Credit cards that offer a 0 percent intro APR can be extremely appealing — especially if you’re hoping to pay off old debt, fund a big purchase or cover the next few months of expenses interest-free. Current credit card interest rates average around 18 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 you need to know about 0 percent interest credit cards, including how to find out when your 0 percent APR ends and how you can avoid paying interest after your intro APR period is over.
What happens when your 0% intro APR period ends?
Once the promotional period is over, 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 what the standard variable APR will be after that so you can avoid getting stuck with a large balance on a credit card that is about to start charging interest.
What’s your new APR when your intro period ends?
You can 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 are 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.
In some cases, missing a credit card payment or making a late payment could 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.
Once your introductory interest rate ends, your APR will go 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 agreement.
The difference between 0% APR on purchases vs. balance transfers
If your credit card only offers 0 percent APR on purchases, any balance transfers you initiate on the card will accrue interest. Likewise, if your credit card only offers 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers, 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, 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.
Intro APR on purchases
If you have a 0 percent interest credit card that offers an 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 any interest on them.
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.
Intro APR on balance transfers
If you have a balance transfer credit card that offers 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers, you have the opportunity to pay off high interest debt during the card’s zero interest promotion. Here are our picks for the best balance transfer credit cards.
Be aware that some balance transfer 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 0 percent intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers, you won’t be charged interest on either purchase or transferred balances until your promotional APR period ends.
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.
- Pay off your outstanding balance as quickly as possible. This may seem like an obvious one, 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 in order 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.
One final consideration: If you are 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 relief program. Some of these hardship programs offer reduced interest rates, while others allow you to defer your payments for a certain period of time.
Should you cancel your credit card when the 0% intro APR ends?
One of the main draws of a balance transfer card is the promotional 0 percent APR period. If at the end of that period you’ve paid off your balance, you might think it’s a good idea to cancel the card since it’s served its purpose of helping you manage debt or pay for a large expense over several months.
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. Many credit cards that offer a 0 percent intro APR also offer cash back rewards, making them a valuable addition to your wallet even after the 0 percent intro APR expires. Here are our picks for the best cash back credit cards.
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.