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APR vs. Interest Rate

Last Updated: October 3, 2023
3 min read

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Key points about: the difference between an APR and interest rate

  1. An interest rate is a percentage charged on a principal loan amount that shows the cost of borrowing.

  2. “APR” and “interest rate” are used interchangeably for credit cards. For loans, the APR includes both interest and other expenses.

  3. Understanding the difference between interest rates and APRs is essential for making the best choices about loans and mortgages.

Generally, a credit card’s APR and interest rate are the same. However, understanding the difference between APR and interest rate could save you money over other loans’ terms. A loan’s interest rate is an integral part of its APR. However, the formula for APR includes additional fees and charges. Read on to learn more about the difference between interest rates and APR for credit cards, mortgages, and more. 

What is an interest rate?

Your interest rate is the amount it costs to borrow money, expressed as a yearly rate. Lenders typically use federal benchmark rates—which change in response to economic conditions—to determine their interest rates. However, each company uses its own formula to determine interest rates for individual accounts.

With credit cards, if you don’t pay your balance in full by the due date each month, your credit card issuer charges you the interest rate on the unpaid balance. Unpaid loan balances accrue interest until the total amount, including the principal loan, fees, and interest, has been paid off.

Your credit history and your credit score usually play significant roles in determining your interest rate on a credit card or loan. Lenders may also factor market conditions into their interest rates. Credit card providers use a fairly complex calculation to determine your interest charges. Your average daily balance during a billing period determines your interest charge, which compounds daily. If you pay off your balance each month, you may not owe any interest on your credit card.

What is an APR?

Your APR, or “annual percentage rate,” refers to the yearly interest rate your credit card issuer charges you for carrying a balance on your card. There are different types of APRs for credit cards, including an introductory APR, a penalty APR, and a standard purchase APR. A purchase APR is the interest rate your credit card company charges on purchases if you don’t pay your entire balance by the due date. This is generally what comes to mind when people think of credit card APRs. Your credit report, including your history of repayments, credit utilization ratio, and account balances, plays a significant role in determining your APR.

Credit card APR vs. interest rate

Credit card issuers typically use the terms “APR” and “interest rate” interchangeably. While credit card providers may charge borrowers extra for late payments, balance transfers, or other transactions, they don’t know who might incur each fee in advance. Because different borrowers may have different fees, APR can’t fairly or reliably include those costs for credit cards.

Did you know?

When comparing credit cards, you don’t usually have to worry about identifying both APR and interest rate—the two figures should mean the same thing. Many credit cards offer a low introductory APR during a specified time after you open your account. When that promotion ends, the APR rises, so the credit card account begins accruing interest if there’s an unpaid balance. You can use the Discover pre-approval tool to see if you qualify for a Discover® Card with a low introductory APR offer. Credit card companies may, however, charge different APRs for different types of transactions, so you should check the card’s terms and conditions for a complete list of APRs.

See if you’re pre-approved

Is there a difference between an APR and an interest rate?

APRs and interest rates are the same when it comes to credit cards, but are calculated differently for loans. Interest rates show the proportion of a loan that a borrower must pay a lender each year they pay down the principal. A loan’s APR includes its interest rate as well as fees, which can significantly impact the price. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes that a mortgage APR may factor in a broker fee, discount points, insurance, and escrow fees on top of the interest rate. Other loans may charge origination or documentation fees. With the exception of revolving lines of credit (like credit cards), a loan’s APR is typically a higher percentage than its interest rate.

To find the best loan for your unique circumstances, it’s often wise to consider not only interest rates and APRs but also any factors that may change those rates over the loan’s term.

While interest rates and APRs overlap for some types of credit, knowing the difference between the rates for certain loans helps you evaluate how much you’ll owe. As you compare loan options, looking at both figures can help you avoid paying more in the long term.

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