According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) 2019 report, users in the United States remain highly satisfied with their credit card services. However, saving cash through bonuses or cash backs is what influences most account holders when choosing a card provider. Diverse rewards in the form of cash backs or exclusive experiences attract consumers the most. Lower interest rates are another critical advantage.
Within this category, 0% APR credit cards strike attention with the offer of no interest. But let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a credit card with zero interest for an unlimited time. As tempting as it sounds, one should be aware of the characteristics of such cards. More importantly, there are certain situations where 0% APR credit cards are the best choice if you want to save cash. We are here to guide you through all the essential specifics that you should understand before you choose a card.
What Does “APR” Mean?
“APR” stands for annual percentage rate. When we talk about credit cards, APR is the same as the interest rate. So, why don’t banks use that term instead of APR? The reason being that they are legally obligated to do so. In other financial services such as mortgages, student loans, or auto loans, interest is not the only charge that applies to the account holders. Hence, the APR represents the combined costs that the borrower will have to pay on an annual basis.
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How Does the APR Function in Practice?
When applied to credit cards, the APR functions daily. What do we mean by that? Let’s say that your credit card balance is $1,000, and the APR is 19.71%. The daily rate amounts to 0.054% (19.71% divided by 365 days). It means $0.54 per day or $16.20 per month that you are to pay in interest to the bank. The thing is that if you let your debt revolve, you are to pay interest on $1,016.20 next month. So, the amount of your debt grows consistently every day.
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How Do 0% APR Credit Cards Function?
Basically, for a fixed period, the credit card issuer allows you to use their services without paying interest. The offers on the market range from six months up to almost two years. Once the introductory period is over, standard rates apply. At this point, you start paying interest for the cash that you borrow from the financial institution. Often, in these cases, the APR is higher than the average. That is one of the crucial features that you should recognize.
Additionally, the zero-interest credit card offers are mostly limited to precise services and don’t stretch over all possible credit card transactions. Furthermore, instead of charging interest, the credit card provider defines transaction fees which you should be aware of. After all, the bank needs to make some money out of each client. All in all, 0% APR cards are beneficial and provide a lot of room for saving money if you use them wisely. Let’s dive deeper into the topic.
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What Is NOT a 0% APR Credit Card?
There are also credit cards with deferred-interest promotions that make things even more complicated for you. The CFPB is already taking steps toward encouraging companies to be more transparent to customers in their credit card offers. However, the deferred interest, also known as retroactive interest, is catchy and might cost you a lot of cash. The offer sounds very similar to 0% APR cards. They state that there is no interest in a defined time frame if you pay the balance in full. The trick is that with those cards, you have to pay the whole amount you borrowed within the promotional period. Otherwise, you will pay interest not only on the balance but also on the cash that you have already returned. Usually, the interest rate reaches up to 25%, so you might end up paying one-fourth more than the original purchase price.
Retail stores are typically the ones to market such credit card offers to their customers. It allows a consumer to make a more expensive purchase by stretching out the payments over time.
Let’s say you want to buy a leather sofa for $1,250 with a 12-month deferred interest credit card and a 25% interest rate after the period is over. If you pay the whole amount before a year has passed, you will be paying only the price of the couch. However, if you paid $100 per month for a year and there is only $50 left unreturned, you would be facing an additional $312.50 in interest charges. Always check the terms and conditions on the offer, and don’t let yourself get surprised by unexpected expenses.
Types of Zero-Interest Credit Cards
As we mentioned previously, the 0% APR doesn’t apply to all credit card features. Generally, there are two kinds of cards offered on the market. The ones that don’t charge interest on your balance are the most common. In other words, there is no balance transfer APR in the introductory offer. The second type extends the 0% interest offer to the purchases that you make with the credit card.
Balance Transfer Credit Card
The 0% APR cards are often also referred to as balance transfer cards. For a fixed period of six, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, or twenty-one months, there is no interest piling up on your balance. It means that you could transfer your balance from other credit cards onto this one and make a sound financial plan on how to pay it back. It is a perfect opportunity to consolidate your debt without getting into the limbo of paying more interest every day. These cards rarely offer many rewards, and they are quite strict with terms and conditions. If you don’t respect them, there might be financial consequences. Such cases include being late on payments or failing to reach the minimum.
Something important to clarify is that no balance transfer APR applies only within the predefined period. Afterward, there will be interest accumulating on top of whatever balance is left. However, there won’t be any retroactive charges. The interest will apply only to the remaining balance. Let’s say you transferred a balance of $3,000 on your 18-month intro 0% APR card at the beginning. Within this time, you managed to pay off $2,300. The remaining $700 will start accumulating interest according to the applied APR after the introductory period. However, the lender will not charge you for the money that you have already paid.
Zero-Interest Cards with No Purchase APR
The purchase APR is the interest rate you would pay if you use your credit card for shopping. Many credit card offers not only include a 0% balance transfer APR but also extend the offer to no purchase APR. The latter applies within a specified period that could be different than the one for the balance transfer APR. Usually, it is a shorter one. If you have such a card, you could use it to buy expensive items while lessening the burden of paying for them all at once. This feature is especially useful if you are exact in planning your budget and expenses. Unless your 0% APR credit card has this advantage, it is not advisable to use the card for making purchases.
What Other Fees and Expenses Should I Consider?
Balance transfer and purchase APR are the key characteristics of a credit card. However, many more fees and terms define the overall qualities of a credit card. It is best to be familiar with them to choose the best option for your situation intelligently.
Most 0% APR credit cards offered these days come with no annual fee. It means that the card issuer doesn’t charge you just for using their services yearly. Always check the terms carefully. There are credit cards that promise surprisingly beneficial conditions that are compensated by the presence of an annual fee. Don’t let that discourage you from considering them. After all, paying $150 per year might still save you more on interest or other rewards.
Balance Transfer Fee
The convenience of no interest on your balance often comes with a price. Scrutinize the terms and conditions to see if and how much you should pay when transferring the balance from other cards. Regular practice is that card providers charge 3% to 5% of the amount of the balance or a fixed fee (whichever is greater) when you make balance transfers. It could be a bit inconvenient if you are making several transfers. However, it could still be less financially painful if you are trying to pay off your debt.
If you search more extensively, you will find out that there are credit cards that offer a promotional period with no balance transfer fee. Such periods generally range from 30 to 60 days from the day of the account opening. These are a perfect choice if your primary motivation to use a 0% APR credit card is to clear off a balance that you have accumulated.
Cash Advance APR
By now, you should know that credit cards are not the source to use when you need cash. Regardless, we know that there are situations in which withdrawing money from the ATM is the only possibility. In that case, the card issuer charges you with very high cash advance APR, which applies immediately. So, there is no way to avoid paying it. The 0% APR credit card is no different in that sense from any other credit card. If you want to save money, we strongly advise against getting a cash advance with your credit card.
The introductory APR is not another type of interest that you have to pay. It is the term used to signify the interest rates within the promotional period. For example, the introductory rate could be 0% on your balance transfers for 18 months and 0% on purchases for 12 months.
Once the introductory period is over, the APR rates change, and you start paying interest on both balance transfers and purchases. This is called an ongoing APR, and in most cases, it is a variable rate. Ongoing APR is a substantial credit card feature if you plan to transfer your balance even after the introductory period is over. So, in this case, you are looking for a lower ongoing APR.
The APR could be fixed in advance or variable. Most of the 0% APR credit cards offer variable interest. The reason is that the rate is defined based on your credit score once the introductory period is over. The variable APR generally ranges from 13.99% to 29.99%. If you have a better credit score, you might get a lower rate, and vice versa. When you are making your choice, it is better to consider the higher interest rate rather than falling for the lower one. The chances of the card provider offering you a low APR are not very likely.
Don’t forget to take a thorough look at the fine print. All of the marvelous conditions that your credit card is offering might get eradicated if you don’t follow all of the rules carefully. A standard penalty applies if you miss your minimum payment due. It might result in a penalty APR or even waiving the 0% APR on your balance transfers.
What About Rewards and Bonuses?
Typically, you choose your credit card primarily based on the cash that you will save through cash-back rewards, bonuses, or collected points. However, if you are on the lookout for a 0% APR credit card, you might lower your expectations in this domain. You are already saving huge by not paying interest for a specified period, so don’t anticipate a substantial sign-up bonus. Some cards allow you to monitor your credit score for free, which is quite helpful if you are working on improving it.
Travel miles or any exclusive experiences shouldn’t be on your requirement list at all. However, there are more and more 0% APR credit cards that also offer significant rewards in the form of cash-back, membership points, or sign-up bonuses. Some cards offer 3% cash-back in the first year for up to $20,000 purchases or a $250 bonus for account opening. You might end up saving up to $600 if you make a smart choice based on your lifestyle and needs. Some budgeting apps might help you to determine where you spend most. Don’t forget to calculate the sign-up bonus.
Finally, How Much Do I Have to Pay?
Is all of this information on APR, fees, and other charges getting you confused? Don’t worry – there is a place where you can concisely locate all of this data. Look for the Schumer Box. It appears as an information table where you should see the APR and all of the fees that come with using a credit card. This standardized table was named after the senator, who worked to make it compulsory for credit card companies to display all of the originating charges for an account holder.
Can I Avoid Paying Interest?
Credit cards are tools that allow you to borrow money for your purchases even if you find yourself short on cash. At the end of the billing cycle, you receive the list of payments that you made in that period. Unlike in the cash advance APR, interest does not apply to the money that you spent on purchases when you pay them back to the lender within a particular time frame. The so-called “grace period” ranges between 21 and 25 days. However, if you don’t manage to cover all of your expenses, you start bearing the costs of interest on the remaining balance.
Moreover, the credit company applies a purchase APR on anything that you buy until you pay off your balance. So, be smart and don’t use your credit card as a source of money that you don’t possess in reality. Eventually, the balance will catch up with you. You don’t want to find yourself in the predicament of taking out a loan to cover your debts.
What Role Does My Credit Score Play?
First of all, we have bad news for all of you whose credit score is not bright and shiny. 0% APR credit cards are available primarily to people with a good or excellent credit score, meaning above 660. Anybody else should put a lot of effort into researching options available to individuals with lower credit scores.
If you qualify for a 0% APR card, your credit score is what determines the ongoing APR after the introductory period finishes. The calculations go like this: The higher the credit score, the lower the APR, and vice versa. If your credit score is a little bit above the good credit range, count on the highest interest rate when choosing between credit cards. If you are not entirely sure if you qualify for a credit card, consider issuers that offer you the possibility to check in advance without formally applying. The latter serves as a red flag if you are not approved and has an even more significant negative effect on your credit score.
How Is My Credit Score Formed?
The CFPB defines three groups of credit card users – transactors, revolvers, and dormant/inactive. The first group consists of people who pay their balance regularly. Revolvers are customers who periodically transfer a balance from month to month. Inactive accounts are those with no purchases, balances, or payments made within consecutive billing cycles. The 2019 CFPB’s credit card market research showed that two-thirds of the account holders in the United States are classified as revolvers. If you belong to that group, your credit score is probably not the best, while transactors enjoy higher credit scores on average.
The other significant factor that influences credit ratings is credit utilization. That is the ratio between the size of your debt and the credit limit. 30% is considered to be the threshold. In other words, if your credit limit is $5,000, you should not let your balance go any higher than $1,500.
Experian’s 2017 annual state of credit survey shows that people born after 1982 have the lowest credit scores. These can range between 634 and 638, with Generation Z (people born after 1996) scoring in the lower end. If we take into account that these consumers are younger people, usually students, things seem reasonable. They have yet to develop their credit file, acquire credit cards, and prove that they know how to use them. If you are a student and recognize yourself in this description, check out our suggestions for the best student credit cards.
How Applying for a 0% APR Credit Card May Affect Your Credit Score
Credit bureaus register an application for a new credit card as a hard inquiry. This action immediately raises flags, and your credit score is bound to be affected. However, after the account opening, your rating should return to its normal levels. If you think that your credit score is not high enough to qualify you for a 0% APR credit card, it is better to reconsider applying for now. Continue your search until you find an offer that checks all of the necessary boxes and answers your needs.
Simple Steps to Improving Your Credit Score
There are a few things that you can do to improve your credit score that mainly require strong will and discipline. Additionally, they will help you improve your financial habits, and you can even prepare for a recession. First of all, use your credit card wisely. Here is how.
Pay Within the Grace Period
Avoid APR charges due to missing the grace period. If you pay your dues within 21 days of making a purchase, you won’t bear the cost of the interest.
Stay Below 30% Credit Utilization
If you can’t make your payments on time and you have to carry a balance from month to month, try to keep it under the 30% line of your credit limit. Anything above that threshold means a sure dip in your credit score.
Pay More Than Your Monthly Minimum Due
The minimum that credit card providers require is that you pay between 1% and 3% of your balance at the end of every billing cycle. Let’s say your balance is $1,350; your minimum due would be up to $40.50. If you want to improve your credit score, work hard to pay more than that amount. It will also influence the size of your credit card debt and eventually will lead to raising your credit score.
Ask for a Lower Rate
If you are diligent and persistent in paying off your debt, you might qualify for lowering your APR. You could inquire with your credit card provider about what options you have. There is a chance that the bank won’t approve of your request. However, there is no harm in trying to obtain a lower rate.
Only Spend What You Have
If you find yourself in a situation with high debt and a poor credit score, you might consider 0% APR credit cards or other cards for bad credit. However, these solutions are designed to help you only if you face the root cause of your problems. Perhaps you spend more than you earn. There is no way to improve your situation unless you take serious measures to deal with your spending choices. Next time when you consider a new purchase, ask yourself, “Do I need it, and can I pay for it?” If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then go ahead. If there is even a single “no,” then think twice before buying.
0% APR Credit Cards – When Do I Need One?
A zero-interest credit card is most likely not the one you would choose if you are on the lookout for your first credit card for everyday needs. There are certain situations where the features of a 0% APR credit card might come in handy to help you solve a financial issue.
Balance transfer credit cards are the best if you are searching for options to save cash and pay your debt. Maybe you are transferring the balance from month to month on a couple of credit cards. If so, consider moving them all onto a 0% APR credit card with no balance transfer APR. For example, if your card’s introductory period is 12 months, you would have a year to pay your credit card debt without paying the interest. If you have a debt of $2,000 on all of your cards and the average interest rate is 18.25%, you would have to pay about $200 per month to pay it off in a year. If you transfer the balance onto a 0% APR card and continue paying $200, you would return your debt in 10 months.
There are a couple of things to consider when you are making the calculations: Is there a balance transfer fee? How much will it cost? In the case illustrated above, the fee could amount to between $60 and $100, depending on the size. Still, it is less than the $365 that you would have to pay if you stay with your old account.
The introductory period is also essential. Estimate whether the time frame would be enough for you to pay your total debt, or you would have to continue transferring it. In the case of the latter, the ongoing APR is as vital as all of the other zero-interest credit cards.
Planned Expensive Purchases
The time has come to renovate your house or buy a single pricey item. Or maybe you finally decided on that family vacation that you have been postponing for a while now. If that is the case, you might consider taking a 0% APR credit card with the option of no purchase APR. That will give you enough time to pay your bill without the financial burden on the family budget of paying all at once. There is one thing that you should consider: If you don’t have a 0% APR credit card already, it will take two to three weeks to apply and open your account. So, your purchase shouldn’t be urgent. Be aware that the no purchase APR might have a different introductory period than the period of APR on balance transfers. Don’t make the mistake of miscalculating or putting off your purchase for too long.
A 0% APR credit card is a possible solution in case of any urgent expenses that might destroy your budget or perfect credit score. Examples include high medical bills, expensive car repairs, or moving to a new location. In some of these cases, you might have time to plan and decide to apply for a 0% APR credit card account with no purchase APR and pay for the bills directly with the card. In other situations, you can use your current credit card. Later you could apply for a zero-interest APR credit card account and transfer the balance onto the new card. That could give you some breathing room to adjust to the unique situation.
How Much Should My Monthly Payments Be?
As we mentioned previously, the minimum requirement that credit companies expect from their customers is that they make monthly payments amounting to 1% to 3% of their balance. It is very tempting to do only pay the minimum amount due. However, minimum payments only lead to paying more in interest and extending the period in which you are paying off the balance. This video explains what happens if we make only the minimum monthly payments. What we recommend is to pay off as much as you can as soon as you can. This advice applies even in the case of a 0% APR credit card. Doing otherwise will only postpone the costs for later. And if you leave an outstanding balance, you might not like the APR that you will get after the introductory period is over.
What to Do When the Intro Period Is Over
If you used your 0% APR credit card to pay off your debt, in the best-case scenario, you managed to accomplish your goal. So, what should you do now with your credit card? Closing it is not the smartest choice. It will only negatively affect your credit score. It is better to keep the account, especially if there is no annual fee. To improve your credit score, you want to get into the group of transactors. This card could help you achieve just that. Charge some small purchases on this credit card from time to time, and pay them with no interest within the grace period. That will help you boost your credit score.
Maybe the calculations show that you won’t be able to pay off your debt within the introductory period. Then you should aim for cards that offer lower ongoing APR. What you can do is try to improve your credit score before your introductory period is over, so that you may get assigned with lower rates. If you don’t have access to your credit score, consider getting a free credit report. It will help you determine how you are doing on your credit dossier.
How to Choose the Best 0% APR Credit Card
If you find yourself in one of the situations described above that screams for a 0% APR credit card, you will be amazed by how many offers there are on the market. Don’t just go with the first option that comes your way. Do your research and choose wisely based on your current needs. There is a difference if you want the credit card to pay off your debt or to make a planned expensive purchase. Here is a summary of the features that you should look into when exploring offers.
First of all, make yourself aware of your credit score. You can create an assumption based on your credit report (and while you are there, double-check that you are not a subject of identity theft). Account owners with prime or super-prime credit scores have a variety of offers to choose from. However, if you don’t belong to that group, you shouldn’t be so picky. Prepare for limited choices.
Introductory Period Length
No matter if you are consolidating debt or planning to buy a high-priced item, the length of the no-interest period is probably the essential feature to look into. You can find offers ranging from six to twenty-one months in duration. Cards with more extended introductory periods will most likely have a higher balance transfer fee and a higher ongoing APR. It is a good option if you do your math well, and you make sure to pay off your balance/purchases within the introductory period. If you want to estimate your savings, don’t forget to calculate in the balance transfer fee.
Cards with shorter introductory periods are designed to attract new clients. The incentive is that customers continue to use their credit cards even after the promotional period is over. Therefore, lower ongoing APR or diverse rewards are probably included in the offer. This is a good option if you have a smaller balance to pay off, and your current credit card lacks certain features.
If you want to consolidate debt, you probably don’t need the 0% purchase APR feature. However, it might come in handy at certain moments. Nowadays, you can find quite good offers that combine both zero APR on balance transfers and no purchase APR. Some of the credit cards on the market have a different introductory period for each APR, with the purchase APR period being shorter. Be careful not to use your credit card for shopping after the intro period is over unless you plan to pay within the grace period. Otherwise, you will end up paying interest on those purchases.
Lower Ongoing APR
When your debt is substantial, maybe even the lengthiest 0% APR credit card won’t provide you enough time to clear your balance. Pay extra attention to the ongoing interest rates. Consider the option for compromising with the length of time and choose a card with a lower ongoing APR.
Balance Transfer Fee
Most of the 0% APR credit cards charge a fee for transferring balances. However, there are credit card issuers that don’t ask for such a fee if you make your balances within the specified period. When comparing two credit card offers, don’t forget to calculate the costs that will ensue or the money that you will save based on the existence and size of the balance transfer fee. And if there is a certain period to do your balance transfers for free, don’t miss the deadline.
Foreign Transaction Fee
If two cards offer similar conditions and you love last-minute travel deals, pay attention to whether there are any foreign transaction fees. You don’t want to get surprised by your bill at the end of the month after a fantastic trip to Rome, do you?
Credit card providers are competing for clients by offering tempting rewards programs. Sign-up bonuses or high-percentage cash-back on specific products or all purchases are just some of the features of rewards cards. If a card offers 5% cash-back for $5,000 spent in U.S. supermarkets, it equates to $250 saved. What is more, rewards are unlimited and don’t expire after the introductory period is over. Check if there is an annual fee, though. Additionally, a rewards card will most likely have a shorter 0% APR intro period.
Pay Attention to the Fine Print
As with any contract that you are signing, you shouldn’t forget to read all of the terms and conditions of your credit card carefully. Certain situations can result in your grand offer becoming another financial burden in your already thin budget.
Don’t Be Late with Payments
If you are usually late with your payments, you should reconsider taking on a 0% APR credit card. Most of these cards hold strict penalties for late payments that may result in a penalty APR or even waiving your introductory zero-percent APR offer. The penalty APR might be in effect for up to six months. So, better put those reminder apps into use and try to be as punctual as possible. If this is an issue for you, check for offers that are more tolerant towards late customers.
Don’t Miss the End of the Introductory Period
People tend to forget when their promotional period is about to end. This is a common mistake. At the next billing cycle, the ongoing APR comes into full force, and the numbers will be much to your surprise. Try to pay off your balance within the introductory period – even better a month before, to be on the safe side.
0% APR Credit Cards to Consider
If you have decided that a no-interest credit card is what you need now or in the future, here are a couple of tempting offers with sign-up bonuses or cash-back rewards. If you don’t find one that suits your needs, continue searching for the best 0% APR credit card for you. Just be aware that if you want to do balance transfers, you should apply with a credit card provider different than your current one. Usually, it is not permitted to transfer within the same card issuers.
BankAmericard Credit Card
Bank of America’s card guarantees no purchase APR for 15 billing cycles. For balance transfers made within the first 60 days of the account opening, there is no balance transfer APR applied for 15 billing cycles either. Balance transfers are for free for the first two months. After that, future balance transfers are charged with 3% (min. $10). The variable APR after the promotional period ranges from 14.99% to 24.99%. There is no annual fee or penalty APR for being late. However, late payment results in a $39 penalty. You can also access your FICO score for free. BankAmericard is slightly more generous than other banks with a grace period of 25 days.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
One of the most popular credit cards on the market, Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a 15 month no APR on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period is over, the variable APR ranges between 16.99% and 25.74%. Within the first 60 days, the balance transfer fee is 3% of your balance (min. $5). After that, the fee rises to 5% (min. $5). There is no annual fee. More importantly, with Chase Freedom Unlimited, you earn cash-back amounting to 1.5% of the price of your purchase. A sign-up bonus of $200 is waiting if you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months. If you already have a Chase card, don’t forget about the friends’ referral offer. You can earn $100 per friend’s account opening. There are other tempting offers, so consider comparing all Chase cards, not only the Freedom Unlimited.
Citi Simplicity Card
Citi’s offer is one of the lengthiest on the market – 21 months of no APR on all balance transfers made within the first four months. There is also a 0% purchase APR for 12 months. Variable APR applies after that, amounting to between 16.74% and 26.74%. The balance transfer fee is more costly – 5% of the balance amount (min $5). Citi Simplicity Card doesn’t charge late penalty fees or rates, and there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Blue Cash Everyday
The Blue Cash Everyday has an introductory period of 15 months with no purchase or balance transfer interest. The variable APR after that is 14.99% to 25.99%. The balance transfer fee is 3% of the balance or $5, whichever is greater. Here is a bonus: You can earn up to $175 in cash-back if you spend up to $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. There is 3% cash-back for supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases), 2% in U.S. gas stations and selected department stores, and 1% on all other purchases. Be aware that there are both penalty APR and penalty fees for late payments.
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U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card
The U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card offers no purchase or balance transfer APR for the first 18 billing cycles. There is a 3% or a minimum of $5 balance transfer fee. The variable APR after the intro period is 14.49% to 25.49%. There is no penalty APR, but there is a late payment penalty fee. No annual fee applies either, and the foreign transaction fees are lower. The grace period ranges between 24 and 30 days. Keep in mind that to qualify for this visa card, you have to have an excellent credit score.
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