Average Credit Card Interest Rates Fell in November 2019

APRs continued to inch down as credit card balances reached record high

close up of man's hands holding a white credit card
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This post is for historical reference.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 was 21.25% in November 2019, down a slight 0.15 percentage points from the previous month, according to data collected by The Balance.

This change was driven by major credit card issuer responses to three Federal Reserve rate cuts made this year. Following the Fed's rate action on Oct. 30, 2019, The Balance saw credit card annual percentage rates (APRs) inch down across the board. 

Key Takeaways

  • The average APR on credit card purchases was 21.25%.
  • Store credit cards had the highest average interest rate.
  • Business credit cards had the lowest average interest rate.
  • Cash-back credit cards had the lowest average interest rate among consumer cards.

Card type is just one of the things that determines a credit card interest rate. To learn how we categorize cards based on type for this report, see the methodology at the bottom of this page. The other main factors are the kind of transaction you use the card for (more on that later in the “Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type” section) and your credit standing. 

Seasonal Rate Focus: Balance Transfer APRs

Moving credit card debt from a high APR card to one with a lower or limited-time 0% balance transfer rate can reduce interest costs and help you pay down debt faster. 

In November 2019, most credit cards (about 75% of all cards in our database) allowed cardholders to request balance transfers, and more than a quarter (28.22%) offered introductory balance transfer rates.

Cards with promotional balance transfer rates gave cardholders at least one year, often longer, to pay off a balance transfer under a significantly reduced or 0% APR. Only six cards advertised promotional balance transfer rate offers shorter than 12 months. Overall, the average length of balance transfer rate promotions was about 14 months.

Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type

In addition to balance transfers, credit cards can be used to make cash advances, and, of course, purchases. APRs can vary depending on which of those transactions you make, too. 

Purchase APR Deals

Purchase APR deals were common: Nearly one-quarter (24.74%) of the cards tracked for this report offered new cardholders introductory purchase APRs in November 2019. 

  • On average, these offers lasted about 12 months.
  • The longest purchase rate offer was a mammoth 36 months, offered by the SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card. 
  • Cards with promotional APRs on purchases charged an average ongoing rate of 19.25%.

Cash Advance Rates

Of the cards tracked in November 2019, 86% allowed cash advances, but those transactions weren't cheap.

  • The average APR on cash advances was 26.18%.
  • The highest cash advance APR recorded was 36%, charged by both the Fortiva Credit Card and First Premier Bank Gold Mastercard.

Penalty Interest Rates

If you fall extremely behind on your credit card payments, exceed your credit limit, or if your bank returns a monthly payment, the card issuer may increase your standard purchase APR to the penalty interest rate. The penalty rate (which is also called the default rate) is the highest interest rate card issuers charge. 

Not all cards charge penalty rates, but many do. In November 2019, 106 of the cards surveyed (about 37%) posted penalty rates. The average penalty APR in our sample of cards was a steep 29.10%. It gets worse, too. We found penalty rates were as high as 31.49%, which was charged by five cards issued by HSBC: HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard, HSBC Platinum Mastercard with Rewards, HSBC Advance Mastercard, HSBC Premier World Mastercard, and the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard. 

What Changed: More APR Cuts

Most credit card interest rates are variable, which means they can go up or down based on what happens with the federal funds rate, a baseline interest rate controlled by the Federal Reserve. For years, the Fed slowly increased its rate while the U.S. economy recovered from the financial crisis that started in 2007. Then, on Aug. 1, 2019, the Fed changed course and lowered its federal funds rate to help stimulate the economy once again.  

Two additional cuts were made in 2019 following the increase announced on Aug. 1, 2019. It’s typical for credit card issuers to promptly respond and adjust their own rates accordingly, and that’s exactly what happened in November 2019. The Balance found 20 issuers lowered standard APRs by 0.25 percentage points between Nov. 1-30, 2019: Barclays, BMW Bank, Chase, Citi, Comenity, Credit One, Deserve, Discover, HSBC, Luxury Card, Navy Federal Credit Union, PNC, Sallie Mae Bank, Simmons Bank, State Farm Bank, Synchrony Bank, USAA, U.S. Bank, Web Bank, and Wells Fargo.

The Balance recorded only two other APR changes in November 2019: The interest rates of both the Bank of America Platinum card increased by 1 percentage point due to a card network shift from Visa to Mastercard. Unrelated to that program change, Bank of America also increased the APR of its Alaska Airlines Business credit card by 1 percentage point.

Methodology

This monthly report was based on credit card offer data collected and monitored on a rolling basis by The Balance for 287 U.S. credit cards Nov. 1-30, 2019. Our data pool included offers from 43 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. 
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