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What Is a Penalty APR?

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A penalty APR (annual percentage rate) is a high interest rate that can be triggered if you make your credit card payment late. When this happens, you may wind up paying more interest on future purchases. And, if you don't bring the account current within 60 days, the penalty APR may apply to your current balance as well.

How a Penalty APR Works

Credit cards have an APR for purchases, balances transfers and cash advances. Rates can either be variable and rise or fall based on Federal Reserve rates, or fixed. The rates you receive can also vary depending on the card and your creditworthiness—having good credit can help you get a lower APR.

A penalty APR is a rate that can be triggered when you don't pay your bill on time. It can be applied in the following ways:

  • A penalty APR that's higher than your card's regular rate can be charged on future transactions if you don't make your minimum payment by the due date.
  • Missing your payment by even one day could also lead to losing promotional interest rates, such as an introductory 0% APR.
  • Once you're 60 days past due, the card issuer can apply the penalty APR to existing balances on your card.

There are, however, some strict limitations on when credit card companies can increase your card's APR, according to the Credit CARD Act of 2009:

  • Your interest rate can't increase during your first year with the card except in certain circumstances, such as when you're 60 or more days late, a promotional rate ends or you have a variable rate and the benchmark rate increases.
  • After the first year, a card issuer can increase your APR for any reason; however, it must send you a notice first (sometimes these appear on your regular card statement). The higher rate won't take effect for 45 days, and will only apply to transactions made 14 or more days after the notice was sent.

Additionally, when your interest rate increases or a penalty APR is applied, the increase might not be permanent.

How Long Does Credit Card Penalty APR Last?

If the card issuer increases your interest rate, it must review your account at least once every six months. If the underlying reason for a rate increase was resolved, then your card issuer should reinstate the original APR.

Penalty APRs are generally the result of missed payments. Therefore, if you want to get the penalty APR removed, you may have to make six consecutive on-time payments. Paying less than the full amount, or having a payment rejected (bouncing a check, for instance), will result in a missed payment.

If you never get back on track, the penalty APR could stay on your account indefinitely—although, if you completely stop making payments, the issuer will likely close your account.

How Is the Penalty APR Calculated?

Similar to how variable APRs on credit cards work, a penalty APR may be based on a fixed interest rate plus a benchmark rate. Combined, the penalty APR is often at or near 29.99% APR. Cards may also cap the penalty APR at 29.99%, even if a rise in the benchmark rate would otherwise lead to a higher APR.

The penalty APR will replace your standard APR, and your account will accrue interest in the same way as before but based on the new rate. Generally, card issuers will divide the APR by 360 or 365 to find your daily periodic rate, and then apply this rate to your daily balance to determine how much interest accrues.

How to Avoid Penalty APR Costs

Making at least your minimum payment on time will help you avoid a penalty APR. It's also how you should be using your credit card anyway, as late payments can lead to fees and lost benefits and hurt your credit even if you don't get hit with a penalty APR.

Another option may be to reach out to your credit card company and negotiate a different option before your payment is due. The company may offer you a hardship plan that allows you to temporarily miss payments or make a lower minimum payment without paying any extra fees or penalties.

Being mindful of when you use your credit card can also help you avoid a penalty APR in the future. Limiting the purchases you put on the card will lead to a lower balance and a lower minimum payment.

Credit Cards With No Penalty APRs

There could still be consequences for paying late (including damage to your credit score), but some credit cards don't have a penalty APR. Here are two examples:

Discover it® Secured

Discover it® Secured

Apply

on Discover's website

Recommended FICO® Score*
Poor, New to Credit, Rebuilding

APR

22.99% Variable

Intro APR: 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months

Rewards

2% cash back on Gas Stations & Dining

2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.

1% cash back on All Other Purchases

Intro Bonus: Dollar-for-dollar match of all cash back earned the first year

Annual Fee

$0

Card Details
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO? Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: We automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.

Rates and Fees

A secured card is often a good card to start with if you're looking to build or rebuild your credit, and the Discover it® Secured is one of the best available. In addition to having no penalty APR, there's no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, and Discover waives your first late payment fee. You can also earn 2% cash back on your first $1,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each quarter, and 1% cash back on everything else.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply

on Chase's website

Recommended FICO® Score*
Good - Exceptional

APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Intro APR: N/A

Rewards

2X points on Dining & Travel

2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide

1X points on All Other Purchases

Intro Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards?

Annual Fee

$95

Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards?
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a travel rewards card that hits all the right marks for moderate travelers. It offers a big intro bonus, extra rewards on dining and travel purchases, a variety of redemption options and no foreign transaction fees. However, there is a $95 annual fee.

Should Finding a Card Without a Penalty APR Be a Priority?

While there are credit cards with and without penalty APRs, you should generally focus on other features, fees and benefits when trying to pick a new card. A penalty APR can lead to more interest expenses, but only if you don't make a minimum payment.

A penalty APR should also be a low concern relative to the other consequences of missing a credit card payment. Credit card late fees, for example, can cost $20 to $40 and likely outweigh your additional interest charges due to a penalty APR. And if you're worried about being consistently late on your payments, keep in mind that being over 30 days late could result in the card issuer reporting a late payment to the credit bureaus, which will hurt your credit.

A card that doesn't have an annual fee or has a low standard APR might save you money, making it easier to afford your payments. Even if a card does charge a penalty APR, making all your payments on time will prevent it from affecting you. If you want to compare cards' terms quickly and get matched with cards, you can use Experian CreditMatchTM to review the current offers.

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