How Credit Card Payments Can Balloon When Interest Rates Rise

By Janet Siroto · December 22, 2023 · 6 minute read

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How Credit Card Payments Can Balloon When Interest Rates Rise

Most people in the US have at least one credit card. These cards are a popular, convenient way to pay for items as you go about your day, tapping and swiping. They can also allow you to buy items that you can’t afford to pay for in one fell swoop, such as airfare to Hawaii or a new laptop.

But they have downsides, too; perhaps most notably, their high interest rates. At the end of 2023, one analysis found that the average interest rate was nudging close to 25%; two years earlier, the rate was hovering around 15%. That’s a considerable increase.

Here, you’ll learn more about how and why credit card payments can balloon as interest rates rise. You’ll also read advice on keeping your credit card in check, which can benefit your financial wellness.

How Interest Is Calculated

If you’re confused by all of the fine print that accompanies a credit card offer or the thought of an annual percentage rate (APR) calculation makes you wince, you probably aren’t the only one. To understand how rising rates can affect your credit card payment, it helps to understand a bit about how credit card interest is calculated.

•   First, there are two types of consumer loans: installment loans and revolving credit. A mortgage, student loan, or car loan are all examples of installment loans. With an installment loan, the borrower is loaned an amount of money (called the principal), plus interest to be paid back over a designated amount of time.

•   Revolving credit, on the other hand, is not a loan disbursed in one lump sum, but is a certain amount of credit to be used by the borrower continuously, up to a designated limit. A credit card is revolving credit. A borrower’s monthly payment is determined by how much of the available credit they are using at any given time; therefore, minimum payments may change from month to month.

Installment credit is sometimes easier than revolving credit to understand and calculate. First, installment loans often come with fixed rates, which means that the interest rate doesn’t change (unless you miss payments). For example, the rate on a federal student loan or a 30-year fixed mortgage won’t change, even if government-set interest rates shoot to the sun.

Revolving credit almost often has a variable rate, which means that the interest rate applied to the credit balance fluctuates.

The average rate on credit cards is quoted as an annual percentage rate, or an APR. The APR is the approximate interest rate that a borrower will pay in one year. Why approximate? The prime rate could fluctuate based on when the Fed changes the federal fund target rate.

💡 Quick Tip: Need help covering the cost of a wedding, honeymoon, or new baby? A SoFi personal loan can help you fund major life events — without the high interest rates of credit cards.

How Credit Card Interest Rates Change

Generally, when the Fed raises the federal funds rate, it can slow economic growth because it dissuades banks from lending money — and discourages consumers from borrowing at a subsequently higher interest rate. Raising rates is also used as a technique to combat rising inflation.

While this may be a normal and natural part of an economic cycle, rising rates can be frustrating for anyone who is currently carrying a credit card balance.

Credit card interest rates have risen as a result of 11 rate hikes enacted by the Federal Reserve (the Fed) since March 2022. Although the Fed does not control interest rates on credit cards directly, credit card interest rates are often pegged against the prime rate, which changes with the federal funds rate.

What Does a Rising Prime Rate Mean for Credit Card Holders?

A change in interest rates is likely to impact anyone with a variable rate on their credit card balance. When the Fed raises federal funds interest rates, it can be expected that credit card interest rates may follow.

How much would your credit card interest rate increase? It depends on your credit card. Generally, credit cards move in sync with rate hikes, which usually happen in quarter-percent increments.

However, the Fed has said, as of the end of 2023, that they don’t plan to raise rates further in the immediate future.

How to Combat a High Credit Card Bill

Here are some ideas for battling a high credit card bill and potentially paying less in interest over time:

1. Pay More Than the Minimum Payment

If at all possible, pay off as much of your credit card balance as you can each month. Making payments greater than the minimum amount due can help reduce your balance. The faster you can work on reducing the actual principal balance on your credit card, the less interest you’ll likely pay. If you only pay your credit card’s minimum payment, you may wind up in debt longer and paying more interest in the long run.

2. Switch to a Balance Transfer Card

Balance transfer credit cards typically have 0% APR introductory offers lasting for several months to a couple of years. If you’re serious about getting rid of your debt, you could transfer your debt over to one of these cards and then actively work on paying off the debt while you’re not paying interest.

If you do this, make sure to look for a card that has no transfer fee. Beware: If the root of the problem is actually overspending, this will not be a good long-term solution. Sometimes, 0% APR cards have interest rates that jump up dramatically after the trial period is over. And the 0% APR may no longer apply if you make a new purchase on the card.

3. Negotiate a Lower Rate

You might be surprised to find out that a credit card rate can be negotiable. It may be worth giving your credit card company a call and seeing whether they can reduce your rate.

When talking to the person on the other end of the line, explain your situation, be kind to them, and see what happens. Again, this isn’t a permanent solution or a guaranteed outcome, but it could help give you a leg-up on the payback journey.

4. Sign up for Credit Counseling

You might benefit from professional credit counseling to help with your credit card debt. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a nonprofit organization that offers free and affordable advice for people who are struggling to manage debt on their own. If you’re unable to envision a path to paying down debt, it could be a good idea to ask for assistance.

5. Consider a Personal Loan

One tactic to consider in an environment where prime interest rates are rising is paying off credit card balances with a fixed-rate unsecured personal loan.

These are sometimes referred to as “debt consolidation loans” and allow a qualified borrower to pay off high-interest debt, such as credit cards, with this lower-rate personal loan. With a fixed-rate personal loan, the rate never changes (as long as payments are made on time), and it helps provide the borrower with a defined plan to pay off the debt.

If you decide to go this route, it’s a good idea to shop around to ensure that you’re getting a fair rate. You can get a personal or debt consolidation loan from banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

To compare estimated personal loan interest charges to credit card interest charges, you can use a tool like a personal loan calculator.

Shopping for a Personal Loan

Each lender sets its own terms for making these types of loans, so be sure to ask lots of questions about rates, terms, and fees.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

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Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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