Average card APR remains unchanged at 14.99 percent

Average rates on new card offers lingered at 14.99 percent Wednesday after increasing the previous week to their highest point in more than six months, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

None of the cards tracked by CreditCards.com advertised new interest rates. Promotional terms were also left unchanged.  

Average rates on new card offers are higher now than they've been in months. The last time the national average APR stayed above 14.98 percent was in November 2014. Over the past six months, average card rates have mostly declined, hitting a nearly three-year low in February as issuers trimmed APRs on a select group of cards.

Since then, average APRs have picked up somewhat as issuers hike rates on selected offers. The national average APR is still lower now than it was for most of 2014.

Issuers have also been slow to change promotional terms online. Among the cards tracked by CreditCards.com, most interest-free offers have stayed the same throughout 2015. Issuers may begin offering more generous promotions in the future as competition for new cardholders heats up.

Direct mail campaigns ramp up
Competition for new cardholders has intensified in recent weeks, according to new research from financial services firm Credit Suisse.

Issuers sent 383 million card offers to consumers' homes in April - 29 percent more than was mailed in March and 12 percent more than mailed during the same period in 2014.

The sharp increase in the number of mailed card offers suggests that lenders' appetite for new customers has swelled in recent weeks. The last time so many card offers were mailed in a single month was in 2011 when larger mail volumes were more frequent.

According to Credit Suisse, issuers expect cardholders to take on more debt in the coming months and so are working harder to attract potentially high spenders. "The high level of competition in the market, measured by the mail data, shows that issuers are fighting for their shares of the industry's expected increase in balances," wrote Moshe Orenbuch, Lesley Robertshaw and James Ulan in a research note. Credit Suisse predicts credit card balances will expand by around 4 percent this year, thanks in part to a larger number of cardholders being approved for new cards.

Issuers had cut back on the number of offers mailed in the first three months of 2015 as economic growth slowed down. The recent uptick in offers suggests that banks are relatively confident that faster job growth and other improving economic indicators will encourage cardholders to spend.  

"Year-over-year growth rates, until now, had been decelerating," wrote Orenbuch, Robertshaw and Ulan. However, issuers told researchers earlier in the year they were planning to increase marketing expenditures in order to compete more fiercely for new customers. "We anticipate that the high level of competition will likely continue to drive high mailing rates in upcoming months," wrote researchers. 

Credit Suisse predicts card issuers will mail around 4.2 billion offers by the end of 2015. That's 5 percent more than last year, but still significantly less than during the recession.

0 percent balance transfer offers continue to disappear
Despite sending out more offers, there are fewer promotional balance transfer offers available, according to Credit Suisse. In April, issuers mailed 268 million card offers advertising a 0 percent balance transfer rate -- down from 269 million in 2014. In March, issuers mailed 8 million fewer balance transfer offers than the previous year.

Instead of balance transfer deals, issuers appear to be focusing on interest-free purchase offers instead. In April, issuers mailed 314 million card offers advertising a 0 percent APR on purchases -- up from 279 million offers during the same period in 2014.

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 14.99% 14.99%
Low interest 11.62%
11.62% 10.37%
Cash back 15.26%
Balance transfer 14.13%
Business 12.85%
Student 13.14%
Airline 15.10%
Reward  15.12%
Instant approval 17.93%
Bad credit 22.73%
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: May 27, 2015

See related: Poll: Rewards cards take larger share of market,

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Updated: 01-19-2019