How to Get a 0% Intro APR without Paying a Balance Transfer Fee

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If you’re paying down the balance on a credit card over time, the interest costs can be astronomical! While it’s always best to pay your balance in full each month, at some point, you may end up in a situation where you need some extra time—especially after the holidays. The most common solution is to move your high-interest balance to a card with a 0% balance transfer offer.

In today’s post, we’re going to try to talk you out of that plan by sharing a strategy where you can get the same 0% intro APR rate, without the huge fees and other restrictions that come with balance transfers.

Why Balance Transfers Should Be Your Last Resort

The biggest problem with balance transfers is the huge upfront fee: most credit cards charge between 3-5% to transfer a balance. If you need to pay off a $5,000 balance over time, the initial fee will take $150-250 out of your pocket.

The second huge drawback is that balance transfers don’t earn any rewards points. If you transfer a significant balance, you’ll save on interest, but you’ll have zero rewards to show for it. You’ll also find that most cards with a balance transfer offer don’t have a signup bonus. As far as the bank is concerned, the 0% introductory APR is the new cardmember offer.

Lastly, you can’t transfer a balance between cards from the same issuer. In other words, if you’re carrying a balance on a Chase credit card, Chase balance transfer options are off the table.

It's worth noting that the The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is currently offering an introductory APR rate of 0% on purchases for 15 months and 0% on balance transfers for 15 months (then a variable rate of 12.99% - 23.99%) and a $0 fee balance transfer offer.

If you do want to explore a traditional balance transfer, the Amex EveryDay is a great place to start. You can see our roundup of the top balance transfer offers here, but first, check out the strategy below to see if it could work for you.

Transfer Your Credit Card Balance Without Paying Fees

Fortunately, there is a great strategy that will solve all three of the problems above. You can get an extended 0% intro APR period, you’ll be eligible for a great signup bonus, and you can even open a new card issued by the same bank where you currently hold the high-interest balance.

The solution is to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR on purchases and use your normal monthly budget to pay off the high-interest balance. Here’s how it works:

  1. Rather than applying for a balance transfer card, apply for a card featuring a 0% intro APR offer on purchases
  2. Charge all your monthly expenses to the 0% intro APR card for the first 2-3 months, keeping in mind the minimum spend required to reach the signup bonus
  3. Use the money in your normal monthly budget to pay down the high-interest credit card debt while making minimum payments on the new card.
  4. Pay down the intro 0% APR card over the 12-15 month introductory period

For example, let’s say you had an unexpected expense come up and are carrying a $6,000 debt on a high-interest credit card. You’ve tossed around the idea of leveraging a 0% balance transfer card to clear the high-interest debt, but the potential $180-300 transfer fee is giving you second thoughts.

Instead, you can apply for a 0% intro APR card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® or Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card (if it is a business expense). Place all your monthly expenses on the card to get the signup bonus. And use the cash you would typically put aside for monthly expenses to pay down the $6,000 credit card debt.

Provided your monthly expenses are in the range of $2,000 to $2,500 per month, over the initial 2-3 months you’ve effectively transferred your $6,000 high-interest balance to a 0% intro APR offer without paying a balance transfer fee. Plus, you’ve earned a signup bonus and additional points in the process. Instead of the balance transfer costing you $180-300, you get the transfer free of charge, earn the signup bonus on a new card, and earn points or cashback on all the expenses you place on the 0% intro APR card.

Best 0% Intro APR Cards for Purchases

Below, you’ll find a few of our favorite personal and business cards featuring 0% intro APR periods on purchases. Each card listed offers a generous signup bonus (particularly the two Chase Ink Business cards) and provides a decent return on everyday spending, helping you to maximize this strategy.

If a longer intro APR period is a higher priority than earning rewards or a signup bonus, you can find some additional options with an intro period of up to 18 months in our post on the best current 0% purchase APR offers.

CREDIT CARD0% INTRO APR PERIODREG APRWELCOME OFFERANNUAL FEE
Chase Freedom Unlimited®15 months14.99 - 23.74% - VariableEarn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.$0
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express15 months13.99% to 23.99 - Variable Earn a Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.$0
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card12 months14.49% - 24.49% - VariableEarn 20,000 Miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening$0
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card15 months15.49% - 25.49% - VariableEarn $150 Cash Back after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening$0
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card15 months15.49% - 25.49% - (Variable)Earn $150 Cash Back after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening$0
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card15 months13.99% - 25.99% - VariableEarn a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months$0
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card12 months14.74% - 20.74% - VariableEarn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.$0
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card12 months14.74% - 20.74% - VariableEarn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.$0
Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business9 months14.49% - 22.49% - VariableEarn 20,000 Miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening$0

Potential Drawbacks

The main challenge with this strategy is that it may take some time to fully transition your outstanding balance to the new card offering 0% APR on purchases. If your normal monthly budget is only $500, it probably doesn't make sense to slowly pay down a large balance in $500 increments—by the time you execute the process, you may be close to the end of your intro 0% purchase APR period.

It's also worth noting that you'll still be paying interest on the original credit card for the first few months. In most cases, you'll still come out far ahead, but you should run the math for your situation before you decide. Don't forget to consider the value of the points or cash earned from spending and the welcome offer before comparing with the balance transfer fee.

How to Evaluate Intro Purchase vs. Balance Transfer Costs

Here's some quick math for the example above with a $6,000 balance which you expect to pay down in $2,000 increments over three months:

If you assume a 20% annual interest rate on the high-balance card, you can approximate the monthly interest by dividing the rate by 12. In this case, we get 1.66% monthly.

  • Month 1:  You'll pay interest on $6,000 ~$100
  • Month 2: You'll pay interest on $4,000 ~$67
  • Month 3: You'll pay interest on $2,000 ~$33

Total interest costs here are ~$200

If you opt for a balance transfer offer with a 3% fee, you'd pay $180 to move your balance.

If you look at the Freedom Unlimited intro offer, you'll earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. You'll also be earning 1.5X rewards as you accumulate $6,000 worth of purchases on the new account.

That means your total rewards, including the welcome offer, will be $240 ($150+$90). Remember, if you have one of the Chase cards that can transfer Ultimate Rewards to partners, you have 24,000 points, which could easily be worth $500 with the right redemption.

Final Thoughts

There is a widespread view that balance transfer cards are the most efficient method of paying down unwanted debt on a high-interest credit card. However, if you are comfortable putting in a little extra work, a 0% intro APR card can do the same job without the transfer fees, and you can earn a boatload of rewards in the process.

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Comments

  • Discover targeted promos sometimes offer BOTH 0% interest on purchases & Balance Transfers (14 months) along with $0 BT fees. Best of both worlds – check mailers carefully as they will send out a variety of offers.

  • As everyone who reads these blogs know, if you cannot pay off your cards in full every month, this is not the hobby for you.

  • Great idea!

  • Trying to apply for the ink unlimited to take advantage of this APR – but online in my account it says I am not eligible. Is it because I already have a couple of other INK branded cards (none ink cash and all many years old)?

    • You should be eligible for any of the Ink cards you don’t already have. We haven’t seen the message you’re referencing, but you should be able to access the application if you are not logged into your online account. That said, it’s possible something has changed, but there isn’t a reason we know about that you can’t get a new Ink card. Please keep us posted.

  • Michael Skelly says:

    Good tips if you are too broke to pay the balance in full. But ideally paying your balance off in full every month is a far smarter move!

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    Navy Federal CU currently has a 0% BT offer, no fee, 12 months. You can transfer it to a nonNFCU checking account.

  • I think this headline is a little bit click-baity. It’s just suggesting a common sense plan, not a “no-fee balance transfer”

    • Thanks for the feedback. The post was more of a reaction to all the gung-ho balance transfer content that comes out every January. We know this is probably common sense to some, but we have folks at all levels of knowledge about how cards work, so we wanted to put it into a clear summary.

  • Better yet, wait for a no fee balance transfer offer.

  • I have to disagree on this. The American Express everyday card gives you 0% on transfers and new purchases. It also have 0% transfer fee and if you spend $1000 you get 10,000 points which I transferred to Marriott for 14000 and stayed at a four star resort for a night. It’s by far the best way to make a big purchase and transfer some extra debt and get a good bonus out of a card!

    • Hey Kristen, great point. The Amex Everyday offer is a rare opportunity for no BT fee, and it could definitely be a good alternative. I’ve updated our post to highlight that option. I still think it could be better to go for one of the Ink cards with a 50K Ultimate Rewards (or $500 cashback) bonus, but if you have limited spend or can’t open a small-business card, the Amex Everday is a great option. Thanks for sharing your strategy with us!

  • Harry Porter says:

    Enlightening article. However, there’s a bit of broken math in the example that suggests you come out $240+ ahead by effecting a bt through opening a new Freedom Unlimited card and spending the bt equivalent while applying payments to the original outstanding balance, as opposed to simply taking advantage of a 3% fee bt offer.

    Even if you pay 3% to transfer that balance to a 0% bt card, you can still avail yourself of the $240 earn on the Freedom Unlimited card by opening the card and shifting your spend onto it.

    In other words, the math in the article suggests that you should count the $240 promo earn in as a benefit of the “spend on new 0% card / pay the old card down” strategy. But since the spend benefit can be earned even under the alternate scenario (3% bt fee), it’s not an incremental benefit. So, in the example presented above, both strategies net out to much the same benefit +/- $20.

    • Hey Harry, thanks for the feedback. I did my best to follow your logic. If you go with a BT, you’ll pay $180 in the example. If you go with the Freedom Unlimited using the ongoing spending strategy you’ll end up +$240 with no balance transfer costs—a swing of $420. However, I think your point is that you can still get the +$240 by making at least $500 in purchases (on top of a balance transfer if you want to use that option with the same card).

      Definitely a fair point, and a nice option to have if your spending doesn’t permit paying down the balance as quickly as you’d like. Regardless, using a balance transfer cut’s into your net gain, but I could see a combo of strategies working nicely to fit a specific situation.

      Did I get that right?

  • Novel idea, but the key to playing the miles and points game is, as you say, “to pay your balance in full each month.” And you should have enough free cash before getting in.

    • Yes, this point can’t be reinforced enough. If you earn points of some value each month, but then pay interest each month of a higher value, you’re losing.

  • I always pay off my monthly balance on cc.

  • Vanessa Woods says:

    I was just thinking about doing this with some unexpected bills. Thanks for the tip!

  • Vanessa Woods says:

    I was just thinking about doing this. Thank you!

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    This is a good deal if you want to tackle credit card burden if its getting out of hand. Another valuable strategy is spending less and paying off debt every month.

  • Paying the balance in full is the best procedure for anyone who is involved with the world of miles / points and loves to travel, but when unforeseen circumstances arise, the strategy proposed in this article will be very useful.

  • I haven’t seen 0% no fee offers in at least a dozen years. They were great when they lasted and you could get 6% on a bank c.d.. Besides te FIA card services direct deposit to your bank account offers, the Discover card offer, where for a $29 fee, they offered me up to my credit limit at 0% for as long as you have it, as long as you make 2 purchases a month, which, or coarse, incurred interest. Twice a month, when I was at the post office anyway, I charged a 10 cent stamp. But Chase was best of all. First USA and Bank One cards were taken over by chase, so, I called and combined the balances of my First USA, Bank One and Chase cards, exercised my 0% for a year offer, opened a CD at Chase at 6%, and paid the balance off as the 0% ended simultaneous with my CD maturing.

    • Great move with the CD! Always great to be able to put some of the bank’s money to work for yourself. One of our readers pointed out there is currently an offer on the Amex EveryDay Card that allows you to avoid a balance transfer fee if you act quickly. You can find details in our card review.

  • Great work, thanks for the useful tips.

  • When I carried a balance I never would have thought to sign up for a card that gave cash back. Thats a great idea. If you pay your bills on time normally then why not on a card that gives you money back that you can use later to help pay down debt? Well, don’t I feel like I didn’t explore all my options at that time. Now I’m good.

    It’s a great post. I don’t think people think of this. I believe it’s most just working more or transferring it to a different card until they pay it off.

  • If you can’t pay your balance off in full, this is very useful! Alas if that’s often the case, this isn’t the right activity for it

  • Great article!

  • Hope to not need this. But genius idea!

  • Of course we all know that you should never carry a balance in this game, but if you are forced into this situation, I guess this idea makes better sense than the alternatives.

  • I did know that there are quite a few pitfalls on the 0% introductory APR. Thanks!

  • Thank you for pointing out the often overlooked balance transfer fee. Thank you.

  • Luckily I’ve never had to have a large balance on my credit card that wasn’t paid right away, but this is good for when I eventually will.

  • Excellent summation of the issue and options. Obviously carrying debt over isn’t good, but this is a great example of how to at least get a benefit.

  • I had no idea that the Chase business cards had 0%. That’s good to know.

  • daniel lovito says:

    I consider it an excellent suggestion.

  • Sometimes a Balance Transfer is worth it. My ancient van was rear ended and totaled (so was I). Geico only paid me $1800 for it and I needed wheels. A Barclay Arrival check offered 0% for a year with a 1.99% transfer fee. I ended up with $20k for a new van for a $400 fee and a year to pay it off. A no brainer for me.

  • I’ve also noticed that on most AmEx business cards, they also offer the “pay over time” option where they have 0% offers at times (its usually for 6 months or so) but if you just need to “float” some balance for a bit, its a good option. And you will earn a good bit of points on your purchases as well.

  • Best advice of all: Don’t buy something on a credit card if you cannot pay off the balance in full.

  • This is great advice! Thank you!

  • Best idea is to not buy anything that you can’t pay straight away
    But for those who need this, this is a very good option

  • Yep, click bait with this title.
    Keep in mind, that a new card may not come with much credit line and this whole plan is worthless.

    Never pay interest on credit cards. It is just stupid. There are always cheaper options.

    I would almost think, someone who pays interest does it because they cannot get another card because they have a bad credit score.

  • Useful in some situations.

  • The summary is good but please remember to always use credit responsibly. All the fantastic offers and redemptions make it seem easy but paying off the cards is the only way to make it work well for you or it can come back to haunt. Think all situations of transfers through carefully and only use it where truly warranted.

  • I like the 0% interest option, but don’t like the interest charge on the balance I would leave on the old card. I did like Kristen’s suggestion of The American Express everyday card with 0% on transfers and new purchases and a 0% transfer fee and with the additional benefit of 10,000 points if you spend $1000. I will look in to this. I have used the 0% interest and $0 balance transfer fee before, but never got points for it. Thanks for the discussion.

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