Average Credit Card Interest Rates Dipped in October

APRs and card balances fell as peak holiday shopping season arrived

close up of man's hands holding a white credit card
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Daniel Ingold / Getty Images

This post is for historical reference.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 21.40% in October 2019, according to data collected by The Balance. 

That rate is steep, despite the fact that major credit card companies have been lowering annual percentage rates (APRs) in response to three Federal Reserve rate cuts that have been made since August. 

Key Takeaways

  • The average APR on credit card purchases was 21.40%.
  • 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.

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

Category APR
All Credit Cards 21.40%
Business Credit Cards 19.71%
Cash-Back Credit Cards 20.33%
Travel Rewards Credit Cards  20.56%
Student Credit Cards 20.73%
Secured Credit Cards 20.87%
Other 21.89%
Store Credit Cards 25.74%

Card type (defined in the methodology at the bottom of the page) is just one of the things that determines a credit card interest rate. The other main factors are the kind of transaction you use the card for and your credit standing.

Average Interest Rates by Credit Card Transaction Type

There are three main transaction types credit cards commonly offer: purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. Many credit cards also give new cardholders a break by offering low or 0% interest rates on certain transactions for a limited time.

Purchase APR Deals

More than one-fifth of the cards tracked for this report offered new cardholders limited-time promotional purchase APRs, such as 0% for 15 months.

  • On average, these deals lasted about 12 months.
  • The longest purchase rate offer was 18 months, available on the Citi Diamond Preferred Credit Card, the Wells Fargo Platinum Credit Card, the US Bank Visa Platinum Card, and the HSBC Gold Mastercard Credit Card.
  • Cards with promotional APRs on purchases charged an average ongoing rate of 19.55%.

Balance Transfer APR Deals

More than a quarter of all our tracked cards offered introductory balance transfer rates.

  • The average length of these balance transfer rate promotions was about 14 months.
  • The longest offer, touted by the Citi Simplicity credit card, gave 21 months to pay off transferred debt interest-free.
  • Once promotional rate offers end, we found the average APR of balance transfer transactions was 19.55%.

Cash Advance Rates

Most credit cards allow you to tap your credit line by using the card to withdraw cash at an ATM.

  • 84% of cards we track allowed cash advances.
  • The average APR on cash advances as 26.31%.
  • The highest cash advance APR we found in our analysis was 36%, charged by both the Fortiva Credit Card and First Premier Bank Gold Mastercard.

Penalty Interest Rates

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

Now, not all cards charge penalty rates, but many do, including 92 of the cards surveyed for this report. Based on our sample of cards, the average penalty APR was a hefty 29.00%. The highest penalty rate in our database is 31.99%, charged by HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard.

Seasonal Rate Focus: Credit Cards For People With Fair or Bad Credit

If you have less than perfect credit, your credit cards probably have above-average interest rates. We found the average purchase APR for cards marketed to people with bad or fair credit scores (a FICO score below 670), was 25.24%. In contrast, the average purchase APR for cards marketed to people with good to excellent credit scores (670 or higher on the FICO scale) was 20.23%. Cards that accept applicants with lower credit scores charge higher interest rates to make up for the risk of default. 

Among the cards we include with cards marketed to people with bad or fair credit are retail cards. Store cards are often easier to get than other cards, but they charge high interest rates. Our data found the average store credit card rate was 25.74%, which is 4.34 percentage points above the national average for all credit cards. Many store credit card APRs were close to the 30% mark, too, even after three rate decreases by the Federal Reserve (more on that below).

The highest store card interest rate that The Balance tracks was 29.99%, which was charged by six cards: The BP Credit Card, BP Visa Credit Card, Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account, Goodyear Credit Card, Newegg Store Credit Card, and the Zales Diamond Credit Card. Interest rates that high are more like penalty rates than standard purchase rates.

Other cards for those with bad or fair credit are secured cards, which may actually offer more favorable APRs than store cards because they require a security deposit that’s usually equal to your credit limit. That helps lower the risk for banks, so they’re willing to give lower interest rates. We found the average secured card APR was 20.87%, and the highest possible APR among secured cards we track was 26.99%, charged by Capital One Secured Mastercard. However, many secured cards also charge fees, like monthly fees or application fees.   

Credit Card Debt Delinquency Rates are Rising

The APRs of cards marketed to people with bad or fair credit are worth watching closely amid reports of higher credit card debt delinquency rates.  

The portion of U.S. credit card debt that is seriously delinquent (which means more than 90 days past due) has been rising since 2017. At the end of the second quarter this year, 5.18% of card balances were at least 90 days past due, up from 5.04% in the first quarter and 4.76% a year ago. Rising credit card delinquency rates indicate some consumers are struggling to afford their debt, which will negatively impact credit scores if they are paying late or carrying high balances month-to-month. 

Consumers with poor credit scores are already considered risky borrowers, and if delinquency rates continue rising, banks could respond by increasing the cost of borrowing for low-score consumers who are still seeking more credit. In fact, The Balance found Capital One increased the APR of its subprime cards (those marketed to people with poor credit) by 0.50 percentage points in October.

Methodology

This monthly report is based on credit card offer data collected and monitored on a rolling basis by The Balance for 266 U.S. credit cards Oct. 1-31, 2019. Our data pool includes offers from 41 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. 

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. For comparison, the latest data from the Federal Reserve puts the average credit card APR at 15.10%. 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 the third quarter of 2019, the average interest rate on credit cards accruing finance charges was 16.97%, down from a record high 17.14% reported in the second quarter.

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.
  • 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. 
  • 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). 

Article Sources

  1. Federal Reserve. "Consumer Credit - G.19: Current Release." Accessed Nov. 8, 2019.

  2. Federal Reserve. "Consumer Credit - G.19 - About." Accessed Nov. 8, 2019.

  3. Federal Reserve. "Historical Data: Terms of Credit at Commercial Banks and Finance Companies." Accessed Nov. 8, 2019.