If you tend to carry a credit card balance rather than pay off your balance every month, then you've seen a finance charge added to your balance. Finance charges are applied to credit card balances that aren't paid before the grace period. Unlike most other credit card fees, finance charges aren't a flat fee. Instead, the finance charge is calculated for each billing cycle based on your balance and interest rate. Generally, higher balances and interest rates result in higher finance charges.
Different credit cards calculate finance charges in different ways. To find out how your creditor calculates your charge, look on the back of a recent billing statement. You should find an explanation there. If you know how your credit card issuer calculates your finance charge, you can estimate your own finance charge and even find ways to minimize the finance charge you pay. Regardless of how your credit card issuer calculates your finance charges, you can avoid paying interest on your balance by paying in full each month.
Below are six ways finance charges can be calculated, and one has been made illegal within the past decade. Click on the links for a more detailed explanation including examples of how each finance charge calculation method works.
The adjusted balance method starts with the balance at the beginning of the billing cycle and subtracts any payments you made during the billing cycle. Purchases are not included in the balance. Out of all the ways to calculate finance charges, this method results in the lowest finance charge, but not very many credit card issuers use it.
The average daily balance method uses the average of your balance during the billing cycle. Each day's balance is added together and divided by the number of days in the billing cycle. New charges are sometimes excluded in the calculation of the average daily balance. This is the most common way finance charges are calculated.
If your credit card issuer calculates your balance using the average daily balance method, you can minimize your finance charges by paying your balance down earlier in the billing cycle.
The daily balance method is similar to the average daily balance method because it uses the balance each day of your billing cycle. Instead of averaging the balance, each day's balance is multiplied by the daily rate for a "daily finance charge." Each day's finance charge is totaled for the finance charge for that billing cycle.
Double Billing Cycle
The double billing cycle uses the average daily balance of the current and previous billing cycles. This is the most expensive way finance charges are calculated and is unfair to cardholders because it charges interest on balances that have already been paid. Fortunately for credit cardholders, the double billing cycle method of calculating finance charges was outlawed with the passing of the Credit CARD Act of 2009.
The ending balance method uses your balance at the beginning of the billing cycle minus payments plus charges made during the billing cycle—which is essentially your balance at the end of the billing cycle. The number of days in the billing cycle doesn't affect the amount of the finance charge. Having a high balance at the end of your billing cycle would increase your finance charges under this method.
The previous balance method uses the balance at the beginning of the billing cycle, which is also the ending balance of the last billing cycle. No payments or charges are included in the balance. The number of days in the billing cycle doesn't affect the amount of the finance charge.