The Bankrate promise
At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
Whether any credit card will positively impact your finances depends on how you use it. A 0 percent APR or balance transfer card can be a godsend if you make the right moves. If not, you could regret signing up for years to come.
Before you choose a credit card in this niche, it can help to know the potential advantages and disadvantages you’ll face. Not only can this inform your decision when it comes to which new card to get, but arming yourself with information can help you avoid ending up worse off than when you started.
Pros of 0% APR credit cards
The main advantage — avoiding interest — is obvious, but other potential upsides are more subtle. Consider these pros before you apply for a zero-interest credit card.
Save money on interest
This one shouldn’t surprise you, but 0 percent APR credit cards can help you save considerable sums of money on interest. This would be true regardless, but it’s especially true if your alternative is using a traditional credit card since the average credit card interest rate is over 19 percent.
How much could you save? Imagine you have $4,000 in credit card debt at a 19 percent APR, and you decide you can pay $200 per month. In that case, it would take you 24 months to become debt-free, and you would fork over $848 in interest along the way.
If you paid $200 per month with a 0 percent APR, on the other hand, you could become debt-free in 20 months with $0 in interest paid. That assumes your introductory offer is at least 20 months, which is in line with some of the best offers available right now, including the BankAmericard® credit card.
Consider using Bankrate’s credit card payment calculator to plug in your balance and interest rate and see how much you can save with a 0 percent APR card.
Lower your monthly payments
While interest savings could be your goal, going from a higher rate to a 0 percent APR can also lower your required credit card payment each month.
But remember, your credit card’s APR will pick up at the regular rate once your intro APR period ends. In other words, your lower monthly payment may not last long.
Pay down debt faster
Paying zero interest on consolidated debt with a balance transfer credit card can help you reduce your debt significantly faster.
Without any interest charges added to your bill each month, every cent you pay toward your debt goes directly toward your principal balance.
Enjoy perks and rewards on spending
Be aware that many credit cards with a 0 percent APR also let you earn rewards on purchases. This can include a welcome offer and cash back or rewards points based on each dollar you spend.
Improve your credit score
Finally, using any credit card can help you improve your credit score if you use plastic responsibly. Paying down debt can help boost your score since it lowers your credit utilization ratio, and making on-time payments on your card is the most important factor used to determine your FICO credit score.
Cons of 0% APR credit cards
While there are many upsides to consider with 0 percent APR credit cards, using your card the wrong way can cost you money. Here are the main downsides of using this type of credit card.
Late payments can foil your plans
First, it’s important to understand that making a late payment on a 0 percent APR credit card can forfeit your introductory APR period. This is because late payments are normally a violation of the introductory offer terms.
New credit cards can temporarily impact your credit score
Applying for a new credit card will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report that can ding your credit score. However, keep in mind that the impact is temporary and minor. Unless you need to keep your credit in tip-top shape because you’re applying for a loan soon, a slight decrease in your score is nothing to worry about.
Balance transfer fees can apply to transferred debt
While paying this fee may be well worth it for the interest savings, it’s still important to understand that balance transfers are seldom free.
Intro APR periods don’t last forever
Zero-interest offers are only for a limited time, usually anywhere from six to 21 months. When the intro period ends, the amounts you owe will begin racking up debt at your card’s regular variable rate.
And remember that credit cards typically charge higher interest rates than other financial products like personal loans and home equity loans.
Zero-interest offers can make you complacent
Last but not least, carrying debt at a 0 percent APR can give you a false sense of security. Since you know interest isn’t accruing on your purchases, your transferred debts or both, it’s easy to become complacent and pay less each month than you should.
Credit cards with a 0 percent APR — especially those with rewards — can even entice you to spend more than you planned.
When getting a 0% APR credit card makes sense
If you’re responsible with your finances and want to save money on interest for a limited time, a 0 percent interest credit card can be a boon for your finances. Consider signing up for one of these cards if:
- You’re planning to make a large purchase and believe you can pay off the full charges within the card’s introductory period.
- You’re serious about getting out of debt, and you have a plan to pay off all or most of your balance during the card’s introductory period.
- You’re in between jobs or recently faced some unexpected expenses, and you want a card that will give you some time to pay down new balances interest-free.
- You are disciplined enough to avoid racking up new balances you can’t afford to pay off.
- You consistently make on-time payments on credit cards and other bills, and doing so has never been a problem for you.
When you shouldn’t get a 0% APR credit card
The following scenarios indicate when a 0 percent APR card might cause more trouble than it’s worth:
- Credit card debt is a major issue in your life, or it was a major issue in the past.
- You have struggled to pay bills on time before and worry it will happen again.
- Having a new credit card could easily tempt you into overspending.
- You want to move your debt to a card with a 0 percent APR so you can spend more on your old cards.
You’re better off skipping 0 percent APR credit cards in any of these scenarios. You may even want to avoid taking on any new lines of credit at all — at least until you can develop a plan for your finances.
If you have credit card debt already and need to consolidate, you can also consider some alternatives to credit cards. For example, a personal loan would let you pay a fixed monthly payment with a fixed interest rate, and you’ll know exactly when you’ll be debt-free from the start. In the meantime, personal loans don’t make it easy to rack up new charges as credit cards do.
If you have some equity built up in your house, you could also use a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) to consolidate your debts. Either option may offer a lower interest rate than traditional credit cards do, and the loan will be secured by the value of your home.
Whatever you decide, remember that your old debts and new charges won’t go away on their own. A 0 percent interest credit card can help you save money and buy you some time, but the rest is up to you.
The bottom line
When used correctly, a 0 percent APR credit card could not only save you hundreds of dollars in interest fees, but it could also help you reach your debt payoff goal even sooner. There are other advantages, too, such as additional consumer protection and earning rewards. But these cards come with stipulations, like forfeiting the 0 percent introductory offer if you are late with a payment and balance transfer fees ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent.
If you’re disciplined in how you use the card and are fully aware of both the upsides and the downsides, a 0 percent introductory APR credit card could be an excellent tool for your personal finances. If you’re interested in applying, consider our list of the best 0 percent interest credit cards on the market today to easily compare your options.