The earlier Middle English word was interesse (late 14c.), from Anglo-French interesse "what one has a legal concern in," from Medieval Latin interesse "compensation for loss," noun use of Latin interresse (compare German Interesse, from the same Medieval Latin source).
Financial sense of "money paid for the use of money lent" (1520s) earlier was distinguished from usury (illegal under Church law) by being in reference to "compensation due from a defaulting debtor." Sense of "personal or selfish consideration" is from 1620s. Meaning "business in which several people are interested" is from 1670s. Meaning "curiosity, feeling that something concerns one, appreciative or sympathetic regard" is first attested 1771. Interest group is attested from 1907; interest rate by 1868.
"regard to or pursuit of private interest, advantage to oneself," 1640s, from self- + interest (n.). Especially "selfishness, pursuit of egotistical interests to the exclusion of regard for others." Related: Self-interested, "characterized by self-interest" (1650s); self-interestedness.
[Self-interest] is a doctrine not very lofty, but clear and sure. It does not seek to attain great objects; but it attains those it aims for without too much effort. ... [It] does not produce great devotion; but it suggests little sacrifices each day; by itself it cannot make a man virtuous; but it forms a multitude of citizens who are regulated, temperate, moderate, farsighted, masters of themselves; and if it does not lead directly to virtue through the will, it brings them near to it insensibly through habits. [Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America"]