What happens when your 0% intro APR period ends?

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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 16 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.

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.

When does your intro APR end, and what’s your new APR?

Want to know 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. If you’re still not sure, you can 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.

Remember: Your credit card interest rate is determined in part by your creditworthiness. If your credit score isn’t great, you can expect to pay more interest than a person with good or excellent credit.

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

If your credit card only offers 0 percent APR on purchases, any balance transfers you make to 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 0 percent interest credit cards offer an intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers. That means you can have a year or more to pay down old debt and make new purchases without having to worry about interest charges.

Intro APR on purchases

If you have a 0 percent interest credit card that offers an intro APR on purchases, any purchases you make 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 those purchases. But if there is a balance remaining on your credit card after the intro period ends, your credit card issuer will begin to charge the standard interest rate.

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 at the rate indicated in your credit card agreement straight away.

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 transfer a balance to this card while taking advantage of the card’s temporary zero interest promotion.

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 ownership—so if you make balance transfers after that period, they’ll accrue interest from the date of transfer.

When your introductory 0 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.

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.

Learn more: What is considered a good 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. Once your intro APR is over, expect to pay interest on any outstanding balance on your credit card, whether it came from purchases or a balance transfer.

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.

Your first option is to pay off your outstanding balance as quickly as possible. Is it possible to pay off your remaining balance before your next credit card billing cycle ends? 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. 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. You may be more likely to get a lower interest 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.

You might also want to consider a balance transfer. Transferring your outstanding balance to a balance transfer card can give you a fresh 0 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.

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 percent 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 balance transfer card since it’s served its purpose of helping you manage debt. Or maybe you took advantage of 0 percent interest on purchases to 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 or 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.

The best 0 percent intro APR credit card offers

Now that you’re informed about how they work, you might be ready to pursue a zero percent intro APR offer. Here are a few of the best offers available right now.

Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card

  • Intro APR offer: 0 percent intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers and purchases
  • Regular APR: 12.99 percent-24.99 percent variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 3 percent ($5 minimum) for balances transferred within the first 120 days; 5 percent thereafter
  • Rewards: None
  • Annual fee: $0

Read our full Wells Fargo Reflect Card review.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

  • Intro APR offer: 0 percent intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers and 12 months on purchases
  • Regular APR: 13.74 percent-23.74 percent variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5 percent ($5 minimum)
  • Rewards: None
  • Annual fee: $0

Read our full Citi Diamond Preferred Card review.

U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card

  • Intro APR offer: 0 percent intro APR for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases
  • Regular APR: 14.49 percent-24.49 percent variable
  • Balance transfer fee: 5 percent ($5 minimum)
  • Rewards: None
  • Annual fee: $0

Read our full U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card review.