How many of us are paying fees on our credit cards, and what is the average APR on a card with a balance? CreditCards.com has compiled statistics to answer those questions and more
The Credit CARD Act of 2009 set limits on rate increases, and on fees that could be charged to credit card holders. The card industry changed in response to the law: Instead of offering low rates upfront with big back-end rate hikes, it became more transparent and set truer upfront rates. That has resulted in slightly higher initial rates for consumers, but fewer surprise punitive fees and rate hikes.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Credit Card Market Report 2019, accounts that carry a balance saw their total cost of credit rise in the last two years as the prime rate, to which their variable rates tend to be linked, went up. In 2018, these consumers saw their total cost of credit hit 18.7%, which is a high for the CFPB survey.
And according to Federal Reserve Board’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018, 80% of U.S. adults have at least one credit card, of whom about 27% carried a balance most or all of the time, meaning they regularly paid interest. Another 25% carried a balance some of the time. However, 47% never carried a balance in the previous year. At the household level, the Fed Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, found that 44% of families had credit card balances in 2016.
A November 2019 fee survey by CreditCards.com found that the average credit card has four fees associated with it. Late fees are the most common, with cash advance fees, penalty fees and balance transfer fees also common. However, foreign transaction fees are on the decline.
The CFPB reports that total fees on accounts that carried a balance, as a percentage of account balances overall, did not change much compared to 2017 and 2018; they remained at the less than 3% level. For consumers who don’t carry a balance, fees tend to be their only cost. For all consumers, fees account for just under 20% of total costs.
Common fees incurred by cardholders
Late payment fee
Federal regulation sets limits on credit card late fees. The maximum late fee that can be charged on a first delinquency is $28 in 2019. This can go up to $39 for subsequent delinquencies. The amounts can be adjusted annually for inflation, and these maximum late fees for 2018 were $27 and $38.
Card issuers can charge less than the maximum. However, the regulatory figure is the typical late fee, according to banks’ terms and conditions published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Overall, “superprime” consumers, who hold 59% of card accounts, paid only 21% of the late fees by volume in 2018, while “deep subprime” consumers, who hold about 6% of card accounts, paid 24% of the late fees generated. Fees on private label card accounts amounted to 5.8% of balances overall at the end of 2018, while fees on general purpose cards were 2.2 %.
Only 27 of the 100 cards surveyed by CreditCards.com in November 2019 charged an annual fee, and those fees ranged from $29 to $450. And nine of those will reduce or waive the fee in the first year of the account for new cardholders.
Higher fees generally function as payment for lucrative reward programs. According to the consumer bureau’s report, late fees are more common on private label cards, such as store and gas cards, than on general cards. This is true both overall, and across all credit categories.
Cash advance fees
According to Creditcards.com’s 2019 Credit Card Fee Survey, cash advance fees have risen in 2019, with 64 cards charging up to 5% per transaction to do a cash advance. Only three of the surveyed cards provide cash advances that are free or low-cost.
Debt suspension fees
Known as payment protection, debt protection or debt cancellation plans, these fees are growing less widespread in the card market, and less burdensome to cardholders. Before the 2009 CARD Act, one of five accounts incurred the fee quarterly, falling to one in 17 accounts by 2015. In 2016 the incidence of the fees continued to decline from 5.8% of general purpose fees charged to 3.3 percent. According to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report, fees for debt protection programs ranged from 85 cents to $1.35 per month for every $100 of balance.
The impact of interest
For consumers who carry a balance, interest can be expensive. The average annual percentage rate (APR) on a credit card with a balance was about 17% in August 2019, according to the Federal Reserve Consumer Credit Report. That means a $5,000 balance with that rate could cost you $6,151 in interest payments if you make only minimum payments, which would pay off the loan in 220 months. The average APR for all cards, including those that do not carry a balance, was 15% in August 2019.
For new card offers tracked by CreditCards.com’s weekly rate survey, the average APR on the 100 most popular credit cards (not just accounts assessed interest) rose to 17.27% in December 2019.
Business credit cards have lower rates. The average APR on a business card was 15.09%. New student-oriented card offers have an average APR of 18.58%.
Credit card APRs have been creeping up since the Federal Reserve started raising the benchmark federal funds rate in December 2015. Most cards have variable APRs that are pegged to banks’ prime rate. And banks set their prime rate in step with changes in the federal funds rate.
Credit card APRs, 2007-2019
Students and cards
According to Student Monitor’s Spring 2018 Financial Services report:
- 35 percent of four-year, full-time U.S. undergraduates have a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover card account in their own name.
- The average APR for those who say they know their APR is 8 percent.
- Of the 35 percent fraction of undergrads who have cards, 20 percent say they have been charged with a late fee.
Federal Reserve Report on Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018
Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances
GAO Report to Congressional Committees, March 2011
Student Monitor LLC
U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Consumer Credit Card Market Report 2019