Credit card rates, fees stabilize

Assorted credit cards

When it was signed into law May 22, 2009, everyone from politicians to maxed-out consumers hoped the Credit CARD Act would be a silver bullet needed to slay exorbitant interest rates and unfair fees.

And according to new research by the Pew Health Group’s Safe Credit Cards Project, credit card carriers are benefiting two years later.

Most encouraging, Pew data suggest interest rates appear to have leveled off.

In fact, interest rates for purchases on bank credit cards have remained steady since 2010 at 12.99% APR to 20.99% APR, based on credit history. Credit union credit card interest rates have held between 9.99% APR and 17.00% APR.

Of course, the restrictions on over-the-limit fees and late fees are pretty nice by-products of the CARD Act.

Thanks to the act, late fees have dropped from the one-time average of $39 to the allowable $25 to $35 range.

And over-the-limit fees are quickly becoming obsolete, according to the Pew data.

Under the act, consumers must opt in to be charged over-the-limit fees, which are assessed when a purchase exceeds the credit limit. If you don't opt in, your transaction will be rejected if it exceeds the credit limit.

In 2009, more than 80% of cards assessed over-the-limit fees. In 2010, that number dropped to 23%. Today, just 11% of bank cards assess those fees.

But the CARD Act didn't address all credit card fees. Balance transfer fees, foreign transaction fees and cash advance fees haven’t changed since 2010.

The best way to determine just how the CARD Act has helped you -- and how it will continue to do so -- is to read all that fine print on your credit card statement and in the card’s terms and conditions. That way you can compare what interest rate you’re being charged today with what you were charged last month or last year.

And keep reading.

If your credit score improves, you might be one of the lucky consumers to enjoy an interest rate reduction.

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