Key takeaways

  • Zero percent APR credit cards can help you save on interest and pay off debt more quickly by eliminating interest on certain purchases or balances for a set period of time.
  • However, many 0 percent interest cards come with tradeoffs, such as higher credit score requirements and limited rewards.
  • To choose the right 0 percent APR card, do your due diligence when evaluating the options available to you.

Credit cards with 0 percent introductory annual percentage rate (APR) offers let you avoid paying interest on purchases, balance transfers or both for a limited time. However, individual card details vary quite a bit from there, with some offering longer introductory periods and more perks than others. Fees can vary too, including annual fees and balance transfer fees.

Here are some of the top features you should consider before applying for a 0 percent intro APR credit card:

Figure out what credit score you need

Before starting your search for the best zero interest credit cards, you’ll need to know where your credit score stands and what credit score you need to get approved for the card you want. The best cards in this category typically require good to excellent credit, so not everyone will qualify. Before you apply, check your credit score to ensure you stand a chance at being approved.

Determine the type of offer you need

Zero-percent intro APR credit cards extend their offers to purchases, balance transfers or sometimes both. In some cases, cards will even extend zero interest to purchases and balance transfers on different timelines. Knowing how you’ll use the intro APR can help you narrow down your options.

The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card*, for example, offer a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 12 months and on balance transfers for 21 months (provided that the balance transfers are completed within four months from account opening). Both are subject to a 18.24 percent to 28.99 percent variable APR thereafter.

Balance transfer offer

If you want to accelerate your credit card debt payoff by consolidating it with a balance transfer credit card you’ll want to consider cards with attractive balance transfer offers. This might look like finding 0 APR credit cards with low or no balance transfer fees to save money and lengthy intro periods for ample time to pay off the balance.

Purchase offer

Planning on a large purchase soon? Finding the right purchase offer could help you avoid paying interest while you pay down the balance. Focus on the card’s introductory purchase APR, standard purchase APR, and how long the intro period lasts. You won’t have to worry about a balance transfer fee, but you’ll want to pay attention to details like the card’s foreign transaction fee if you’re purchasing an item from another country. Either way, be sure to learn what type of offer the card is advertising so you can plan accordingly.

Consider the length of the offer

One of the most important details is the length of each card’s 0 percent intro APR period. Where most credit cards in this niche extend zero interest for at least 12 months, some cards offer 0 percent intro APRs for up to 21 months.

The length of the offer matters because it’s how long you’ll avoid interest. How long an intro APR offer lasts may not matter much to you if you want to pay off your balance in a relatively short amount of time. If you have a lot of high-interest debt to consolidate, however, longer offers give you more time to make progress.

For example, if you have a larger purchase to make and need no more than a year to pay it off, any number of 0 percent intro APR credit cards with intro offers for 12 months could work. If, on the other hand, you have thousands in high-interest credit card debt you need to pay off, look for the longest 0 percent intro offer you can find.

The offer length can also help you determine what an appropriate monthly payment should be to reach your goal before your credit card interest rate resets to the variable APR. And brace yourself: The average card interest rate is just under 21 percent, yet many 0 percent intro APR charge even higher rates than that.

Take note of any offer limitations

Read your card’s fine print to learn about the limitations associated with each card offer. Some cards will rescind their 0 percent intro APR offers entirely if you miss a single payment or don’t abide by their other rules.

As an example, the Wells Fargo Reflect® Card comes with a 0 percent intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, followed by a 18.24 percent, 24.74 percent, or 29.99 percent variable APR. But like all cards, there are additional limitations involved. Those balance transfers must be made within 120 days to qualify for the intro rate, and a balance transfer fee of 5 percent or a minimum of $5 will apply to each balance transfer.

Understand the credit card’s fees

Certain fees can change your opinion on whether a card will be right for you. Some of the most common types of fees associated with 0 percent APR cards include:

  • Annual fees. This is the fee you pay yearly to carry the card. Many credit cards with a 0 percent intro APR don’t charge an annual fee, but this isn’t always the case.
  • Balance transfer fees. As previously mentioned, this fee is charged whenever you complete a balance transfer. Most cards in this niche charge a balance transfer fee of 3 percent, but some charge 5 percent instead. By choosing a card with the lowest fee you can find, you’ll minimize the costs involved with transferring a balance.
  • Foreign transaction fees. This fee is charged whenever you make a purchase where a currency conversion is involved. If you plan to use the card overseas or with non U.S.-based companies online, you might run into this fee. If you do travel frequently, try to avoid cards that charge foreign transaction fees (or simply pull out another card in your wallet when abroad).
  • Late fees: If you make your payment even one day after the due date, your credit card could be charged a late fee. A late payment could also trigger a penalty APR depending on your card issuer.

Look for credit card rewards

Many credit cards with intro APR offers also earn rewards, although you’ll typically sacrifice the length of your zero-interest offer for this perk.

An example of a popular cash back credit card with an intro APR offer is the Chase Freedom Flex℠*. The Freedom Flex offers a variety of cash back categories, including 5 percent on activated rotating bonus category purchases each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent), along with 0 percent intro APRs on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. You’ll pay 20.49 percent to 29.24 percent variable APR after that introductory period ends. Additionally, a 3 percent intro balance transfer fee with a minimum $5 applies for transfers made in the first 60 days.

Another popular card is the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. This flat-rate cash rewards credit card offers 2 percent cash rewards on all qualifying purchases. In terms of an introductory APR offer, you’ll get a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (those made in the first 120 days) for 15 months, followed by a 20.24 percent, 25.24 percent, or 29.99 percent variable APR.

For the most part, earning rewards while you enjoy a 0 percent intro APR on purchases can be a nice combination as long as you have a plan to pay off your balances before the introductory APR offer ends and rates revert to the variable APR.

Consider additional cardholder perks

Make sure any credit cards you’re considering offer perks that you want or could use. Pick a credit card with perks you can use in the long run — or at least one with no annual fee — so you won’t have to weigh the pros and cons of keeping the account open each year. These are some of the most common credit card perks:

Having these perks on top of earning rewards can make your intro 0 percent APR credit card useful even after the promo APR expires and you’ve paid off your balance.

Where to find the best zero interest credit cards

There are a few ways you can find the best zero interest credit cards, whether you’re in it for a balance transfer or a purchase offer.

Start by checking your mailbox. Credit card issuers often seek out well-qualified borrowers for their credit cards and many of them send out mail offers. While some of those offers are the same as what you would get by applying online or in person, there are some personalized offers exclusively available by mail. You could also check with the banks and credit unions you already have relationships with.

Not to toot our own horn, but Bankrate’s CardMatch tool is another way to find the best 0 APR credit cards. By answering a few questions, you’ll have personalized offers within seconds for the 0 APR credit cards that best fit your credit profile. You can also check our updated list of the best 0% interest credit cards if you want more to choose from.

The bottom line

Choosing the right 0 percent APR credit card for your next balance transfer or major purchase depends on multiple factors. Your credit score, budget, length of the offer, perks and the type of rewards you want will all influence that decision. By taking these factors into consideration, you can find the offer that best suits your lifestyle and payoff timeline while ditching the regret of missing out on a better credit card offer.

Information about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate. Card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.