Credit card offers with 0% APR: What’s it really mean?

March 1, 2018

A comprehensive financial plan can help you prepare for new credit card offers.

I bet you see 0% credit card offers frequently. They come in our mail, email, and sometimes when we buy a pair of $4.00 socks at a retail store. Do you find yourself contemplating whether or not to open one or take advantage of it on a card you already have? I know I do, especially when cash flow is tight or I need to make a large purchase.

What 0% usually means is that you will not be charged interest on the balance of the card for a certain number of months, sometimes for up to 18 months. At that point, you will be charged the annual percentage rate, or APR, which is likely somewhere between 14.99% and 26.99%, on the balance of the card. Your personal situation will dictate if and when this course of action is appropriate for you. Here are a few things to consider.

  • A storied history of credit card debt or already having multiple credit accounts to manage may be a good reason to pause and think about other options to opening another credit account. Cards are a lot to juggle, and if organization isn’t your thing, then it may be best not adding to the chaos.
  • No matter the interest rate offer, check for an annual fees. An annual fee is what you will pay just to possess the card. Usually, cards with annual fees come with points or a cash back incentive. But will you use the card enough to justify that benefit? Is it just another fee that you can allocate toward something more important to you or save in your emergency fund?
  • Sometimes we make one-time large purchases to improve our daily lives. If you have ever been in the market for a washer and dryer or other major appliances, you know what I’m talking about. Some retailers will offer 0% financing or 10% off the purchase price for opening a credit card. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, it depends. What’s your personal situation telling you? If you can afford it and save a little money in the process, then that sounds pretty good. On the other hand, are you adding to the list of credit accounts that are already difficult to manage? Don’t fool yourself in saving money upfront only to be hit with late fees or that large APR after the introductory offer.

Having a financial plan will help you make decisions about transferring a balance or opening a brand new card. Your personal financial plan will also help you reach other goals, like paying down debt or saving for an emergency, and help you take control of your financial future.

Kelly Luethje is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and founder of Willow Planning Group, LLC. She provides financial education and guidance to help you live life on your terms. Kelly can usually be found on a mountain, or by a lake, working virtually with clients across the country.