What Is Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?

Understanding annual percentage rate (APR) as it relates to credit cards, loans, mortgages and other forms of credit

Annual percentage rate (APR) represents the price you pay to borrow money, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Read on to learn more about APR, including why APR is important, how APR works, the difference between APR and interest rates, and the different types of APR.

Why Is Annual Percentage Rate (APR) Important?

If you’ve ever applied for a car loan, a mortgage or a credit card, you’ve probably seen the term annual percentage rate (APR). 

Understanding APR can help you make more informed credit decisions. It gives you a good idea of how much you’ll pay to borrow money. And if you’re deciding between credit cards, APR is one factor you can compare to help determine which credit card is best for you.

How Does APR Work?

APR will be a factor in how much you pay to borrow money each month. In the case of credit cards, it’s especially important if you carry a balance from month to month. Many credit card companies offer a grace period for new purchases. If you pay off your balance on time every month, you won’t be charged any interest. If, however, you carry a balance from month to month, you’ll be charged, based on the APR, for the unpaid portion.

APR vs. Interest Rate

It’s easy to lump interest rate and APR into the same category, but they’re actually two different types of rates.

Your interest rate is the percentage charged on the principal loan amount. In the case of a credit card, that loan amount would be your card balance.

Compared with interest rate, “APR is a broader measure of the cost of borrowing money,” according to the CFPB. It includes the interest rate plus other costs, such as lender fees, closing costs and insurance. If there are no lender fees, the APR and interest rate may be the same—and that’s typically the case for credit cards.


You may have also seen the term APY. And while it might seem like a similar term to APR, it’s actually much different.

APY stands for annual percentage yield. And it’s sometimes known as EAR, or effective annual rate, instead. While APR measures the amount of interest you’ll be charged when you borrow, APY/EAR is the measure of the interest you earn when you save. That’s why APY/EAR typically applies to money you place in a deposit account—not to money you borrow.

Want to learn more about the APY/EAR? Check out this deep into the difference between APR and APY/EAR.

How to Calculate APR

Banks use an APR calculation formula to determine how much interest you pay on your outstanding balance. It can be calculated daily or monthly, depending on the card.

Remember that some accounts have multiple APRs. Card issuers are required to disclose how they calculate APRs. Check the disclosures and terms of a card before you apply.

If you want to learn more about credit card APR calculations, check out this deep dive about how to calculate APR on a credit card.

Keep in mind that the costs that go into an APR calculation can vary, based on the type of loan you’re seeking. 

For example, an APR for a mortgage could include the interest rate, points, origination fees and more. In the case of an auto loan, the APR is determined based on a number of factors. Those can include credit history, loan amount, down payment and the age of the car.

Fixed APR vs. Variable APR

APR can be either fixed or variable. So what’s the difference between fixed APR and variable APR?

Fixed APR

A fixed APR generally doesn’t change over the life of your loan. This may make budgeting easier, because the rate’s more predictable.

Variable APR

A variable APR is tied to an index interest rate, such as the prime rate. If the prime rate increases, so does your variable APR. So while the loan may have a lower APR at first, your rate can increase over time. This can make it more difficult for you to plan your monthly budget.

What Are the Different Types of APRs?

Understanding the different types of APRs can help you choose the card that’s best for you and your spending habits. Keep in mind, the applicable APR can sometimes depend on the type of transaction.  

The APR can also be different depending on the type of credit you’re applying for. A credit card’s APR is usually higher than that of a car loan or a home loan. And how you use your credit card can affect your rate.

Here are a few types of APRs to be aware of:

Purchase APR

A credit card’s purchase APR is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the rate that’s applied to purchases made with the card.

Cash Advance APR

The cash advance APR is the cost of borrowing cash from your credit card. It tends to be higher than the purchase APR. Keep in mind that there are other transactions that might be considered cash advances—even if actual cash never touches your hands. These include buying casino chips, purchasing lottery tickets or exchanging dollars for foreign currency. And these transactions usually don’t have a grace period. This means that you’ll likely start accruing interest immediately.

Penalty APR

If you violate the terms of your card’s contract—by doing things like missing a payment or being late with a payment—the APR on your card may increase for a period of time. Be sure to check your card’s terms and any notice your issuer sends you related to your account.

Introductory or Promotional APR

A new credit card may come with a lower, limited-time APR. It can apply to purchases or specific transactions like a balance transfer

Where Can You Find Your Account’s APR?

Your credit card APR can be found in your account opening disclosures and on your monthly credit card statement. In many cases, you can find your current APR—and determine whether it’s based on the prime rate—by looking at the section about interest charge calculation.

Tips for Obtaining a Lower-APR Card

How do you get a low APR credit card? There’s no single answer. But maintaining a good credit score can make you a better candidate for cards with low APRs and additional benefits

There’s no magic formula for building credit, but these principles from the CFPB may help:

  1. Use your current card responsibly and pay bills on time. Late payments can have a negative effect on your credit. Consider automatic payments, or set reminders on your phone so you don’t forget. 
  2. Avoid exceeding your credit limit. Scoring models take into account how close to “maxing out” you are. Experts say not to use more than 30 percent of your available credit. If you have a $5,000 credit limit, that means $1,500.
  3. Keep building. Credit scores are based on your experience with credit. That means the longer your credit report shows you paying your loans on time, the better.
  4. Apply for only the credit you need. Be careful about applying for a lot of credit over a short period of time. It could indicate to lenders that your financial situation has changed negatively—even if that’s not the case.
  5. Monitor your credit. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies every 12 months. If you spot an error, contact the agency and the company that provided the information to try to fix the problem. CreditWise from Capital One is a free tool that can help you monitor and track your credit.

What Factors Can Have an Impact on APR?

Such things as your credit history, credit score and credit activity can affect what APR you’re offered—and whether it changes. It’s important to understand the terms and conditions associated with your credit card. Be mindful about your rate, because an introductory rate will increase after your introductory period expires. There are other factors that could affect your rate too.

In general, increases to your rate will apply only to future purchases, not your existing balance. But the APR on your existing balance could increase if you’re more than 60 days late in paying your bill.

Ways to Make Informed Decisions About APR

APR is just one factor to consider when choosing your next credit card. But knowing what it is and understanding how it impacts your payments can help you make an informed decision.

Remember, financial situations vary from person to person, so it’s tough to say what a bad APR for a credit card is. But you can use APRs to compare cards. 

If you’re thinking about applying for a new credit card, keep these things in mind:

  • APR and interest rate are two different things.
  • Fixed APRs generally do not change over the life of your loan.
  • Variable APRs can fluctuate based on external factors like a change in the prime rate.

How you plan to use your card can affect rates—there may be additional APRs based on the transaction.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it can be one accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

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