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Rate survey: Credit card APRs stay at record high

By Kate Tomasino

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 14.91% 14.91%
14.71%
Low interest 10.73%
10.73% 11.98%
Balance transfer 12.78%
12.78%
12.88%
Business 13.07%
13.07%
12.91%
Student
13.77%
13.77%
13.31%
Cash back  14.16%
14.16%
12.48%
Airline  14.31%
14.31%
14.24%
Reward 14.51%
14.51%
14.35%
Instant approval 15.99%
15.99%
15.99%
Bad credit 24.96%
24.96%
24.95%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. issuers and representing every card category listed above. (Introductory, or teaser, rates are not included in the calculation.)
Source: CreditCards.com
Updated: July 13, 2011

Summer vacationers, beware: Credit card interest rates stayed at record heights for a second straight week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Rate Report.

The national average percentage rate (APR) on new credit card offers remained at 14.91 percent. We found no APR changes for any of the credit card offers we track, keeping the national APR average at the highest level since CreditCards.com began tracking APRs in 2007. The previous record was 14.85 percent set in mid-May.

While rates are at record levels, the recent upward movement is in keeping with trends seen in previous years. Rising rewards card APRs have played a part in pushing the national average higher, and for the past three years, rewards card APRs have consistently surged in the spring and early summer, heading into the peak vacation season, when people are most likely to pull out their rewards cards for travel.

The overall national average APR is way up from late April, when it hit its lowest point of the year at 14.65 percent. Meanwhile, the average APR on a rewards card offer has jumped from 14.32 percent to 14.51 percent since April. In previous years, the increases have been even greater.

  • In April 2010, the average rewards card APR offer was 14.29 percent before climbing to 14.75 percent by June 2010.
  • In April 2009, the average was 12.19 percent and jumped to 13.71 by early May.
  • In April 2008, the average was 11.39 percent before jumping to over 12 percent in mid-June.

In April 2007, CreditCards.com had not yet started tracking rates. We began in June of that year, when rewards cards APRs were over 13 percent.

Each year from 2008 through 2010, rewards card offer rates fell -- at least somewhat -- in the late summer or early fall, according to CreditCards.com data. For example, in 2010, rewards cards fell from 14.75 percent in June to 14.33 percent by Sept. 1.

According to National Foundation for Credit Counseling spokeswoman Gail Cunningham, banks and issuers may be looking to bolster profits from customers' vacation spending. 

"Vacations are definitely a large-ticket expense, and if you have a rewards card, you're inclined to charge every purchase in order to earn points or miles," Cunningham said.  "People are well-intentioned and don't intend to overspend, but so often get caught up in the moment and do exactly the opposite of what they'd planned." 

Introductory rates, bonus deals and rewards programs are becoming more enticing as creditors look at ways to lure more consumers back into the credit market. Cards that carry 0 percent introductory rates are more common than during the peak of the recession and are being offered with longer terms, lasting as long as 21 months. 

Consumers need to stay wary of these sweet deals, experts say, since reward cards' APRs can be extremely high once the introductory period ends, putting cardholders at greater risk for financial vulnerability. It can be especially easy to spend with reckless abandon when you're thinking about the rewards you can rake in.

If you find yourself in this predicament and you've spent more than you budgeted for that summer getaway, Cunningham recommends doing whatever it takes to pay off the vacation bills in at most three months. 

"Stringing out the payments for longer will add significantly to their debt, use up available credit and consume monies that could be used for other needs," Cunningham said. 

See related: An interactive guide to the Credit CARD Act, Rewards cards' sign-up bonuses get more generous

Published: July 13, 2011


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