Average rates on brand-new credit cards have remained unusually low for nearly a year now, thanks to rock bottom federal interest rates.
The average credit card interest rate is 16.13%
Exactly one year after the Federal Reserve announced its first emergency rate cut in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, interest rates on new credit card offers remained near a three-and-a-half-year low for another record-setting week.
Before last March, the last time credit card shoppers enjoyed rates this low was in the summer of 2017. Back then, the average card APR largely remained within rounding distance of 16%, just as it has for most of the past year.
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Most issuers leave card APRs unchanged
CreditCards.com has been tracking the APRs on a representative sample of 100 online card offers every week for more than a decade.
This week, most lenders tracked by CreditCards.com left the APRs on brand-new cards unchanged for the ninth straight month. The majority of issuers followed by CreditCards.com have refrained from making major changes to new card offers throughout the past year as the world remains gripped by crisis.Over a year after COVID-19 first emerged in North America – forcing schools and businesses to ultimately close across the United States – a clear end to the pandemic is still unclear. As a result, businesses of all kinds, including U.S. banks and credit card lenders are still operating under a historic cloud of uncertainty, with few hints about what the future brings.
One issuer did make a significant rate change this week, causing the national average card APR to inch up slightly from a previous weekly average of 16.12%. But the lender only revised one card tracked by CreditCards.com, so the rate hike just slightly dented the national average.
U.S. Bank boosts APR on Harley Davidson credit card
U.S. Bank increased the APR on its co-branded Harley Davidson Visa Signature Card by one percentage point. Motorcycle enthusiasts who apply for the card can now expect an APR that’s somewhere between 14.99% and 23.99%.
The Harley Davidson credit card is at least the sixth credit card that U.S. Bank has revised since the beginning of the year. While most credit card issuers appear to be taking a lengthy pandemic-era pause this year, U.S. Bank has consistently been one of the only issuers in recent months to take a more active approach to pricing. Among the cards tracked by CreditCards.com, for example, it has hiked rates on two business credit cards, at least one secured card and the bank’s flagship super premium credit card, plus a regular credit card.
Federal Reserve: Expect rates to remain low for years
Despite rate hikes on a number of U.S. Bank cards, interest rates on most new credit card offers (including many U.S. Bank rewards cards) are still unusually low compared to previous years when issuers routinely advertised minimum APRs closer to 17 to 18%.
Exactly a year ago, for example, the average card offer tracked by CreditCards.com advertised a starting APR of 17.35% – a full 1.22 percentage points higher than the average APR offer today.
But rates took a major tumble last spring after the Federal Reserve slashed rates by a cumulative 1.5 percentage points. By April 1, for example, the average card APR fell to 16.27% – its lowest point in years.
The average credit card APR has remained within rounding distance of 16% ever since. Although not all issuers have chosen to match the Federal Reserve’s rate changes on new offers, most lenders cut new card APRs by up to a point and a half last year.
Since this year’s unusually low rates are mostly due to federal rate changes, new cardholders can expect higher rates eventually. But they likely don’t need to worry about higher rates on their newest cards any time soon.
The Federal Reserve has made clear that it’s almost certainly going to leave rates near rock bottom until the economy’s pandemic-scarred job market makes a more forceful recovery, which could take years. For example, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell told Congress last week that the Fed has little appetite to resume raising rates until the U.S. economy recovers more jobs from the millions of losses and hiring freezes that wrecked the U.S. economy in 2020.
But the chairman warned that such a recovery will likely be difficult after a historically deep contraction. For example, some job sectors are currently doing better than others, helping cut the overall unemployment rate by more than half since the 14.8% peak recorded last year. But others face a far more wrenching outlook, Powell warned. As a result, many people who are currently jobless will likely need significant retraining before they can fully return to work.
See related: How do credit card APRs work?
CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report
|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 3, 2021|
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.