Photo: Flickr / The.Comedian
I review dozens of credit card offers each week to find the best deals. I don’t work for any credit card company, and I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I do want you to learn something: how to effectively use credit cards. Check out my credit card page.The first rule of credit cards: Never carry a balance, never incur interest charges. Of course, that’s not always realistic. In fact, surveys – likethis one from Consumer Reports in December – show that more than a third of all cardholders carry a balance from month to month.
Just like any other type of loan, if you borrow from your credit cards, even occasionally, you should always look for the lowest interest rate.
How to find a card with the lowest interest rate
To find the lowest rate – or annual percentage rate, also known as APR – you must first understand how credit card interest rates are determined. Nearly every card has a variable interest rate that’s tied to the prime rate. Since October 2008, the prime rate has been 3.25 per cent, although it’s been as high as 8.25 per cent as recently as mid-2006.
Therefore, the lowest rate you find today can go up tomorrow if the prime rate does.
Another important factor: Banks offer a range of rates for each card, with new applicants being assigned a rate based on their individual credit score. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of transparency in this process. But as a general rule, the lower the range of rates being offered, the lower the rate you can expect to receive. For example, you’ll normally do better with a card with rates ranging from 10 to 15 per cent than one with rates ranging from 12 to 17 per cent.
The top 5 cards with the lowest interest rate
1. Simmons First Visa Platinum. Arkansas bank Simmons First offers an industry-leading rate of prime plus 4 per cent on its Visa Platinum card. Better yet, it offers this top rate to everyone approved for this card. And there’s no annual fee. Obviously, however, only applicants with high credit scores will be approved.
2. IberiaBank Visa Classic. This Louisiana bank is tied with Simmons First for the lowest rate offered: prime plus 4 per cent. Unfortunately, less-qualified applicants will receive higher rates equal to prime plus 7 per cent or even 10 per cent. Iberia also offers a promotional balance transfer APR of 1.99 per cent for six months, with a 2 per cent balance transfer fee. Other IberiaBank cards, such as its Visa Select, offer a competitive yet slightly higher rate, but with no promotional balance transfer offer. There’s no annual fee for any of these cards.
3. PendFed Promise. PenFed isn’t a bank – it’s the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Membership is open to employees, retirees, family, and household membership from a broad list of military and government organisations.
Alternatively, anyone can join with a small, one-time donation to a military support charity. Joining is worth it, as their Promise card offers one of the best deals going. This card comes with a three-year promotional APR that’s fixed at 7.49 per cent, followed by a standard variable APR equal to prime plus 6.74 per cent. On top of that, the “promise” part of this card is no fee for balance transfers, foreign transactions, cash advances, late payments, or annual fees.
4. US Bank Visa Platinum. By offering a standard APR as low as prime plus 6.74 per cent, US Bank comes in ahead of all the major national banks with its Visa Platinum card. At the same time, less-qualified applicants will receive rates as high as prime plus 20.74 per cent. All approved applicants will receive a zero-per cent promotional balance transfer offer for 12 months, but with a 4 per cent balance transfer fee. There’s no annual fee.
5. Wells Fargo Platinum. This well-known name in banking offers its Platinum Visa card with a standard APR as low as prime plus 6.9 per cent, but only for the most qualified applicants. Those with lower credit scores can expect to receive a rate as high as prime plus 21.74 per cent. This card does feature a zero-per cent promotional finance rate on both purchases and balance transfers for six months, but there’s a 3 per cent balance transfer fee. There’s no annual fee.
Shopping for the lowest credit card interest rate isn’t easy, but your efforts will pay off. By finding the card with the best combination of low interest rates, promotional financing, and low fees, you can be assured that when you do have to pay credit card interest, you’re paying as little as possible.
Of course, the best way to save money on credit cards is to hike your credit score, which means you’ll get better offers from credit card issuers. For that, check out 3 Tips to Raise Your Credit Score – Fast.
NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.