Why do issuers increase credit card interest rates?

1
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

You may think your credit card’s interest rate is inconsequential, but unless you don’t mind throwing money away, you should pay close attention.

Consider a scenario where you owe $5,000 in credit card debt with an APR of 14 percent. If you made a monthly payment of $200 it would take you 30 months to become debt-free, and in that time you would pay $946 in interest. However, if your interest rate increased to 24 percent, with the same monthly payment it would take you an extra six months to pay down your debt and you’d pay more than double the interest (a total of $2,000 in interest over 36 months).

That’s a huge difference in cash you probably don’t want to waste on interest payments. But what can increase your credit card’s APR in the first place? And when can a credit card company raise your rate?

To pay less in interest, you need to understand the inner workings of the credit card industry, what motivates card issuers to charge more interest and the areas where you have some control. This guide outlines everything you need to know about increased interest rates, including whether it’s possible to request that your interest rate go back down.

Why do issuers change credit card interest rates?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), federal law requires most credit card issuers to post a credit card agreement online. As a result, you can easily look up the rates and fees for your credit card (or one you want to apply for) at any time.

Prime rate changes

When you search for this information, you’ll find the vast majority of credit cards have a variable interest rate that is subject to change over time. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) explains that these variable rates are based on an “index” of interest rates nationwide, which is not something your card issuer controls.

Generally speaking, credit card interest rates are based on the prime rate—a national index used by banks to determine consumer interest rates. Since the prime rate is tied to the Federal Reserve interest rate, your interest rate can go up and down based on moves made by the Federal Reserve.

Penalty APR for late payment

Another instance where your credit card issuer might raise your interest rate is when you pay your bill late. If you are more than 60 days behind on your credit card bill, you could get hit with a penalty APR that’s higher than your regular rate.

End of introductory APR period

Finally, you may see your credit card’s interest rate go up if you originally signed up for a credit card with an introductory APR offer. There are many credit cards that give you 0 percent APR on purchases or balance transfers for 12 months or more, yet you will pay the regular variable rate on balances once that intro rate expires.

Is my issuer required to notify me when my rate changes?

Here’s the good news about your credit card company raising your rate: by and large, you won’t face any sudden changes in your APR.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (the Credit CARD Act) stipulates that card issuers generally cannot raise the interest on credit cards you’ve had for less than a year. Not only that, but your card issuer is required to give you 45 days notice of any rate increase, which then only applies to balances from that date forward.

An exception to that rule comes into play if you’re already late on your credit card by 60 days or more, in which case you’ll have to start paying a penalty APR. However, the FDIC reports that penalty APRs cannot last forever if you get back on track with payments. In fact, your card issuer is required to restore your original variable APR after you make six months of timely payments on your credit card.

What to do if your APR increases

Credit card interest you pay does not benefit you in any way and just makes every purchase you make on your card more expensive in the long run. So, if your credit card APR is scheduled to increase, it’s important to take steps to minimize the damage.

If your credit card interest rate goes up because you’re 60 days late on payments, you should focus on getting back on track so you can stop paying a penalty APR. This requires you to make six months of on-time payments on your credit card.

If you receive notice that your rate is going up due to changes in the prime rate, on the other hand, you have several options to consider. You can:

  • Call your credit card issuer and try to negotiate your interest rate down. Negotiating your card interest rate down is a possibility, and the worst your card issuer can do is say “no.” You can try this strategy by calling the number on the back of your credit card. Just remember that lowered rates are more likely to be offered if you have a long history of responsible credit use and a good relationship with your card issuer.
  • Pay off your credit card balance. You can also just pay off your credit card balance if you have the means to do so. This bold move would help you avoid paying any credit card interest on that particular card moving forward.
  • Consider a balance transfer credit card. You can also look into balance transfer credit cards, many of which offer 0 percent APR on debts you transfer for 12 months or more. Just remember that balance transfer cards charge balance transfer fees, which can eat away at your interest savings.
  • Look into a debt consolidation loan. If you’re not interested in moving debt from one credit card to another, you can also look into personal loans for debt consolidation. Personal loans come with fixed interest rates considerably lower than credit card rates, as well as fixed monthly payments and a fixed repayment timeline. This means you can consolidate debt and know exactly when you’ll become debt-free.
Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.