Average Credit Card Interest Rate Dropped to 20.15% in April 2020

APRs fell in response to Federal Reserve emergency rate cuts during pandemic

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This post is for historical reference.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.

The average credit card interest rate fell to 20.15% in April 2020, according to data collected by The Balance.

The Balance watched more annual percentage rate (APR) cuts roll in throughout April as credit card issuers caught up with emergency rate changes issued by the Federal Reserve in March. 

The rate cuts were made to help companies more affordably borrow emergency funds during the coronavirus pandemic, but the changes affected credit card interest rates, too. However, while average interest rates sunk even lower, credit card APRs in general were still quite high.

Key Takeaways

  • The average APR on credit card purchases was 20.15%, down 1.06 percentage points from February 2020.
  • Store credit cards had the highest average interest rate.
  • Business credit cards had the lowest average interest rate.
  • 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 determines a credit card interest rate. To learn how The Balance categorizes cards based on type for this report, check out the methodology at the bottom of this page. Other deciding factors include your credit standing and the type of transaction you use the card 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
  April 2020 Average APR March 2020 Average APR January 2020 Average APR
All Credit Cards 20.15% 20.71% 21.28%
Business Credit Cards 17.99% 18.51% 19.14%
Student Credit Cards 18.87% 19.69% 20.61%
Cash-Back Credit Cards 19.21% 19.75% 20.25%
Secured Cards 20.03% 20.53% 20.97%
Travel Rewards Credit Cards 20.10% 20.61% 21.23%
Other 20.62% 21.14% 21.61%
Store Credit Cards 24.23% 24.73% 25.25%

What Happened: Card Issuers Made More Changes During COVID-19 

The Balance observed a number of interest rate and card offer changes in April 2020 as the pandemic continued to impact all areas of the economy, including credit cards. 

More Interest Rate Cuts

The Federal Reserve made two emergency cuts to the federal funds rate back in March, driving its benchmark rate down 1.5 percentage points within just a few weeks. In April, the fed funds rate—which drives the prime rate most credit card APRs are based on—rested at a 0%-0.25% range. 

Shortly after the Fed actions, more than a dozen credit card issuers lowered card interest rates. The Balance expected even more issuers to respond in April and that’s exactly what happened, which made average APR figures sink even lower. Between March 3 and March 31, 13 credit card issuers lowered interest rates: American Express, Banco Popular, Barclays, Celtic Bank, Citi, Elan Financial, Luxury Card, PNC, Simmons Bank, State Farm Bank, USAA, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo. 

Since the Fed's first rate cut on March 3, 25 credit card issuers lowered interest rates—13 in March and 12 in April: American Express, Banco Popular, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Celtic Bank, Citi, Chase, Commerce Bank, Discover, DSRM National Bank, Elan Financial, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Luxury Card, Merrick Bank, PNC, Sallie Mae Bank, Simmons Bank, State Farm Bank, SunTrust, USAA, U.S. Bank, WebBank, and Wells Fargo. 

To learn more about the March 2020 Federal Reserve actions and the impact on credit cards, read “Credit Card APRs Start to Sink as Banks Respond to Emergency Fed Actions.”

Balance Transfer Offers Quietly Changed

The Balance watched several card issuers amended 0% balance transfer APR deals in April 2020. In fact, promotional balance transfer offer advertisements were less prominent overall. 

For example, Bank of America removed mentions of balance transfer promotional APRs from its marketing materials, although the offers were still visible in the card terms and conditions posted online. U.S. Bank did the same thing for the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum card, and Chase did the same for the Chase Freedom card. 

And in a couple cases, 0% balance transfer APR deals just weren't available for new cardholders anymore. Both the Capital One SavorOne Rewards Card and the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card stopped offering 0% balance transfer APR deals. Chase also temporarily suspended online applications for its Slate card, which was known for boasting a generous balance transfer offer.

Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type

Let’s dive deeper into interest rates. There are three main transaction types credit cards commonly offer: 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

If you want to finance a large purchase with a new credit card, finding a card that offers a promotional purchase APR (such as 0% for 15 months) was pretty easy in April 2020. More than one-quarter of the cards we tracked for this report offered new cardholders introductory purchase APRs. 

  • On average, these offers lasted about 12 months.
  • The longest introductory purchase rate offer was 20 months, which was offered by two cards in our database: U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card and U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card. 
  • Cards with promotional purchase APRs charged an average ongoing rate of 18.03%.

Balance Transfer APR Deals

Promotional balance transfer rates were slightly more common than purchase APR deals, despite the offer changes observed by The Balance in April. Nearly one-third of all our tracked cards boasted balance transfer rate offers.

  • The average length of these balance transfer rate promotions was about 14 months.
  • The longest offer, touted by the SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card, gave 36 months to pay off transferred debt at a reduced interest rate of 3.25%. The best 0% balance transfer APR offer was 21 months long, offered by the Citi Simplicity card and Citi Diamond Preferred Credit Card.
  • When promotional rate offers ended, we found the average APR of balance transfer transactions was 18.03%.

Cash Advance Rates

About 89% of the cards we tracked allow cash advances in April.

  • The average APR on cash advances was 25.36%.
  • The highest cash advance APR we found was 36%. That steep cash advance APR was charged by both the Fortiva Credit Card and First PREMIER Bank Gold Mastercard.

Penalty Interest Rates

While not all credit cards charge penalty rates, 103 of the cards surveyed for this report (about 33%) did. The average penalty APR in our card sample was a steep 28.74%—8.59 percentage points higher than the average purchase APR in April 2020. 

The Balance found that despite rate cuts, penalty rates were as high as 30.90%, which was charged by five Capital One business cards: Capital One Spark Cash for Business, Capital One Spark Classic for Business, Capital One Spark Miles for Business, Capital One Spark Cash Select for Business, and Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business. The highest consumer card penalty rate was 30.74%, as charged by the BMW Credit Card in April 2020. 

Methodology

This monthly report is based on credit card offer data collected and monitored on a rolling basis by The Balance for 309 U.S. credit cards during April 2020. Our data pool included offers from 42 issuers, including the largest national banks. We tracked average interest rates on both a weekly and monthly basis for each card category, plus the overall average rate for all cards.

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 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.