Rate survey: Average card APR rises to all-time high of 15.59 percent

Kelly Dilworth
Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

The national average APR on new credit card offers climbed to another all-time high this week, reaching 15.59 percent, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

This is the first time on record average rates have come this close to 16 percent.

Several issuers increased rates this week, matching the Federal Reserve’s March 15 rate hike. Last week, the Fed announced it was increasing its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percent. Most variable rate cards are expected to rise by the same amount.

So far, American Express, U.S. Bank and several regional banks have matched the Fed’s rate change. 

Citi also hiked the APR on one of its airline cards by nearly 2 percentage points. Cardholders who apply for the AAdvantage Gold card are now offered a range starting at 16.24 percent and maxing out at 24.24 percent.

Average rates could soon top 16 percent
Average rates on new card offers could reach 16 percent or more by the end of the year if the Federal Reserve follows through on additional rate hikes. 

After its March 15 meeting, the Fed signaled that at least two more rate increases are likely in 2017 as the economy adds more jobs at a healthy rate. A voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, speculated on Monday that the Fed could be even more aggressive and increase rates at least three more times before 2018.  

“I think three is entirely possible. As I gain more confidence in the outlook, I could support three total this year,” Evans said in an interview with Fox Business. “If inflation began to pick up, that would certainly solidify my report. It could be three, it could be two, it could be four if things really pick up.”

If the Federal Reserve increases rates by a quarter of a percent each time, that could lead to steep charges for cardholders who carry a balance. Unless a substantial number of issuers dramatically cut rates, the national average APR is likely to inch closer to 15.76 percent over the next two months as more card issuers match the Fed’s March 15 rate hike.

When CreditCards.com first started tracking rates in mid-2007, the average credit card APR hovered around 13 percent. In 2008, the average APR for the year clocked in at just 11.54 percent.

Issuers began increasing rates on new card offers more dramatically in 2010 after the Credit CARD Act of 2009 went into effect, curbing issuers’ ability to increase current cardholder rates without notice. By the end of 2010, for example, the national average APR hit 14.68 percent. Issuers must now give cardholders at least 45 days’ notice of a rate change and allow cardholders to opt out of rate increases by canceling their accounts.

Bank advocates say that credit card interest rates are higher now, in part, because the CARD Act’s regulations limit issuers’ ability to flexibly change cardholders’ pricing. As a result, issuers rarely cut the lowest available APR on new credit card offers.

After 2010, the national average APR remained within rounding distance of 15 percent for more than six years. In 2016, the national average APR decreased just four times in 12 months. In 2015, it fell just three times. In 2009, by contrast, the average APR decreased 16 times in 12 months.

If issuers continue to limit rate cuts over the next several years and raise APRs in line with the Fed’s rate hikes, cardholders are likely to pay substantially more than they ever have before to carry a balance on a new card.

CreditCards.com's Weekly Rate Report
  Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 15.59% 15.51%
Low interest 12.44%
12.37% 11.98%
Cash back 15.63%
Balance transfer 14.86%
Business 13.49%
Student 13.73%
Airline 15.59%
Reward  15.67%
Instant approval 18.11%
Bad credit 23.04%
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: March 22, 2017

See related: Applications dip, credit market shows signs of cooling off, Is unsecured personal loan the best way to consolidate debt? 

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Updated: 02-21-2019