THIS lunar year is a good one for weddings. The auspicious year, and dates to come, mean that thousands of couples will be tying the knot in the next few months. Weddings can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and many couples will be financing the occasion with loans and credit cards. With high interest rates of about 20 per cent per year in many cases, interest payments are an extra expense many couples may not have budgeted for. Next Sunday is the 28th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, a popular day for weddings. One groom-to-be, whose future parents-in-law have chosen this date, said that he estimated his wedding expenses would come to about HK$400,000. Fortunately he said he had managed to save enough to cover the cost. According to Cecelia Lui, public relations manager of the Excelsior Hotel, the most expensive part of a Chinese wedding is the banquet, which can typically involve catering for 25 tables of 12 people. A 10-course banquet, complete with shark's fin soup and whole suckling pig for 300 guests can cost about $140,000. In addition, there are the bride's changes of clothes to take into account as most have at least three, Ms Lui said. Although limousines for three to five hours come as part of the wedding package in some hotels, extra time typically costs $500 per hour. The Marriage Registry charges $570 for the ceremony or $1,540 outside normal office hours. With photographers, cakes, cognac, tuxedos and jewellery, the whole package can easily come to more than $250,000. Although bank loans and credit cards provide a convenient way of paying for the big day, the cost of borrowing is expensive. An annualised percentage rate of 23.7 per cent is charged by Hongkong Bank on one year loans of more than $50,000 for non-payroll customers. On a personal loan of $150,000 (the maximum) the monthly payments would be just over $14,000. Over a year, the payments would be $168,000. Spreading the same loan over a longer period would reduce the monthly payments, but increase the amount of interest paid. Over three years, the $5,670 monthly payments would come to just over $200,000. Bank of America (Asia) is offering personal loans designed for weddings. The package includes a range of discounts and relatively competitive interest rate of about 15 per cent a year,or 9.65 per cent for loans of more than $50,000. Even at this rate, interest payments on $150,000 borrowed over one year, which include a life assurance premium, would add up to just over $13,000. To help ease the pain, Bank of America (Asia) borrowers can receive one free table for 12 guests, costing at least $4,000, for every 15 tables booked at the Excelsior. The bank also has negotiated a deal with Lucullus Gourmet Shop, which will provided gifts, depending on the number of wedding cake vouchers purchased. The Chow Tai Fook jewellery company also is offering discounts to borrowers. According to the Marriage Registry, 20,000 couples were married in the first half of this year, compared with 38,300 last year.