5 Things You Should Know About Interest Rates, According to a Former Banker

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Updated on Thursday, March 24, 2016

Know About Interest Rates

Interest rates.

Whether you’re buying a big-ticket item on credit, taking out a loan or applying for a credit card, one little question can strike fear into the heart of even the most savvy of spenders: What will my interest rate be?

Whether you’ve got great credit and qualify for some of the best offers out there or your score could stand a little CPR and you can’t even think about how much you pay in interest on debts each month, there are probably at least a few facts about interest rates — and your interest rates, in particular — that you didn’t know.

Below are some of the biggest ones to be aware of, courtesy of MagnifyMoney co-founder and former banker, Nick Clements.

1. You have more than one credit card interest rate

In actuality, just one credit hard may hold multiple different rates for different things. For example, you’ll likely have different interest rates for purchases, cash advances and balance transfers, to start. “In addition, if you open a new credit card, you will likely have introductory purchase and introductory balance transfer interest rates,” says Clements. “Don’t assume that there is just one interest rate.”

You should do a little comparison-shopping to find the right interest rate for your needs, too. Check out this piece for seven low interest rate credit card options, and this one for the nine best 0% APR credit card offers.

2. Most interest rates are variable

Which the exception of introductory rates — which are usually (but not always) 0% — interest rates tend to be variable. This means that the rate is tied to the prime rate, so if the prime rate goes up, so will your interest rate.

3. Your purchase APR is usually based on your credit score

Yet another reason why your credit score is so valuable: The higher your credit score, the lower your risk to the credit card company, and the lower the interest rate you’ll pay. Your interest rate will be given to you when you open your account and will be based on your credit score at the time of your application, so it’s worth looking into your score before trying to open a card to get a feel for what you might be dealing with.

4. Your interest rate can go up for a myriad of reasons

An increase in the prime rate isn’t the only thing that will make your interest rate go up. “If you become 60 days or more delinquent, you can be charged a penalty interest rate,” says Clements. “That means your rate could become very high on your existing balances.” The bank can also arbitrarily decide to increase everyone’s interest rates. However, in this circumstance, if the bank wants to change the rate on your existing balance, you have the right to say no. “You would then close your card and just make payments on the existing balance until it’s paid in full,” explained Clements. “If you want to keep the credit line open, you would have to keep the higher rate.”

5. You can negotiate your interest rate

If you’re unhappy with how high your interest rate is, you can always call the bank and ask to get it reduced. (Here’s a script to help you negotiate credit card fees.) Believe it or not, they will often do it. That won’t be the best deal though.

“If you have credit card debt, a good credit score and are looking to pay it off quickly, there is no better deal than an introductory balance transfer offer,” says Clements. “You can get 0% for up to two years at some issuers.” Compare different balance transfer options here to find out if there’s one that will help you get out of debt.