Rate survey: Average card APR rises to 15.22 percent

The average APR on new credit card offers rose to tie a record high this week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

For the first time in nearly five years, the national average annual percentage rate (APR) rose to 15.22 percent.

The last time rates were this high was in December 2011 when the national average briefly peaked at 15.22 percent. At that time, rates stayed above 15.10 for just four weeks before dropping below 15 percent in January 2012. This year, rates have remained solidly above 15.10 percent since Jan. 6 and show no sign of dropping anytime soon.

Unlike most rate changes, this week’s change was due to a replacement in the credit card database rather than a change in terms. Occasionally, CreditCards.com reshuffles cards in the database in order to more accurately reflect the current card market.

Fed eyes rate hike
Interest rates on new credit card offers are expected to rise even higher when the Federal Reserve increases its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate. If so, the national average APR could rise to its highest point on record.

Credit card issuers have been much more likely in recent years to raise interest rates than to lower them. Over the past year, for example, the national average APR has fallen just three times and increased seven times.

When the Federal Reserve increases the federal funds rate, its benchmark interest rate, variable rate card APRs generally follow. The last time the Federal Reserve increased rates by a quarter point, for example, nearly all cards in the database quicly followed suit.

After announcing a quarter-point rate increase in December 2015, members of the Federal Open Market Committee have remained committed to additional rate increases. However, the committee has held back on raising rates since the beginning of the year, thanks in part to uncertainty in the U.S. economy and economic turmoil abroad.   

Now, the Federal Reserve is preparing for another rate-setting committee meeting Sept. 20-21, and some analysts are speculating that positive economic news could prompt the Fed to raise rates then.

Another important data point in the Fed’s decision comes Friday, when the Labor Department will release its monthly jobs report, which would show how many jobs the economy added in August. After two straight months of robust job growth, many analysts are expecting that the next monthly jobs report will also be relatively strong. In July, employers added 255,000 jobs and in June, employers added 292,000 jobs – signs that employers’ appetite for expansion is increasing.

Consumer spending has also been robust this summer. The Commerce Department announced Aug. 29 that consumer spending rose for the fourth month in a row in July. Meanwhile, personal income also increased, giving consumers more room to spend.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen hinted another rate hike could be coming soon. 

“The FOMC continues to anticipate that gradual increases in the federal funds rate will be appropriate over time to achieve and sustain employment and inflation near our statutory objectives,” said Yellen in an Aug. 26 speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months.”

CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 15.22% 15.19%
Low interest 11.98%
11.98% 11.96%
Cash back 15.32%
Balance transfer 14.39%
Business 13.12%
Student 13.42%
Airline 15.13%
Reward  15.30%
Instant approval 18.04%
Bad credit 22.86%
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: Aug. 31, 2016

See related: What interest rate increases will cost cardholders, What to do if your credit card rate goes up

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Updated: 03-19-2019