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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Independent financial research company Defaqto recently stated the average interest rate on credit cards has grown by 2.6% over the past five years, a jump of 15.8% to 18.4%, on average. Perhaps it is because of this sharp increase that credit lenders have increased the duration of their 0% introductory rate periods. During that same five-year period, the availability of credit cards offering a 0% APR has doubled. It is good news for those who can take advantage of such offerings with a healthy credit rating.

Those with a better credit rating can more readily hop around, card to card, as they would most likely be accepted by more lenders, essentially guaranteeing themselves a 0% APR for an extended period. Those with a lesser credit score will find less opportunity for jumping around, but with all the options available they too should be able to enjoy some of the advantages of 0% financing as low-interest credit cards become harder to come by.

The past several years have seen a change in the standard credit card model -- as low interest rates become harder to offer, lenders are instead offering a slew of options to gain consumers' business. The 0% APRs are just one of many perks on the table. Everything from rewards programs, to frequent flyer miles, to cash back programs are being placed as bait for business.

Cash back programs are now tailored to individual need: There are programs for supermarkets, hotels, gas stations, theme parks. The list is long and consumers can choose which retailers they are most likely to spend money on and enjoy the benefits of cash back. Most cash back programs reward you with 1% back on your purchases. There are some credit cards that offer as much as 5% back, but you may have to shop around a little more to locate those.

While you are shopping around, keep in mind that all 0% introductory rates are not created equal. Know the duration of the introductory rate, as herein lies the difference. On average, the introductory rate lasts for six months, with some lasting as long as 12 months. There are even credit cards that extend this rate for up to two years, but they are few and far between.

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