Paying off multiple 0-percent cards, all with balances

By Susan Keating

Credit Smart
Credit Smart columnist Susan C. Keating
Susan C. Keating is the president and chief executive officer of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Prior to joining the NFCC, Keating spent 29 years in financial services. She was the highest ranking female CEO of a U.S. bank holding company, serving as president and chief executive of Allfirst Financial Inc., the largest U.S. holding of AIB Group. She currently serves on Bank of America's National Consumer Advisory Council and is a board member of the Council on Accreditation. Keating also participates in the Financial Regulation Reform Collaborative, a nonpartisan group committed to finding solutions for reforming financial services regulation.

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Dear Credit Smart,
I have three 0 percent credit cards, each with the 0 percent expiring at different times. Should I just keep making monthly payments so they will be paid off before 0 percent expires? Or should I put my resources toward paying them off one at a time? – Bob


Dear Bob,
I am glad to hear that your goal is to pay all of your cards off before your 0 percent interest rate expires. You can accomplish that in a couple of different ways. Remember what your goal is, whichever path you choose.

Most credit cards require a monthly payment every month. It is doubtful that you can quit paying on one or more of your cards in order to use all of your resources to pay on only the one whose rate is about to expire. If you do that, you may run the risk of losing your 0 percent rate. You might also be hit with late charges and a late payment notation on your credit report. You don’t want that, so you need to make at least the minimum payment on all of your cards every month on time, without fail. A word of caution here: The minimum payment required will likely not be enough to pay off a card within the promotional period.

The great thing about 0 percent interest cards is that it is very easy to calculate what your payments must be to pay off within that promotional time frame. A card with an $1,800 balance that offers 0 percent interest for 18 months would require a payment of $100 a month for those 18 months. There is really no benefit in paying it off early, since you won’t be paying interest.

If you have a card whose rate is expiring soon and the minimum payment will not pay the card off within that time frame, you will obviously need to pay more on that card. Divide your balance by the number of months left on your promotional rate and you will see the amount you need to pay each month to get it paid off in time.

I would suggest you take the time to map out your cards and see where you stand on each one. If you do need to pay only minimums on the other two in order to get one paid off earlier, calculate the time you have left on the others and the payments that will be required to pay them off within the 0 percent interest windows.

A good strategy is to allocate a set dollar amount toward your total debt payment in your monthly spending plan. As soon as you have one card paid off, take the money you have been sending to that card and apply it to the next card whose rate will be expiring. Or you can re-allocate those funds to the other two cards and pay more than the minimum on each if that will get them both paid off in time.

One thing to keep in mind as well is that if you are adding to your balances on these cards, you will need to keep those purchases in mind as you make payments. If possible, pay what you charged for the month in addition to the regular payment and you should stay on track to take full advantage of the 0 percent interest rate.

Remember to always use your credit smarts!

See related: Credit card balance payoff calculator

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Published: June 4, 2015


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Updated: 03-30-2017


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