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How to choose a 0% APR credit card

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man sitting in kitchen looking at his phone and holding credit card
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Zero percent APR credit cards let you avoid paying interest on purchases, balance transfers or both for a limited time. However, card details vary quite a bit from there, with some offering longer intro offers and considerably more perks than others.

Fees can vary too, including annual fees and balance transfer fees. For these reasons and others, you’ll want to compare all the best 0 percent APR credit cards to find the best offer for you.

Key features to evaluate

As you evaluate zero interest offers, you should first think about what you want to accomplish. Are you hoping to avoid credit card interest on new purchases for a year or longer? Or, do you need a low interest credit card to consolidate high-interest debt from other cards?

Answering these questions is important since your goals will help determine which credit card suits you best. After you know what you hope to accomplish, you can decide which card to apply for based on the following key factors.

How long is the offer?

One of the most important details to keep in mind is how long each card offers 0 percent APR. Where most cards in this niche extend zero interest for at least 15 months, some credit cards offer 0 percent APR for up to 21 months.

The length of the zero percent 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 variable APR.

If you have a smaller purchase to make and only need a year or slightly longer to pay it off, for example, any number of 0 percent APR credit cards with intro offers for 15 months could work. If you have thousands in high-interest credit card debt you need to pay off, on the other hand, you should probably look for the longest 0 percent intro offer you can find.

What is the type of offer?

Also keep in mind that 0 percent APR credit cards extend their offers to purchases, balance transfers and sometimes both. In some cases, cards will even extend zero interest to purchases and balance transfers on different timelines.

For example, you might get 0 percent interest on purchases for 12 months with the same intro rate on balance transfers for 18 months.

Either way, you want to know the details ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

Are there any limitations?

Also keep your eye out for fine print and limitations, mostly because you don’t want to miss out on a great offer because you didn’t follow the rules.

What are the consequences if you pay late?

As an example, the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card comes with a 0 percent intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. However, you can qualify for an additional 3 months with 0 percent APR if you make on-time minimum payments during the introductory and extension periods (13.74% to 25.74% variable APR thereafter).

Also, be aware that, in most cases, missing a minimum payment on your credit card will cancel out the intro APR offer. In the fine print on the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card, for example, it clearly states the following:

“We may end your introductory APR and apply the regular purchase and balance transfer APR if you make a late payment.”

Are there any 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. That said, you’ll find plenty of cards with intro APR offers and rewards if you are okay with a shorter zero interest period (usually up to 15 months).

Examples of popular cash back credit cards with intro offers include the Chase Freedom Flex℠, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. One of the most popular balance transfer credit cards available today, the Citi® Double Cash Card, also offers 2 percent cash back on all spending—1 percent when you make a purchase and another 1 percent when you pay it off.

Are there any additional cardholder perks?

Make sure any credit card you’re considering has perks you want. Common benefits include extended warranties, cell phone insurance, purchase protection against damage or theft and travel insurance.

What credit score do you need to apply?

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 niche typically require good or excellent credit, so not everyone can qualify.

It’s helpful to get a free look at your credit score so you know where you stand before you apply.

What kind of fees are included?

Finally, make sure any credit card you’re considering has fees you’re comfortable with.

  • Annual fee. Most credit cards with 0 percent APR won’t charge an annual fee, but this isn’t always the case.
  • Balance transfer fee. This only matters if you plan to use your new 0 percent APR credit card to consolidate debt. Where most cards in this niche charge a balance transfer fee of 3 percent, a handful of cards charge 5 percent instead. By choosing a card with the lowest fee you can find, you can minimize the costs involved with transferring a balance.
  • Foreign transaction fees. This is only important if you plan to use the card overseas or with non-U.S. companies online.

The bottom line

Once you start comparing the best credit card offers, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There are almost too many good 0 percent APR cards today, many of which don’t even charge an annual fee.

Just keep in mind that, in the vast majority of cases, more than one 0 percent APR credit card could meet your needs. Once you do thorough research and ensure your credit is good enough to qualify, you should find a card you like and apply before the offer is gone.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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Part of  Introduction to 0% APR Credit Cards