If you carry a balance on your credit card, odds are you're being hit with high interest charges. The average APR for all credit card accounts is 14.87%, and rises to 16.88% for accounts assessed interest, according to the latest data from the Fed.
Maybe those rates seem manageable, but consider the math. Say your card has a 17% interest rate and you have a $1,000 balance. If you just pay a minimum of $20 each month, it will take you 90 months (that's more than seven years) to pay off your debt, and you'll incur $794 in interest charges. That's almost like paying your original balance twice.
Carrying a balance is never ideal, but it can happen to the best of us. An unexpected expense, such as a medical bill or home repair, may arise and cause you to fall into debt. Unless you're taking advantage of an intro 0% APR offer, you'll rack up interest, which can make it hard to pay off debt.
Low interest credit cards are a great way to avoid high interest charges if you carry a balance month-to-month. Many of the cards that offer low interest rates come from credit unions, which require membership. However, we only chose cards from financial institutions that allow anyone to join. To qualify for the lowest interest rate, you typically need to have good or excellent credit.
When you're carrying a balance on your card, it's smarter to focus on paying off your balance rather than trying to optimize the points you can earn. Some of the cards of this list do offer a rewards program, but that wasn't a main criteria we considered when choosing the best low-interest credit cards. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
Below, CNBC Select reviews the top credit cards with low interest rates that can save you on interest charges while still earning rewards and enjoying other perks. Just know, many of the cards below have APR ranges, and depending on your credit score you may not qualify for the lowest rate. Typically, a good or excellent score is required to receive the best rates.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top low interest rate credit cards:
3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases
Earn 10,000 points when you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days
N/A for purchases and balance transfers
8.49% to 15.49% variable
1.50%, $50 minimum
Who's this for? The Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union tops our list thanks to the low interest rates, strong rewards program and no foreign transaction fees — all at no annual fee.
This card offers a low variable APR of 8.49% to 15.49%. If you carry a balance, you can benefit from low interest charges compared to other cards that have high interest rates. Balance transfers do incur a 1.50% fee per transfer, with a $50 minimum.
Beyond interest rates, the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card offers a generous rewards program: Earn 3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases. Plus, there's a welcome bonus of 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days.
In order to open this card, you need to join Andrews Federal Credit Union, but anyone can join. If you don't meet the qualification requirements, you can opt to join the American Consumer Council (ACC) for free with the promo code "Andrews."
0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
6.99% to 18.00% variable
Who's this for? The Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union provides cardholders with a generous balance transfer offer: 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles and no balance transfer fee. After the intro period, there's a low competitive 10.49% to 18.00% variable APR.
Balances need to be transferred within 90 days of account opening to qualify for the interest-free financing, but this is a typical requirement.
This card doesn't come with any rewards, but there's no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
You need to be a member of First Tech Federal Credit Union to qualify for this card, but anyone can join at no added cost. Become a member through affiliation with select organizations or employers, a relationship with a current member, working or living in Lane County, Oregon, attending Cogswell Poly Technical College or by joining the Community History Museum (CHM) or Financial Fitness Association (FFA). The membership fee for the CHM and FFA is paid by First Tech.
No credit history
Who's this for? The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has one of the lowest interest rates for a secured card at 13.00% variable. It also has no annual fee, which allows you to maximize savings.
If you carry a balance on this card, interest charges will be smaller compared to some secured cards that have interest rates upwards of 20%. In addition to a competitive interest rate, cardholders can benefit from travel insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and extended warranty protection.
A $500 minimum security deposit is required to access credit, which is higher than the average $200.
You need to be a member of the Digital Federal Credit Union to open this card, but anyone can join in one of several ways: friend or family member of a DCU member, live in select communities, work for select employers or make a one-time contribution (as low as $10) to a participating organization.
Earn 2X points on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods and telecommunications, 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first two months from account opening
0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
8.25% to 18.00% variable
Who's this for? The Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union offers a rewards program geared toward everyday expenses, such as groceries and gas. Cardholders earn 2X points on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods and telecommunications, and 1X points on all other purchases. Plus, there's a welcome bonus of 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in your first two months from account opening.
This card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no balance transfer fee and offers no interest on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles. You must complete your transfer within 90 days from account opening to qualify for the interest-free period. After the intro period, there's a reasonable variable APR of 11.49% to 18.00%.
Membership to First Tech Federal Credit Union is required, but anyone can join through affiliation with select organizations or employers, a relationship with a current member, working or living in Lane County, Oregon, attending Cogswell Poly Technical College or by joining the Community History Museum (CHM) or Financial Fitness Association (FFA). First Tech pays the membership fee for the CHM and FFA on your behalf.
5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase
20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
0% APR for 12 months
14.49% to 24.49% variable
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? Anyone looking to book hotel rooms before the end of the year should consider the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card and its impressive offer of 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠. This no-annual-fee card also gives cardmembers an unlimited 1.25X miles on all other purchases, making it a solid choice for everyday use.
Another perk is the intro 0% APR period, which lasts for 12 months for new purchases. After that, the APR is 14.49% to 24.49% variable.
The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card offers new users a strong welcome bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after they spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months. You can redeem miles for past travel expenses using the Purchase Eraser®, which is essentially a statement credit. Or you can book new travel reservations through the Capital One Rewards Center.
Additionally, with this card, it's possible to transfer your miles to any of Capital One's partner airlines, including JetBlue, Emirates Skywards, Air Canada and Air France.
Cardholders can also redeem their miles for cash in the form of a check or account credit, gift cards and more, though rates for these other redemption options vary.
Learn more: CNBC Select's Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review
0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases
13.99% to 23.99% variable
3%, minimum $5
2% to 3%
Who's this for? If you're looking to transfer debt and finance new purchases, consider the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which provides one of the best overall intro APR periods: 0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). This is one of the longest interest-free periods for both balance transfers and purchases.
Balance transfers incur a typical 3% fee (minimum $5) and need to be transferred within the first 60 days from account opening to qualify for the interest-free period. There's no annual fee.
The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has higher interest rates than other cards on this list, but they are still lower than many credit cards that offer a 0% introductory APR. With such a long intro period, ideally you can pay off your debt within that time frame and not have to pay additional interest. Read more about how to make the most of your balance transfer.
This card doesn't offer a rewards program, but it does come with a cell phone protection plan. When you pay your cell phone bill with your card, you receive coverage for damage or theft up to $600, with a $25 deductible, for up to two claims ($1,200) per 12 month period.
To determine which credit cards have the lowest interest rates and offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 234 of the most popular credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies, and credit unions that allow anyone to join.
We compared each card on a range of features, including: annual fee, rewards program, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.
CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.
CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.
It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)
Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.
While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.