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Rate survey: Credit card APRs linger at 15 percent

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

The national average annual percentage rate (APR) idled at 15 percent Wednesday for the third straight week.

None of the issuers tracked by CreditCards.com introduced new terms. That includes changes to promotional balance transfer offers and introductory APRs.

For the third week, Chase advertised a shorter promotional period on the Chase Freedom card. However, Chase is still offering a longer promotion to some applicants.

Depending on where you access the card's application online, you may be offered a 0 percent APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months. Or, you could be offered a less generous promotional period that lasts for just 12 months.

Previously, applicants who visited the Chase website were only offered a 15-month promotion for the Freedom card.

Balance transfer offers less generous
According to new data from the market research firm Mintel Comperemedia, Chase isn't the only card issuer experimenting with shorter promotional offers.

The average interest-free period on promotional balance transfer offers mailed directly to consumers' homes, for example, fell slightly last month, according to an analysis of Mintel data by the financial services firm Credit Suisse.

It was the second consecutive month that issuers trimmed the amount of time consumers could take advantage of interest-free balance transfers.

Consumers who apply for an offer they receive by mail now have an average of 14.2 months to take advantage of a 0 percent balance transfer offer -- down from an average of 14.7 months in February.

Issuers were much more generous in January, giving consumers an average of 17 months to take advantage of an offer -- up from an average of 14.4 months in December.

The average balance transfer period is currently at its lowest point since June 2012. However, it's not clear if that's just a temporary dip or if card issuers are getting serious about trimming offers.

Despite the slightly shorter promotional offers, issuers are relying more heavily on 0 percent balance transfer deals to lure new customers. According to Credit Suisse, 71 percent of the credit card offers mailed to consumers' homes last month -- 224 million total -- contained some type of 0 percent balance transfer deal. That's up from approximately 219 million offers the year before.

Issuers are also sending out a generous number of offers containing a 0 percent APR on purchases. However, they're not sending out nearly as many 0 percent purchase offers as they did last year. For example, the number of offers containing a 0 percent APR has fallen, year-over-year, from approximately 262 million to 240 million.

Overall, issuers are investing more money in direct mail marketing than they did last year, despite the tighter offers for some cardholders. For example, the total number of offers mailed to consumers' homes is up 2 percent, compared to March 2013.

That indicates that issuers' appetite for new cardholders is increasing -- thanks in part to a substantially improved economy. However, the less generous terms that are accompanying some offers underscores just how cautious issuers still are about the amount of risk they're willing to take on new cardholders.

Job market picks up, GDP tumbles
The economy, meanwhile, is continuing to gain traction. But a new report, released April 30, shows that it's still not strong enough to withstand some forceful blows, such as this year's unusually cold winter.

According to advance estimates from the Commerce Department, the economy grew by just 0.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, thanks in part to fewer investments and exports.

During the unusually cold winter, businesses invested substantially less in new goods and equipment and they also exported fewer goods and services.

Consumers, meanwhile, increased their spending by approximately 3 percent, helping push the overall GDP number up. However, previous reports have indicated that consumer spending would have been higher this quarter if the severe winter weather hadn't kept so many people at home.

Despite investing less this winter, businesses are ramping up their hiring, according to a second report, released April 30.

According to the payroll processor ADP, private sector businesses added approximately 220,000 new jobs to the economy between March and April -- the most they've added since November 2013.

"The 220,000 U.S. private sector jobs added in April is well above the 12-month average," said ADP's Carlos Rodriguez in a press release. "Job growth appears to be trending up and hopefully this will continue."

In March, employers added 209,000 new jobs to the economy -- up from 193,000 in February and 121,000 in January.