"They've increased steadily over the past 5 years, and in general are higher than they've ever been," said Josh Frank, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), who says he's seen annual percentage rates as high as 36%.
No current laws cap credit card interest rates, according to Pamela Banks of Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, so technically the sky's the limit.
But the CARD act will help curb abusive practices. As of February, issuers won't be able to arbitrarily raise rates on existing balances. But cardholders will still be subject to interest hikes for late payments and various other infractions.
And card companies will be able to raise their rates as high as they want, whenever they want, on future purchases even after the reform bill kicks in completely.
The act will bring protections for new customers; issuers will no longer be able to hike rates on new accounts in the first 12 months, unless the borrower is delinquent by more than 60 days or the increase is stated in the contract.
Keven Vallance recently saw the rate on his Sears card increase from 9.99% to 13.99% for no apparent reason. When Vallance called Sears Credit, which is owned by Citibank, a rep told him every cardholder's rate is increasing by 4%.
Citi spokesman Samuel Wang said in an email that the company has "adjusted pricing and card terms for some customers as part of our regular account reviews."
Consumer outrage is boiling over. Last month, a disgruntled Bank of America customer posted a YouTube video complaining her bank "jacked up my interest rate to a whopping 30% APR." Her rant went viral, and BofA dropped her rate back to its original 12.99%.