Rate survey: Interest rates drop for the 2nd straight week

The average annual percentage rate (APR) dropped to 15.14 percent from last week's 15.19 percent. That is down nearly one-tenth of a percentage point from the national APR average record, 15.22 percent -- set in mid-December.

U.S. Bank and Chase spurred this week's decrease. U.S. Bank changed the low end of the APR range offered for its U.S. Bank Visa Platinum card. The card had carried an interest rate range of 11.99 percent to 23.99 percent before dropping its range to 9.99 percent to 23.99 percent. Since CreditCards.com uses only the lower end of ranges to calculate the national average, the move helped send the overall national average downward.

Chase also made a move this week, lowering the APR offered for its Freedom card from a flat 17.99 percent down to 14.99 percent. The change comes in the wake of an overhaul to most of Chase's business and personal credit lines, made throughout December. APRs offered for personal credit cards had mostly been increased, while business credit cards that offered an APR range did away with the top end and instead used the low end as a new flat rate offer.

Steve O'Halloran, Chase's public affairs director, confirmed the newest decrease. "Chase offers a number of cards with different rates and benefits, which is why we encourage customers to choose the card that is best for them," O'Halloran said.

As a result of these moves, it is the first time since mid-July that the national APR average has gone down two straight weeks. Between July and December, the national average had mostly either risen or seen no change at all. However, decreased or unchanged APRs on new credit card offers around the holidays are nothing new. Since 2007 -- when CreditCards.com first began tracking rates -- the APR average has either remained unchanged or dropped, typically after a small increase right before or during peak holiday shopping weeks.

Out of the nine categories CreditCards.com tracks, four changed and five remained unchanged.

  • The low interest category dropped from 15.19 percent to 15.14 percent.
  • Balance transfer APRs dropped from 13 percent to 12.85 percent.
  • The cash back category fell from its record of 14.86 percent to 14.74 percent.
  • The rewards card category dipped from its record of 14.86 percent to 14.82 percent.

Credit card categories aren't the only records being broken this week. Holiday gift card purchase projections for this year are the highest they've been since 2007, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation. The survey went on to report that shoppers were expected to spend an average of $155.43 on gift cards. In all, Americans were expecting to spend $27.8 billion on gift cards -- up nearly 3 percent from 2010.

If you were a gift card recipient this year, here are a few tips to help navigate the gift card regulations made in the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

  • There are now restrictions on expiration dates. The money on your gift card will be intact for at least five years from the date the card is issued. Any money that is added to the card later is good for at least five years.
  • Replacement cards possible. If the gift card has an expiration date you still may be able to use unused money remaining on the card after the card expires. If your card expires and there is unspent money, you can often request a replacement card at no additional charge. Always make sure to check whether the gift card retailer implements expiration dates.
  • Fees are now limited. Typically, fees can be charged if you haven't used your card for at least one year, and can only be charged once per month. All fees associated with the gift card should be clearly displayed on the gift card. Fee restrictions also apply to dormancy or inactivity fees for not using your card and also fees for using your card, or "usage fees."

Note that you can still be charged a fee to replace a lost or stolen card. Most retailers will not refund or replace lost or stolen gift cards unless a receipt or proof of purchase is presented.

Always be sure to read the card disclosure carefully to know what fees and rules your gift card may carry.

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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