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 APR, 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 than you realized—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?
What happens when your 0 percent APR 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.
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 time 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 balance transfer card?
Should you cancel your balance transfer card after its 0 percent introductory APR period ends? Not necessarily. It’s probably not a good idea to transfer any new balances to your balance transfer card after the end of the zero-interest period or, if there is one, the specific time frame for eligible balance transfers.
In other words: Don’t transfer a balance to a credit card unless you can take advantage of a 0 percent intro APR rate.
However, that doesn’t mean you should cancel your balance transfer card after the intro rate ends. There are a lot of good reasons to keep an old credit card open, including the ability to increase your available credit, lower your credit utilization ratio and boost your credit score. Closing a credit card, on the other hand, could reduce your available credit or shorten your credit history—both of which could temporarily lower your credit score.
This is why it’s a good idea to keep your balance transfer credit card open.
You might even want to continue using your balance transfer credit card—not for balance transfers, of course, but as an everyday spending card. Many balance transfer credit cards offer cash back rewards on new purchases, making your balance transfer card a valuable addition to your wallet even after the 0 percent intro APR expires.