When it comes to the multi-million dollar business of advertising credits cards the most prominent thing on any advertisement is the rate charged for using the credit card which has become generally referred to as the card’s APR. Indeed, when it comes to choosing a credit card most people simply compare cards on the basis of APR and will often select the card with the lowest APR without looking into it in any more detail. Now credit card rates are certainly very important, though not the only factor to take into account, and the starting point when choosing any card is to understand just what credit card rates mean.
In its simplest form the APR is the rate that a credit card issuer will charge you for money which you owe on your card. However, the first thing which you need to understand is that this rate will only be charged if you do not pay the balance on your account within a specified time. For example, if you owe nothing at the start of the month and borrow $500 during the month then your credit card statement will arrive at the start of the following month saying that you owe $500 and that this balance is payable by a specified date, which might be within say 14 days. The statement will also advise you that you do not need to pay the full amount at this time but that a minimum payment of say $50 (10%) is required. Now, if you pay the full $500 then you will not be charged any interest at all. However, if you pay only $50 then you will be charged the card rate on the remaining $450 balance and this interest will be added to your account and appear on your next monthly statement.
Now comes the tricky part. Your card’s APR is more accurately its Annual Percentage Rate, in other words, the annual and not the monthly rate which is applied to your card and so the first thing the credit card company need to do is to break this down into a monthly rate. It then takes the amount of money on which interest needs to be charged each month (the balance less any payment made) and applies the monthly interest rate to calculate the interest charges. These charges are then added to your balance and will form part of the balance payable the following month.
The next month your credit card company will repeat this process and herein lies the true danger of credit cards because this time the balance on which interest is being charged will include the interest charge added to your account the previous month. Put simply, you are now paying interest on interest and the total amount of interest you will end up paying over the course of a year will no longer bear any true relationship to the Annual Percentage Rate, but will depend very much on how much of your balance you pay off each month and how much you roll over.
If you have the odd ‘tight’ month and can only pay off your minimum balance then the added interest charges are perhaps a reasonably price to pay for a short term problem. However, if you find that month after month you are simply meeting the minimum payment required, or perhaps a little bit more, in no time at all your balance will start rising rapidly not because you are using your card but because you are simply paying off growing monthly interest charges and not paying back the money you originally borrowed to make purchases.
If, like so many people, you find yourself in this position then a 2% or 3% difference in the APR on your card when you take it out makes little if any real difference. So, the APR is certainly an important consideration but of far more importance is the way in which you use your card and manage your account payments.