Key takeaways

  • To get a 0 percent APR card, you typically need a FICO credit score of at least 670 or a VantageScore credit score of at least 661, putting you in the "good" and "prime" ranges, respectively.
  • Having a FICO score of at least 740 or a VantageScore of at least 781 increases your chances of approval.
  • There are alternatives to 0 percent APR cards, like low-interest credit cards, that also may be worth considering in certain situations.

Credit cards with 0 percent introductory APR offers can be useful tools in a range of situations. For example, a zero-interest credit card can be used to fund a large purchase without paying extra interest charges. It can also be used for a balance transfer, allowing you to pay off old debt and save money on interest — making it easier to pay off what you owe.

In most instances, you need good to excellent credit to be approved for one of today’s best 0 percent intro APR credit cards. However, if you’re still working on building good credit, don’t worry. You can take steps to improve your credit score before applying, or you can consider other lower interest credit options — such as a personal loan — instead.

Here’s what you need to know about 0 percent intro APR cards, including why you need good credit to apply and what to do if your credit isn’t quite there yet.

0% APR cards require good to excellent credit

In most cases, qualifying for a 0 percent APR credit card requires a good or excellent credit score. This means you’ll need a FICO credit score of at least 670 or a VantageScore credit score of at least 661. If you have very good or excellent credit, which means a FICO score of at least 740 or a VantageScore of at least 781, your chances of approval are even higher.

But why do credit card issuers require a high credit score for these types of cards? Well, lenders want to make sure that you won’t default on your credit card debt, especially since they are offering you several months of zero interest on your purchase or balance transfer. Granting you that zero-interest time means the credit card company could take a financial loss if you fail to pay your debts.

The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers a 0 percent intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a 19.99 percent to 29.99 percent ongoing APR; balance transfer fee applies). Capital One requires  good” to “excellent” credit to qualify for the card.

If you want an even longer introductory APR period, the Wells Fargo Reflect® Card* offers 21 months of 0 percent intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate, balance transfer fee of 5 percent, minimum $5). The card has an 18.24 percent, 24.74 percent or 29.99 percent variable APR thereafter. And, as with the Capital One card, people with “good” to “excellent” credit are most likely to be approved for the card.

Alternatives to 0 percent APR cards

Apply for a low-interest credit card

If you have a fair credit score and a large purchase coming up, consider applying for a low-interest card. Some low-interest credit cards are available to people with fair to excellent credit, giving you the option to carry a balance without accruing high interest charges.

Keep in mind that your credit card interest will compound over time — which means that even if you have a low-interest card, you’ll still want to get your balance paid off as quickly as possible.

Apply for a personal loan

You may also want to consider taking out a personal loan — especially if you can secure a loan that offers lower interest than what you’re paying on your credit cards. You can use the personal loan to pay off your high-interest credit card debt, and then pay off the personal loan at a lower interest rate.

Ask for a lower interest rate

If you have poor credit and a small amount of credit card debt, consider asking your credit card issuer to lower your current interest rate. Many credit issuers will lower your interest rate if you ask, especially if you’re dealing with an unexpected financial hardship. If you have a history of on-time payments, you have an even better chance of having your request granted.

Wait and build your credit score

If you’re hoping to use a 0 percent intro APR card to finance a large purchase without paying interest, you may want to wait and build your credit score before you apply. That way, you get the benefits of zero interest and the benefits of good credit.

Many of the best credit cards for bad credit can help you build your credit score while minimizing your monthly interest charges. These cards tend to offer low credit limits, which could make it easier to keep your monthly credit card bill under control. Simply make a few small purchases on your card each month and pay your statement balance in full when it arrives. If you pay off your purchases before your grace period expires, you won’t be charged interest — helping you to build a positive credit history and improve your credit score.

The bottom line

In most cases, you’ll need a good or excellent credit score before you can successfully apply for a 0 percent intro APR card.

If your credit score isn’t quite there yet, you might want to build your credit before applying for a zero-interest credit card. You might also want to consider applying for a low-interest credit card or a low-interest personal loan, both of which could help you save money on interest charges — even if you don’t have good or excellent credit.

*The information about the Wells Fargo Reflect Card has been collected independently by Bankrate. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.