(NEW YORK) -- If you're looking to take out a new credit card, now might not be the best time: credit card rates have risen to a four-year high. What's worse, an act of Congress meant to protect consumers is making matters worse.
"Rates currently are the highest since we've been tracking them," says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing for CreditCards.com, which has tracked card rates every week for the past four years.
The average rate nationally right now, based on new card offers by 100 of the most popular issuers in the U.S., stands at 15.14 percent, up from 14.75 percent six months ago.
The average includes several different kinds of cards -- airline, cash-back, low-interest, student, and business, for example -- but excludes ones with introductory "teaser" rates. For cards with variable rates, only the lowest is considered for the average. Thus, some consumers are paying far more than the average suggests. The current rate for card holders with bad credit, for example, is 25 percent.
While credit card rates remain high, most other interest rates have reached 50-year lows. The prime rate, which banks charge their best customers, stands at just 3.25 percent. The federal discount rate -- that's what it costs banks to borrow from the Federal Reserve -- is just .75 percent.
Woolsey says the 15.14 percent average credit card rate represents a rise of some 300 basis points, or 3 percentage points, from where the average was in 2009 (12.3 percent) when Congress, in an attempt to reign in "unfair or deceptive" practices, passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act.
Some of that act's unintended consequences, he says, have arguably made life worse for consumers.
The CARD act restricts companies' ability to jack up rates on existing balances without first giving account holders proper notice; it forbids lenders from zinging customers with certain fees and penalties.
It does not, however, address card interest rates per se. Prohibited now from raising rates on existing balances -- except under certain circumstances -- lenders are instead slapping higher rates on new accounts.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio