Whether you have existing credit card debt you need to pay off or a large upcoming purchase you want to finance, a 0% APR credit card can help you save money -- as long as you use it wisely.
Credit cards that offer a 0% APR period on a new purchase or balance transfer can help you reduce and potentially avoid interest. Some of the best 0% introductory APR cards offer introductory periods for both new purchases and balance transfers -- and several for up to 21 months. Some even offer rewards you can take advantage of after the 0% APR period ends.
While using balance transfer offers can be an effective debt-paying strategy, it’s important to make sure you can repay the entire balance before the introductory period ends. Otherwise, the standard APR, which can be quite high, will kick in on the remaining balance. If you think you’ll need more than a year or two to pay off your debt, you may want to consider a fixed-rate personal loan or debt consolidation loan instead. And make sure you’re at least making the minimum payment on your credit card bill each month. Missing payments can result in late fees and even the potential to have your 0% APR offer canceled.
Before you start looking at credit cards with interest-free introductory periods, here’s what you need to know about these promotional offers and other options worth considering.
1. The introductory offer may only apply to new purchases or balance transfers
Before applying for a card with a 0% APR introductory period, check to see if it applies to new purchases, balance transfers or both. Some cards, like the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card have a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on new purchases and qualifying balance transfers (after that, your variable APR will be 20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99%, depending on your creditworthiness). But the Citi® Double Cash Card only offers 0% intro for 18 months on balance transfers only -- not new purchases (after that your APR will be 19.24% – 29.24%, variable).
If you plan to use a card’s 0% introductory period, make sure you understand what eligible purchases or transfers qualify so you can start taking advantage of the offer as soon as you’re approved.
2. Introductory 0% interest periods vary
Credit cards with a 0% APR introductory offer only last a certain amount of time -- usually anywhere from 12 to 21 months. After that, a variable interest rate applies. And any outstanding balance will start accruing interest after that.
Before you apply for a zero-interest credit card, see how long the 0% APR introductory offer lasts. If you’re planning on making a big purchase or transferring debt to take advantage of 0% interest on new purchases when you get the card, make sure the balance is paid off before the introductory offer runs out. And if you think you’ll need more time, choose a card with the longest introductory period possible.
3. A balance transfer card can help you repay debt and reduce interest
If you’re trying to lessen how much interest you’re paying on credit card debt you already have, a balance transfer card can help. It lets you transfer the debt to a new card with a balance transfer introductory offer. It’s best to plan to pay off the balance in full before the offer ends to avoid paying more in interest. If not, the new balance transfer may have a higher variable interest rate which means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
Keep in mind that you may have to pay a balance transfer fee of 3% – 5%, which must be included in the credit limit. Depending on how much debt you have to transfer, you may have to make multiple transfers over time and pay several balance transfer fees. Or you may be responsible for paying your old card, with high interest, along with your new, interest-free credit card, at the same time.
4. Some 0% introductory offers come with fees
Just because it’s a 0% APR card doesn’t mean it’s free of fees. While the introductory offer may sound nice, always read the fine print. Many balance transfer introductory offers require a 3% to 5% balance transfer fee each time you move a balance to the card.
You may also still have fees for late payments, cash advances and foreign transactions. And many of these fees may still apply during the 0% introductory period.
Before applying for a new credit card, see which one has fees that you can avoid or manage. You may not be able to avoid a balance transfer fee if you’re moving a balance, but you can avoid late payment fees by paying your bill on time.
5. You’re still responsible for monthly payments
Even though you won’t be charged interest during your card’s introductory period, you still have to make monthly payments to keep your account current. Failing to make a payment or paying late can mean hefty late charges and may cancel out your 0% APR offer altogether, depending on your issuer’s terms.
6. You usually need good or excellent credit for approval
Lucrative credit card offers, like interest-free periods and rewards, require a good to excellent credit score -- which is usually 670 to 850.
As you’re browsing through offers, see what the minimum score baseline is. If you don’t qualify, keep searching. If it doesn’t seem like you’ll qualify for any balance transfer offers, consider building up your credit score. You can start with a credit-building card, like a secured credit card, to establish good credit habits like paying your bill in full and on time each month. As your score grows, you’ll be able to qualify for cards with better rewards and offers, like a 0% APR card.
Read More: What Factors Determine Your Credit Score?
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