Rate survey: Average card APR soars to all-time record high of 17.41 percent

Kelly Dilworth
Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report

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The average credit card interest rate began the New Year at another all-time record high, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report. The national average APR soared to 17.41 percent Wednesday after more than half of the cards included in the weekly rate report matched the Federal Reserve’s December 2018 rate hike.  

When the Fed raises its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, most U.S. credit cards increase rates by the same amount.  

Bank of America, American Express, U.S. Bank, Citi, Discover, Wells Fargo and Barclaycard all increased rates by a quarter of a percent in recent weeks. 

Meanwhile, Capital One took the opportunity to increase rates by slightly more. It increased rates on most of its credit cards by half a percentage point. 

The collective increase in rates helped push the national average APR to its highest point since CreditCards.com began tracking rates in mid-2007. 

Interest rates on credit cards have climbed steadily in recent years as the Fed continues to adjust its benchmark rate. 

A year ago, for example, the average card APR was over a full percentage point lower than it is now. Three years ago, the average card APR clocked in at just 15.07 percent – a more than 2-point difference. 

Many new cardholders are also being charged well above 17.41 percent. When CreditCards.com calculates the national average APR, it only takes into account a card’s lowest available interest rate. However, most U.S. credit cards advertise a wide range of potential APRs – often spanning as many as 10 percentage points or more. 

Typically, only cardholders with pristine credit are awarded a card’s lowest available APR. Others are charged either the card’s maximum possible interest rate or something in between the card’s lowest and highest available rates. 

Just as minimum interest rates have been rising, so too have maximum interest rates. As a result, many new cardholders are now seeing rates as high as 20 percent or more when they open a new card. 

That could come as a shock to cardholders who are used to lower rates. The average maximum APR, for example, is now 24.74 percent, thanks in part to many general interest rewards cards that charge maximum rates above 25 percent. Meanwhile, the average median card APR – which is closer to what many new cardholders are being charged – has climbed to 21.08 percent. 

The Fed has come under pressure in recent months to pause or slow down its upcoming rate hikes. However, it signaled at its December 2018 policy meeting that it would likely raise rates at least two more times before 2020. Previously, the Fed had predicted that it would likely raise rates as many as three times in 2019. 

Two more rate hikes over the next year could cause the national average APR to come near, or potentially even surpass, 18 percent for the first time on record. Meanwhile, maximum rates could settle well above 25 percent by 2020.  

Consumers could see fewer rewards in 2019

Despite higher credit card interest rates, many consumers have continued to rely more heavily on credit cards for everyday payments, in part because of their cards’ rewards. 

However, some credit card rewards programs may get a haircut in 2019 or be reinvented altogether. 

According to exclusive reporting from the Wall Street Journal, some card issuers are considering scaling back their rewards programs in order to make them more sustainable. 

Citi, American Express and JP Morgan Chase – which collectively issue some of the best-known rewards programs – are all discussing ways to either curb the rewards bonuses they offer or makeover the earnings schemes so that consumers use their cards more heavily, the newspaper reported.   

Already, a number of issuers have tweaked their rewards and benefits in order to reduce their overall expenditures. Citi, for example, scaled back the number of times Citi Prestige cardholders could take advantage of its famous fourth night free benefit. Meanwhile, Chase cut several ancillary benefits, including price protection and return protection, from the majority of its cards. 

Experts have predicted for years that lenders would eventually have to tighten their belts after competing fiercely for new cardholders and offering increasingly generous rewards programs. 

In recent years, credit card rewards appeared to be enjoying a golden period as card issuers showered new customers with hundreds of dollars’ worth of bonuses and travel perks. However, as card issuers’ expenses continue to rise, consumers may not see nearly as many benefits in the next generation of rewards cards. 

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report

  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 17.41% 17.21%
Low interest 14.40%
14.19% 13.72%
Cash back 17.48%
Balance transfer 16.59%
Business 15.05%
Student 17.76%
Airline 17.32%
Rewards 17.37%
Instant approval 19.97%
Bad credit 24.96%
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: Jan. 2, 2019

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Updated: 03-23-2019