Personal Finance

Credit card interest rates remain flat at 15.06 percent

Average rates on new credit card offers lingered at 15.06 Wednesday for the fourth consecutive week, according to the Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

This is the 12th straight week that interest rates have remained above 15 percent.

None of the cards tracked by featured new interest rates this week. Chase continued to offer some credit card applicants an APR of 20.24 percent on the BP Visa, which is 1 percentage point higher than the card's lowest available rate.

However, the gas card's slightly higher APR hasn't affected the national average because Chase continues to offer a single 19.24 percent APR to some applicants.

Issuers frequently test new interest rates by offering different rates to online applicants. This is the third week that has seen both a 19.24 percent APR and a 20.24 percent APR on the BP Visa card.

Spending slows during sales-heavy November

The last week of November is traditionally one of the strongest spending periods of the year, thanks to Black Friday sales and early holiday shopping.

Despite heavy in-store traffic during Thanksgiving week, new research shows that overall November sales fell significantly short of expectations.

Retail spending on plastic payment cards, for example, grew by just 1.3 percent last month, according to research released Dec. 11 by First Data Corporation. In October, by contrast, retail spending jumped by 5.6 percent.

Analysts at First Data say many would-be shoppers waited until the end of the month to make their purchases, which helped drive overall retail sales growth down. Thanksgiving also occurred later in the month this year, so fewer after-Thanksgiving sales occurred during November, say analysts.

Overall, consumer spending on plastic payment cards -- including credit cards, debit cards and prepaid cards -- grew by 4.4 percent in November. That's 2.4 percentage points less than the previous month.

Prepaid cards enjoyed the biggest uptick in spending in November, with dollar volume growth ticking up by 8.9 percent. Debit card sales using a PIN grew by 6.4 percent, while signature debit sales grew by 2.8 percent. Credit card spending, meanwhile, jumped 4.9 percent.

Analysts at First Data say that despite a month-over-month slump in spending growth, consumer spending still accelerated faster in November than it did the previous year. That, in turn, bodes well for the remainder of the holiday season, say analysts, since consumers are in a better position this year to spend. "We definitely see that consumers are more confident and have enjoyed stronger income growth in 2013 compared to 2012," said First Data's Krish Mantripagada in a statement . "This should encourage shoppers to open up their wallets as the holiday season progresses."

Consumer debt grows unevenly around the country

Thrifty shoppers have been careful throughout 2013 about how much they're willing to charge. But new research from Equifax shows that consumers in some parts of the country are now substantially more confident about the total amount of debt they're willing to carry -- including on their cards.

According to data released Dec. 10, consumer debt, including credit card, auto, mortgage and student loan debt, increased in the third quarter by more than 1 percent, year over year, in six of the country's largest metropolitan regions.

Consumers living in Houston -- an area known for substantial job growth -- added the largest amount of debt to their financial portfolios. There, consumers increased their debt loads, year over year, by 4.35 percent. Among the remaining five metropolitan regions:

  • Residents of Pittsburgh accumulated 2.44 percent more debt
  • Consumers living in Dallas increased their debt loads by 2.20 percent
  • Portland-Salem, Ore., residents piled on 1.89 percent more debt
  • Consumers living in or around Boston took on 1.82 percent more debt
  • Denver-area residents amassed 1.46 percent more debt

Among the country's 25 largest metropolitan regions, six more metro areas saw slight increases in consumer debt. Thirteen, however, saw decreases.

Consumers living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region shed the largest amount of debt, according to Equifax. There, consumer debt fell by 4.19 percent in the third quarter of 2013, compared to the same time last year. Consumers living in recession-scarred Las Vegas came in a close second, with consumer debt levels in the Nevada tourist town falling by 4.05 percent.

Other metro areas of the country where debt fell by more than one percentage point include Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Tampa, Fla., Sacramento, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.

"For the most part, the metropolitan areas where consumer debt is increasing are places that did not experience an extreme housing boom and subsequent bust," said Equifax's Trey Loughran in a statement . "In these six markets, consumers are generally growing more confident. For example, in Houston, the city with the largest growth of consumer debt, the economy has stayed relatively strong due to the energy sector."

Analysts at Equifax acknowledged that not everyone around the country is feeling so upbeat. Many are remaining tight-fisted with the amount they charge and are less willing to borrow large amounts.

See related:Fed: Credit card balances shot up October , Credit card balances extend their slide

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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