What Is a Finance Charge?

A finance charge is a fee charged for the use of credit or the extension of existing credit. It may be a flat fee or a percentage of borrowings, with percentage-based finance charges being the most common. A finance charge is often an aggregated cost, including the cost of carrying the debt along with any related transaction fees, account maintenance fees, or late fees charged by the lender.

Understanding Finance Charges

Finance charges allow lenders to make a profit on the use of their money. Finance charges for commoditized credit services, such as car loans, mortgages, and credit cards, have known ranges and depend on the creditworthiness of the person looking to borrow. Regulations exist in many countries that limit the maximum finance charge assessed on a given type of credit, but many of the limits still allow for predatory lending practices, where finance charges can amount to 25% or more annually.

Finance charges are a form of compensation to the lender for providing the funds, or extending credit, to a borrower. These charges can include one-time fees, such as an origination fee on a loan, or interest payments, which can amortize on a monthly or daily basis. Finance charges can vary from product to product or lender to lender.

There is no single formula for the determination of what interest rate to charge. A customer may qualify for two similar products from two different lenders that come with two different sets of finance charges.

Key Takeaways

  • A finance charge, such as an interest rate, is assessed for the use of credit or the extension of existing credit.
  • Finance charges compensate the lender for providing the funds or extending credit.
  • The Truth in Lending Act requires lenders to disclose all interest rates, standard fees, and penalty fees to consumers.

Finance Charges and Interest Rates

One of the more common finance charges is the interest rate. This allows the lender to make a profit, expressed as a percentage, based on the current amount that has been provided to the borrower. Interest rates can vary depending on the type of financing acquired and the borrower's creditworthiness. Secured financing, which is most often backed by an asset such as a home or vehicle, often carries lower interest rates than unsecured financings, such as a credit card. This is most often due to the lower risk associated with a loan backed by an asset.

For credit cards, all finance charges are expressed in the currency from which the card is based, including those that can be used internationally, allowing the borrower to complete a transaction in a foreign currency.

Finance Charges and Regulation

Finance charges are subject to government regulation. The federal Truth in Lending Act requires that all interest rates, standard fees, and penalty fees must be disclosed to the consumer. Additionally, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 required a minimum 21-day grace period before interest charges can be assessed on new purchases.