Another quarter-point hike expected before end of year; projections point to more increases in 2019
Expert on consumer credit laws and regulations.
Credit card interest rates are
going up for the third time this year – but probably not the last time – as the
Federal Reserve tightens its benchmark rate to head off inflation by raising the rate a quarter point.
Since the rate-setting Federal
Open Market Committee last met in August, “the labor market has continued to strengthen and … economic activity has been rising at a strong rate,” according to
the committee policy statement on Wednesday
In projections released Wednesday,
a majority of the rate-setting committee expects to continue raising rates. Another quarter-point hike is highly likely this year, and at least two more are projected for 2019.
Most general-purpose credit
cards have variable rates that rise in step with banks’ prime rate. Banks set
the prime according to the federal funds rate. So increases in the FOMC’s federal
funds rate are passed on quickly in the form of higher APRs on credit cards.
For most cards, the quarter-point extra interest will take effect in the
current billing period or the next one.
“With another rate hike in the books and more likely on the way, it’s more important than ever to pay down your credit card debt,” said CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. “You can still get a 0-percent balance transfer with no fees for up to 20 months. Take advantage of that. It could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”
See related: Guide to rising credit card interest rates
Cost of higher rates hits credit
Rate increases are easy to miss
on your monthly credit card statement. But if you carry a balance from month to
month, they can have a serious impact on your finances.
- Today’s increase of 0.25 percent means an additional $12.50
in annual interest on a typical $5,000 card balance.
- If you pay off the balance over five years, the total
interest costs rise by $77.
- Annual interest on a $5,000 balance has gone up by $100 as a result of the Fed’s eight rate increases since it began tightening in
“With another rate hike in the books and more likely on the way, it’s more important than ever to pay down your credit card debt. You can still get a 0-percent balance transfer with no fees for up to 20 months.”
Card interest rates to rise following Fed’s announcement
The average interest rate on consumer
credit cards that carry a balance is 15.5 percent as of May 2018, the latest
figure reported by the Fed’s consumer credit report. That’s
up from 13 percent in 2014. The Fed tracks bank rates charged on
“revolving” accounts, which are mostly made up of credit cards.
The Fed’s monetary tightening is
affecting rates on new card offers as well, according to CreditCards.com’s
weekly rate report. Applicants have seen the national average APR on card
offers rise from 15 percent in 2014 to 16.92 percent as of today.
Economic headwinds to increase for consumers
So far, the strong job market
has buoyed consumers. With the jobless rate running below 4 percent, households
are in better economic shape than ever, at least according to credit scores.
The average FICO score has reached a record high
of 704, the analytics company announced this week.
People who carry a balance on
credit cards, however, will face higher and higher payments just to keep up as
interest rates rise.
“Overall, we expect
inflationary pressures to pick up slightly over the coming quarters,” TD Bank senior economist Leslie Preston wrote in a research note. That and
other factors “support our expectation for a continued gradual pace of
rate increases, with hikes looking likely at the September and December
The FOMC’s final meeting of the
year is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 19, making it the last chance for another
rate increase in 2018.
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