Credit Card Debt Harder to Pay Off When Fed Raises Prime Rate

Rachel Morey
December 6, 2017
Card Debt Hard to Pay Off

Information from the Federal Reserve and The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the average American adult has $5,700 in credit card debt. Nearly 40% of all American households carry credit card debt.

Many consumers will see those bills rise if the Fed decides to raise interest rates later this month. Credit card debt gets more expensive for people who don’t pay their full balance each month when the Prime Rate goes up.

Most credit cards have a variable rate, which means that the bank charges the Prime Rate plus a certain amount of additional interest. While interest rates on credit cards depend greatly on credit scores, they also go up when the index, or Prime Rate goes up.

For example, the current Prime Rate is 4.25%. The Fed voted to leave it alone on November 1, 2017. Their next meeting is December 13, 2017. If they decide to raise the Prime Rate during that meeting, credit card debt with variable interest will cost consumers more each month.

In June of 2017, the Fed voted to raise the Prime Rate .25%. Credit card holders with a $5,000 balance and a 20.99% interest rate who make a $100 payment each month on the debt will take 9 years and 10 months to pay it off completely. After the interest rate hike, it will now take them 10 years and 2 months to pay off the same amount. If the Fed raises the Prime Rate another .25% on December 13, it will take 10 years and 5 months to pay off that credit card debt.

Reducing the interest rate by using a balance transfer card or shopping around for a better deal shaves years off of the debt repayment plan. A 10% interest rate on a $5,000 debt with minimum payments of $100 per month takes 5 years and 5 months to pay off. The lower interest rate will also save $4,300 in finance charges.

Now is an ideal time to shop around for a low or no-interest credit card that allows balance transfers. Discover it card offers 0% interest for 14 months on balance transfers with a 3% fee upfront. On a $5,000 credit card balance, monthly payments of $370 would leave the cardholder with a zero balance at the end of the introductory 14-month zero-interest period.

The Citi Simplicity Card offers 0% interest for 21 months. It also has a 3% upfront fee for balance transfers, but moving debt from a high-interest card to this one is a still a money-saving move. 21 months of $250 payments would reduce a $5,000 credit card debt plus the 3% fee to zero.

BankAmericard Credit Card doesn’t impose balance transfer fees for new customers who move their debt to this card within 60 days of opening the account. After the 60-day introductory period, there is a balance transfer fee of $10 or 3%, whichever is greater. Their 0% interest rate is good for the first 15 months on balance transfers and new purchases.

After transferring the balance from a high-interest credit card to a low or no-interest credit card, be sure to understand the terms of the card agreement. Paying off high-interest credit card debt as quickly as possible is the ultimate goal, but be careful not to let the temptation of a new open credit line ruin the plan.

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