Credit card interest rates are higher than ever, but 8 cards have a lower APR if you need to carry a balance

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  • You should avoid carrying a balance on your credit card whenever possible, but if you can't pay your statement in full, the annual percentage rate (APR) matters. This determines how much interest you'll pay on your balance.
  • Credit card APRs are currently among the highest we've seen, but having a good credit score will help in getting offered a lower interest rate, and some cards offer 0% introductory rates.
  • Cards offering introductory APR offers include the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and the Chase Freedom.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

According to NerdWallet, 47% of Americans carry a credit card balance month to month and pay interest on it. Obviously, paying off your card monthly is the preferred method, but if you're going to purchase something with a card and carry a balance, your interest rate matters.

Say you paid $48 per month on a $1,000 credit card debt for two years at 15% APR. You'd pay $163 in interest charges. But take that same card and pay 25.99% APR, and it now costs $53 per month and $292 in interest.
Keep in mind that we recommend practicing financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.

What's up with high credit card interest rates?

There was a time, just a few short years ago, that having excellent credit meant your credit card interest rate was low. Some people even selected cards based not only on miles, rewards, and cash back, but also on the very interest rate a card charged annually.

My, how things have changed. Good credit still rocks, of course, but today, interest rates on credit cards are some of the highest they've been in the past quarter-century. The interest rate on your credit card, called the APR (annual percentage rate), varies by card issuer, and the better your credit score, the lower the interest rate you're likely to receive. Well, within those historically high rates, of course.

In 2009, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which in essence restricted card issuers from changing the terms, including the interest rate, on your card after you opened it. Hard to believe that was once allowed.

Now that it's harder for card issuers to raise rates in response to economic downturns, they've raised the rates on new accounts across the board.Read more: We asked financial planners for the best strategy to tackle credit card debt, and there are 2 clear favorites

What is a good credit card interest rate now?

In this time of historically high credit card rates, the very best credit card interest rates are still offered to those with top credit scores, usually considered 700 or above. What's more, rewards credit cards may have some of the higher APRs available, since card issuers are aware that consumers with good credit are typically using these cards for the rewards and paying them off monthly.

While rates may vary according to the type of card you get, the average rate clocks in at 17.14% according to NerdWallet.

The problem is that when you apply for a card, you can only see the card's range of interest. You won't know the exact interest rate you're likely to receive until you're approved and actually receive your card.

You can take an educated guess that if your credit score is 700 and above, you'll probably get the lowest of the range for that card. If your scores fall in the mid to high 600s, you'll likely hit the card's mid-range interest rate, and if your scores are lower than mid-600s, you can count on being offered the highest end of that card's interest rate range.

Read more: The best cash-back credit cards

0% APR introductory offers

Additionally, many cards now offer an introductory 0% APR for a specified time, which can help you plan a purchase by paying off the amount before the introductory offer expires, avoiding interest charges.
When looking for a card with a lower interest rate, check whether it offers 0% on purchases or just balance transfers, and for how long. Then check the APR range of each card you're interested in to see where it falls. Annual percentage rates range from 13.9% at the low end to 26.74% at the high.

Read more: These are the best balance-transfer cards for paying down debt without interest

Best credit cards for 0% intro APR offers and low APR

Here's a roundup of cards with relatively low interest rates, including their introductory APR offer and their interest rate ranges for comparison.
  • Discover it® Cash Back: 0% APR for 14 months after opening, then 13.74%-24.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card: 0% APR on purchases for 12 months after opening, then 13.74%-23.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: 0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then 14.74%-25.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: 0% APR for 12 months on purchases, then 15.74%-27.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, 15.74%-25.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card: 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months after opening, then 15.74%-25.74% based on creditworthiness
  • Citi Simplicity® Card: 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer and for 12 months on purchases, then 16.49% - 26.49%, based on creditworthiness
  • Chase Freedom: 0% intro APR for 15 months after opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74%-25.49%

For comparison's sake, here are some credit cards, including some rewards cards, without intro APR offers and with APRs that start much higher than those on the cards above:

Interesting to note that credit card issuers are allowed to charge whatever interest rate they want; they only have to disclose the rate in the card's terms and conditions. You should always make sure you know the interest rate range of the card you apply for, and when you receive the card, check the rate you were approved for.

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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.