Fears of greater unemployment driving up cost of credit cards

Credit card interest rates have hit a 13-year high as providers worry about consumers defaulting on their debt.

The average credit card now charges interest of 18.9 per cent, the highest rate since 1998 and more than 4 per cent above the trough rates hit in 2006, according to financial information group Moneyfacts.co.uk

The group said credit card rates had been rising steadily since 2008, as providers priced in the risk that increasing numbers of people were likely to default in the face of high unemployment.

Michelle Slade, of Moneyfacts.co.uk, said: "The UK continues to suffer from a high level of unemployment and providers are worried about the increased risk of customers not repaying their debts.

"This increased risk continues to be passed on to both new and existing credit card customers through higher interest rates."

The group said the increase meant that someone who owed 5,000 on a credit card who repaid only the minimum amount each month would pay an additional 2,360 over the life of their debt, compared with if interest rates had remained at the 14.8 per cent they dropped to in February 2006.

It added that 18.9 per cent was only the average rate and many faced higher charges.

Ms Slade said: "Customers who would previously have switched to another provider are now finding it's not so easy to do so.

"Competitive deals for balance transfers and introductory purchases remain on offer, but card providers are selective over exactly who they accept for these deals."

Meanwhile, the rights of consumers were strengthened this week as the EU Consumer Credit Directive came into force.

Consumers now have up to 14 days to cancel loan agreements, while they will also be able to make partial early repayments, rather than only being able to clear any outstanding balance in full.