The average credit card interest rate is 16.05%.

After a historic 2020 caused credit card rates to plunge by more than one and a quarter percentage points between December 2019 and December 2020, the national average credit card APR began 2021 near a three-year-low. For the sixth consecutive week, average rates on brand-new credit cards remained at 16.05%, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

None of the cards included in the weekly rate report revised new APRs this week. As a result, consumers shopping for a new card continued to enjoy some of the lowest average rates available to borrowers since 2017.

Slow start to 2021 may signal stable year for credit card rates

Changes to new credit card offers have become relatively rare in recent months as most lenders tracked by CreditCards.com leave card APRs untouched.

Last spring, nearly all major lenders except for Capital One, cut APRs on all brand-new cards by 1.5 percentage points – in tandem with the Federal Reserve’s emergency rate cuts. The Fed chopped its benchmark interest to near zero in March in response to economic weakening from the coronavirus pandemic. When the Federal Reserve revises its benchmark interest rate, most lenders revise APRs on new and current offers by the same amount.

Since March, few lenders have independently revised APRs. With federal interest rates as low as they can go, widespread rate changes have also stopped completely and are unlikely to return any time soon.

As a result, the national average card APR has stubbornly remained within rounding distance of 16% since spring, budging by less than a tenth of a percentage point between April and December.

Over the past seven months, in particular, card APRs have been especially stable. Among the 100 card offers tracked weekly by CreditCards.com, for example, only a handful of card offers have changed since early summer.

A small number of credit card lenders hiked APRs on select cards in the last few quarters of 2020 after briefly matching the Fed’s emergency rate cuts.

For example, Wells Fargo, Citi and American Express all matched the Fed’s rate cuts. But they each later bumped up the APRs on some of their most popular cash back and balance transfer cards within months of cutting rates. In most cases, though, the lenders only hiked rates on one or a few cards.

Meanwhile, an even smaller number of lenders tracked by CreditCards.com pushed up APRs on select subprime and retail credit cards. For example, U.S. Bank substantially increased the APR on its primary secured credit card, while the retailers Nordstrom and Cabela’s hiked APRs on their namesake store cards.

The changes to new credit card offers were too few and far between, though, to significantly dent the national average.

See related: Best credit cards

Borrowers are likely to enjoy low rates for some time

The relative stability in rates echoes previous post-recession years when federal interest rates were at rock bottom. Between 2010 and 2015, for example, lenders rarely revised the lowest available APR on brand-new cards. As a result, the national average card APR – which is based on cards’ lowest available rates – remained within rounding distance of 15% for more than six years.

The Federal Reserve has signaled that it will likely leave its benchmark interest rate near rock bottom for at least another year. So new cardholders likely have some time to pay off their debt before higher interest rates kick in.

See related: How do credit card APRs work?

CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report

Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 16.05% 16.05% 16.03%
Low interest 12.77% 12.77% 12.83%
Cash back 15.85% 15.85% 16.09%
Balance transfer 13.85% 13.85% 13.93%
Business 13.91% 13.91% 13.91%
Student 16.12% 16.12% 16.12%
Airline 15.53% 15.53% 15.48%
Rewards 15.76% 15.76% 15.82%
Instant approval 18.38% 18.38% 18.65%
Bad credit 25.30% 25.30% 24.43%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. issuers and representing every card category listed above. (Introductory, or teaser, rates are not included in the calculation.)
Source: CreditCards.com
Updated: January 6, 2021

Historic interest rates by card type

Some credit cards charge even higher rates, on average. The type of rate you get will depend in part on the category of credit card you own. For example, even the best travel credit cards often charge higher rates than basic, low interest credit cards.

CreditCards.com has been calculating average rates for a wide variety of credit card categories, including student cards, balance transfer cards, cash back cards and more, since 2007.

How to get a low credit card interest rate

Your odds of getting approved for a card’s lowest rate will increase the more you improve your credit score. Some factors that influence your credit card APR will be out of your control, such as the length of time you’ve been handling credit.

However, even if you’re new to credit or are rebuilding your score, there are steps you can take to ensure a lower APR. For example:

  1. Pay your bills on time. The single most important factor influencing your credit score – and your ability to win a lower rate – is your track record of making on-time payments. Lenders are more likely to trust you with a competitive APR – and other positive terms, such as a big credit limit – if you have a lengthy history of paying your bills on time.
  2. Keep your balances low. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible with your credit and don’t overcharge. As a result, credit scores take into account the amount of credit you’re using, compared to how much credit you’ve been given. This is known as your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your ratio, the better. For example, personal finance experts often recommend that you keep your balances well below 30% of your total credit limit.
  3. Build a lengthy and diverse credit history. Lenders also like to see that you’ve been successfully using credit for a long time and have experience with different types of credit, including revolving credit and installment loans. As a result, credit scores, such as the FICO score and VantageScore, factor in the average length of your credit history and the types of loans you’ve handled (which is known as your credit mix). To keep your credit history as long as possible, continue to use your oldest credit card so your lender doesn’t close it.
  4. Call your lender. If you’ve successfully owned a credit card for a long time, you may be able to convince your lender to lower your interest rate – especially if you have excellent credit. Reach out to your lender and ask if they’d be willing to negotiate a lower APR.
  5. Monitor your credit report. Check your credit reports regularly to make sure you’re being accurately scored. The last thing you want is for a mistake or unauthorized account to drag down your credit score. You have the right to check your credit reports from each major credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Source: creditcards.com