Credit card interest rates hold steady at 15.01 percent

Kelly Dilworth
February 26, 2014

Average rates on new credit card offers stayed put this week, according to the Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

None of the cards tracked by advertised new interest rates. Also left unchanged were cards' promotional terms, including introductory APRs and balance transfers.

Average rates in two subcategories did change slightly this week. However, that was due to a minor reshuffling of the database, rather than a rate change. 

The national average has remained at or above 15 percent for the past 23 consecutive weeks. That's the longest stretch of time average rates have remained above 14.99 percent since began tracking rates in mid-2007.

Issuers ramp up promotional offers
Credit card issuers show few signs of substantially lowering rates any time soon. Average APRs on new card offers have fallen just 13 times in the past two years and, each time, the drop has been tiny. The last time average rates fell below 14.9 percent was in February 2012.

Banks are sweetening promotional terms on new card offers, however, as they try to win over more cardholders in 2014.

According to data from the market research firm Mintel Comperemedia, card issuers sent out significantly more offers with 0 percent APRs in January than they did during the same time last year. They also lengthened the average amount of time consumers can take advantage of interest-free balance transfer offers after shortening them toward the end of 2013. 

In a research note released Feb. 23, analysts at financial services firm Credit Suisse said competition for new cardholders is heating up and is likely to intensify as the year goes on. "We expect an increase in industry competition in 2014," said Credit Suisse analysts Moshe Orenbuch, James Ulan and Leslie Robertshaw in the note.

That could mean consumers will receive a lot more card offers in 2014 than they did the year before. Issuers have already increased the total amount of mail they send to consumers' homes by 15 percent, compared to last year, according to Mintel Comperemedia data cited by Credit Suisse.

By the end of 2014, Credit Suisse analysts predict the total number of card offers consumers receive over the course of the year to increase by approximately 25 percent.

Issuers have already stepped up the competition for new cardholders substantially in just the past month, according to Credit Suisse.

In January, for example, consumers received approximately 229 million card offers with a 0 percent balance transfer deal. That figure represents 82 percent of all card offers, and is up from 199 million offers the previous year. Issuers also sent approximately 249 million offers with a 0 percent purchase APR in January -- up from 231 million such offers in 2013.

Despite this activity, the average length of 0 percent balance transfer deals has declined, according to figures released by Credit Suisse, from 20 months in January 2013 to 17 months in January 2014.

See related: Fed: Card balances leap in December