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The best low interest credit cards of 2019

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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 15.10%, and rises to 16.97% 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:

Winner: Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal CU

Winner: Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal CU
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Information about the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date

  • Variable APR

    7.99% to 18.00%

  • Balance transfer fee

    1.50%, $50 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year

    $514*

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $2,270

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 7.99% to 18.00% variable APR
  • 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Minimum $50 balance transfer fee
  • Credit union membership required, though it’s free

Who's this for? The Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union tops our list thanks to the low interest rates, special intro financing, strong rewards program and no foreign transaction fees — all at no annual fee.

There is no interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months your account is open. After, this card offers a variable APR of 7.99% to 18.00%. If you carry a balance after the first 12 months, you can benefit from low interest charges compared to other balance transfer cards that have high interest rates. Balance transfers do incur a 1.50% fee per transfer, with a $50 minimum.

Who's this for? The Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union tops our list thanks to the low interest rates, special intro financing, strong rewards program and no foreign transaction fees — all at no annual fee.

There is no interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months your account is open. After, this card offers a variable APR of 7.99% to 18.00%. If you carry a balance after the first 12 months, you can benefit from low interest charges compared to other balance transfer 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."

*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Best Low Interest Card for Balance Transfers: Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union

Best Low Interest Card for Balance Transfers: Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union
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Information about the Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date

  • Variable APR

    10.99% to 18.00%

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No balance transfer fee
  • 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • 10.99% to 18.00% variable APR

Cons

  • Balances must be transferred within 90 days from account opening
  • No rewards program

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 10.99% 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.

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 10.99% 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.

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Information about the Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Best Secured Card with Low Interest: DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card

Best Secured Card with Low Interest: DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
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Information about the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Variable APR

    13.25%

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 13.25% variable APR, low for a secured card

Cons

  • $500 minimum security deposit, which is higher than average
  • Credit union membership required, which may cost a minimum of $10
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No rewards program

Who's this for? The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has one of the lowest interest rates for a secured card at 13.25% 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.

Who's this for? The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has one of the lowest interest rates for a secured card at 13.25% 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.

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Information about the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Best Low Interest Card for Rewards: Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union

Best Low Interest Card for Rewards: Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union
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Information about the Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Rewards

    Earn 2X points on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods and telecommunications, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first two months from account opening

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date

  • Variable APR

    11.99% to 18.00%

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year

    $340*

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $1,700

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Good rewards program for everyday purchases
  • 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in your first 2 months
  • 11.99% to 18.00% variable APR
  • 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • No balance transfer fee

Cons

  • Balance must be transferred within 90 days of account opening date
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

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 11.99% to 18.00%.

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 11.99% 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.

*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Best Low Interest Card for Intro 0% APR on Purchases: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Best Low Interest Card for Intro 0% APR on Purchases: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
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Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases

  • Variable APR

    14.24% to 25.24%

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2% to 3%

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 18 months of no interest on balance transfers and purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Cell phone protection plan

Cons

  • No rewards program
  • 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

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 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.24% to 25.24% 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.

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 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.24% to 25.24% 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.

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Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Our methodology

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 2018 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 $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). 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.

Best credit cards with low interest rates

Best for… Credit Card
WinnerVisa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal CU
Balance transfersPlatinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union
SecuredDCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
RewardsChoice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union
Intro 0% APR on purchases U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.