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Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

The annual percentage rate (APR) is the effective rate of interest that is charged on an installment loan, such as those provided by banks, retail stores, and other lenders.

Since the enactment of the Truth in Lending Act in 1969, lenders have been required to report the APR in boldface type on the first page of all loan contracts. The truth in lending law requires lenders to disclose in great detail the terms and conditions that apply to consumers when they borrow. Its purpose is to allow consumers who are shopping for credit to compare different offers on the same basis, to compare apples with apples. In the absence of legal requirements to clearly state interest rate calculations on all loan contracts, it would be possible for a lender to misrepresent the interest rate of a loan through the use of different compounding periods. By insisting upon a clear statement of the APR on loan contracts, the truth in lending law has gone a long way towards eliminating interest rate confusion. However, the APR can be calculated in different ways and can sometimes cause rather than eliminate confusion.

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Loans And Interest Rates

A loan is the purchase of the present use of money with the promise to repay the amount in the future according to a pre-arranged schedule and at a specified rate of interest. Loan contracts formally spell out the terms and obligations between the lender and borrower. Loans are by far the most common type of debt financing used by small businesses. The interest rate charged on the borrowed funds reflects the level of risk that the lender undertakes by providing the money. For example, a lender might charge a startup company a higher interest rate than it would a company that had shown a profit for several years. The interest rate also tends to be higher on smaller loans, since lenders must be able to cover the fixed costs involved in making the loans.

The lowest interest rate charged by lenders—which is offered only to firms that qualify on the basis of their size and financial strength—is known as the prime rate.

All other types of loans feature interest rates that are scaled upward from the prime rate. Interest rates vary greatly over time, depending on lending policies set forth by the Federal Reserve Board as well as prevailing economic conditions in the nation. For all but the simplest of loans, the nominal or stated rate of interest may differ from the annual percentage rate or effective rate of interest. These differences occur because loans take many forms and cover various time periods. The effect of compounding and the addition of fees may also affect the APR of a loan.

Calculating The Apr

The effective rate of interest on a loan can be defined as the total interest paid divided by the amount of money received. For simple interest loans—in which the borrower receives the face value of the loan and repays the principal plus interest at maturity—the effective rate and the nominal rate are usually the same. As an example, say that a small business owner borrows $10,000 at 12 percent for 1 year. The effective rate would thus be $1,200 / $10,000 = 12 percent, the same as the stated rate.

But the effective rate would be slightly different for a discount interest loan, wherein the interest is deducted in advance so the borrower actually receives less than the face value. Using the same example, the small business owner would pay the $1,200 interest up front and receive $8,800 upon signing the loan contract. In this case, the effective interest rate would be $1,200 / $8,800 = 13.64 percent.

The most problematic differences between the nominal and effective rates of interest occur with installment loans. In this type of loan, the interest is calculated based on the nominal rate and added back in to get the face value of the loan. The loan amount is then repaid in equal installments during the loan period. Using the same example, the small business owner would sign for a loan with a face value of $11,200 and would receive $10,000. Since the loan is repaid in monthly installments, however, the business owner would not actually have use of the full loan amount over the course of the year. Instead, assuming 12 equal installments, the business owner would actually have average usable funds from the loan of $5,000. The effective rate of the loan is thus $1,200 / $5,000 = 24 percent, twice the stated rate of the loan.

True APR calculations should also include any upfront fees or penalties that are applied to a loan. These amounts are totaled and added to the interest figure. In the case of mortgage loans, such charges can be significant. They might, for example, include a mortgage insurance premium, points, lost interest earnings on escrow accounts, and prepayment penalties.