Credit card interest rates remain near record highs

CreditCards.com

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

The national average annual percentage rate (APR) remained at 15.03 percent Wednesday after ticking up the previous week for the third time in two months. 

None of the cards tracked by CreditCards.com advertised new rates this week. Promotional APRs and balance transfer offers also remained unchanged.

The majority of card issuers have left interest rates alone for much of the past year. However, some issuers, including Capital One and Barclays, have recently hiked rates on a select number of cards. As a result, the national average has increased somewhat since August.

The national average APR is now at its highest point since January 2012. At that time, the national average was just shy of an all-time record high of 15.22 percent, set in December 2011. CreditCards.com began tracking rates in mid-2007.

Debt impasse bruises consumer spending
2013 has been a rough year for businesses that depend on consumer spending to grow. Consumer spending has increased slightly over the past year, but not by much.

According to research released by Gallup, for example, consumers spent an average of $90 per day on nonessential purchases in the first two weeks of October -- just $16 more than they spent during roughly the same period in 2012. (At the beginning of January, consumers spent an average of about $83 per day.)

Now, research released Oct. 15 shows that the fiscal crisis in Washington -- which may end this week -- is threatens to derail consumer spending even further.

According to a poll conducted by the investment firm Goldman Sachs and the International Council of Shopping Centers, 40 percent of consumers say the partial government shutdown has already caused them to pare down their spending at least somewhat.

The majority of consumers who cut back said they have reduced their spending by just "a little" so far. A small number said they reduced their spending considerably.

"It is clear that the fallout of the past two-week impasse in Congress has affected consumers' willingness and maybe their ability to spend," said the International Council of Shopping Center's Michael P. Niemera in a statement .

Consumers with limited incomes were among the most likely to say they increased savings after the U.S. suspended nonessential operations. Forty-seven percent of households making $35,000 or less, for example, said the impasse had shaken their desire to spend. Just 32 percent of households making $100,000 or more said the same.

The government shutdown went into effect Oct. 1. Now, in addition to the partial shutdown, consumers are also facing renewed uncertainty over lawmakers ability to resolve an impasse over the federal debt ceiling -- which is expected to be reached on Oct. 18 -- and pay the government's bills. (On Oct. 17, Senate leaders announced a last-minute bipartisan agreement to reopen the government and temporarily raise the federal debt ceiling until February 2014. As of press time, lawmakers have yet to vote on the final measure.)

As a result of the ongoing uncertainty, consumer confidence has corroded substantially in recent weeks.   

According to Gallup's weekly Economic Confidence Index, consumer confidence has fallen 17 points over the past two weeks. Consumer confidence is now at its lowest point since the fall of 2011, say researchers.

Consumers are particularly concerned about where the economy is headed, according to a Gallup poll released Oct. 15.

The majority of consumers (71 percent) told researchers that they were afraid the economy is sliding backward; 46 percent said they thought the current state of the economy is "poor."

"As the U.S. government approached a default on its debt obligations, at the same time that the government stopped providing non-essential services, Americans' economic confidence continued to get worse," said Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones in a news release .  "The dip in confidence began in mid-September as the shutdown loomed, and accelerated after the shutdown began."

Experts now worry that the last several weeks of uncertainty could have lasting consequences on consumer confidence and spending, even if legislators manage to raise the federal debt ceiling in time to avert a potential default.

According to Jones, the last time the federal government nearly defaulted on its debt, the impact on consumer confidence lasted for nearly half a year. "The previous Washington struggle over the debt limit helped spur a protracted slump in Americans' economic confidence, which lasted nearly five months," said Jones.

See related: Government shutdown obstructs credit card applications

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