Average Credit Card Interest Rates, October 2019

close up of man's hands holding a white credit card
•••

 

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This post is for historical reference.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 21.44% in a report based on data collected by The Balance in September and early October 2019. 

That rate is steep, despite the fact that annual percentage rates (APRs) offered by the major credit card companies recently slid 0.25 percentage points in response to rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

Key Takeaways

  • The average APR on credit card purchases was 21.44%.
  • 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 21.44%
Business Credit Cards 19.93%
Cash-Back Credit Cards 20.20%
Travel Rewards Credit Cards  20.68%
Student Credit Cards 20.74%
Secured Credit Cards 20.84%
Other 20.09%
Store Credit Cards 25.71%

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.

Other Notable Rates

  • The average purchase APR among all rewards cards (travel and cash-back) was 20.46%.
  • For cards marketed to people with bad or fair credit scores (a FICO score below 670),1 the average purchase APR was 24.72%.
  • In contrast, the average purchase APR for cards marketed to people with good to excellent credit scores (670 or higher on the FICO scale)1 was 20.45%.

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 both the Citi Diamond Preferred Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card.
  • Cards with promotional APRs on purchases charge an average ongoing rate of 19.62%.

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, from 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 19.62%.

Cash Advance Rates

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

  • 83% of cards we track allowed cash advances.
  • The average APR on cash advances as 26.42%.
  • 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 87 of the cards surveyed for this report. Based on our sample of cards, the average penalty APR was a hefty 28.92%. The highest penalty rate in our database is 31.99%, charged by HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard.

Seasonal Rate Focus: Store Credit Cards

While shopping online and in stores over the next few months, you’ll probably get inundated with advertisements for retail credit cards. These ads will tease discounts or extra rewards for opening an account. Amid the tempting offers, take note of store card interest rates. Store cards are often easy to get but can cost you big time.

Based on our data, the average retail credit card rate is 4.27 percentage points above the national average for all credit cards. Many retail credit card APRs are close to the 30% mark, even after the two rate decreases by the Federal Reserve (more on that below).

The highest store card interest rate The Balance tracked was a hefty 30.24%, charged by the Goodyear Credit Card from Citi.

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.