0% APR on Balance Transfers Is Not the Same As 0% APR on New Purchases. Here’s How to Choose the Right Credit Card Intro Offer for You

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Credit cards with an introductory interest-free period are a great way to save money and reduce debt, but it’s important to understand the terms of these deals before you apply. 

There are two common introductory offers you’ll find among credit cards, and they serve very different purposes: 0% APR on balance transfers or 0% APR on new purchases. Some cards even offer both. 

While balance transfer cards are good for debt consolidation, 0% APR cards — the shorthand typically used for cards with interest-free intro periods on new purchases — can help you save on upcoming purchases made after you open the card account. How you intend to use a new card with an introductory APR offer will make a big difference in the type of card you choose. 

Here are the big differences between these two card types, and how you can decide which card works best for your financial goals. 

Balance Transfer or 0% APR — Is There a Difference?

A credit card’s APR (annual percentage rate) is essentially the interest rate you’re charged for borrowing money. This rate is applied to any balance that remains on your account after your statement is due. Not only are credit card interest rates high — some can surpass 25% APR — but they compound daily, so the charges can add up exponentially fast. The best way to avoid paying interest on your credit card is to pay your balance in full each month. 

But before the ongoing APR (which you’re assigned upon approval) kicks in, some issuers offer an introductory 0% APR promotional period. These intro periods may apply to new purchases, balance transfers, or both. The type of offer most valuable to you depends on how you plan to use the card. Here’s the difference:

0% APR on New Purchases

If you have a large upcoming purchase to make, and want to pay it off over time, you’d be better off with a 0% APR period for new purchases. Say you plan to buy a $1,000 couch and you want the option to pay it off over time. If you open a card with an 18-month 0% APR intro period and make your purchase within the first month, you can pay as little as $55 per month toward the cost of your couch over that intro period, and pay off the purchase in full by time interest kicks in. Just make sure you have a plan to cover the purchase within the intro period — after that, you’ll pay the regular APR on any remaining balance. 

Pro Tip

If you’re using a 0% APR card to make a big upcoming purchase, consider a card with rewards or a welcome bonus to help you make the most of your spending. Some 0% APR cards offer a cash welcome bonus if you meet a certain spending threshold within the first few months of account opening.

0% APR on Balance Transfers

A balance transfer card, on the other hand, is more useful for existing debt balances. You can transfer your existing balance from one account to a card with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers, and make interest-free payments toward your debt during this period. Again, it’s important to have a plan for paying your balance in full by the time the intro period ends. If you don’t, you’ll begin to accrue interest at the regular APR on any balance you haven’t yet paid.

0% APR on Both New Purchases and Balance Transfers

Some credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR period for both purchases and balance transfers. They may be the same length or differ. For example, the Chase Slate Edge℠ Card has an introductory 0% APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 18 months followed by a 15.24 – 23.99% variable APR. The Citi Simplicity® Card offers 0% APR on new purchases for just 12 months, but has a 21-month intro period for balance transfers, variable APR of 15.49% – 25.49% thereafter.

This is why it’s important to understand the different purposes these types of intro periods can serve, so you can choose the card that’s best fit your goals. 

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Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card

Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card

Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
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Chase Slate Edge℠

Chase Slate Edge℠

Editor’s Score: (3.2/5)
  • Intro offer:
    N/A
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.24 – 23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site
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Citi Simplicity® Card

Citi Simplicity® Card

Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
  • Intro offer:
    N/A
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site

How Does a Balance Transfer Work?

A balance transfer is a debt payoff strategy in which you move debt from one account to another, usually to take advantage of an introductory 0% APR period. The goal is to pay your debt in full before the introductory period ends, or you’ll once again accrue interest on the remaining balance. 

You can save a lot of money on interest with a balance transfer, but there is often still a cost. Be aware of high balance transfer fees, says Cary Carbonaro, a certified financial planner and author of The Money Queen’s Guide

Some cards charge over 3% to 5% of the amount transferred, with a minimum payment of $5 or $10. But even with a balance transfer fee, you’ll likely save much more than you would paying your balance with interest over the same time period. 

Here’s an example:

Say you have a card with a $5,000 balance and a 16% interest rate, on which you pay the minimum monthly payment. You transfer your balance to a card with a 18-month intro period, balance transfer fee of 3%, and an interest rate of 18% after the interest-free period ends. If you pay off your balance in full over the intro period, you’ll save the greatest amount of money, but even if you can only make the minimum payment toward your balance during that time, you’ll still pay less. Here’s a look at the difference. 

Current Card Paying Minimum PaymentBalance Transfer Paid Within Intro PeriodBalance Transfer Paying the Same Minimum Monthly Payment
Monthly Payment Minimum (3% of balance)$286.11$150, then minimum (3% of balance)
Time to Pay Off181 months18 months169 months
Interest Rate 16%0%0% for 18 months, then 18%
Interest Paid$3,765.84$0$2,148.41
Balance Transfer FeeN/A$150$150
Amount Paid In Full$8,765.84$5,150$7,298.41

It’s important to pay attention the fine print of your card agreement when you open a balance transfer card, says Dominique Broadway, an award-winning financial planner, CEO, and founder of Finances De·mys·ti·fied. For example, the balance transfer fee that’s advertised may only apply if you transfer your balance within a certain period after account opening, or there may be a cap on the amount you can transfer before the fee increases. You should also know the regular APR you’ll be charged after the intro period, so you’re not surprised by any interest costs.

How Long Are 0% APR Offers?

Interest-free introductory periods for both new purchases and balance transfers can vary depending on the card you choose. Often, they range between 12 and 18 months, but you can find 0% intro periods for as long as 21 months. 

In many cases, the longer the intro period, the better, since you’ll have more time to pay down your balances. “When you’re at 0% APR, you should be paying as much as you can to get that balance [down],” Carbonaro says. 

But you should also consider whether you’ll want to use the card after the intro period ends, and the payments you can realistically make over the interest-free period. 

For example, you may find a card with only a 15-month intro period on new purchases, but it comes with 2% flat cash back rewards. If you know you can pay down your purchase within that 15-month period anyway, it can make more sense to choose the shorter intro period, so you also get the benefit of long-term value on your spending. 

You should also read the terms of your intro offer closely to ensure you get the full benefit, Carbonaro adds. If you pay late or your payment is returned, your issuer may revoke the intro offer, and your balance will begin accruing interest at the regular APR. In some cases, you may even take on additional fees or a higher, penalty APR. 

Once the introductory period ends, you’ll pay your assigned regular interest rate for any remaining balance, as well as any purchases or transfers going forward. As the end of your intro period approaches, pay close attention to your balance so you know how much more time you have to complete your payments, Broadway says.

The Best 0% APR Cards Right Now 

Editorial Independence

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

Wells Fargo Reflect Card

Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card
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Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
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Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
  • Introductory balance transfer rate:
    0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    13.74% – 25.74% Variable APR
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Long intro APR
  • No annual fee
  • Cell phone protection
Cons
  • No rewards
  • High APR after the introductory offer ends
  • Must meet requirements to get full 21 months of 0% intro APR
The Bottom Line
The no annual fee Wells Fargo Reflect Card offers an initial 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 18 months from account opening, with the potential for an intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the introductory and extension periods. After that, there will be a variable APR of 13.74% to 25.74%. It’s light on added perks and has no rewards, but carries one of the longest 0% intro periods available today.

Additional Card Details

  • Get a 0% introductory APR for up to 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers — start with a 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, then unlock up to three additional months with on-time minimum payments during the 18-month offer and the extension period, then a 13.74% to 25.74% variable APR thereafter
  • Cell phone protection worth up to $600 when you pay your bill with your eligible Wells Fargo card (subject to a $25 deductible)
  • Get access to My Wells Fargo Deals: earn cash back in the form of a statement credit when you use your eligible Wells Fargo card with select retailers
  • Roadside dispatch

The Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card has one of the longest introductory periods for purchases and qualifying balance transfers available today. You’ll have 0% APR for the first 18 months after approval automatically, and if you make on-time payments throughout that time, you can extend the intro period for an additional three months — up to 21 months in total. There’s a variable APR of 13.74% – 25.74% after that.

If you plan to use the card for balance transfers, you must make the transfer within 120 days of account opening and pay an intro 3% balance transfer fee (a minimum of $5) After the first 120 days, the fee will increase up to 5% ($5 minimum). 

Citi Simplicity® Card 

Citi Simplicity® Card
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Citi Simplicity® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
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Citi Simplicity® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.0/5)
  • Introductory balance transfer rate:
    0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • 0% Intro APR for 21 months for balance transfers and 12 months for purchases (then variable APR 15.49% to 25.49%)
  • No annual fee
  • No late payment fees or penalty APR
Cons
  • No rewards
  • No welcome offer
  • 5% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum)
The Bottom Line
The Citi Simplicity Card has one of the longest 0% introductory periods available for balance transfers, at 21 months from the date of your first transfer. For purchases, cardholders can benefit from 12 months of 0% interest, making this a great card option for consolidating debt or financing planned major expenses (15.49% – 25.49% variable APR thereafter).

Additional Card Details

  • Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening
  • Includes Citi Identity Theft Solutions protection
  • Choose your payment due date
  • Digital wallet compatible

The Citi Simplicity® Card offers a 0% introductory period for 12 months on new purchases, and on balance transfers for 21 months after account opening, variable APR of 15.49% – 25.49% thereafter. Balance transfers must be made within the first four months of account opening to qualify for the 0% APR, and there’s a 5% ($5 minimum) balance transfer fee.

U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card 

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
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U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Editor’s Score: (4.1/5)
Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
Editor’s Score: (4.1/5)
  • Introductory balance transfer rate:
    0% for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.24% – 25.24% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Long 0% interest intro offer for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • No penalty APR
Cons
  • Fees for late or returned payment
  • 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum) applies
  • No rewards structure
The Bottom Line
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum is a solid option for a 0% interest intro offer on new purchases as well as balance transfers, and it’s easy to see why: its 20-billing-cycle intro period (15.24% – 25.24% variable APR thereafter) is among the longest available. You won’t earn any ongoing rewards, but for debt payoff or forgoing interest on new purchases, this card is a great choice.

Additional Card Details

  • 0% introductory APR for 20 billing cycles on new purchases
  • 0% introductory APR for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers posted to your account within 60 days of account opening
  • Balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of balance, whichever is greater
  • No penalty APR
  • Cellphone protection for damage or theft up to $600 for up to two claims per year with a $25 deductible.

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card has a 0% APR introductory period for the first 20 billing cycles after account opening on new purchases and. The card also comes 0% APR for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers posted to your account within the first 60 days of account opening. There’s a variable APR of 15.24% – 25.24% thereafter, depending on your creditworthiness. 

There’s no penalty APR, but there is a late payment fee of up to $40. You can also expect a balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of the balance — whichever is greater. 

BankAmericard® Credit Card

BankAmericard® credit card
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BankAmericard® credit card
Editor’s Score: (3.9/5)
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BankAmericard® credit card
Editor’s Score: (3.9/5)
  • Introductory balance transfer rate:
    0% Intro APR for 18 billing cycles for any BTs made in the first 60 days. A 3% fee (min. $10) applies.
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    13.24% – 23.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Lengthy 0% APR offer for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • $100 statement credit bonus
Cons
  • No ongoing rewards or benefits
  • 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $10)
  • 3% foreign transaction fees
The Bottom Line
The BankAmericard credit card* is a simple 0% interest card best suited for anyone looking to consolidate high-interest credit card debt from other cards or pay off an upcoming purchase over time. It doesn’t offer any rewards, but you can pay down your debt interest-free with one of the longest 0% introductory offers on the market.

Additional Card Details

  • $100 statement credit online bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Introductory 0% APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles, as well as on balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening (13.24%-23.24% variable APR thereafter)
  • 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $10)
  • FICO Score for free, updated monthly

The BankAmericard® Credit Card has a 0% introductory period for the first 18 months for new purchases and balances transfers. Balance transfers must be made within the first 60 days of account opening to qualify for the 0% APR. There’s a variable APR of 13.24% – 23.24% thereafter. You’ll pay a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $10).

If you spend $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening, you can also earn a $100 statement credit. 

Chase Slate Edge℠ Card

Chase Slate Edge℠
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Chase Slate Edge℠
Editor’s Score: (3.2/5)
Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site.
Chase Slate Edge℠
Editor’s Score: (3.2/5)
  • Introductory balance transfer rate:
    0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    15.24 – 23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • No annual fee
  • 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months
  • Decrease interest rate over time with responsible use
Cons
  • No rewards for everyday spending
  • Some other cards feature longer 0% APR offers
  • Few added benefits
The Bottom Line
The Chase Slate Edge Card offers a few different ways for cardholders to save on interest and fees. Its biggest draws are an introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, and incentives for using your card responsibly, like a lower ongoing APR and increased credit limit. There are no long-term rewards on your spending, but this card offers among the longest intro APRs available today.

Additional Card Details

  • Get a $100 statement credit when you spend $500 on your card within six months of account opening
  • 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a 15.24% to 23.99% variable APR
  • Lower your interest rate by up to 2% each year you make all payments on time and spend at least $1,000 on purchases
  • Automatic credit limit review when you make all payments on time and spend at least $500 within the first six months
  • No annual fee

The Chase Slate Edge℠ Card has 0% APR on both new purchases and balance transfers for 18 months. You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of 3% ($5 minimum) if you transfer your balance within 60 days of account opening, or a 5% fee ($5 minimum) after that. There’s a variable APR of 15.24% – 23.99% after the intro period ends. Even after the intro period, you can lower your interest rate by up to 2% each year that you make payments on time and spend at least $1,000 on purchases.

The card doesn’t come with an annual fee and there’s $100 welcome bonus. You also may qualify for a credit limit increase when you make all of your payments on time and spend at least $500 within the first six months.