What Is APR?

What Is APR? Your Guide to the Cost of Borrowing Money

What Is APR? Your Guide to the Cost of Borrowing Money

In 2023, the average credit card holder pays an APR of 23.39%. According to LendingTree, that is the highest APR recorded since at least 2019. But what is APR exactly? And how do you secure a loan or credit card with the lowest possible APR? We will explain the answers to these questions and more in this complete guide to how APR works.

What Is APR?

APR stands for annual percentage rate. In simple terms, it is the total cost you pay to borrow money. APR applies to both credit cards and loans, but how you calculate credit card APR vs. loan APR differs. Credit card APR is simple to calculate. It is equal to the interest rate a lender charges you for carrying a balance on your card. If you pay off your credit card in full each month, you do not have to pay interest. Loan APR is different. It equals the interest rate on the borrowed amount plus any additional costs. These costs may include lender fees, broker fees, and other fees that depend on the loan type.

How Do Lenders Determine APR?

Interest rates may help determine APR, but how do lenders determine the interest rate on a particular loan or credit card? Aside from prime rates and funds rates, lenders also consider the prospective borrower’s creditworthiness.

If you want a better rate on your next loan or credit card, pay attention to the following important factors.

Credit Score

Someone’s credit score is an excellent indicator of their credit history. And lenders will base their beliefs about your ability to repay a loan on your past behaviors. In general, there are five factors that go into a credit score:

  1. Payment history (how often do you make payments late or not at all?)
  2. Credit utilization (how much you owe as a function of how much you borrow)
  3. Credit history length (how long have you had credit cards and loans?)
  4. New credit (how many accounts you’ve opened recently)
  5. Credit mix (how many different types of loans and credit cards do you have?)

Payment history and credit utilization are the most important factors here. Combined, they make up 65% of your total credit score. New credit and credit mix make up the lowest percentage of your score at 10% each.


DTI stands for debt-to-income. It is a ratio of an individual borrower’s monthly debt payments to monthly income. Lenders use this ratio to identify how much debt a potential borrower can afford to take on. For example, say you pay $2,000 per month on your credit card, mortgage, and auto loan combined. Say you also bring in $3,000 per month. In that case, your DTI equals about 66.7%. In 2023, lenders typically prefer a DTI of 36% or less. The highest DTI most lenders will accept from prospective borrowers is 43%.

Loan Type

Some lenders charge higher interest rates based on the type of loan. In these cases, the higher rate is not necessarily due to the borrower’s creditworthiness or lack thereof. It is due to the bank’s perceived risk. For example, secured loans naturally have lower interest rates. Secured loans include auto loans and home loans (mortgages). We call them “secured” because the lender can take your home or car if you default on the loan. On the flip side, unsecured loans tend to have higher interest rates to offset the lender’s risk. Risk on unsecured loans is higher because the lender has no way to make up for its losses if you default. Unsecured loans include personal loans, payday loans, and other loans for which you do not need collateral to qualify. Credit cards are sometimes considered unsecured loans, too.

Types of APR

When you take out a new loan or line of credit, your documents may include multiple types of APRs. Each of these APRs may have a different rate, too. Confused? You are not alone. Learn more about the most common types of APR you may come across.

Credit Card Purchase and Cash Advance APR

Purchase APR is the interest rate you pay on individual purchases. This type of APR only applies to credit cards. Cash advance APR also applies to credit cards only. It is the interest rate you pay when you use your credit card to take out cash.

Introductory APR

Introductory APRs are common with many credit cards. You get a low, often free interest rate for a preliminary period after you open a new line of credit. Some credit cards also come with promotional interest-free purchase periods. For example, spending a certain amount can trigger a promotional APR. You do not have to pay interest on the purchase until the promotional period expires.

Penalty APR

Penalty APRs can apply to both loans and credit cards. This APR is typically higher than your regular interest rate and fees. You may have to pay this higher rate if you are delinquent for more than 60 days.

Variable and Fixed APR

Variable and fixed APR typically applies to loan rates. A fixed APR loan has an interest rate that does not change over time. Variable APR loans have interest rates that do change throughout your loan term. The APR on a variable-rate loan depends on the prime rate in the US. The Prime rate is the benchmark lenders use to set interest rates on credit cards and loans. The US prime rate is based on the Federal Reserve’s funds rate. The prime rate is 7.75% as of this writing. To see how much variable interest rates can fluctuate, consider the prime rate this time last year. The rate was 3.25% at the beginning of 2022, more than a 2x increase year-over-year.

Looking for Low Credit Score Loans and Credit Cards?

So, what is APR? APR stands for annual percentage rate, and it is the total amount you end up paying when you take out a loan or line of credit. The APR you must pay depends on your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and more. Do you have low creditworthiness? If so, you may be searching for a provider to help you qualify. Learn more about First Financial’s product offerings for borrowers like you and apply today!

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