The average APR on new credit card offers sunk to its lowest point in nearly two years. However, it’s not clear how long the lower rates on new card offers will last, even if federal interest rates remain at rock bottom.
The average APR on new credit card offers dropped even further this week as more lenders matched the Federal Reserve’s latest coronavirus-related emergency rate cut and slashed rates by a full percentage point. The national average APR is now at its lowest point since April 2018.
According to CreditCards.com data, the past eight months have seen the sharpest drop in average APRs on new card offers in more than a decade. In July 2019, for example, the average card APR peaked at 17.8%. Since then, it’s tumbled by 1.11 percentage points.
Average rates on new card offers are likely to keep dropping in the coming weeks as more lenders match the Fed’s latest rate changes. When the Federal Reserve revises its benchmark interest rate, most card issuers eventually change APRs on new card offers by the same amount – at least temporarily.
However, it’s not clear how long the lower rates on new card offers will last, even if federal interest rates remain at rock bottom.
Historical data show lenders quickly raising rates, despite fed rate cuts
CreditCards.com has been checking the APRs, annual fees and promotional terms of a representative sample of U.S. credit cards since 2007. The only other period on record where the U.S. prime rate dropped this sharply was in 2008 when the Federal Reserve eventually slashed rates to near zero in response to the financial crisis.
At that time, average rates on new card offers dropped significantly for a period of time in late 2008 (though not as sharply as federal interest rates fell). However, they rebounded by January and continued to grow higher, year-over-year, for the next 10 years.
Between 2009 and 2016, for example, the average APR for the year grew from 12.34% to 15.18%, despite federal interest rates remaining near zero for nearly the entire period.
Average rates grew especially sharply in 2010 after the Credit CARD Act of 2009 went into effect. However, CreditCards.com data shows the average spread between a credit card’s interest rate and the prime rate (which is what makes up a card’s APR) has remained historically elevated since late 2008:
- In June 2007, for example, the spread between the average credit card’s advertised APR and the prime rate was 4.9 percentage points.
- By June 2009, that spread had widened to 8.96 percentage points.
- By June 2011, it had widened to 11.5 percentage points.
- In June 2019, the spread between the prime rate and the average credit card APR was 12.26 percentage points.
In more recent history, card issuers have also blunted declines in federal interest rates by hiking APRs on select cards or by reversing rate cuts on certain offers. As a result, the average credit card APR has not fallen nearly as sharply this year as federal interest rates.
Lenders are free to set rates as they wish on new credit card offers and aren’t required to match the Federal Reserve’s rate changes. (However, they do have to match changes in the prime rate on cards that have already been opened.)
Only a handful of major lenders have matched the Fed’s latest rate cuts
So far, only four of the nation’s biggest lenders have revised new card offers in response to the Federal Reserve’s March rate cuts. This week, Citi and Wells Fargo cut rates by one percentage point after trimming rates by half a percentage point earlier this month. Meanwhile, American Express and U.S. Bank cut rates last week.
Other smaller lenders have also cut rates by 1.5 percentage points, including State Farm, Key Bank, Huntington Bank, Deserve and PNC Bank.
However, several major lenders haven’t touched APRs on new card offers at all this month. For example, Bank of America, Chase, Discover and Capital One continue to advertise the same rates they advertised in February.
Average credit card interest rates this week
|Avg. APR||Last week||6 months ago|
|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.)|
|Updated: March 25, 2020|
Historic interest rates by card type
Some credit cards charge even higher rates, on average. The type of rate you get will depend in part on the category of credit card you own. For example, even the best travel credit cards often charge higher rates than basic, low interest credit cards.
CreditCards.com has been calculating average rates for a wide variety of credit card categories, including student cards, balance transfer cards, cash back cards and more, since 2007.
How to get a low credit card interest rate
Your odds of getting approved for a card’s lowest rate will increase the more you improve your credit score. Some factors that influence your credit card APR will be out of your control, such as the length of time you’ve been handling credit.
However, even if you’re new to credit or are rebuilding your score, there are steps you can take to ensure a lower APR. For example:
- Pay your bills on time. The single most important factor influencing your credit score – and your ability to win a lower rate – is your track record of making on-time payments. Lenders are more likely to trust you with a competitive APR – and other positive terms, such as a big credit limit – if you have a lengthy history of paying your bills on time.
- Keep your balances low. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible with your credit and don’t overcharge. As a result, credit scores take into account the amount of credit you’re using, compared to how much credit you’ve been given. This is known as your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your ratio, the better. For example, personal finance experts often recommend that you keep your balances well below 30% of your total credit limit.
- Build a lengthy and diverse credit history. Lenders also like to see that you’ve been successfully using credit for a long time and have experience with different types of credit, including revolving credit and installment loans. As a result, credit scores, such as the FICO score and VantageScore, factor in the average length of your credit history and the types of loans you’ve handled (which is known as your credit mix). To keep your credit history as long as possible, continue to use your oldest credit card so your lender doesn’t close it.
- Call your lender. If you’ve successfully owned a credit card for a long time, you may be able to convince your lender to lower your interest rate – especially if you have excellent credit. Reach out to your lender and ask if they’d be willing to negotiate a lower APR.
- Monitor your credit report. Check your credit reports regularly to make sure you’re being accurately scored.The last thing you want is for a mistake or unauthorized account to drag down your credit score. You have the right to check your credit reports from each major credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.