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Credit Cards

How long can you stretch out a purchase using a 0% intro APR card?

A 0% intro APR credit card is great for avoiding interest — but how long can you stretch it?

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If you're looking to make a big purchase, a 0% intro APR credit card can be a smart way to finance the big expense across a period of months, without having to worry about expensive credit card interest charges. But how long can you stretch those purchases without accruing interest?

In short, you can stretch out your purchases without accruing interest for as many months as the card's intro period. For example, if the card offers 12 months of 0% APR, you will begin accruing interest on any remaining balance during the 13th month.

It's also important to remember that with a 0% APR offer, you still need to pay the minimum payment each month in order to not become delinquent on your bill.

Using a 0% intro APR credit card is a strategic way to afford a large purchase, but there are several things to consider before taking this route.

Select analyzed how long you can stretch a purchase using a 0% intro APR card, and how you can maximize your spending power without paying any interest.

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How far can you stretch your purchases on a 0% intro APR credit card?

There are a lot of credit cards that offer a 0% intro APR period that can stretch anywhere from six to 21 months. When you open one of these cards to make a new purchase, you'll want to be strategic about how you pay your balance so you don't get stuck with interest charges in the end.

Let's use the brand-new iPhone 13 as an example. With accessories, this phone costs around $1,500.

If you sign up for a Wells Fargo Reflect® Card, you can take advantage of one of the longest intro periods on the market: 0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening (then 15.99% - 27.99% variable APR).

Wells Fargo Reflect® Card

On Wells Fargo's secure site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. Intro APR extension for 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro period. 15.99% - 27.99% variable APR thereafter; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate

  • Regular APR

    15.99% - 27.99% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days from account opening, then up to 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees. Terms apply.

You can initially get 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers and then receive an extension for three months with on-time minimum payments during the intro period. Balance transfers must be made within 120 days from account opening to qualify for the intro rate.

If you wanted to break up the cost of the $1,500 iPhone over 21 months and avoid any interest charges, your average monthly payment would be roughly $72. But your minimum monthly payment may be higher or lower, depending on what Wells Fargo requires.

As long as you make your monthly payments on time, and you pay the balance in full before the end of the 21 months, your interest charges would be $0.

It's important that your payments be made on-time. Otherwise, the card issuer may revoke the 0% intro APR offer, and you could be charged late fees up to $40.

Another option is just to pay the minimum each month. Let's say your minimum payment was $50, and that is all you're able to pay. After the 21 months, you would have $450 remaining on your balance. You would have a couple options at this point:

  • Pay off the balance in full before the intro period ends.
  • Continue paying the balance down a little bit each month, with the knowledge that interest is now accruing.
  • Opt to transfer the balance to another credit card with a 0% balance transfer offer.

What to keep in mind when choosing a 0% intro APR credit card

Overall, a 0% intro APR credit card is a smart way to finance a purchase. However, you should be mindful that you're not overspending just because the monthly payments seem affordable.

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a credit card that offers flexible financing.

Length of 0% introductory period

Different credit cards offer different 0% APR intro periods. Some of the best rewards cards will offer 12 to 15 months of interest-free financing, while cards like the Wells Fargo Reflect don't offer rewards, but they do come with longer intro periods. Before you sign up, consider how much time you need to pay off your purchase and whether you'd like to earn rewards.

For example, I recently signed up for the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offer 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, 16.49% - 26.49% variable APR after that.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 3% on eligible streaming services, 3% at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®) and 1% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months

  • Regular APR

    16.49% - 26.49% variable 

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

I could have signed up for a different card with a longer 0% intro APR period, but I specifically chose this card as I wanted to motivate myself to pay off my purchases in 15 months. Additionally, this card comes with $200 welcome offer that new cardholders can earn after spending $500 in the first three months of card membership.

Before you simply pick the first offer that comes along, be sure to analyze the benefits of each card, as well as your financial goals.

Charge on one card, then balance transfer

If you financed your purchases on one 0% intro APR credit card, and the introductory 0% intro APR period is coming to an end, you may want to consider a balance transfer credit card.

By moving your balance to another 0% intro APR credit card, you can stretch your purchase out even further without accruing interest.

However, many balance transfer credit cards charge a fee when you move the balance from one card to another. For example, you could transfer your remaining balance to the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card for an intro fee of $5 or 3% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater, within 120 days from account opening. After that, it's up to 5% for each balance transfer, with a minimum of $5 (see rates and fees.)

Or you can specifically sign up for a no-fee balance transfer credit card like the Wings Visa Platinum Card.

Wings Visa Platinum Card

Information about the Wings Visa Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Variable APR

    8.15% to 18.00%

  • Balance transfer fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Low 8.15% to 18.00% variable APR
  • No deadline for when balances can be transferred, though the intro period starts at account opening

Cons

  • Credit union membership required, which may cost $5
  • No rewards program
  • Transfer timeline: Balances can be transferred at any time during the first 12 months, but the intro period begins when you open your account
  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment: $638

Before transferring your balance, be sure to run the numbers of how much it would cost to transfer versus how much you'll pay in interest, so you can make sure it makes financial sense.

Your credit score

Your credit score is taken into consideration for nearly every credit card application you submit. The better your credit score is, the better odds you have of being approved for the card you want. Before you apply for your next credit card, be sure to check your credit score so you know what kind of card you can qualify for. Most 0% intro APR cards usually require good to excellent credit.

It's also important to remember that carrying a large balance on your card can have a negative impact your credit score. For example, if you have a $2,500 balance on a 0% APR credit card, but you only have a $5,000 credit line, you're using 50% of your credit allotted, which is above the recommended 30% mark. Credit utilization makes up 30% of your score, so your high balance could knock your score down.

One fix is to ask your credit card issuer for a larger credit line.

Bottom line

Using a 0% intro APR credit card like the ones mentioned above is a simple and effective way to give yourself payment flexibility while also being able to make the purchases you need.

Consumers should be cautious about becoming reliant on financing all of their purchases, as it can lead to overspending and potentially credit card debt. So before you begin making purchases on a 0% intro APR, be sure to have a repayment plan in place to ensure it gets paid off within the introductory window.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
Plenty of rewards and benefits including 4X points per dollar for dining at restaurants worldwide
Enjoy an intro APR on purchases plus, Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.