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Author: Madison Blancaflor
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Tips for choosing your 0% intro APR credit card
According to a recent Experian survey, 51 percent of consumers surveyed said that high interest rates were the most significant concern of credit card use — with good reason. The average credit card balance in America is $6,354. If your card comes with an 18% variable APR and you only pay the minimum payment each month, it could take you years and thousands of dollars in interest payments to completely pay off your card.
This is where a 0% interest credit card can help. There are a lot of choices available, and the Bankrate team is here to walk you through how to choose the best credit card for you.
What is a 0% interest credit card, and how does it work?
If you carry a balance on your credit card, issuers will charge a variable interest rate on your purchases until you pay off the card. You can delay interest, though, with cards that offer an introductory period free from interest (ranging anywhere from 6 to 21 months) on purchases or balance transfers. If you were to open one of these cards today, you could forgo interest until 2021 in some cases.
There are two main uses for a 0 interest card: financing large purchases and consolidating debt.
Financing large purchases
Let’s say you’re planning a spring renovation for your home, and you want to charge all new kitchen appliances to a credit card. You can sign up for a credit card with a 12-month zero percent introductory offer and (if your credit limit allows) charge the $10,000 for those appliances on that card.
If you pay the balance off in full before the end of that 12-month promotional period, you won’t owe any additional amount in interest. If you spent that same $10,000 on a card with an APR of 18% and took a year to pay off the balance, you’d tack another $1,001 in finance charges onto what you already owed.
Compare 0% intro purchase APR to regular rate…
Similarly, you can consolidate $10,000 worth of debt by transferring that debt to a card with a 12-month balance transfer offer. Rather than being charged hefty interest rates across multiple cards with differing balances, you’ll be charged a balance transfer fee (typically 3% – 5% of each transfer) and forgo interest if you pay off that balance within the offer period.
Compare 0% intro APR balance transfer offer to regular rate…
||Balance transfer fee
How to use a zero interest credit card?
Sometimes carrying a balance on your credit card is unavoidable. Large expenses pop up, cash gets tight throughout the year, other credit card debts pile up… life happens. Here are a few ways you can use a 0% intro APR credit card to stay on top of your financial goals.
Finance your 2019 summer vacation
It’s time to start planning this year’s summer getaways. Whether you’re a wannabe beach bum looking for some Vitamin D or a history nerd who wants to visit as many ancient ruins as possible — a 0% intro APR credit card can offer you a way to plan and pay for your dream vacation without the stress.
Check out the Capital One® VentureOne® if you want a travel card with a strong intro APR offer. You’ll earn 1.25x miles on every purchase (plus 10x miles on purchases at hotels.com/venture through January 2020) and a 20,000-mile welcome offer after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
New home = new furniture
So you’ve started off 2019 with a bang, and you’re all moved into a new house or apartment. Now comes the fun — and expensive — part: summoning your inner Joanna Gaines to decorate your new place. While most major furniture outlets offer some sort of financing, it’s rarely the most financially savvy decision. With a 0% APR credit card, you can pay off your furniture and decor interest-free. Plus, some credit cards offer an extended warranty on eligible purchases, which can be a lifesaver when buying more expensive pieces.
It can be tempting to apply for an Ikea or Home Depot credit card when outfitting your new home, but our recommendation is to choose a card with a lengthy intro APR period instead. The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card offers 18 months with 0% APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then 13.74% – 27.24% variable, therefore), which gives you more time than average to pay off furniture, appliances and all of the throw pillows you could ever want.
Weddings and honeymoons
Weddings are getting more and more expensive. According to the Brides 2018 American Wedding Study, the cost of a typical wedding in the United States increased from around $27,000 in 2017 to almost $44,000 in 2018. While it’s always smart to save up for the big day and, ideally, start your marriage without credit card debt, for some people that’s just not realistic. Even if you do have a wedding fund ready to go, it could be helpful to have a 0% APR credit card available for last-minute and unplanned wedding expenses.
A credit card like the Capital One® Quicksilver® is a great option. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, and the card will give you a significant cushion before you have to start paying interest.
Getting out of debt and repairing your credit score
Everyone goes through seasons where life takes a toll on your finances. It can be due to a new baby (and all of the expenses that come with a new baby) or after an especially difficult tax season or a number of things in between. Balances can pile up across multiple cards, damaging your credit score and causing a lot of stress.
You can use an intro APR credit card with a strong balance transfer option such as the Citi Simplicity to consolidate debt and pay off your balance without compounding interest. Paying off your debt can also help drastically improve your credit score, which can help you get approved for new lines of credit with more favorable terms.
How to choose the right zero interest credit card?
Which type of credit card you should get depends on what your long-term goals are for the card. Are you just wanting to consolidate debt? Is building your credit score your ultimate long-term goal? Do you want to be able to earn rewards long after the welcome offer for the card ends? The answers to these questions will determine which credit card is right for you.
If you’re looking for a debt consolidation tool, the length of the balance transfer offer and the balance transfer fee are the two features you should look out for. The more debt you want to pay off, the longer the intro APR period you’ll want. The Citi Simplicity and Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card, for example, both offer a great intro period length to give you time to pay off debt.
Those who want to keep their card long after the intro period is over should look for a card that offers great rewards. The Wells Fargo Propel and Citi Rewards+ Card both come with generous rewards and long-term value that goes well beyond the intro APR offer.
Recap: Bankrate’s top picks for 0% intro APR credit cards
Bankrate criteria for 0% APR credit cards
Bankrate’s team of experts is focused on providing comprehensive, well informed financial guidance for every stage of your life. From mortgages to student loans, credit cards and more, you will find friendly and impartial advice with Bankrate.
A 0% APR credit card can be a fantastic financial tool for 2019 when used appropriately, allowing you to save on interest expenses for the length of the promotional period. It’s important to develop a plan for how you will use your card and pay it off before your 0% introductory period ends. When you make your plan, it may become apparent that the promotional period won’t be long enough to pay down what you owe. In that instance, it’s worth considering a personal loan.
Our experts award each card a Bankrate score out of 5 by comparing the card’s offering against Bankrate’s proprietary scoring matrix. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to credit cards, so it’s important that you factor in all the variables of your unique situation to find the best card for you. A great zero interest card should enable you to achieve your 2019 financial goals by offering a long introductory 0% APR period, no annual fee, and a low regular variable APR rate.
0% Introductory APR Offer
Generally, for 0 interest cards, the longer the period without APR, the better. Make sure you consider the introductory offer for both purchases and balance transfers. A 0% introductory purchase APR can be helpful if you plan to make a large purchase with your new card and can’t completely pay it in a single month. If you want to transfer a balance to help pay off debt, you should look for a 0% introductory balance transfer APR. Always ensure each introductory period aligns with your goals and ability to pay off your balances.
Balance Transfer Offer
There are a few factors you should consider when comparing balance transfer offers. First, make sure the 0% introductory period is long enough to realistically allow you to pay off your balance. A great 0% interest credit card will also offer a low fee on transferred balances or no fee at all. You can weigh the cost of the transfer and the length of the introductory period to figure out which balance transfer offer is right for you.
Regular Variable APR
Regular variable APR, or standard APR, refers to the interest rate you incur on a credit card’s outstanding balance after the introductory 0% APR period ends. Standard APR can range from below 10% to over 20% and the current average for credit cards is nearly 18%. While you shouldn’t carry a balance on your card, choosing a card with a low APR can help lessen the burden if you find yourself in a situation where you must.
How much can you save with a 0% intro APR offer?
Take a look at a comparison of some of our top zero interest cards:
||0% APR offer period for new purchases
||How much you’ll save in interest charges
|Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card
|Capital One Quicksilver
||16.24% – 26.24% (Variable)
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
||17.24% – 25.99% (Variable)
|Discover it® Cash Back
||14.24% – 25.24% (Variable)
|Citi Simplicity (not currently available)
||16.24% – 26.24% (Variable)
|Capital One VentureOne
||14.24% – 24.24% (Variable)
|Blue Cash Everyday
||15.24% – 26.24% (Variable)
|HSBC Gold Mastercard credit card
||13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% (Variable)
**Savings calculated using the top of the variable APR range and a $3,000 balance. Citi Double Cash not included because it does not offer an intro period for new purchases.
Should you use your 0% APR credit card to finance large purchases?
Ideally, large purchases — both planned and unexpected — are paid for with money you’ve saved up over time. However, sometimes that’s just not possible. If you have to charge a larger purchase, a 0% APR credit card is typically a good choice. It allows you to spread out payments over time without worrying about interest.
The downside to these credit cards is that the regular APR that takes effect after the intro offer period is over might be a little higher than your average rewards card. Make sure you have a plan for paying off your balance within the offer period, because those interest charges can add up quickly. Calculate how much you should be paying off each month by simply taking your intro APR purchase balance and dividing it by the length until your intro period ends.
So, if you charge $1,500 on a card that has a 15-month intro period for new purchases, you need to pay $100 a month at minimum. It’s actually probably a good idea to plan to pay just a little extra each month so that you get the balance paid off a month or so early.
When a 0% APR credit card might not be right for you
Sometimes, a 0% intro APR card isn’t the best choice when looking at funding options. If you are looking to make a purchase you know you won’t be able to pay off within the offer period, it might be better to look at your personal loan options.
For example, it’s probably feasible for you to pay off plane tickets for an upcoming vacation or a new set of tires for your car over the course of a year to a year in and a half. Charging an entire home renovation or a large medical bill to a 0 APR credit card, on the other hand, might not be the best choice if you don’t have a realistic plan for paying off the charges within a year to a year and a half (depending on which card you apply for). Personal loans charge a much lower interest rate than credit cards, so even if you have to pay some money in interest, you’ll still be saving hundreds.
How does a 0% APR card affect your credit?
Any time you apply for a new credit card, the credit card issuer will check your credit report to determine your creditworthiness. This is called a hard inquiry, and it can temporarily affect your credit score. Typically, as long as you aren’t applying for multiple lines of credit within a short period of time, there shouldn’t be any lasting negative effects to your credit score.
However, there are multiple ways a 0% APR card can affect your credit depending on how you use the card. If you’re using your card to consolidate debt, it can actually help boost your credit score over time. A large factor in determining your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. By consolidating and paying down credit card balances, you’re lowering that ratio.
Furthermore, if you use a zero APR credit card to pay off a large purchase over time, you can boost your credit score just by showing lenders that you can consistently make on-time payments.
Does paying the minimum on a credit card hurt your credit?
When you carry a balance, you can opt to pay a minimum payment each month rather than the larger amount. While paying the minimum payment doesn’t directly hurt your credit score, it can have a snowball effect that does end up damaging your score.
Paying only the minimum payment each month means you most likely won’t pay off your balance within the designated intro offer period. That leads to interest charges and a longer pay-off timeline. Both of those things can mean your credit utilization ratio is increased, which can cause your credit score to drop.
Whenever possible, pay off the full amount of your credit card balance each month. When consolidating debt or financing a large purchase with a credit card, have a plan for paying off the full balance before the offer period ends. For example, if you are consolidating $3,000 in debt on a 15-month 0% APR card, you should aim to pay off at least $200 a month.
Deeper analysis on our top zero APR credit cards of 2019
This card currently offers a 15-month introductory period for both balance transfers and new purchases (then 16.24% – 26.24% variable APR thereafter). Plus, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases and a $150 bonus after spending $500 within the first 3 months of account opening. If you’re looking for a simple way to earn rewards while you save on interest with a 0% APR offer, you’ve found the right card.
The rewards structure on this card is simple and straightforward. Let’s say you spend $1,200 on your Quicksilver each month. At the end of each year, you’ll have racked up over $200 in cash back rewards.
The Discover it® Cash Back is a rotating category cash back card that gets you 5% cash back in different areas each quarter, like gas stations and grocery stores, and an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. You do have to enroll in the new categories each month and 5% cash back is reduced to 1% after you spend $1,500 each quarter. You’ll get a 14-month 0% APR introductory period for purchases and balance transfers (14.24% – 25.24% variable thereafter), and Discover matches all of the cash you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
The intro APR offer isn’t as long as other top cards in this category, but the long-term value you can get from the Discover it® Cash Back makes the shorter offer period worth it for the consumer with a moderate balance. Long after you take advantage of the intro APR period, you can enroll in 5% cash back in different categories each quarter to help you maximize cash rewards (up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, and 1% on everything else). This is a card for the shopper who likes to time her purchases according to the card’s rotating schedule, not the consumer looking to set it and forget it.
This card currently offers a 15-month introductory period for both balance transfers and new purchases (then 17.24% – 25.99% variable APR thereafter). Plus, you’ll earn 3% cash back on the first $20,000 in purchases your first year with the card and 1.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases. If you’re looking for a simple way to earn rewards while you save on interest with a 0% APR offer, you’ve found the right card.
While the annual value of the card’s rewards is lower after the first year is over, 1.5% unlimited cash back is still a generous rewards offer. You’ll want to use this as a supplemental card for years after the intro offer ends.
The introductory APR for the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card is one of the most competitive on the market: 0% APR for 18 months for both purchases and on qualifying balance transfers (13.74%-27.24% variable thereafter). While you won’t earn rewards with this card, you will have access to Wells Fargo’s My Money Map, a personalized online budgeting and spend-tracking tool. If you’re looking for a way to finance a larger expense, this could be just the card you need.
Once you’ve utilized the introductory offer, you should probably start looking for a rewards-focused credit card. That doesn’t mean the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card isn’t worth it — it can save you thousands in interest. However, you’ll find more long-term value by using this card to continue to build your score so you can get approved for a top-tier rewards credit card down the road.
The Citi Simplicity Card is the perfect option for consolidating debt. With a 0% APR period of 21 months on balance transfers (16.24% – 26.24% variable thereafter), you can save thousands of dollars by paying off debt without interest. This card also never charges a late fee, although you don’t want to make it a habit to pay late because of the impact on your credit files.
If you’re looking for a credit card to use far beyond the intro APR period has ended, this is not the right card for you. However, this is one of the best cards on the market for balance transfers and paying down debt — which can help you boost your credit score if you’re sitting in the “good” range but want to apply for cards in the future that require “excellent” credit.
Have a large travel-related expense coming up? You can finance your upcoming trip while earning travel rewards. The VentureOne card offers a low 12-month introductory 0% APR rate on purchases (14.24%-24.24% variable APR after that), plus 1.25x miles on every purchase and 10x miles on thousands of hotels (through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture). This is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card’s sister credit card. It has a lesser rewards rate, but the card doesn’t charge an annual fee.
The Venture travel rewards program is valuable, and you can rack up a lot of miles on everyday purchases by using this card — all for no annual fee. For even more perks, you can upgrade the VentureOne® to the higher-earning Venture® as you ramp up travel spending to offset the Venture’s annual fee of $95 (waived the first year).
The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express offers zero interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (then 15.24% – 26.24% variable). Additionally, the card comes with competitive cash back rates on everyday spending, like 3% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year (1% after that), unlimited 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% on everything else. Other cash back cards have a bit more flexibility when it comes to redemption options, but this is still a great option.
The intro APR offer with this card is great, but the real value comes from its tiered rewards structure. By hitting the maximum spend for 3% cash back each year, you’ll earn $180 in rewards from that category alone.
Everyone makes mistakes, including forgetting the due date for your credit card bill every now and again. Luckily, the HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card will forgive your first late payment penalty, so you can focus on paying off your balance instead of paying off additional fees. The card also offers an impressive 18-month introductory APR offer on new purchases and balance transfers (13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% variable APR after).
The regular APR (13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% variable after the intro period ends) is one of the best regular APRs on our top zero-interest credit cards list. If you know you might end up carrying a balance at any time past the intro offer period, this is a great card to have on hand to save on interest compared to other credit cards.
The Citi Double Cash Card offers one of the most competitive flat-rate rewards structures available. You’ll earn up to 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% back when you swipe and another 1% back when you pay for those purchases. While there is no introductory offer for new purchases, you can get 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers (15.74% – 25.74% variable APR after the intro period ends).
You’ll get the most cash back from this card by using it for your everyday purchases and paying off your bill in full each month. That same strategy will also help you maintain or even improve your credit score over time, which can help you qualify for lower interest rates, more favorable loan terms and more.
The Wells Fargo Propel offers a 12-month introductory offer on new purchases and qualifying balance transfers (16.24% to 27.24% variable APR applies after the intro period ends). Additionally, you’ll be able to earn some stellar rewards with the card.
The Wells Fargo Propel earns 3x points on all dining, gas stations, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. For those living in cities where ridesharing and transit costs are a common expense, you won’t find a card with better long-term rewards on these specific spending categories.