Interest Rates on Credit Cards are Steadily Rising

Interest rates are up across the board

Credit card companies gamble with the risk of bankrupcy (photo by

Credit card lenders take a gamble with bankruptcy (photo by

Although many interest rates were recently cut, credit cards lenders are set to increase theirs. Mortgages and savings rates have fallen dramatically due to government intervention; however, credit card rates have moved up. Even cards listed as “low-rate” are averaging 11.62%, balance-transfer cards are averaging 13.15% and cards with cash returns are at 13.82%.

Good customers are not exempt

These rate increases are happening with all cards and affecting even the best-paying customers. Twenty-year customer Echo Garret of Marietta, Georgia says, “I certainly don’t feel like a valued customer.” The interest rate on her Citi Advantage card was recently raised to 19.99% from its 20-year average of 10.9%. Her husband’s card had an equally painful increase in the form of a tripled interest rate. “We’ve been good, longtime customers and there was never a problem with our accounts. We pay on time and more than our minimum…I just don’t understand,” she added.

Last-ditch revenues for lenders

Many credit card companies see increasing their interest rates as an easy way to bring in more revenue. It also makes them look more financially stable when revenues are up. A lot of companies are also trying to maximize their income streams before the new federal rules governing credit card interest rates go into effect. The new rules will prohibit rate hikes on existing balances unless borrowers fall 30 days behind on payments. The rules take effect in 2010 and right now credit card companies are rushing to maximize interest rates before the deadline.

A game of Russian roulette

Many experts say that these last-minute interest rate increases are potentially detrimental to lenders. They might help the companies in the short term, but in the long term it’s a “game of Russian roulette,” says Jose Garcia, senior researcher of Demos. “They’re playing the [balancing] game of getting people to pay the most they can in interest without going into default—where the issuer gets nothing,” he adds.

Last-resort bankruptcies for borrowers

Robert Manning, research professor of Consumer Financial Services, believes that higher rates force even good customers into default. He believes that credit cards with sudden interest-rate hikes cause minimum monthly payments to reach unmanageable levels. This pushes customers into default and leads to bankruptcy filings.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

One customer who fell into this trap is Amanda Burnett, recent college graduate. She intended to pay off her $3,500 Bank of American credit card but when the bank raised her APR from 16.99% to 25.99% she was unable to meet even the minimum required monthly payment. She called to close the account and then asked for a better rate. The bank told her that once an account is closed, its terms are fixed. Said Burnette, “I was shocked [because] I had planned on paying off my balance and keeping the credit card for future use, but now I feel misled and betrayed.”

Bank of American spokesperson Betty Riess explains that it is their policy to allow borrowers to opt out if interest rates are too high; however if a borrower doesn’t opt out and instead closes the account, the higher interest rate remains.

Credit cards after 2010

Hopefully, once the credit card reform bill becomes effective in 2010, interest rates will become more manageable. Riess states, “We are hoping that credit cards will work within our customers’ budgets, while still bringing us the revenues we need to offer outstanding lending services.” Only time will tell if credit card companies are able to strike this balance.

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