aligns with your spending habits and financial goals.

Be sure to check annual or monthly fees and interest rates that apply and weigh these against any potential benefits.


Anyone with a mortgage offset account likely understands the benefits of keeping as much cash in there as possible. Every dollar you hold in that account helps to reduce how much interest you pay on your home loan. One smart strategy can be to use a credit card with an interest-free period to make everyday purchases, rather than withdrawing money from your offset account immediately to fund them. As long as you pay off your card balance in full each month, this approach keeps your money working harder for you in your offset.


I earn Awards points on all eligible purchases, which can be taken as either cashback into my account or redeemed at various retailers or travel companies. It’s becoming a handy little pot of money that can be either cashed out regularly or stored up for a future purchase. But remember to keep track of your rewards balance and expiration dates. And keep in mind that the gains are good when you pay your bill in full and on time – but holding a balance can quickly negate any rewards you earn. 


I cut up a credit card 5 years ago to maximise my borrowing capacity for a home. Prudent lenders assume you may max out your available limit at any point and take that into account when calculating your surplus cash flow to service your mortgage. Even if you pay off your credit card balance in full every month – like I always have – just having a card reduces your capacity to borrow. Keeping a card when borrowing is possible – consider reducing your credit limit or consolidating cards to boost your borrowing power. Speak to your lender about your options.


Many credit cards now offer free travel insurance coverage, provided you pay a minimum amount of your holiday on that card. Just make sure you check what you’re actually covered
for and whether this insurance is sufficient for your needs. You may also be able to avoid international transaction fees – several cards give users an exemption from paying them. I’m embarrassed to say I paid hundreds of dollars in foreign transaction fees in recent years before realising this. 


When managing your spending, consider CommBank’s SurePay Purchase instalment plan. Eligible credit- card customers can spend on their card and use a SurePay Purchase plan to break the expense into fixed monthly instalments for 3, 6 or 12 months – the timeframe that best suits you. You don’t pay interest on the amount you’re paying off and there’s just a one-off set-up fee.


If you’re experiencing difficulty managing debt repayments, contact your lender as soon as possible to discuss your options and available support. The National Debt Helpline also provides free and confidential support and advice on 1800 007 007.

Jess Irvine (@moneywithjess) is a finance expert, author of Money with Jess and a respected journalist with nearly two decades of financial reporting experience. Her personal passion is helping people with their money. Jess’ new book, The Money Diary (Wiley), is out now.

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