What happens when my 0% intro APR period ends?

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Credit cards that offer a zero percent intro APR can be extremely attractive to consumers—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 16 percent APR, which means that applying for a credit card with a promotional zero percent interest rate could save you a lot of money.

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

Here’s what you need to know about zero percent interest credit cards, including how to find out when your zero percent APR ends and how you can avoid paying interest even 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, including balances that you charged or transferred to the credit card during the promotional APR period.

If you’re not paying attention to your credit cards, you might not realize that your intro APR period is ending—and what happens when it does could come as a surprise. Make sure you know exactly when your promotional APR runs out, and what the standard variable APR will be moving forward, so you can avoid getting stuck with a large balance on a credit card that is about to start charging interest.

How do you find out when your 0% APR ends?

To find out when your intro APR ends, check 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, you can check your online account or app for information—and if you’re still uncertain, you can call the number on the back of your credit card and ask when your zero percent interest period ends.

You should also be aware that, in some cases, missing a credit card payment or making a late payment could cause your zero 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.

How do you find out what your APR will go to?

Once your introductory interest rate ends, your APR will go to a standard variable APR rate determined by your lender. Your actual interest rate will be determined in part by the prime rate and in part by your creditworthiness—which means that if your credit score isn’t great, you can expect to pay more interest than a person with good or excellent credit.

Review your credit card’s pricing and terms (sometimes called a Schumer Box) to learn what APR rates will apply after your zero percent intro APR ends. These rates will generally be presented as a range, such as “15.49 to 25.49 percent variable APR,” and your actual interest rate will fall somewhere within that range.

What’s the difference between 0% APR on purchases and 0% APR on balance transfers?

What happens when your zero percent interest period ends will be slightly different depending on whether it applies to purchases, balance transfers or both.

If you have a balance transfer credit card that only offers a zero percent intro APR on balance transfers, any purchases you make to the card can accrue interest. (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 ownership—so if you make balance transfers after that time period, they’ll accrue interest as well.)

When your introductory zero percent interest ends on a balance transfer credit card, your card issuer will start charging interest on any transferred balance that isn’t paid off. This is why it’s a good idea to try to pay off your transferred balance in full before your intro APR ends.

If you have a zero percent interest credit card that applies its promotional APR to both purchases and balance transfers, you won’t be charged interest on either purchases or transferred balances until your promotional APR period ends. Once your intro APR is over, expect to pay interest on any outstanding balance on your credit card, whether it came from purchases or from a balance transfer.

How can you avoid paying interest after the 0% intro APR period ends?

What happens when your interest-free period ends? Even after your zero percent intro APR period is over, it’s still possible to avoid paying interest. If you always pay your statement balance in full before your grace period runs out, you won’t be charged interest on your credit card purchases. Paying off your statement balance in full, every month, is the easiest way to avoid paying interest on your credit card.

If you can’t pay off your balance in full, your credit card issuer will start charging interest on your unpaid balance once your intro APR period ends. That leaves you with two options to avoid or reduce your interest charges: negotiating a lower interest rate or transferring your balance to a balance transfer credit card.

If you call your credit card issuer and request a lower interest rate, they may be able to accommodate you. According to a March 2017 CreditCards.com survey, 69 percent of cardholders who asked for a rate cut received one—so you could find yourself paying less interest on your outstanding credit card balance.

On the other hand, transferring that balance to a balance transfer card will often give you a fresh zero percent intro APR period during which you can continue to pay down your balance interest-free. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your finances, though we always recommend taking the path that allows you to pay off your credit card debt as quickly as possible.