Rate survey: Credit card rates remain unchanged

Kelly Dilworth
August 29, 2012

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

The national average annual percentage rate ( APR ) on new card offers remained at 14.98 percent Wednesday, after rising slightly the previous week.

None of the card offers that CreditCards.com tracks made changes of any sort this week. That includes changes to promotional balance transfers and introductory APRs.

Stillness on credit card landscape is nothing new in 2012 -- in fact, it's become the new norm.  In the past eight months, average APRs have remained unchanged 22 weeks out of 35.

When average rates have moved this year, the changes were tiny. For example, the national average on new card offers hasn't dropped below 14.9 percent since the end of February, according to CreditCards.com data, and it has remained just shy of 15 percent for the past six weeks.

Card issuers slash mail offers
The lull in activity isn't confined to credit card offer terms. Card issuers are also continuing to pull back on the number of card offers they mail to consumers, according to research from Mintel Comperemedia.

Credit card mailings dropped for the second month in a row in July, according to the financial services firm Credit Suisse, citing Mintel Comperemedia research, falling 12 percent from the previous month.

Looking back a year, the dropoff in card offers is even more dramatic, with the volume of credit card offers sent to consumers is now down by nearly half. According to data compiled by Credit Suisse, the total number of credit card offers mailed to consumers fell by a whopping 48 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, slumping levels not seen since 2010.

Generally, the number of credit card offers mailed to consumers is considered to be an important indicator of how hungry issuers are to capture new customers. However, researchers at Credit Suisse say that competition between issuers remains tight.

"We believe that the operating environment faced by credit card issuers remains very competitive, particularly at the higher spending end of the spectrum," wrote analysts Moshe Orenbuch and Meredith Roscoe in a research note released last week.     

That said, despite relatively healthy competition between issuers, credit card mail volume has been depressed all year, particularly compared to 2011 when mail volume spiked dramatically.

After declining sharply in 2009, mail volume increased significantly in 2011, hitting just over 450 million offers per month at its peak in July 2011. But then issuers began to pull back significantly in November 2011, reducing the number of offers they sent in the mail to just over 300 million. Credit card mailings have yet to recover since then, hovering between 200 million and 300 million offers throughout 2012.

As a result, research analysts have curbed their expectations for future growth. Researchers at Credit Suisse, for example, now believe that the total number of credit card offers sent in 2012 will be 32 percent below the number of offers issuers sent the year before.  

In an interview earlier this month, Andrew Davidson, senior vice president of Mintel Comperemedia, said that issuers are remaining cautious about the volume of card offers they send due to an uncertain economic recovery. However, they are spending significant resources on other ways to capture new customers, such as online advertising and social media, he says.

Once the economic recovery picks up steam, Davidson expects that consumers will once more see a larger number of credit card offers popping up in their mailboxes. 

See related: American Express, Discover lead again in card satisfaction survey