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Cash points

Christmas is over, so is the spending. Now it's time to pay it all back, writes Sean Coughlan

My credit cards have been steamrollered by Christmas and the new year, and they're lying low in my wallet like a couple of teenagers with hangovers. Never again, I say, shaking my head in disbelief at the statements. And I'm not alone in this, because the forecasts are that between us we'll have spent pound;20 billion on plastic in the run-up to Christmas.

But then, when I'm feeling at my most remorseful, I notice the ads for summer holidays. On a miserably damp evening in January, it's a cruel trick to show blue skies and warm sand. And I'm ready to get spending again. It's not much really, they're whispering, and you wouldn't have to pay it off all at once.

But I'm going to resist the temptation. Because, having piled on the pounds, the real new year challenge is to shed the debts with as little pain as possible. What's the best way of avoiding the sting in the tail from interest charges?

Without becoming a complete interest rate anorak, there's no point giving your money away by paying high charges when it's easy to shuffle your debts in the direction of cheaper rates.

And don't assume that an overdraft is cheaper than a credit card, or a personal loan is cheaper than an overdraft. The moneylending market is awash with competition and you'll find good, bad and ugly rates for all these types of loans.

Another mistake is to assume that your bank will give you a good rate because you've been a loyal customer. You're more likely to get a better deal by shopping around. There are high street banks charging their customers a hefty 17 per cent for overdrafts, while next door there are competitors charging less than half that for the same service.

Credit and store cards can charge anything between 0 per cent and 30 per cent, and lenders are not going to complain if you want to pay them at the upper end of the scale.

With personal loans you can find another spread of charges, from less than 8 per cent up to 18 per cent, a price gap that can mean paying hundreds of pounds in extra interest.

Remember, the season for giving your money away has finished. Now it's payback time.

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