When Australia’s economy was travelling well – and it has been for 27 years – we took out loans on cars and houses, spent up big on our credit cards, ate at fancy restaurants and travelled the world.
Today, we stand at the end of the world’s longest boom. And many of us have no idea how to handle it.
With thousands stood down, and businesses ‘paused’ – today’s buzz word for shut – we face the fact that we may not be able to pay our bills.
Take Danielle Hocking, who spoke to the Daily Mail. She was one of the first lining up at Centrelink in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
She was a physiotherapist and over-night, was stood down from her job. As she was lining up, felt horrible about receiving government assistance for the first time in her life.
“I’m just trying to get any money I can really,” said Ms Hosking, 36. “I worked as a physiotherapist as practice manager and in client rehabilitation. I’d been there for seven years but my work wasn’t considered essential, so I’ve now lost my job.
“It’s the first time in my life I can’t get a job anywhere – even with qualifications. I’ve got my own place too so I’m going to have to call the banks, I’ve got no way to pay at the minute.”
Many are in Danielle’s position – we have credit card and car loans, mortgage repayments. And on top of that, we need to get dinner on the table and pay the power bills. But as our savings dwindle, and the bills mount up, where do we turn to for help?
Just before I penned this article, I too, had to think about my options. Within a few weeks, my employer, like so many other, had to reduce my salary and cut my hours.
My rental payments amount to around $800 per fortnight, $600 monthly in fees for my car loan lender as well as around $5,000 in credit card debt. As the panic started to settle in, I knew it was time to make some important phone calls.
Many of us are terrified of calling our lenders. But in extraordinary times like these, everyone is willing to help. And what surprised – and heartened – me most was that so many were willing to help.
The first, was my car lender. I was nervous. I had never missed a payment and the thought of calling someone to ask for help put my stomach in knots.
“Hello this is Sam speaking,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
There was a long pause before I introduced myself. I explained the situation of my financials. He was quick to reassure me I was not the only one in the same boat.
Sam had already redirected around 2,000 applications to their financial hardship team, who would be providing options on a case by case basis. I was offered a reduction that would halve my monthly payments to $300, or even pause my bills for several months.
As they are completely inundated, he said someone from the team would be in contact within the next seven to 10 days. The first hurdle done, and what a relief.
It was the same story with my real estate agent. I’m currently paying $400 a week for my rented apartment. But like my car lender, explaining the situation and being upfront made all the difference. And now, I’m paying rent at a 25% reduction.
My final call was to my credit card company – the one I had been dreading. I have still a substantial credit card debt with American Express (from the purchase of too many shoes and not enough shares!). I was expecting a tough reception.
But it was the same story. While American Express have not yet put any policies in place for financial hardship, I was assured by my operator that things are being discussed, and there was nothing for me to worry about right now.
Making those calls – and making them early – was the best thing I could possibly have done. And now that I’m over my nerves, I’d recommend it to anyone.
There is nothing to be embarrassed about as everyone is experiencing some form of financial hardship (unless you’re Jeff Bezos).
Here are some tips of what to say to your lenders.
- Be honest, open and upfront. If you have lost your job, make sure your lenders know so you can work through some options.
- Don’t get mad and panicky. Remember, these guys would also be going through a mountain of work. You also don’t want to antagonise someone who could potentially stop your repayments for several months.
- If you can’t pause some of your payments, try and cut a deal where you might be able to pay some of your loan back to your lender.
- Keep them up to date. Don’t rort the system once you’re back on your feet.
This is what the credit cards are willing to offer.
|ANZ||ANZ is offering financial hardship support for all customers experiencing difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. To discuss your options, call the bank's dedicated financial assistance team on 1800 315 548.
If you have a business credit card, call the ANZ business cards team on 1800 032 481 or contact your relationship manager. Alternatively, you can visit an ANZ branch if you are not medically required to self-quarantine.
|Bankwest||Bankwest has a dedicated coronavirus support page that it is updating with the latest information. It is offering financial hardship support to all customers, and is assessing each situation individually.
If you are having trouble meeting credit card repayments or have other financial concerns about your account, contact the dedicated team by emailing email@example.com or using one of the following phone numbers:
Payment solutions (flexible options): 1300 787 144 (Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm, Sat: 8am-2pm WST)
Financial assistance: 1300 769 173 (Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm WST)
You can also visit a Bankwest branch, providing you are not medically required to self-quarantine.
|BankSA||While the BankSA COVID-19 assistance information focuses on home loan support for individuals, you can fill out a request for hardship online and nominate your BankSA credit card account as one that needs support.
If you have a small business, the support available could include fee waivers on merchant terminal fees for three months, which you can request by applying online.
|Bank of Melbourne||Bank of Melbourne doesn't specifically mention credit cards in its COVID-19 support package for individuals, but you can fill out a request for hardship online and nominate your Bank of Melbourne credit card account as one that needs support.
If you have a small business, you can apply for support for a range of financial products and charges, including merchant terminal fees. You can apply by filling out an online form.
|Bendigo Bank||A coronavirus assistance package for all Bendigo and Adelaide Bank customers was released on 16 March 2020. While details of the package did not specifically mention credit cards, the bank's financial assistance services page does mention credit card accounts and repayment support.
Call 1300 652 146 to discuss your circumstances and assistance options. Alternatively, you can visit a Bendigo Bank branch, provided you are not medically required to self-quarantine.
|Bank of Queensland||BOQ doesn't list specific credit card support options but has said it is offering "urgent access to a range of financial relief measures".
You can call BOQ's COVID-19 customer hotline on 1800 079 866 to discuss your options as an individual or small business customer.
At this time, branches are open to people following the social distancing guidelines. You can also check your balance and manage account features as usual via Internet and mobile banking.
|Citi||Citi is offering financial support to customers affected by coronavirus, including a dedicated phone line and email address for people with Citi credit cards, Ready Credit or personal loans.
Phone: 1800 722 879
Note that Citi has said phone waiting times are longer than usual. You can visit the dedicated COVID-19 page for further details of banking options and other financial assistance being offered by Citi.
|Commonwealth Bank||ou can visit the CommBank coronavirus support page for the latest details on options for customers.
If you are unable to make credit card repayments, contact the bank's financial assistance team on 13 30 95 between 8am-9pm Monday to Friday and 9am-2pm on Saturday (Sydney/Melbourne time).
If you want more control over repayments and your credit limit, log into NetBank or the CommBank app, which includes the following account management options:
Credit limit changes
SurePay instalment plan options
CommBank branches are also open to customers who are healthy and able to visit.
|ING||ING has published a Coronavirus support page outlining the help available for all of their products and services.
If you cannot make your credit card repayments, you can call 133 464 and request a 3-6 month payment pause. This means that repayments are not required and your card will become inactive. Interest and fees still accrue and after the pause, the balance will be converted to an instalment plan.
|Latitude Financial Services||Coronavirus support from Latitude Financial Services could include reduced monthly payments or reduced interest on credit cards.
You can apply for support by filling out an online form or by calling 1800 220 718. However, Latitude Financial Services has said it is experiencing a higher than usual number of calls, so it recommends applying online.
|Macquarie||As of Friday 20 March 2020, all Macquarie personal and business customers can defer loan repayments for up to 6 months. This includes credit cards. You can make a request by filling out an online form.
You can also call Macquarie Bank on 1800 674 922 to discuss other relief measures for your credit card, or visit the bank's coronavirus information page for further details.
|NAB||NAB has a dedicated customer support page for COVID-19, which will be updated as details emerge.
If you want to talk about financial hardship options, contact the dedicated personal or business team below:
Personal: 1300 683 106 (Mon-Fri: 8am-8pm AEST/AEDT, Sat: 9am-1pm AEST/AEDT)
Business: 1300 769 650 (Mon-Fri: 8am-6pm AEST/AEDT)
You can also check your account through the NAB app or Internet banking, or visit a NAB branch if you are healthy and able to do so.
|St.George||St.George offers hardship assistance packages for personal and business customers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with options for reducing or deferring payments in the short term. You can talk about these options by calling one of the following numbers:
Personal: 13 33 30
Business: 13 38 00
You can also manage your account online, through phone banking or by visiting a branch if you are able to do so. St.George said there may be "isolated branch closures", so it's a good idea to call the branch directly before visiting.
|Westpac||Westpac has a dedicated page with details about support as the coronavirus situation evolves. It offers hardship assistance for all customers, including options for reducing or deferring payments.
You can apply for hardship assistance online by filling out a secure application form on the Westpac website. You will need to provide details of your financial circumstances and the credit card or other accounts that you have with Westpac. It should take about 10-30 minutes to complete. Once submitted, it will be reviewed and a team member will contact you. Westpac has said this may be faster than calling at the moment, due to the high volume of phone calls being made.
Alternatively, you can visit a branch if you are healthy, or call one of the following numbers:
Personal: 132 032
Business: 132 142
Note that Westpac has said there may be some branches that are closed during this time, so check the website or app, or call a branch directly before visiting.