Rate survey: Credit card interest rates remain flat

CreditCards.com

Interest rates on new credit card offers remained unchanged this week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

The national average annual percentage rate (APR) remained at 14.96 percent Wednesday, after rising the previous week for the first time in more than a month.

Despite leaving APRs alone this week, issuers have been more active than usual this summer. For example, the national average has fluctuated more often over the past 10 weeks than it has in months.

Since April 24, the national average has changed five weeks out of 10. Compare that to the previous 10 weeks when the national average changed just once in a little more than two months.

Issuers bulk up marketing campaigns
The more recent frequent changes reflect credit card issuers' tinkering with new offers as they try to attract a broader customer base. 

Issuers have stepped up marketing efforts considerably over the past several months, according to the market research firm Mintel Comperemedia. For example, last month issuers mailed 373 million new offers to consumers' homes.

That's 18 percent more than issuers mailed in April and 37 percent more offers than issuers mailed in May 2012, according to the financial services firm Credit Suisse, citing Mintel Comperemedia research.

As the economy gradually improves, issuers are competing more heavily these days for new, high-spending card holders, say Credit Suisse analysts Moshe Orenbuch and Meredith Roscoe.

In a research note released June 20, Orenbuch and Roscoe speculated that as the year goes on, issuers are likely to become more aggressive. "We believe 2013 will see increasing competition for both spending volumes and revolving balances," they wrote.

Overall, issuers are expected to send about 3.6 billion offers this year, according to Credit Suisse -- up from 3 billion in 2012.

Credit card mailings on the upswing
Since November 2012, card issuers have been steadily bumping up the number of offers they mail. The total volume of card offers sent to consumers' homes has increased six months out of seven since the 2012 holidays.

The considerable pickup in offers over the past seven months signals a significant increase in card issuers' appetite for new customers, which has been fickle in recent years.

They courted new customers like mad before the recession, then turned hostile toward them during the economic downturn. The love affair resumed in 2010 and 2011, only to cool again in 2012, when issuers nearly cut in half the number of offers sent. Experts cited the weak economic recovery as a key reason for the most recent downshift. In addition, experts said that card issuers were turning to other, less-traditional ways to market cards since mailing credit card offers is expensive. 

Issuers now, however, are changing course again, pouring fresh resources into sending glossy packets to potential cardholders.

Among the largest card issuers, Citibank is leading the way in mailing new card offers, according to Credit Suisse. For example, Citi mailed a whopping 77 percent more offers in May than it did in April and mailed 38 percent more offers last month than it did the year before.

Discover and American Express also increased their mailings in May, say Credit Suisse researchers.

Rewards cards continue to dominate
The types of offers landing in mailboxes haven't changed much, however. According to Credit Suisse, issuers are focusing primarily on no-annual-fee rewards cards.

For example, no-fee rewards cards made up 70 percent of the offers that issuers mailed in May -- up from 60 percent of all offers the year before.

Already, most credit cards available to consumers with excellent credit now feature some kind of rewards program. Now, according to Credit Suisse, the rewards are getting even sweeter as issuers use the rewards programs to attract new cardholders.

"As we have written before, we believe that rewards are one of the key features in the current competitive environment, with over three-quarters of all offers focused on rewards, with heavier rewards components than in the past," wrote Orenbuch and Roscoe.

The number of plain Jane offers that don't come with a rewards program rose slightly in May as well. However, these cards still make up just a small fraction -- 19 percent -- of all the offers sent to new cardholders.

Cards aimed at consumers with little to no credit history or a blemished credit history, meanwhile, made up just 2 percent of all offers mailed in May.

The small number of offers sent to consumers with imperfect credit shows that issuers still aren't going after subprime consumers nearly as aggressively.  

See related: Fed signals that rate hikes remain in distant future , Fed: Card balances ticked up in April

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