0 percent card offers: A treat, not a trick
Balance transfer cards can help you pay off debt with no interest, but many consumers don’t know they exist
Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.
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If you have credit card debt, you shouldn’t worry about cash back, travel perks or any other rewards. You need to focus on getting out of debt as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. The average credit card charges more than 17 percent interest – and that’s on the low end of the range. The average maximum APR is 24.45 percent and the median is 20.77 percent.
These are whopping numbers. It doesn’t make sense to get 1, 2 or even 5 percent back if you’re paying these high rates. So what’s a debtor to do? My No. 1 tip is to get a balance transfer credit card.
Unfortunately, 49 percent of U.S. adults don’t even realize balance transfer cards exist, according to a recent CreditCards.com survey. If you have credit card debt, you can transfer that debt to a different credit card and pay zero interest for more than a year.
Two cards, Chase Slate and the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, for example, offer 15 months with no interest and no transfer fees (as long as you complete the transfer within 60 days of opening the account). Both have a regualr variable APR of 16.49 percent to 25.24 percent and 14.99 percent to 25.99 percent, respectively.
While there are longer 0 percent periods, they charge transfer fees (typically 3-5 percent of the balance being transferred). That’s why I recommend the two cards mentioned above.
See related: 6 steps to a successful credit card balance transfer
Why balance transfer cards are so great
If you owe $5,000 and take advantage of one of these offers, you could make 15 equal payments of $333.33 and get out of debt in a year and a quarter without paying any interest. But if you were paying the median 20.77 percent, in order to retire your debt in those same 15 months, you would need to pay $381.33 per month and would end up with a total interest bill of $720.03.
Balance transfer cards can be a huge help to more than half of all credit card holders; 52 percent have carried a balance within the past year and 60 percent have done so within the past five years. One-third of U.S. adults who have ever had credit card debt owed more than $5,000 at some point (including 42 percent of baby boomers).
Yet just 37 percent of debtors have ever applied for a balance transfer card. The good news is that 82 percent who applied were approved (you typically need a credit score of at least 670). The approval rate increased with age.
Don’t forget about 0 percent introductory offers
Closely related to balance transfer cards are 0 percent introductory offers, which are for new purchases rather than existing debt. This type of card promotion can be an excellent option if you’re looking to spread out the cost of big expenses. For example, a new homeowner buying a bunch of new appliances and furniture could greatly benefit from the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card and its industry-leading 20-month, 0 percent introductory APR (with a regular variable APR of 12.24% - 24.24% percent thereafter).
The card doesn’t offer rewards, but for a rate-conscious consumer, the ability to spread payments over close to two years without interest can be valuable. Similar to the balance transfer stats, 32 percent of U.S. adults have applied for a card with a 0 percent introductory rate and 81 percent of them were approved.
While it is possible to take advantage of a 0 percent balance transfer and a 0 percent rate on new purchases concurrently, I’d suggest you focus on one or the other – not both. Getting out of debt is hard enough without adding new purchases on top of old ones.
If you have existing debt, I recommend a balance transfer and shifting your ongoing spending to cash or a debit card. A big part of debt reduction is psychological, and you need to figure out what got you into debt in the first place and how to avoid going back there. It’s too risky to try to eliminate old debt while juggling new credit purchases at the same time.
Survey methodology: CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 1,268 adults, including 838 with an active credit card. The survey was conducted online between Oct. 5-8, 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18 and over).
*All information for the Chase Slate and Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express and Chase Slate are no longer available through CreditCards.com.