Credit card rates hit a record high as Fed fights inflation
By Matt EganUpdated: Wed, 09 Nov 2022 17:20:27 GMTIt's never a great time to carry credit card debt. But right now is arguably the worst time.The Federal Reserve's war on inflation has driveBy Matt Egan
Updated: Wed, 09 Nov 2022 17:20:27 GMT
It's never a great time to carry credit card debt. But right now is arguably the worst time.
The Federal Reserve's war on inflation has driven up the average credit card APR (annual percentage rate) to 19.04% as of November 9, according to Bankrate.com.
That's the highest rate since Bankrate.com's database began in 1985, beating the prior record of 19% set in July 1991.
The milestone is the latest demonstration of how the Fed's historic inflation-fighting campaign is pushing up borrowing costs on Main Street. Mortgage rates more than doubled over the past year to 20-year highs, forcing countless potential buyers to drop out of the housing market.
The national average APR for credit cards has climbed by 2.74 percentage points so far this year, the biggest increase in a single year on record, according to Bankrate.com.
The spike comes after credit card balances rose sharply earlier this year amid high inflation, according to Federal Reserve research. Industry experts predict shoppers will lean heavily on credit cards to pay for increasingly expensive gifts this holiday shopping season.
"It's hard to build wealth when you are paying the credit card company this much every month," said Ted Rossman, Bankrate's senior industry analyst.
Credit card debt can be punishing, even at lower rates.
At the 16.3% national average rate at the start of the year, it would have taken 185 months of minimum payments to pay off $5,000 in credit card debt, according to Bankrate.com. And that would have cost $5,517 in interest. At the current rate, it will take 191 months and cost $6,546 in interest to pay off the same $5,000 credit card balance.
The good news is that despite high inflation, Americans are largely paying their credit card bills. Delinquencies and defaults are very low, in part due to savings many people accumulated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bad news is that could change quickly if projections for a spike in layoffs come true.
In the past few days alone, Facebook owner Meta has revealed it will slash more than 11,000 jobs, Lyft said it will cut 700 jobs and Redfin announced nearly 900 layoffs. Others including Amazon have said they will freeze some hiring.
"There is only one way for the unemployment rate to go: Up," said Rossman.
Rossman recommends Americans struggling with credit card debt consider either taking out a low-rate personal loan or transferring their balance to a 0% balance transfer card.
Competition has heated up in this space and some 0% balance transfer cards allow consumers to avoid interest for up to 21 months, buying them time to pay down their balance, Rossman said.