Credit card interest rates remain at 15.02 percent

Kelly Dilworth
October 2, 2013

Average rates on new card offers held steady this week, according to the Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

The national average annual percentage rate (APR) remained unchanged Wednesday after rising the previous week to 15.02 percent. Last week was the first time all year that the average rate rose above 15 percent.

This week, Barclays floated a higher offer on the NFL ExtraPoints card. However, the 14.99 percent APR didn't affect the national average because the card's lower rate of 13.74 percent is still available to some applicants. Card issuers frequently test new offers by temporarily offering alternative rates.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union also edited credit card terms this week. The credit union added a $25 annual fee to the PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa. For a limited time, applicants may qualify for the card's fee-free Plus version if they apply for an additional financial product from Pentagon Federal Credit Union, such as a checking account or mortgage.

Issuers approve more credit
Credit card issuers have been testing new offers more frequently over the past several months as they gradually increase the amount of credit they're willing to approve.

According to  credit limit research released in August by the Federal Reserve, issuers still aren't making it easy for applicants with imperfect credit to qualify for cards with favorable terms. However, some banks say they are making it at least somewhat easier for the applicants they do approve to qualify for bigger credit limits. A small number of banks have also eased up on the standards they use to approve new applicants.

As a result, the total amount of new credit issued in the first six months of 2013 has significantly increased, according to research released Sept. 27 by the credit reporting firm Equifax.  According to its research, bankcard issuers approved an additional $93.3 billion in available credit in the first six months of 2013. That's 68 percent more than issuers approved during the same period in 2010, when credit was especially hard to get.

Issuers that specialize in retail credit cards are stricter with the total amount of credit they're willing to let customers borrow. But they, too, have increased cardholders' limits in recent months. According to Equifax, the total amount of available credit that retailers approved in the first six months of 2013 is up by 33 percent compared to 2010.

Bank and retail card issuers also approved slightly more loan applications this year, according to Equifax. As a result, the total number of new loans issued in the first six months of the year reached a 5-year record by the end of June.

Between January 2013 and June 2013, bankcard issuers approved 20.1 million new loans -- up 6.1 percent from 2012. Retail card issuers, meanwhile, issued 18 million new loans -- up 7 percent from last year.

Credit card holders, meanwhile, slightly increased the total amount of debt they took on in the first six months of 2013, but not by much. Bankcard balances grew by just 0.2 percent this year, compared to the same time last year. Retail card balances expanded by 7 percent.

Once again, cardholders also did a better job of paying their bills on time. Year-over-year, the number of late payments by 60 days or more on bank cards, for example, fell by 13 percent in the first six months of 2013, according to Equifax.

"Our data consistently indicates that the American consumer is being very disciplined in their use of credit," said Equifax's chief economist Amy Crews Cutts in a statement accompanying the report. "It's like they've gone on a debt diet and they're really sticking to it."

Incomes grow, but consumers remain wary
Incomes in the U.S. have grown slowly and unevenly over the last year, causing many economists to worry that cash-strapped Americans are going to have less to spend as prices continue to rise.

However, according to research released Sept. 27 by the Census Bureau, wages rose by 0.4 percent in August, giving some Americans a little more room to spend.

Consumer spending also increased slightly for the fourth consecutive month in August. However, economists worry that trend may halt now that the U.S. has shut down all nonessential government operations amidst an ongoing budget crisis.

In a press release posted Sept. 27 -- before the government shutdown -- University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin said consumer confidence, which fell in September, may take an even bigger hit if Congress fails to pass a new budget in time to avert a shutdown. At the time, Curtin predicted that expectations of a government shutdown could cause Americans to substantially curb their spending.

"Consumer confidence is fragile enough without this added source of uncertainty," said Curtin in the release .

See related: Study: CARD Act cut fees $20 billion , Credit CARD Act: Round 2 coming?