By Rachel Morey


5 Min. To Read

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The average credit card debt interest rate is about 16%, making it the highest it’s been in a decade. While few borrowers hover on the verge of default, these high interest rates mean banks are making big money on the American consumer’s willingness to rack up debt.

While consumers’ financial health is on the rise, the banks make money off of big fees and high interest rates. Middle-class working families in America have a median income of $33,000 per year. The amount of income they spend on debt payments is now 15% and rising compared to just a few years ago.

In a financial climate where nearly half of adults in the U.S. say they can’t cover an unplanned $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something, rising interest rates are a valid concern.

For banks, the future looks bright. Credit card payment delinquencies during the past five years have been low. This makes banks’ shareholders happy, but isn’t great news for consumers who depend on credit cards to pay unexpected bills.

Many consumers don’t know that that statistically, 75% of credit card holders with a solid payment history who make a phone call to their credit card company’s customer service department to ask for a lower interest rate, get it. The bank typically won’t make an offer of a lower rate unless they are asked directly by the card holder, however.

For credit card customers who have a history of making timely monthly payments and have had the card for several years, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll score a lower interest rate within minutes of speaking with a customer service representative.

A lower interest rate can help the minimum monthly payments on the debt drop sharply. Making minimum payment each month will cost much more in interest over the long haul. For example, a card holder who owes $20,000 at 16% interest will pay $8797.69 in total interest payments while making monthly minimum payments of $479.96. If they can get their interest rate lowered to 10%, they’ll be required to make a minimum payment of $421.43 and they’ll pay $5,285.74 in total interest payments. That’s a savings of $3,511.95.

If a phone call to the credit card company’s customer service department doesn’t yield the desired results, a lower interest rate is still worth pursuing.

For all but the lowest credit scores, smaller monthly payments and a lower interest rate is a strong possibility when consumers decide to shop around for a card with better terms. For credit card holders who have multiple accounts, it may also be worth consolidating all credit card debt to the card with the lowest interest rate.

It’s not necessary or advantageous to close the remaining accounts, unless they have a high annual fee. If open credit lines pose too much of a temptation to overspend, cutting up the cards and leaving the credit lines open will prevent harm to credit scores.

The best way to guarantee a lower interest rate is to make financial decisions that raise credit scores. For example, keeping credit card balances below 30% of the total available credit and making on-time payments each month help lay a foundation for a strong credit score and lower interest rates on credit card debt.

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