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Average Credit Card Interest Rate Was 20.29% in March 2021

Stack of multicolored credit cards close-up view with selective focus.
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This post is for historical reference. Specific product rates may have changed since publication. Please see banks' sites for current rates. For current rates and analysis, see Average Credit Card Interest Rates.

The average credit card interest rate was 20.29% in March 2021, according to data collected by The Balance. 

The average shifted up slightly (just a fraction of a percentage point) compared to the February figure. The shift was driven by a handful of online offer tweaks and the addition of two new cards to our database. That was a stark contrast to the situation a year prior, when credit card issuers made sweeping APR updates in response to Federal Reserve rate cuts at the start of the pandemic. 

Key Takeaways

  • The average APR on credit card purchases was 20.29%, largely unchanged since January 2021 and down 0.46 percentage points year-over-year.
  • Store credit cards had the highest average interest rate.
  • Business credit cards had the lowest average interest rate overall.
  • Student credit cards had the lowest average interest rate among consumer cards.

Average Credit Card Interest Rates (APR) on Purchases by Card Category

Card type is just one factor that influences a credit card’s interest rate. To learn how The Balance categorizes card types, see the methodology at the bottom of this report. Other determining factors include your credit standing and the type of transaction your card is used for (more on that later in the “Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type” section).

Average Credit Card Interest Rates Based on Card Type
  March 2021 Average APR February 2021 September 2020 March 2020
All Credit Cards 20.29% 20.28% 20.19% 20.75%
Business Credit Cards 17.92% 17.92% 17.78% 18.43%
Student Credit Cards 18.83% 18.83% 18.83% 19.69%
Cash-Back Credit Cards 19.12% 19.09% 19.11% 19.72%
Travel Rewards Credit Cards 19.28% 19.26% 19.19% 20.64%
Secured Credit Cards 20.29% 20.29% 20.14% 20.70%
Other 22.31% 22.31% 22.15% 21.19%
Store Credit Cards 24.24% 24.24% 24.16% 24.90%

A credit card issuer often has a range of APRs it might charge on a certain card, such as 15.99% to 25.99%. The better your credit score, the more likely you are to get approved for an interest rate on the lower end of the range.

What Happened in March 2021

After a quiet February, The Balance observed a bit more interest rate activity in March. We added the pricing details for two brand-new cards to our database (more on that below), and recorded several other purchase and cash advance APR adjustments across the rest of our online offer database.

For example, Bank of America upped the advertised cash advance APR for three of its cards (AAA Member Rewards Visa, Bank of America Cash Rewards Card, and the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card) to 28.99%. More notably, Synchrony Bank increased the advertised purchase APR for two of its cards—Sam’s Club Credit Card and Sam’s Club Mastercard—up nearly a full percentage point overall.  

New Credit Card Additions to Data Pool

A few new credit cards entered the market in March 2021, two of which were added to The Balance’s database to track interest rates and other pricing details: the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard and the AARP Travel Rewards Mastercard. 

The variable interest rate range of these Barclays-issued cards (16.74% - 25.74%) was slightly higher than the range offered by similar cards, which was enough to nudge up the category averages for cash-back and travel rewards cards, respectively.

Both cards also offered promotional balance transfer APR deals and charged interest on cash advance transactions. We factored that data into this report as well.

Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type

There are three main types of transactions you can use credit cards for: purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. APRs often vary depending on which of those transactions you make, and some issuers give new cardholders a break by offering low or 0% interest rates on some of those transactions for a limited time. 

Purchase APR Deals

Nearly one-quarter of the cards tracked for this report offered new cardholders introductory purchase APRs, which was typical based on the prior year of offer data.

  • Typical offer length: On average, these offers lasted about 12 months. It was rare to find purchase APR deals longer than 15 months. Only five cards in our database offered 0% new-cardholder deals longer than 15 months. 
  • Best 0% purchase APR deal: The longest introductory purchase rate deal was 20 months, which was offered by the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card. 
  • Credit score qualifications: A whopping 94% of such card offers in our database recommended applicants have good or excellent credit. 
  • Rate after no-interest period ends: Cards with promotional purchase APRs charged an average ongoing rate of 18.33%.

Balance Transfer APR Deals

There were fewer promotional balance transfer rates available now compared to the same time a year earlier, but about 27% of the cards tracked by The Balance offered such deals to new cardholders. 

  • Typical offer length: The average length of balance transfer rate promotions was about 14 months, consistent with prior month averages.
  • Longest balance transfer deal: The SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card gave new cardholders 36 months to pay off transferred debt at a reduced interest rate of 3.25%. 
  • Best 0% balance transfer offer: The longest 0% balance transfer APR deal was 20 months long, once again offered by the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card.
  • Credit score qualifications: Nearly 91% of the cards in our database with such offers recommended applicants have a good or excellent credit score. 
  • Rate after intro period ends: We found the average ongoing APR of balance transfer transactions was 18.05% in March 2021.

Cash Advance Rates

A full 88% of the cards we tracked allowed cash advances in March 2021, but that convenient feature came with a cost. 

  • Average cash advance APR: 25.43%, up slightly compared to prior months, but still below the pre-pandemic average. 
  • Highest cash advance APR: A steep 36%, charged by both the Fortiva Credit Card and First PREMIER Bank Gold Mastercard.

Penalty Interest Rates

While not all credit cards charge penalty rates, many do, including 107 of the cards surveyed for this report (about 34%). 

  • Average penalty APR: Based on our card sample, the average default rate was 28.58% in March 2021. That’s 8.29 percentage points higher than the average purchase APR, but lower than it was a year earlier.
  • Highest penalty APR: 29.99% was a popular penalty, as 51 cards in our database charged it. The highest penalty rate once exceeded 30%, but some issuers dialed back those steep rates between August and October 2020.

Average APR Based on Recommended Credit Score

Based on the card offer data collected by The Balance, credit cards marketed to consumers with bad/fair credit scores (below 670, according to FICO) had an average purchase APR of 23.85%, 4.56 percentage points above the average APR of cards marketed to those with good/excellent credit (19.29%) in March 2021.

Methodology

This monthly report was based on credit card offer data collected and monitored on a rolling basis by The Balance for 319 U.S. credit cards in March 2021. Our data pool included offers from 43 issuers, including the largest national banks. We track average interest rates on both a weekly and monthly basis for each card category, plus the overall average rate for all cards.

In July 2020 we updated our data collection and analysis to better reflect how and where consumers use their credit cards. These changes are reflected in the monthly change chart above, and the average card interest rate table above. Rates published prior to August 2020 in other articles may not reflect these changes.

How We Calculate APR Averages

We gather purchase and transaction APR information from current credit card terms and conditions. If a credit card APR is posted as a range, we first determine the average of that range, then use that number in our overall average rate calculations, so the statistics are true averages, not skewed toward the low or high end of a spectrum.

The overall average APR in this report is an average of the average APR in each category we track: travel, cash back, secured, business, student, and store cards.

How We Calculate Average Rates vs. the Fed

We look at interest rates by card category and transaction type to give a clearer view of the interest rate you can expect to pay based on the kind of card you're using or how you plan to use it. By comparison, the latest data from the Federal Reserve (from February 2021) put the average credit card APR at 14.75%. However, the Fed calculates its rate based on voluntary reporting from 50 credit-card-issuing banks, and it's unclear what goes into those averages or what types of cards make up those averages.

The Fed also reports an average rate on accounts charged interest (meaning those that carry balances month-to-month), though its calculation gives more weight to accounts with high balances. In February 2021, the average interest rate on credit cards accruing finance charges was 15.91%, down from a record high 17.14% reported in the second quarter of 2019.

How We Categorize Cards

We assign a category to each credit card in our database, and a card can go in only one category. Here's how we define them:

  • Business credit cards: Cards small business owners can apply for and use to make purchases for their companies. 
  • Cash-back credit cards: Cards that offer you a little rebate on most purchases you make with the card.
  • Travel rewards credit cards: Cards that allow you to earn extra points or miles on travel purchases, either with specific travel brands or on a variety of travel-related expenses. Cards that offer high-value travel redemption options are also part of this group.
  • Student credit cards: Cards for college or graduate students who are at least 18 years old.
  • Secured credit cards: Cards that require a security deposit that’s usually the same amount as the credit limit you’ll be given. These cards are aimed at helping people with poor credit or no credit history to build credit.
  • Store credit cards: Cards you can use at particular retail stores, and sometimes other places as well. They often offer discounts or rewards for purchases made at the associated store (or chain of stores).
  • Other: Cards that do not fit any of the following categories: business, cash back, student, travel, secured, and store. This includes cards that offer very few—if any—features.