Personal Finance

Survey: Card rates remain at 14.95 percent for 3rd straight week

Interest rates on new credit card offers remained at 14.95 percent Wednesday for the third consecutive week, according to the Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

Most issuers left interest rates alone this week. However, the sporting goods store Cabela's did make a minor change to its retail rewards card, raising the maximum available rate on the Cabela's Club Visa from 18.19 percent to 18.20 percent.

The change didn't affect the national average, however, because considers only a card's lowest available rate when calculating average interest rates.

Discover was also busy this week, extending the amount of time students can take advantage of an introductory APR and 0 percent balance transfer offer on the Discover "it" card for students.

Previously, a student had six months at the lower introductory interest rate. Now, students enjoy the promotional period for nine months.

The rest of the issuers tracked by left offers alone this week. That's nothing new. Issuers have largely left credit card offers alone for much of the past year amid slow economic growth and anemic consumer spending.

Average APRs have remained within rounding distance of 15 percent since 2010 and haven't fallen below 14.9 percent since February 2012. The majority of promotional offers have also remained the same as issuers play it safe while waiting out the weak recovery.

Cardholders, meanwhile, have shown little appetite for applying for a large number of new cards or for adding more debt to their card balances than they can afford to quickly repay.

Total consumer credit, including credit card debt and mortgages, grew for the first time since 2008 in the final quarter of 2012, according to a report released Feb. 28 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York .

The total amount of growth in household debt was small -- around half a percent. However, economists at the New York Fed said that it was a promising sign that U.S. households were finally recovering from the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Fresh challenges for cardholders loom, however, which could make it difficult for consumers to spend as heavily as needed to spur the economy.

Consumers face uncertain spring

Deep, across-the-board cuts in federal spending took effect Friday after U.S. lawmakers failed to come up with a plan to stop a series of automatic spending cuts. It's unknown if, or when, lawmakers will come to an agreement on what to do about the federal budget and so the cuts -- known as the sequester -- may last for some time.

If so, many Americans who work in the public sector will either face a reduction in hours or layoffs this year, undercutting their ability to spend as heavily as they otherwise would.

Americans in both the private and the public sector, meanwhile, are also weathering a sizable drop in their incomes, thanks to the end of the payroll tax holiday, which expired Jan. 1.

Disposable personal income fell 4 percent in January, reflecting, in part, the higher payroll taxes, according to figures released Friday by the Commerce Department .

With less income coming in, consumers also saved much less in January than they did the previous month. The personal savings rate fell sharply in January, from 6.4 percent to 2.4 percent.

Consumers did at least spend a little more the first month of the year, but not by much. Spending rose by just 0.2 percent in January, according to the Commerce Department.

Going forward, consumers at least have some reason to cheer as they get ready for tax season and, for many people, a much-needed tax refund.

The majority of Americans -- 85 percent -- think they'll get a tax refund this year, according to a Capital One survey released March 6, and many plan to use it to pay down debt.

Of the 1,006 respondents, 22 percent told pollsters that they planned to whittle down loans with their tax refunds. Thirty-five percent said they planned to spend some or all of their refunds, on necessary items or on fun expenses, such as entertainment or retail purchases.

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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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