A low credit card APR is a valuable commodity if you ever carry a balance, as the higher your interest rate, the more you’ll be charged in interest fees. Indeed, an increase of just a few percentage points can make a huge difference in how much money you’ll pay over the course of a year.
This is true of APRs for all loan types — not just credit cards. But how do you ensure a low interest rate?
Here are a few steps for keeping your credit card rates low.
1. Always Pay Your Bill on Time
In addition to paying late fees on late or missed payments, many credit cards will also start charging you what’s known as a penalty APR. Typically much higher than your normal purchase APR, penalty rates can cause your interest fees to skyrocket.
Fortunately, the CARD Act of 2009 makes it much more difficult for credit card issuers to give consumers penalty rates. However, if you have a delinquency on your credit card of 60 days or more (meaning you’ve missed at least two payments), you may trigger a penalty rate.
This means the credit card company can increase your rate on your existing balance, and they aren’t required to lower it until you regularly pay your bill on time for the next six months.
To help make sure you always pay your bill on time, create reminders in your phone or calendar if you have trouble remembering due dates, or, better yet, set up automatic payments from your bank account. If your minimum payments are too high, call your credit company and ask if you can make other arrangements — before you get in trouble and find yourself with a higher interest rate (and a balance that grows more quickly).
2. Negotiate Your Interest Rate
Believe it or not, some credit card companies will lower your APR upon your request. Call your credit company, sell yourself as a good customer, and remind them how many years you’ve been banking with them.
Let them know of competing credit card offers from other banks with much lower APRs. Mention how you’d like to stay loyal to them and ask for a lower APR.
If they say no or do not offer a low enough rate, ask to speak to a supervisor or someone in the retention department.
Still no luck? You may want to try calling again a few days later and see if a different representative can help.
3. Transfer Your Balance
If you have high-interest credit card debt and your current issuers won't reduce your APR (or won't reduce it enough), then transferring your debt to a new card with a lower APR may be a good solution for saving on fees.
If you have at least good credit, many banks offer great introductory credit card offers with 0% interest on balance transfers for a year or longer. Just read the fine print so you know what interest rate to expect once the introductory period ends.
If it’s higher than your current rate, it may not be a great deal unless you make major progress on your balance during the 0% introductory period.
Additionally, be aware of any applicable balance transfer fees. Most credit cards will charge a fee — typically 3% to 5% of the total transferred amount — to transfer a balance to the card. While this fee can be well worth it for a good 0% APR offer, crunch the numbers to see if it’s worth paying for lesser APR decreases.
4. Avoid Variable Rates
When you have a variable rate on your credit card, it is tied to an index (generally the U.S. Prime Rate). As the market fluctuates, so, too, will your interest rate.
You can avoid this by getting a credit card with a fixed rate so you will always know what your rate will be.
The only problem? Fixed rate credit cards are harder to find since the CARD Act went into effect, so you may need to do a decent bit of hunting to find one. Most major credit card issuers don’t have fixed-rate cards, but you may have better luck with your local credit unions or community banks.
Maintaining a low credit card APR is easy if you follow some basic steps.
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