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APR vs. Interest Rates: What’s the Difference?

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Interest and annual percentage rates are two of the most critical factors to review when shopping around for a loan. But what do these terms mean? Do you pay both the APR and interest rate? Keep reading to understand the differences between APR vs. interest rates to help you make smarter financial decisions.

Interest rates are expressed as a percentage of the principal a lender charges you for borrowing the money. The APR describes the annual cost of a loan to you and includes the interest rate and any additional costs, such as origination fees or transaction fees. The APR, therefore, is typically higher than the interest rate. 

How Interest Rates Work on Debt

Financial institutions, including banks, lenders and credit card companies, charge you interest as the cost of borrowing money. The interest rate is the percentage of the principal — also known as the amount loaned. Think of the interest rate as the monthly cost of borrowing money. If your credit background is solid, you’ll likely qualify for a lower interest rate since you’re at a lower risk of default. However, banks charge higher interest rates to borrowers they deem as high-risk.

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How Does Compounding Affect Your Interest Rate?

Determining whether a lender charges you simple or compounded interest on a loan can significantly increase your monthly payment. These are the differences:

  • Simple interest: This is a set percentage paid on the initial principal. For example, if you borrowed $2,000 and paid it back two years later at 15% annual interest, you ended up paying $600 in interest in addition to the principal amount.
  • Compound interest: This is when lenders charge interest on top of interest. Each year, the previous year’s interest is added to the principal. For the previous example, since the interest would tack on to the principal each year, you would have ended up owing a total amount of $2,645.

How APR Works

APR is a broader calculation of the cost of the loan and considers the interest rate and other fees and costs. For example, if you are taking out a mortgage, the APR describes the interest rate, discount points, mortgage broker fees, closing costs and other additional charges.

Calculating the APR can give you a complete picture of the total cost of the loan over its entire lifespan.

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Is APR Better Than Interest Rates?

Interest rates and APR are useful tools to help you calculate the total cost of a loan. They’re both expressed as percentages and describe the principal loan amount’s costs. Here are the key differences and how they affect you:

Good To Know

When to consider APR: When purchasing a home you plan to stay in for the loan period, look for the loan with the lowest APR. A higher APR with fewer upfront fees will make more sense if you only plan to spend a few years in the house.

When to consider interest: When you’re concerned with the monthly payment amount, the interest rate will help you determine the more immediate cost to you.

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Using APR and Interest Rates To Better Your Financial Health

APRs and interest rates are both essential to an accurate assessment of a loan or credit card. Since interest rates add to the cost of paying the total amount, it’s best to look for an offer with the lowest possible interest rate. When the APR and the interest rate are the same, you don’t have to pay additional fees. Those fees are how you end up with a higher APR.

Keep in mind that the APR and the interest rate are the same when it comes to credit cards. The APR is the interest you’re paying on your credit card.

When you’re considering a long-term loan, such as a mortgage, it may be best to review the APR of various loans so you can see the true costs over the entire lifetime of the loan. You’ll be able to make a more informed financial decision knowing the actual cost of borrowing.

How Do You Compare Mortgage Loans Using Interest Rates and APR?

This model for a $100,000, 30-year mortgage illustrates how using the APR and interest rate can help you compare the total costs of a loan.

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30-Year Mortgage Comparison Loan A Loan B
Interest Rate 4% 4.1%
Fees Required $3,000 $600
Points 2 ($2,000) 0
APR 4.2% 4.12%
Total Costs Over 30 Years $171,853.20 $164,653.20

Points are optional fees you can pay on the front end to lower your ongoing interest rate. Each point is 1% of your balance. In this scenario, Loan A comes with more costs but a lower interest rate. In Loan B, the interest rate is higher, but the fees are much lower. Loan B would be the better choice since you will save more money over the loan’s lifetime. As you can see, if you stayed in the house for the entire 30 years, you would save yourself just over $7,000.

Use Your Knowledge of APRs and Interest Rates

Now that you know the difference between APR vs. interest rates and how they tie into borrowing costs, you can make smarter financial decisions. Both terms are useful and important in any loan review. Depending on what type of loan you’re considering, you can understand the more immediate cost to you as well as the long-term cost.

Chris Ozarowski contributed to the reporting for this article.

Information is accurate as of Dec. 7, 2022.