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09/12/07

Interest free credit period cut by some firms

Now everybody hates getting their credit card bills, especially after Christmas, but at least there's those 56 days that most cards give you interest free. But if you're with NatWest, with RBS or MINT and you usually pay your bill off in full by direct debit, in future you are going to get the bill just 15 days before it is due.

These changes from the RBS Group are aimed at card users who rely on the free credit on their card in order to juggle their monthly outgoings.

Direct debit customers will get their statements 10 days later than they are used to. This will leave just 15 days until the money is taken from their accounts. Any spending after the new statement will go on the next months bill. It's this which may make it harder for some to keep tabs on how much they've spent and, if they don't have enough in the bank to pay the direct debit, they could find themselves needing to run up interest charges on the card.

Some credit card experts believe it could all leave Christmas spenders with a financial hangover, especially if other card issuers follow suit. The interest free periods that credit cards give are really one of the main benefits that card companies use to sell to encourage us to take out credit cards. By shortening that period, there's a greater chance that people are going to be caught out.

Yet Malcolm Hurlston of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, an organisation which specialises in helping people in debt, says the principle of cutting free credit is the right one.

"Those of us who are successful in handling our credit are getting a free credit card and we are probably getting free banking as well, but somebody is paying for that because the banks aren't losing money with this most of the time and the people who are paying for us are the people who are in financial difficulties and the people who are badly organised. It is better if everybody pays the real cost of the credit card and the bank so that we are not dependant on those unfortunate people to pay for us."