When it comes to picking a new credit card, there’s one detail you should not overlook: the card’s annual percentage rate, or APR. This represents the rate lenders charge to borrow, including fees and interest. But as you’re beginning to compare credit cards, you may wonder, ‘what is a good APR for a credit card?’
In general, a good APR is one that’s below the current average interest rate, which is 16.44%, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve . However, what’s a good APR will also depend on the type of credit card and your own creditworthiness.
What Is an Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?
The APR on a credit card represents the total cost of the loan expressed in annual terms. A credit card’s APR includes the interest rate as well as any fees, including for late payments, foreign transactions, or returned payments.
Taking these fees into account when applying for a credit card helps to provide a fuller picture of what the loan may actually cost over its lifetime.
Keep in mind that APR is distinct from interest rate, which is simply the additional cost of borrowing money. Like APR, interest rate is typically expressed as a percentage of the principal. However, when looking at the average credit card interest rate vs. the average APR, you’re not comparing apples to apples.
For example, if a consumer takes out a $1,000 loan with a 10% simple interest rate and a one-year term, they will pay $1,100 over the lifetime of the loan — the principal $1,000 plus interest of $100.
While this example is extremely simplified, it’s helpful in demonstrating the difference between a simple interest rate and a not-so-simple APR calculation. If the consumer calculates the cost of the same $1,000 loan, considering the various fees that go into the APR, the number will likely be higher than the stated interest rate.
How Is APR Determined?
Knowing how APR is determined is an important part of understanding how credit cards work. A credit card’s APR is largely determined based on an individual’s financial specifics when they open the account.
The lender will look at the person’s credit score and credit history, as well as factors like their payment history and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which represents how much of an individual’s gross income is already going toward debt payments. In general, someone with a good payment history and credit score and a lower DTI ratio will qualify for a better APR.
However, APR isn’t only based on a borrower’s creditworthiness. Lenders will also take into account the current U.S. prime rate, which is used to set rates on consumer loan products. Typically, a lender will take this rate and then bump it up a bit to minimize risk and increase profits.
Lastly, APR will vary based on the type of credit card. If you know what a credit card is, you’ll know all credit cards aren’t created equal. For instance, a credit card that offers lucrative rewards like travel points or cash back, will generally have a higher APR than a more basic card.
When It Matters to Look at APR
If a consumer is comparing two similar loan or credit card offers, they may want to also look at the offer’s APR.
Let’s say a person has two loan offers. Each is a $1,000 loan with an interest rate of 10%. With just that information to compare the two, they seem equal to each other. A little more digging, though, will uncover that Offer A has a $100 origination fee while Offer B only has a $50 origination fee — both of which could be calculated and accounted for in the offer’s APR.
With credit cards, it could be that two cards have the same interest rate, but Card A has no late payment fees, while Card B carries a 20% late payment fee, making its APR potentially higher. When it comes to APR, the devil really is in the details.
Types of Credit Card APR
To further complicate the answer to the question of what’s a good APR for a credit card, credit cards have different types of APR. The main one you’re probably going to want to consider when considering your total cost of borrowing is the purchase APR. However, if you’re planning to take out a cash advance or do a balance transfer, you’ll want to look at those APRs as well.
Introductory APR or Promotional APR
Sometimes, cards will offer a lower (or even 0%) APR to new customers for a limited time after they open the account. This APR can apply to purchases or to balance transfers. Introductory or promotional APRs must last at least six months, but they can be longer, too. Once this period is up, the regular APR kicks in.
The purchase APR is the rate that applies when you use your credit card to make a purchase and then carry a balance into the next billing cycle, perhaps only making the credit card minimum payment. This is the most commonly discussed type of APR, and the main one you’ll want to look out for when comparing credit cards.
Cash Advance APR
A cash advance APR applies if you withdraw money from an ATM or bank using a credit card. Unlike your purchase APR, this APR doesn’t have a grace period, meaning interest starts accruing immediately. Additionally, cash advance APRs tend to be on the higher side.
If you fail to make your payments on time, the penalty APR will kick in, driving up your card’s previous APR to one that’s often much higher. This is why it’s always important to make your credit card payments — even if you’re in the midst of disputing a credit card charge, for instance.
Balance Transfer APR
A balance transfer APR will apply when you transfer any balances from other cards onto your credit card account. Often, this APR is comparable to the purchase APR, though this can vary depending on the credit card company.
How to Evaluate and Compare APRs
To get a sense of a credit card’s APR, first take a look at a card’s purchase APR range, and compare that to other credit cards. For a fair comparison, make sure to look at the same type of credit card. (For example, only compare travel rewards cards to other travel rewards cards, or a credit-building card to another credit-building card.)
Then, get into the nitty-gritty and look at the APR for different types of transactions. Even one credit card can have varying APRs on different transactions. For example, a card may have a different APR on late payment penalties than it does for balance transfers or cash advances.
Evaluate each APR and compare those to any other offer you may have in front of you to ensure you pick the most competitive option. It’s a good idea to attempt to seek out the lowest rate possible for their financial situation. That way, you can feel confident using your credit card for what you need to use it for — even paying taxes with a credit card.
Low vs High APR Credit Cards
As you’re evaluating credit card APRs, it’s important to keep in mind that some credit cards tend to have higher APRs than others. For example, rewards credit cards generally have higher APRs, but provide value through perks, discounts, points, or other benefits.
On the other hand, many low-interest cards come with fewer perks. But again, these cards can save someone money in the long run if they need to carry a balance from, say, covering a large purchase at an establishment that accepts credit card payments.
Low-interest cards also tend to be reserved for those with higher than average credit scores, so they may be harder to qualify for with lower credit.
What Is a Good APR for a Credit Card?
According to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. national average credit card APR was 16.44% in November 2021, the most recent data available at the time of this writing. It’s reasonable to assume that an APR at or below the national average is considered “good.”
That said, qualifying for a “good” APR may hinge on a consumer’s credit score. For instance, someone with a below-average credit score may have a different definition of a good APR for a credit card compared to someone whose score is excellent.
APR and interest rates also change alongside federal interest rates changes. Because of this, it’s important for consumers to find the most recent data available on average credit card APR to ensure they aren’t relying on out-of-date information to inform their decision.
How to Avoid Paying APR
There’s one way to avoid paying an APR altogether, at least with credit cards, and that’s by paying off your balance in full each and every month. By paying off the balance, you’ll never have to pay interest or any APR-related fees thanks to credit cards’ grace period.
However, it’s still a good idea to seek out a good APR for a credit card just in case a large purchase means carrying a balance for some time.
Tips for Qualifying for a Better APR
The APR a person qualifies for typically depends on their individual credit score. This means that those with credit scores on the higher end of the scale might qualify for lower APRs. If a consumer has a lower credit score, that doesn’t mean they’re totally out of luck, but they might be offered the same card at a higher APR.
However, there are a few ways a person can improve their chances of qualifying for a lower APR, and that starts by doing the work to improve their credit score.
One step is to check their credit report regularly for accuracy. U.S. federal law allows consumers to get one free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Look out for any incorrect or suspicious charges. Even if you’d thought you’d resolved an issue related to a credit card skimmer, for instance, you’ll want to make sure those charges aren’t affecting your credit report in any way.
Consumers also can improve their personal credit scores by making debt payments on time and trying to use only 30% of their available credit limit at any given time. Payment history accounts for 35% of the total credit score, and credit utilization — how much of a person’s total credit is being used at a given time — accounts for 30% of the total credit score.
Repairing a poor credit score can take some time, but it’s worth the work.
When it comes to what is a good APR for a credit card, the answer is that it depends. You can use the current average APR as a benchmark, assuming that a credit card APR that’s below that rate is good. However, what’s a good APR will also depend on your credit scores and history as well as what type of credit cards you’re looking at.
Still, it is important to shop around and compare APRs when you’re looking for a new credit card. If you’re in the search, you might want to apply for a credit card with SoFi.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
What is a bad APR rate?
A bad APR for a credit card is generally one that’s well above the current national average credit card rate. APR for a credit card can vary widely, with some offering APRs as high as a whopping 36%.
What APR will I get with a 700 credit score?
A credit score of 700 is considered in the range of good. It’s likely you could qualify for an APR around average, though of course this will also depend on other factors, including the type of card and the current prime rate.
Does the interest rate on my credit card change?
Your credit card company can increase your interest rate. However, they are not permitted to do so within the first year of opening the account. Additionally, they must give you notice at least 45 days in advance.
What other financial products have an APR?
Many different types of lending products have APR. Beyond credit cards, this can include mortgages, car loans, and personal loans.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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