A 0% intro APR credit card may be your best bet for a short-term no-interest loan, as long as you read the fine print.
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The Bank of America content in this article was updated April 3, 2023.
A credit card with a 0 percent APR enables a new cardholder to avoid paying interest on charges or balance transfers during an introductory period that typically lasts six to 18 months — and sometimes even longer.
When the 0 percent intro period ends, the regular APR kicks in. So, if a balance remains after the 0 percent period expires, you’ll end up paying interest at the regular rate.
A card with a 0 percent introductory APR can come in especially handy if you don’t have enough cash to cover a big purchase, such as a new refrigerator. You can pay off the purchase during the intro period and steer clear of paying interest. Or, maybe you owe $5,000 on a high-interest card. You can transfer that balance to a 0 percent card and can save yourself some serious cash while you pay it off.
A 0 percent APR credit card may be your best bet for a short-term, no-interest loan, as long as you read the fine print and plan carefully. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to go this route.
Consider your options
Many issuers extend 0 percent APR offers to new cardholders, but not all are created equal. For example, some cards provide generous introductory periods, while others offer sign-up bonuses. As you’re reviewing your options, keep the following tips in mind.
- Length of introductory period: Some cards are better for balance transfers than purchases. The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, for instance, offers a 15-month 0 percent intro APR period for purchases and balance transfers (then a variable APR of 18.74 percent to 28.74 percent). The Discover it® Balance Transfer card provides only six months of 0% intro APR on purchases but 18 months on balance transfers (then a variable APR of 16.74 percent to 27.74 percent).
- Introductory bonus: Some card issuers offer sign-up bonuses for 0 percent APR cards, which can help knock down the balance on a big purchase. For example, the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card offers cardholders a $200 cash rewards bonus after they spend at least $1,000 within 90 days. It also has an introductory 0 percent APR for purchases for the first 18 billing cycles and the same time period for balance transfers made within the first 60 days (then a variable APR of 17.74 percent to 27.74 percent). By contrast, the Citi Simplicity® Card offers a 21-month 0 percent introductory APR period on balance transfers completed within the first four months and a 12-month 0 percent introductory APR offer on purchases (then a variable APR of 18.74 percent to 29.49 percent), but no welcome bonus.
- Fees: Fees can wipe out interest savings if you’re not careful, so take them into account. The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers a 0 percent introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and on qualifying balance transfers made within the first 120 days (then a variable APR of 19.99 percent, 24.99 percent or 29.99 percent) and charges no annual fee. However, it does impose fees on balance transfers, cash advances, foreign transactions, late payments and returned checks or payments.
- Rewards: Some cards with 0% APR periods reward you in other ways as well — especially if you’re paying down a purchase. For example, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 0 percent intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (then a variable APR of 18.99 percent to 29.99 percent). While paying that off, you can earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first six months of card membership. Plus you’ll get 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and on U.S. online retail purchases (up to $6,000 per year in purchases in each category, then 1 percent), and 1 percent on other purchases.
- Regular APR: A 0 percent intro APR offer is enticing, but that 0% rate eventually expires. The rate you end up paying will be calculated according to your creditworthiness.
Figure out how much time you need to pay off the balance
Sure, a 0 percent APR card frees you from paying interest — but only during the 0 percent APR period.
In light of that, it’s wise to figure out how long you’ve got to pay off the balance before the regular APR hits and interest starts piling up.
Fortunately, the math is pretty simple. To get a rough idea of how much you’ll need to pay each month to wipe out your balance before the regular APR takes effect, divide the balance of your 0 percent card by the number of months for the intro period.
Let’s say the 0 percent APR period is 12 months and you buy a $2,400 refrigerator right after opening your account. You have 12 months to pay off the $2,400 balance before the card issuer starts charging interest. During that period, each monthly payment would need to be at least $200 to escape the regular APR.
Similarly, if you have 18 months to pay off a $5,000 balance transfer, you can do it with $280 per month. Remember that this formula works only if you make no other purchases or balance transfers during the same 12-month intro period.
Consider the card’s other benefits
A no-interest period for purchases, balance transfers or both ranks right up there among the best credit card benefits. But you might not want to pick a card based solely on an intro APR, particularly since that offer will vanish at some point. It’s best to also look at a card’s other perks.
Here are some examples:
- The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card gives you special access to tickets for events like concerts and dining experiences through the Citi Entertainment program.
- The Discover it® Cash Back card automatically matches all of the cash back you’ve earned during your first year of card ownership.
- The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card gives you up to $600 worth of protection for your cellphone (subject to a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly bill with it.
- The Chase Freedom Unlimited card lets you earn 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 percent at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5 percent on all other purchases.
Figure out what to do when the 0% period ends
If you know you can pay off the full balance before the 0 percent rate expires, you have less to worry about. Here’s what you might do if a balance remains when the APR switches from 0 percent to regular:
- Pay off the balance as soon as possible: Once the intro APR expires, you’ll pay the regular APR for as long as you carry a balance.
- Ask for a lower rate: If you’ve got a positive history with your account, the card issuer may be willing to grant your request for a reduced APR.
- Look into a balance transfer: You might be able to offload the balance from the card with the expired intro rate to another card with a 0 percent rate.
- Consider a debt consolidation loan: A debt consolidation loan may enable you to tackle the leftover balance at an APR that’s lower than the regular APR for the credit card. Keep in mind, though, that if the payoff period for the loan lasts a while, you could wind up paying more interest overall than if you’d simply stuck with the credit card.
How to get the most out of a 0% intro APR credit card
Once you find a card that fits your needs, it’s time to get to work. Here are some steps you can take to get the most out of a 0 percent intro APR credit card:
- Be sure you understand the terms of the offer. Read through the fine print of the credit card agreement and familiarize yourself with important details, such as the exact expiration date of the intro period, the timeline for completing a balance transfer (if one is permitted), any balance transfer fees and the interest rate once the intro period ends.
- Create a repayment plan. Calculate how much you need to pay each month in order to have a zero balance at the end of the intro period. If that amount isn’t in your current budget, you may need to eliminate some unneeded purchases (such as subscriptions you don’t regularly use). You might also consider supplementing your income by selling unwanted items or picking up a side hustle.
- Earn rewards and use perks after paying off your initial balance. Once you’ve successfully paid off a transferred balance or other large debt with no interest, you may want to incorporate your card into your everyday spending to take advantage of rewards and other benefits. For instance, if it offers cash back on groceries and gas purchases, consider switching to your 0 percent card if it compares favorably to other cards you own. If it offers cellphone protection, you may want to start paying your monthly wireless bill with it. Just be sure to pay your balance off in full each month, especially if your interest-free period has come and gone.
A credit card with a 0 percent introductory APR can be a valuable item in your credit toolbox. Choose a card that suits your needs, whether that’s paying off a balance transfer or a major purchase interest-free. Read the terms and conditions carefully, and have a plan in place to pay it off within the card’s introductory 0 percent APR period so you avoid unnecessary fees and interest charges.
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