Interest-free credit cards

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What is an interest-free credit card?

An interest-free credit card lets you make payments or transfer debts without paying interest – for periods of between a few months and a few years. 

They’re also a great way to spread out the cost of a large purchase – without being stung on the repayments.

What types of interest-free credit cards are there?

There are quite a few credit cards which offer 0% interest on their services, but there are three main types of interest-free card you can expect to find:

0% interest purchase cards

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0% balance transfer cards

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0% money transfer cards

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However a balance transfer card might not be worthwhile if it won’t let you pay your debt off quicker.

How do 0% interest credit cards work?

Generally speaking, a 0% interest credit card works in the normal way: you borrow a sum of money either to make a big purchase or cover a debt, which you then pay back within a timeframe you’ve agreed with the lender. There are a few differences however, so here’s what you need to consider:


How long is the 0% interest period? 

No credit card is interest-free forever, or the lenders would never make any money. This means that the 0% periods they offer are capped, usually between about nine months to two-and-a-half years. The shorter the period, the lower the fees and the better the terms will usually be


How much are the fees? 

While there aren’t fees on purchases you make on an interest-free credit card, there usually are on balance and money transfer cards. Most lenders will charge between about 1% and 4% of the total amount you transfer. As a rule of thumb, the longer the 0%-interest repayment period, the higher the percentage fee


How long is the payment window? 

Many of these cards come with two different windows you need to think about. The first is the transaction period, when you make your purchases or transfer your balances, which usually lasts around three months. The second is the interest-free repayment window, when you can repay what you’ve borrowed at 0% interest. This usually lasts between around nine and 28 months


What will the APR be when the 0% period ends? 

Once the 0% repayment window comes to an end, the rate of interest you pay (the APR) will rise sharply, most likely above regular market rates. This makes it very important that you finish making your repayments before the interest-free period is over, because it’ll be costing you a lot of money


Consider a 0% purchase and balance transfer card

Some lenders have credit cards available that offer you 0% interest on purchases AND balance transfers for a time. These can be useful if you need to do both, but bear in mind that there will more than likely be separate interest-free periods for the two functions 

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How long does a 0% interest credit card last?

While the card will last until its expiry date, the 0%-interest period will last for as long as you have agreed. For purchases it can be as low as three months, but for balance transfers it’s usually between about nine months and 28 months. After that, your interest rate will shoot up.

Why isn’t my interest-free period as long as the one advertised?

Credit card providers usually advertise ‘representative’ deals on their cards – ie what the majority of people will be offered. If your credit rating is strong, you’ll more than likely get the headline deal, but if you have slightly worse credit, you might be offered slightly worse terms.

What happens if I miss a repayment?

You have to make an agreed minimum repayment on your credit card debt every month. If you miss a repayment on your credit card balance, or if you underpay, you’ll probably have to pay a penalty fee. What’s more, if you have any type of promotional offer with your card, such as an interest-free deal, this may be cancelled, and a missed payment may have a negative effect on your credit score.

What is APR?

APR stands for annual percentage rate and it represents how much it’ll cost to borrow money on a particular credit card. It’s calculated by taking into account your interest rate and any additional fees and charges.

However, you might see the term ‘representative APR’ on adverts for credit cards – this means that the interest rate quoted only has to be offered to at least 51% of successful applicants, so it may not be the actual rate you get when you apply.

Why am I paying interest on a 0% credit card?

Most providers will let you transfer balances between £100 and £10,000 to a new card – at most, around 90% of your current credit limit.

What fees are involved in balance transfer credit cards?

Every 0% interest credit card has a time limit on the interest-free period which is offered. While some 0% interest periods can last several years, in the end they run out.

Once the interest-free period comes to an end, the provider will start charging a sizable APR on any balance that remains on the card, potentially wiping out the savings you've previously made. That's why it's always best to pay off your balance before your interest-free window closes.

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