Key takeaways

  • Zero-percent APR credit cards can help you save on interest and pay off debt quicker 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.

Zero-percent APR credit cards 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.

Decide what type of offer suits your needs

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.

The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card, for example, offers 0 percent intro APRs 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).

Balance transfer offer

If you’re looking to pay down your credit card debt by consolidating it all onto a new balance transfer credit card, you’ll need to make sure the card you’re considering has an attractive offer on balance transfers. This typically means that the offer should work for you in terms of both the length of the intro period and the balance transfer fee you’ll have to pay.

Purchase offer

If you’re looking to finance a large purchase and don’t want to worry about paying interest while you carry a balance, then you need to focus on the card’s purchase APR and other associated details. You won’t have to worry about a balance transfer fee, but you might have to worry about 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.

Find out the length of the intro APR 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; it describes the amount of time before your credit card interest rate resets to the regular APR.

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.

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 too many payments or don’t pay attention to 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.

Make sure you understand the 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. Most credit cards with a 0 percent intro APR won’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. 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).

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 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 Citi Double Cash® Card. This flat-rate cash back credit card offers up to 2 percent cash back on all spending (1 percent when you make a purchase and another 1 percent when you pay it off). In terms of an introductory APR offer, you’ll get a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by an 19.24 percent to 29.24 percent variable APR.

Look into additional cardholder perks

Make sure any credit cards you’re considering offer perks that you want or could use. Common benefits include: 

Figure out what credit score you need

While you’re checking out all the card details, you should also consider whether you have a chance at being approved for the 0 percent APR 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.

6 questions to ask when comparing 0 percent APR cards

As a final checklist, here are questions you should ask yourself when comparing 0 percent APR cards to find the best for your circumstances, budget and financial goals.

  1. Do you want an intro APR for purchases, balances — or both? Depending on the card, your intro APR may apply to only purchases or only transferred balances. Knowing how you’ll use the intro APR can help you narrow down your options.
  2. How long does the intro APR last? How long an intro APR offer lasts may not matter too much to you if you want to pay off your balance in a relatively short amount of time (for instance, 12 months or less). If you have a lot of high-interest debt to consolidate, however, you should know that longer offers give you more time to make progress.
  3. What variable applies after the intro offer ends? Know the variable rate you face when your 0 percent period expires. 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.
  4. Do you want to earn rewards? 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.
  5. What fees will you pay? If you’re consolidating debt, compare cards based on their balance transfer fees — typically 3 percent or 5 percent of the amount of debt you transfer. And check whether a penalty APR applies if you make a late payment.
  6. Can you keep the card for the long haul? The average length of your credit history makes up 15 percent of your credit score. 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.

The bottom line

With so many 0 percent intro APR cards to choose from, it may feel overwhelming to narrow down the best for your needs and budget. But by taking into consideration the credit scores required for approval, fees associated with the cards, additional card perks and the offer length that best suits your payoff timeline, you can compare cards that fit your circumstances best. Start with our best 0 percent intro APR credit cards on the market for 2024 to avoid interest for up to 15 months or longer.

*Issuer-required disclosure statement
Information about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has been collected independently by Bankrate. Card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.