Interest plays a role in the use of credit as well. In fact, it’s the reason that you may pay more for buying with a credit card than you would paying cash. If you pay your credit card bill in full and on time, credit costs you nothing. However, if you pay only part of your outstanding balance, you owe interest on the unpaid amount. You also owe interest on any new purchases during the month beginning on the day of the purchase.
The most common method for calculating the amount of interest you owe on a credit card is based on the daily outstanding balance on your account, compounding daily. This is the flip side of compounding—instead of helping you grow your account value, it increases the amount you’ll need to repay to the credit card company.
Similarly, when you take out a loan, you have to pay back the amount you borrowed (principal) and the interest that accrues on that amount. Shopping around for a loan involves figuring out what your total cost will be, including both the principal and the interest. The term, or length of the loan, as well as any additional fees are also important factors.
A loan’s annual percentage rate (APR) provides a full view of the cost of a loan, because it includes the fees you pay to arrange the loan as well as the annual interest rate. Interest rates, and thus APRs, vary widely depending on what’s happening in the economy as a whole. What doesn’t change, however, is that you want the lowest APR you can find.
The term of a loan is also key to keeping your total cost as low as possible, simply because a shorter term means that you’ll pay interest for fewer years. For example, if you borrow $10,000 at 10%, you would pay $322.68 per month on a three-year loan and $212.48 per month on a five-year loan. But the total cost for the three-year loan would be about $11,590, while the total cost of the five-year loan would be $12,700.