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Credit card rates dip again, but more hikes likely coming soon

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Interest rates on new credit card offers declined slightly this week, although experts say that dip doesn't mean cardholders should expect to borrow by plastic cheaply anytime soon.

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 12.97% 12.98% 11.94%
Business 10.74% 10.74% 11.24%
Low interest 11.97% 11.97% 10.41%
Balance transfer 12.03% 12.09% 9.98%
Cash back  12.49% 12.49% 11.20%
Instant approval 13.32% 13.32% 12.49%
Reward 
13.40% 13.42% 12.03%
Airline 13.60% 13.60% 13.22%
Bad credit 13.74% 13.74% 14.29%
Student 14.51% 14.51% 14.45%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 95 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: 12-30-2009

For the second straight week, Bank of America trimmed the annual percentage rates on one of its card products, slightly lowering the national average interest rates on new credit card offers to 12.97 percent, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report. That decline -- though small -- marks the first time since June that the national average has fallen for two consecutive weeks. Still, experts say these recent declines represent just a temporary break from, not an end to, interest rates' steady upward climb.

"No doubt about it -- consumer credit is going to be more difficult for everyone to get, and more expensive when people get it, over the course of the next few years," University of North Carolina at Charlotte finance professor Tony Plath says.   

A pricey time for cardholders
Although annual percentage rates (APRs) have come down recently, it's still much more costly to borrow on plastic than it was earlier this year. As banks guard themselves against losses due to high unemployment and increasing regulation, cardholders are paying the price. For example, someone who borrowed $5,000 on a credit card today and consistently paid $150 per month at today's rate would have to pay $6,234 to pay off the debt. That's $128 more than would have been required in June. 

The APR increases aren't spread evenly among the nine types of cards tracked by CreditCards.com. Over recent months, it's become particularly costly to carry debt on balance transfer and rewards cards. Since late September, balance transfer cards have seen their annual percentage rates increase by more than a point and a half, while reward credit cards have seen their APRs increase by over a point.

Interest rates are likely to continue rising. Experts say cardholders who revolve -- and even those who don't -- may be charged more by their banks. "My guess is that they'll jack up the interest rates for people that need to revolve and use fees" increasingly, says Dennis Moroney, research director with advisory services firm TowerGroup. Moroney says that banks are likely to use annual fees and inactivity fees on unused plastic as the Credit CARD Act limits their earnings from interest rates.

Still, Moroney says that even as APRs continue to rise overall, banks may be willing to cut their most responsible cardholders a deal, selectively lowering rates for certain borrowers. For banks, "right now, the name of the game is hold on to your good customers and get them to use [credit cards] more," says Moroney. 

See related: Creative new fees escape CARD Act rules, surprise consumers, A guide to the Credit CARD Act of 2009

Published: December 30, 2009


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