0% APR Credit Cards: How They Work & How to Use Them Wisely

These cards can provide significant savings, but some have some potential pitfalls.
Last updated Sep 9, 2020 | By Ben Luthi
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There are several different types of credit cards on the market, each with its own unique features. Depending on your financial situation and needs, the right credit card can be a valuable financial tool.

Zero percent intro APR credit cards, in particular, can provide significant savings if you need to make a large purchase or transfer a balance from another credit card, then pay off the debt over time. If you’d like to learn more about what 0% APR means and how these cards can benefit you, we’ve got you covered.

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What is a 0% APR credit card?

A 0% APR credit card is a card that offers a 0% interest rate for a set promotional period. Among major credit cards, these promotions can last anywhere from six to 21 months. You can carry a balance on your credit card during the introductory period and pay no interest charges, as long as you make at least the minimum payment every month.

Once the introductory period ends, your interest rate will jump to the credit card issuer's regular APR, and you’ll start paying interest on the remaining balance unless you pay it in full.

It’s important to note that 0% APR deals are a bit different than deferred interest promotions. The latter is common with store credit cards and retail financing in general, and both offer no interest for a set period. The difference is that with deferred interest promotions, you have to pay off the balance in full before the promotional period ends, or you’ll owe interest retroactively based on the original debt amount.

It’s best to avoid deferred interest promotions unless you know for certain that you’ll be able to pay off the debt within the prescribed time. Even then, you’ll take on less risk with a 0% APR credit card.

How does a 0% APR offer work?

There are two different types of 0% APR offers and depending on the credit card you apply for, you may get one of the two or both.

Purchases

When you use a credit card normally, you’ll have until your monthly due date to pay your balance from the previous month in full — otherwise, you’ll owe interest on the amount you carry over to the new month.

A 0% introductory APR on purchases allows new cardholders to use a credit card during the promotional period without paying any interest on the balance, even if you carry it from month to month. The catch is that you need to pay at least the minimum amount due every month. Otherwise, you could lose your 0% APR promotion.

You can use a 0% intro purchase APR promotion for anything you can charge to your credit card. That includes things like home improvements, major appliances, tuition, or even everyday expenses. There are no fees or other costs attached to the promotion, which helps you maximize your savings.

Balance transfers

The average credit card interest rate is 16.61%, according to February 2020 data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, and many cards charge variable APRs that range upward of 20%. With a balance transfer 0% APR deal, you can use one credit card to pay off some or all of the balance from another, then pay it off interest-free over a set period.

As long as you pay off the debt before the promotion ends, you won’t pay any interest on the balance. If there’s a balance left over at the end of the promotional period, you’ll pay interest only on the amount that remains.

Balance transfer credit cards are solid options if you’re looking to consolidate credit card debt, and some cards may even allow you to transfer other forms of debt.

That said, there are some catches to 0% intro balance transfer APR deals:

  • Transfer fees: Most cards that offer balance transfer promotions charge an upfront balance transfer fee, which typically ranges from 3% to 5% of the transfer amount. This fee is rolled into your balance, which you’ll pay off over time. You can, however, find credit cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee, and some even offer 0% APR promotions.
  • Limitations: The amount you can transfer is often limited to your credit limit on the card you want to use. So if you have $10,000 in debt on one card and get a balance transfer card with a $3,000 limit, you’ll only gain interest savings on $3,000 of the initial debt. Also, some balance transfer cards may offer only a 0% APR on transfers requested within a certain time frame after you open your account — that’s typically four months or less.
  • Other interest: If you have a 0% APR balance transfer promotion on your credit card but not a 0% APR on purchases, you may not get a grace period on your purchases until you’ve paid the balance transfer in full. As such, it’s best to avoid putting new purchases on a new balance transfer card unless there’s a comparable 0% APR benefit on purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: These cards often come with foreign transaction fees, generally between 3-5%. They are not the best option if you plan to use them abroad.

Who can benefit from a card with a 0% APR offer?

Anyone who qualifies can take advantage of a 0% APR offer, so the list of the type of people who can benefit from one is long. However, here are three specific examples in which a 0% APR offer can make a significant difference:

  • People with emergency expenses: If you’ve lost a job, experienced a short-term disability, or dealt with expensive car or home repairs, a 0% APR credit card can help you cover the cost of your emergency expenses and give you time to pay for them interest-free.
  • People with crippling credit card debt: If you’re struggling to get ahead on paying down your credit card debt, high interest rates could be part of the problem. If you can qualify for a balance transfer credit card, you can remove interest costs from the equation, at least for a time, while you focus on eliminating your debt.
  • Small business owners: If you’re a new business owner with a lot of expenses and little revenue or you’re experiencing fluctuations in your sales, a 0% APR credit card can help you cover important expenses while you build your business. These offers can be especially valuable if your business isn’t established enough to qualify for a traditional small business loan.

What are some of the top 0% APR credit cards?

If you’re looking for a 0% APR credit card, there are plenty of options from which to choose. However, some cards stand out above the rest based on the length of their promotions and the other features they provide to cardholders.

Here are some of the best 0% APR credit cards available:

Card name 0% introductory APR offer Credit needed Additional perks
Citi Simplicity
  • 0% APR on purchases for 18 months
  • 0% on balance transfers for 18 months
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • No annual fee
  • No late fees
Citi Diamond Preferred
  • 0% APR on purchases for 18 months
  • 0% on balance transfers for 18 months
  • Excellent
  • Access to Citi Entertainment deals
  • No annual fee
Citi Double Cash Card
  • 0% on balance transfers for 18 months
  • Excellent
  • Up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% as you buy and 1% as you pay
  • No annual fee
Amex EveryDay Credit Card
  • 0% APR on purchases for 15 months
  • N/A on balance transfers for N/A
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • No annual fee
  • No balance transfer fee
  • Offers rewards and a welcome bonus
BankAmericard Credit Card
  • 0% APR on purchases for 15 billing cycles
  • 0% on balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening on balance transfers for 15 billing cycles
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • No annual fee
  • No balance transfer fee
Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
  • 0% APR on purchases for 12 months
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • No annual fee
  • Large sign-up bonus
  • 1.5% cash back on all spending

Citi Simplicity Card

The Citi Simplicity Card is best suited for people who want a long time to pay off a balance transfer. The card’s 0% introductory APR promotion lasts 18 months, which is a competitive length when it come to major credit cards.

You also get a 0% APR on purchases for 18 months. That means you have a long time to make and pay down purchases with the card. Just don’t plan to make any purchases after that period if you’re still working on paying off your balance transfer. This will help you avoid having interest accrue immediately on new charges.

In addition to a great balance transfer deal, the Citi Simplicity also charges no annual fees or late fees. That said, paying your bill late could cause you to lose your introductory APR, and it could also wreck your credit score.

One major downside to the card is that it doesn’t offer a rewards program. This means that once the intro APR promotion is over, there are few incentives to keep using this card. But if maximizing your savings with a long into balance transfer offer is a top priority, the lack of rewards may not matter.

No annual fee & 0% Intro APR

Citi Simplicity Card

Citi Simplicity Card

Citi Simplicity Card

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months
  • FICO Credit Score monitoring
  • No late, penalty, or annual fees

Citi Diamond Preferred Card

Similar to the Citi Simplicity, the Citi Diamond Preferred Card offers a 0% APR on purchases for 18 months. It also offers a 0% on balance transfers for 18 months.

Also, like the Citi Simplicity Card, this card doesn’t have a rewards program. However, you can use it to get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including presale tickets and exclusive experiences. Depending on your lifestyle, this benefit could provide lasting value.

Another way the two cards differ is that this one doesn’t waive late fees on the account, so it’s best to pay at least the minimum amount due each month.

No annual fee and 0% intro APR

Citi Diamond Preferred

Citi Diamond Preferred

Citi Diamond Preferred

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months
  • No annual fee
  • Free access to your FICO® Score

Citi Double Cash Card

The Citi Double Cash Card isn’t just one of the best balance transfer credit cards on the market, it’s also one of the best cashback credit cards.

The card offers an introductory 0% on balance transfers for 18 months. Additionally, you’ll earn up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% as you buy and 1% as you pay. This rewards rate is one of the best you can get, and it means you’ll get value out of the card long after the 0% introductory APR promotion is over. Like the Citi Diamond Preferred Card, you’ll get access to Citi Entertainment deals with the Citi Double Cash Card.

That said, there is no 0% APR deal on new purchases, which means that interest will be charged on all new purchases unless you pay your full balance (including the balance transfer) on time every month. So it’s best to avoid using the card for anything other than the balance transfer promotion until you’ve paid off that debt.

Earn Cash Back Twice

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months
  • 2% cash back on all purchases - 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay
  • No annual fee

Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express

The Amex EveryDay Credit Card is unique because it provides significant value: you’ll not only get a 0% APR on purchases for 15 months, but you’ll also get N/A on balance transfers for N/A. Plus, you’ll earn rewards in the form of a welcome offer and ongoing rewards.

In addition to interest savings, you’ll earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also get 2X points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year, and 1X on everything else. Regular users will also earn 20% more points for every billing period in which you make 20 or more purchases.

This card can be a solid option for someone who’s looking for both upfront and long-term value. However, its incentives to use the card early and often for new purchases could cause you to rack up more debt, which can be negative if you don’t have a clear plan to pay off everything you owe before the 0% APR promotion ends.

Bank of America BankAmericard Credit Card

If you’re looking for a card with no balance transfer fee and no temptation from rewards, the BankAmericard Credit Card should be on your radar.

It offers a 0% APR on purchases for 15 billing cycles and a 0% on balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening for 15 billing cycles. The balance transfer promotion, which includes no balance transfer fee, is only valid for transfers made in the first 60 days from opening your account.

Beyond that, the card doesn’t provide any benefits of note. But if your ultimate goal is to save money on interest and fees, this one’s tough to beat. Also, if you’re the type of person who might be tempted to spend more on a card that offers rewards, the BankAmericard credit card can be a safe bet.

Ink Business Unlimited Card

The Ink Business Unlimited is designed for business owners, and its 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months can provide some valuable savings. What’s more, you can earn $500 bonus cash back after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus 1.5% cash back on all spending.

These rewards only complement the card’s value 0% APR offer, and can be used to boost your bottom line. It doesn’t, however, have a 0% APR promotion on balance transfers.

Unlimited Cash Back

Benefits

  • $500 cash back sign-up offer
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all spending
  • 0% APR for 12 months on purchases
  • No annual fee

FAQs about 0% APR credit cards

As we researched 0% APR credit cards, we came across several common questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, along with their answers.

What is the best 0% APR credit card?

Because every card is different, there’s no single best 0% APR credit card out there for everyone. To find the right card for you, think about what you need and start with our top choices above to get an idea of which cards and features can best suit your needs.

Then compare these with other 0% APR credit cards to make sure you find the best one for you.

Does 0% APR mean no interest?

Yes, as long as you meet the requirements for the 0% APR promotion, you won’t pay any interest on your balance that coincides with the promotion. Just remember to pay off the debt before the 0% APR promotion expires, or else you’ll end up paying interest on the remaining balance.

What happens when a 0% APR offer ends?

When your 0% APR promotional period ends, your account APR will change to its regular APR, which was set when your account was opened. This may be a variable APR that takes into account your creditworthiness, or it may be a fixed APR. If you pay off your balance in full every month, you’ll continue to be able to use the card interest-free. But if you carry a balance from month to month, you’ll pay interest on that balance.

Which card has the longest APR offer?

Credit card offers change all the time, but the Citi Diamond Preferred and the Citi Simplicity Card are typically among those with the longest 0% APR offer on balance transfers. The Citi Diamond Preferred offers 0% on balance transfers for 18 months. The Citi Simplicity also offers 0% on balance transfers for 18 months. The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum also ranks high as a balance transfer card since it offers 20 months interest-free. Other cards with decent intro APR offers include the Citi Double Cash, the Chase Freedom Unlimited, the Amex Blue Cash EveryDay, and the Wells Fargo Platinum Card.

Can I lower my credit card APR?

If you have a credit card and want to try to get a lower APR without applying for a new 0% APR credit card, it is possible. Some credit card companies may be willing to lower your APR, either temporarily or permanently, if you call and ask.

Also, some card issuers may send balance transfer checks, which you can use to pay off other debts or make purchases.


The final word

Zero percent APR credit cards can provide some significant savings to people who need help with credit card debt. If you need to make a large purchase, pay some emergency expenses without the income to back it up or transfer a balance from a high-interest credit card, 0% APR deals can be just what you need to accomplish your goal.

Earn Cash Back Twice

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months
  • 2% cash back on all purchases - 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay
  • No annual fee