For the first time since 1981, average interest rates on bank credit cards have moved below the 18 percent level, according to Ram Research's CardTrack, a monthly newsletter.

The January average of 17.95 percent is down from last month's 18.18 percent.

Also, in the past 12 months the number of low-rate credit cards has grown. In January 228 cards were offered at rates under 15 percent, up from 105 for the same period in 1991.

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