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Walmart rate hike sends credit card APRs to record high

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Interest rates on new credit card offers rose to record highs this week, following a rate hike on Walmart's Discover card.

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 14.76%
14.69%
14.25%
Low interest 11.87%
11.93% 12.11%
Cash back  12.64%
12.70%
12.57%
Balance transfer 12.83%
12.83%
12.75%
Business 13.05%
13.05%
12.96%
Reward  14.43%
14.29%
14.29%
Airline 14.45%
14.45%
14.43%
Student
14.49%
14.49%
13.77%
Instant approval 15.99%
16.49%
15.99%
Bad credit 24.64%
24.64%
19.88%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of about 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: Nov. 3, 2010

The national average annual percentage rate (APR) for new credit cards hit 14.76 percent, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report, establishing the highest level since CreditCards.com began tracking APRs in 2007. It was the fifth rate increase in the past six weeks.  

Driving rates upward was Walmart Discover card's APR change to 22.90 percent for all new cardholders. That card had previously featured a rate range of 13.90 percent to 22.90 percent for new cardholders. Neither Walmart nor the card's issuer, G.E. Money, responded to requests for comment.

Rates keep rising
This was the second big jump in as many weeks. The previous week, First Premier began charging all Centennial Classic card applicants a 59.9 percent APR instead of a range from 23.9 percent to 59.9 percent. And since only the low end of APR ranges is factored into our rate calculations, the removal of that 23.9 percent APR sent the national average higher. That rate is still in effect.

Analysts say lenders continue to raise APRs on new offers amid high unemployment -- which increases the likelihood of unpaid bills -- and Credit CARD Act restrictions on the raising rates of existing customers. The effect on new cardholders amounts to something of a "one-size fits all" rate, says John Grund of First Annapolis Consulting, a financial consulting and investment banking services firm.

That means higher costs for most borrowers. For example, a typical cardholder who borrowed $5,000 on a credit card today and consistently paid $150 per month at today's average interest rate would have to pay $6,475 to pay off the debt. That's $241 more than would have been required on Jan. 1, 2010, when the national average APR for new card offers was 12.97 percent. (See the CreditCards.com calculator: How long will it take to pay off your credit card balance?)

Cardholders shouldn't expect lower rates in the near future, experts say. "APRs will continue to rise until the industry reaches a new equilibrium of supply and demand," Grund says. "In other words, there are issuers pulling out of certain customer segments and optimizing their portfolios to achieve a new return profile. The increases have been and will be most prevalent in higher-risk customer segments and those products hit particularly hard by the CARD Act." 

See related: Credit card reform arrives in the form of the Credit CARD Act, Calculator: How long will it take to pay off your credit card balance?Credit card rates: interactive graphic on APR changes 

Published: November 3, 2010


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