Interest rates on new credit card offers remained fixed this week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.
The national average annual percentage rate (APR) held steady at 14.95 percent Wednesday for the fifth consecutive week.
None of the issuers tracked by CreditCards.com altered rates this week.
Since Jan. 1, interest rates have remained unchanged nine weeks out of 12. In the rare instances that the national average did change this year, it moved by just one hundredth of a percentage point.
Credit card issuers have been slow to make substantial changes to card offers for much of the past year. Average credit card interest rates, for example, have hovered between 14.9 percent and 15.01 percent since March 21, 2012.
Many of the cards tracked by CreditCards.com have also featured the same promotional offers since early 2012.
Consumer spending up
Experts say that credit card issuers are waiting for a stronger sign that the economy is on the mend before they make bigger changes to card offers.
For the past year, the economy has slowly improved. However, consumer spending had remained weak, making it tough for small businesses to count on a steady customer base.
Now, consumers appear to be loosening their grip on their wallets somewhat, after sticking closely to their budgets for much of 2012.
For example, consumer spending on food and retail items rose substantially in February compared to previous months, according to new research from the Commerce Department .
Americans spent $421.4 billion on retail and food services last month -- up 1.1 percent from January.
Retailers, in particular, saw a significant increase in customers in February, especially compared to last year. Retail sales rose by 4.7 percent in February compared to the same period in 2012.
A big chunk of that spending occurred at gas stations, thanks to substantially higher fuel prices. Gas sales rose by 5 percent in February compared to the previous month.
However, other kinds of retailers also benefitted from an uptick in sales. For example, sales at retail stores grew 1.8 percent in February, while sales at nonstore retailers grew by 1.6 percent.
Retail spending is still nowhere near pre-recession levels. However, the recent pickup in consumer spending is a positive sign that consumers are feeling less pressure to save. That's especially noteworthy these days since many consumers face ongoing uncertainty over government spending and a decrease in disposable income.
Since January, most Americans have been paying higher payroll taxes than they were the year before thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax holiday. Some economists predicted that the smaller paychecks would cause consumers to tamp down their spending once they realized they had less to spend. So far, though, consumers appear to be unfazed by the slightly higher taxes. They are neither pinching every penny or going hogwild with spending, leading to a mixed bag of economic reports.
Sales on some big-ticket purchases -- such as furniture and appliances -- fell last month. Home furnishing stores saw a 1.6 percent decrease in sales in February, while electronics and appliance stores sustained a 0.2 percent hit to their sales volume.
While consumers let their cribs remain the same, their rides are new. Sales on automobiles rose considerably in February -- a strong sign that consumers are at least feeling confident enough to take on a monthly car payment. Auto sales rose 8.8 percent in February 2013, compared to the same period in 2012, according to the Commerce Department.
Retailers may see even stronger spending soon, say experts. The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index, which tracks Americans' cash flow to predict how consumers will spend, ticked up in February, according to a report released March 20.
The index aggregates several economic factors, including as how much income consumers are bringing in and how much they're paying in taxes to measure the amount of cash consumers are likely to have on hand to spend.
Last month's modest increase means Deloitte's researchers think consumers are more likely to ramp up their spending this spring.
"The economic fundamentals that influence consumer spending are aligning," said Deloitte's Patricia Buckley in a press release announcing the report. "Financial institutions and the markets are stronger, and consumer confidence and real spending appear to be weathering the 2013 payroll tax increases fairly well."
If Congress hadn't failed to come to an agreement about government spending earlier this month, the economy would probably be doing even better, she added in the statement. "Absent the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the sequester, an economic turnaround would likely be imminent," said Buckley.
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