Key takeaways

  • A 0 percent intro APR credit card can help you pay off existing debt or fund new purchases without paying interest.
  • When your promotional period ends and it’s time for the regular interest rate to kick in, if you still carry a balance, you can try negotiating with the issuer or consider other options to avoid high interest charges.
  • Hold on to your card after the promotional period ends, rather than canceling it, since that’s likely to benefit your credit score.

Credit cards that offer a 0 percent introductory APR can be extremely appealing — especially if you’re hoping to pay off old debt, fund a big purchase or cover a few months of expenses interest-free. Current credit card interest rates average more than 20 percent, which means that applying for a credit card with a promotional 0 percent interest rate could save you a lot of money.

But what happens when your 0 percent intro APR ends? With a credit card promotional rate ending, you could find yourself stuck with higher interest rates and a balance that you aren’t prepared to pay off.

Here’s what to know about 0 percent interest credit cards, including how to find out when your 0 percent APR offer ends and how you can avoid paying interest after your promotional period is over.

What happens when your 0% intro APR period ends?

Depending on your card, the 0 percent promotional period can last from a few months to 21 months or more. After the promotional period expires, you’ll start accruing interest on any unpaid balances. That includes balances that you charged or transferred to the credit card during the promotional APR period — not just new charges.

Be sure you know exactly when your promotional APR runs out and the standard variable APR you’ll pay after it so you can avoid getting stuck with a large balance on a credit card that’s about to start charging interest.

What’s your new APR when your intro period ends?

After your introductory interest rate ends, your APR reverts to a standard variable APR rate determined by your lender. You can find your credit card’s standard interest rate by reviewing your credit card statement.

You can also find out when your intro APR ends by checking your most recent credit card statement. It should include your current APR as well as the length of any promotional APR.

If you’re having trouble finding the end date for your intro APR on your credit card statement, check your online account or mobile app for information. If you’re still not sure, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask a customer service representative to check your account and confirm the promotional period expiration date.

In some cases, missing a credit card payment or making a late payment can cause your 0 percent intro APR period to end early. Some credit card issuers revoke the promotional interest rate as a penalty for late or missed payments, so read your credit card’s fine print and find out whether a late payment could cost you your introductory interest rate.

The difference between 0% APR on purchases vs. balance transfers

If your credit card offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases only, any balance transfers you initiate on the card will accrue interest. Likewise, if your credit card offers a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers only, any purchases you make on the card will accrue interest. Luckily, many of the best cards with 0 percent APR periods offer an intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers.

That said, it’s usually best to stick to one or the other. If you’re focused on paying down debt, avoid charging new purchases on your card, as you may end up simply replacing your old debt with new debt. On the other hand, a 0 percent APR on purchases is great for paying off a large purchase over time, but loading up the same card with a transferred balance could limit your spending power and drive up your credit utilization, which can be bad for your credit score.

Intro APR on purchases

If you have a credit card that offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases, any spending you put on the card won’t accrue interest until your promotional APR period ends. If you pay off your purchases in full before your 0 percent intro APR period expires, you won’t pay interest on them at all.

If you transfer a balance to a credit card that only offers zero interest on purchases, your credit card issuer will charge interest on your transferred balance immediately.

Intro APR on balance transfers

If you have a balance transfer credit card that offers a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers, you have the opportunity to pay off high-interest debt during the card’s promotional period. Keep in mind, though, that most card issuers charge a balance transfer fee that ranges from 3 percent to 5 percent of your transferred balance.

Also be aware that some balance transfer credit cards only apply the promotional interest rate to balance transfers made within a certain time frame, such as the first four months of card membership. If you make balance transfers after that period, they’ll accrue interest from the date of transfer. Any purchases you make on a credit card that only offers an intro APR on balance transfers will accrue interest at the standard interest rate.

Intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers

If your credit card offers a 0 percent introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers, you won’t be charged interest on purchases or transferred balances until your promotional APR period ends.

But you’ll have to read your card’s fine print carefully — your promotional APR period might be different for your purchases than it is for your balance transfers. For example, your card could offer 18 months of zero interest for balance transfers but only 6 months of zero interest for purchases.

What if you still have a balance after your intro APR period?

If you still have a balance after your intro APR period, don’t worry — you have options. Those options include to:

  • Pay off your outstanding balance as quickly as possible. It sounds obvious, but see if there’s room in your budget to pay off your remaining balance before your next credit card billing cycle ends (or at least over the next few months) to minimize the interest charged.
  • Negotiate a lower interest rate. Call your credit card issuer and request a lower interest rate. You may be more likely to get a lower rate if you have a positive credit history (no late payments, for example) and have kept your credit account in good standing for years — so keep that in mind before you make the call.
  • Consider a balance transfer. Transferring your balance to another card can give you a fresh 0 percent intro APR period during which you can continue to pay down your balance interest-free. Just take care not to fall into a credit card debt cycle.

One final consideration: If you’re experiencing financial hardship that is making it difficult for you to pay down your credit card balance, you can make a request to be considered for a credit card forbearance program. Some hardship programs offer reduced interest rates, while others allow you to defer your payments for a set period of time.

Can you extend your promotional APR period?

In most cases, you can’t extend your promotional APR period — after all, your card issuer has already waited this long to start collecting interest on your balance. Even though extending the promotional period isn’t an option, you might be offered the chance for a second promotional period. But this time you’ll likely get a low interest offer instead of a zero interest offer. These low interest promotional offers are typically sent to well-qualified borrowers who have other high interest debt.

You’ll usually get these types of offers through your card issuer’s online portal or by mail. In which case, the low-interest offer would only apply to any new balances you decide to transfer to your existing balance transfer card after the 0 percent APR period ends. That means any remaining balance from your previous balance transfer would still be subject to the standard APR.

Should you cancel your credit card when the 0% intro APR ends?

Unless you’re paying an annual fee, it’s probably more beneficial to keep the account open, even if you don’t plan to use the card in the future. Keeping that line of credit contributes positively to two of the most important factors that go into your credit score: credit utilization and length of credit history.

Closing a credit card, on the other hand, could reduce your available credit and eventually shorten your length of credit history — both of which could temporarily lower your credit score.

You might even want to continue using your credit card — not to avoid interest, but as an everyday spending card. The best 0 interest credit cards also offer cash back rewards, making them a valuable addition to your wallet even after the 0 percent intro APR expires.

The bottom line

When your intro APR ends, your credit card’s regular APR will kick in on any remaining balance and new balances. It’s important to know when your promotional period ends so you can work on paying off your balance beforehand and avoid being surprised by mounting interest on a residual balance.

If you have a balance remaining at the end of the intro APR period, you can double down and work on repaying it before it accrues much interest, request a lower interest rate to keep interest charges to a minimum or transfer the whole balance to a new credit card to take advantage of a new 0 percent intro APR period.