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Best Low Interest and 0% APR Credit Cards of October 2019

Paul SoucyOctober 1, 2019

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

NerdWallet's Best Low Interest and 0% APR Credit Cards of October 2019

Our pick for

Long 0% intro APR period

US Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card

on US Bank's website

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

0%* on purchases and balance transfers for 18 billing cycles*

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The U.S. Bank Visa? Platinum Card gives you a good long time to pay off a major purchase.

Cons

This card offers no rewards, so there's not a very compelling incentive to keep using it after the 0% intro period runs out.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 14.24% - 25.24%
  • Great offer from U.S. Bank, a 2019 World's Most Ethical Company? - Ethisphere Institute, February 2019
  • No Annual Fee*
  • Flexibility to choose a payment due date that fits your schedule
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your U.S.Bank Visa? Platinum Credit Card. Certain terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.
  • View Rates and Fees

Our pick for

0% intro period and low fees

Discover it? Balance Transfer

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

13.74% - 24.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The Discover it? Balance Transfer combines a lengthy 0% intro period on balance transfers with 5% cash-back rewards on rotating bonus categories that you activate (on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter) and 1% back on all other spending. There's also an unusual bonus, which Discover describes as: "Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched." No foreign transaction fee is unusual for this category. Discover won’t charge a fee for your first late payment or raise your APR for paying late.

Cons

The introductory 3% balance transfer fee (and up to 5% on future balance transfers) will eat into interest savings during the introductory period, and the no-interest offer on new purchases is shorter than for other top cards. It can be a hassle to track bonus rewards categories and opt in to them every quarter.
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO? Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • No annual fee.
  • View Rates and Fees

Our pick for

0% intro period and late fee waiver

HSBC Gold Mastercard

on HSBC's website

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

12.74% - 20.74%, Variable

Intro APR

0% Introductory APR on credit card purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The introductory interest-free period on the HSBC Gold Mastercard? credit card is nice and long: 0% Introductory APR on credit card purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from account opening, then a variable APR of 12.74% - 20.74% will apply. The issuer's late fee waiver is a nice break for the chronically forgetful: The fee is waived on your first late payment and any late payment more than 12 billing periods since your last waiver.

Cons

The lengthy interest-free introductory period is super for purchases, but it comes at a cost for balance transfers: 4% (minimum $10), which adds up for big balances. The late-fee waiver could encourage bad behavior that might eventually affect your credit scores. No rewards or sign-up bonus.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from account opening. Then a variable APR of 12.74% - 20.74% will apply.
  • No Penalty APR.
  • Late Fee Waiver.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $0 Annual Fee.
  • $0 liability for unauthorized purchases.
  • Terms Apply.
  • View Rates and Fees

Our pick for

0% intro period and bonus category cash back

Chase Freedom Credit Card

on Chase's website

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The Chase Freedom? gives you a little of everything. In addition to a $0 annual fee and a long 0% intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers, it offers a nifty sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. You get 5% cash back on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending on rotating bonus categories that have included such things as gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants. All other spending earns 1% back.

Cons

It can be a hassle to track bonus rewards categories and opt in to them every quarter.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.99-25.74%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey?

Our pick for

0% intro period for transfers plus rewards

Citi? Double Cash Card

on Citibank's application

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

Offering 1% cash back on every purchase and an additional 1% when you pay them off, the Citi? Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer provides easy rewards to go with its lengthy interest-free introductory period on balance transfers and $0 annual fee. This is an excellent card that doesn't require excellent credit: You can qualify with good credit.

Cons

Although the card offers a long 0% intro APR period to encourage balance transfers, it also comes with a 3% fee on transfers. There's no sign-up bonus, and there's a $25 minimum rewards redemption. Some cards have no minimum.
  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.74%– 25.74% based on your creditworthiness.
  • Click 'Apply Now' to see the applicable balance transfer fee and how making a balance transfer impacts interest on purchases.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.74%– 25.74% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.

Our pick for

0% intro period and flat-rate cash back

Capital One Quicksilver Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

The Capital One? Quicksilver? Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR. This card pays 1.5% cash back on every purchase and offers a tidy sign-up bonus: One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. It's also a good traveling companion, as it charges no foreign transaction fees.

Cons

Nowadays, a flat cash-back rate of 1.5% is pretty routine. Depending on how you spend, you might be able to accumulate more cash back with a bonus category cash back card.
  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Capital One:

Our pick for

Low ongoing interest

Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa Credit Card
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

8.50% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

While many cards have interest rates that float above 20%, the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Card boasts one of the lowest APRs on any card — as low as the prime rate plus 3%.

Cons

No 0% period and no rewards. To get this card, you must be a member of the Lake Michigan Credit Union, although anyone can join with a $5 donation to the ALS Foundation.
  • One of the lowest interest rates in the country, as low as Prime + 3.00%
  • Rate is variable, tiered, and is linked to Prime
  • No annual fee
  • Credit line of up to $25,000
  • Free car rental insurance

Our pick for

Low interest for military

USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa? Credit Card

on USAA's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

8.90% - 25.90%?Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

If your credit is good enough, the USAA? Rate Advantage Visa Platinum? Card offers a very low ongoing rate. The ongoing APR is 8.90% - 25.90%?Variable APR. There are no foreign transaction fees, and the card is backed by USAA's well-regarded customer service.

Cons

Although this card is available to applicants with average credit, the best rate goes only to those with good or excellent credit. There are no rewards, nor is there a 0% period.
  • Enjoy USAA's lowest rate card
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members

Our pick for

Low interest for bad credit

Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card Credit Card
Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

13.75%, Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Pros

This is a secured card for bad credit, yet it has a lower interest rate than many unsecured cards for people with good credit. The ongoing APR is 13.75%, Variable. The card has no annual fee, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees or foreign transaction fees.

Cons

Your account must be backed by a savings account at the credit union. When you use the card to make purchases, you're using your savings account as collateral. You must be a member of Digital Federal Credit Union to get this card, although you can join by becoming a member of a partner organization for as little as $10.
  • Secured card rates well below the national average
  • Borrow against your DCU savings account
  • No Annual Fee*
  • No Fees or Higher Rates for Cash Advances and Balance Transfers
  • Works with Apple Pay?, Google Pay?, and Samsung Pay
  • Insurance, car rental, travel, and warranty benefits
  • Optional Overdraft Protection On Your DCU Checking
  • Buy online easily and safely with Visa Checkout
  • Embedded EMV chip to protect your card information

Summary of Best Low Interest and 0% APR Credit Cards of October 2019

Credit CardBest ForIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
US Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card

U.S. Bank Visa? Platinum Card

on US Bank's website

Long 0% intro APR period

0%* on purchases and balance transfers for 18 billing cycles*

14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

$0

on US Bank's website

Discover it? Balance Transfer

Discover it? Balance Transfer

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% intro period and low fees

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

13.74% - 24.74% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

HSBC Gold Mastercard

HSBC Gold Mastercard? credit card

on HSBC's website

0% intro period and late fee waiver

0% Introductory APR on credit card purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from account opening.

12.74% - 20.74%, Variable

$0

on HSBC's website

Chase Freedom Credit Card

Chase Freedom®

on Chase's website

0% intro period and bonus category cash back

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Chase's website

Citi? Double Cash Card

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

on Citibank's application

0% intro period for transfers plus rewards

0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Citibank's application

Capital One Quicksilver Credit Card

Capital One? Quicksilver? Cash Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

0% intro period and flat-rate cash back

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa Credit Card

Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Card

Low ongoing interest

N/A

8.50% Variable

$0

Read review
USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa? Credit Card

USAA? Rate Advantage Visa Platinum? Card

on USAA's website

Low interest for military

N/A

8.90% - 25.90%?Variable APR

$0

on USAA's website

Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card Credit Card

DCU Visa? Platinum Secured Credit Card

Low interest for bad credit

N/A

13.75%, Variable

$0

Read review
Credit CardBest ForIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
US Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card

U.S. Bank Visa? Platinum Card

on US Bank's website

Long 0% intro APR period

0%* on purchases and balance transfers for 18 billing cycles*

14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

$0

on US Bank's website

Discover it? Balance Transfer

Discover it? Balance Transfer

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

0% intro period and low fees

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

13.74% - 24.74% Variable APR

$0

on Discover's website, or call (800) 347-0264

HSBC Gold Mastercard

HSBC Gold Mastercard? credit card

on HSBC's website

0% intro period and late fee waiver

0% Introductory APR on credit card purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from account opening.

12.74% - 20.74%, Variable

$0

on HSBC's website

Chase Freedom Credit Card

Chase Freedom®

on Chase's website

0% intro period and bonus category cash back

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Chase's website

Citi? Double Cash Card

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

on Citibank's application

0% intro period for transfers plus rewards

0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Citibank's application

Capital One Quicksilver Credit Card

Capital One? Quicksilver? Cash Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

0% intro period and flat-rate cash back

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

15.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$0

on Capital One's website

Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa Credit Card

Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Card

Low ongoing interest

N/A

8.50% Variable

$0

Read review
USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa? Credit Card

USAA? Rate Advantage Visa Platinum? Card

on USAA's website

Low interest for military

N/A

8.90% - 25.90%?Variable APR

$0

on USAA's website

Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card Credit Card

DCU Visa? Platinum Secured Credit Card

Low interest for bad credit

N/A

13.75%, Variable

$0

Read review

OTHER RESOURCES

IN THIS SECTION

Understanding interest rates and APRs
? How to avoid paying credit card interest entirely
? What's the difference between interest rate and APR?
? Glossary of APR terms
? How credit card issuers set interest rates
? How do 0% APR offers work?

How your credit score affects your interest rate
? Improving your credit to qualify for a better rate

The high cost of a higher interest rate
1. Your interest charges are higher
2. Your minimum payments are higher
3. Your debt shrinks more slowly
4. You're in debt longer and pay more to get out

Reducing your interest costs
? Pay more than the minimum due
? Ask if you qualify for a lower rate
? Move debt to a card with a 0% period

How to compare 0% and low-interest cards
? Introductory APR period
? Ongoing APR
? Balance transfer fee
? Penalty policies
? Annual fee
? Free credit score
? Rewards and perks

Making the most of your 0% or low-interest card?

Other cards to consider

Understanding interest rates and APRs

The annual percentage rate, or APR, is the interest rate your credit card issuer charges?on?debt on your card. Some cards charge a single rate for all debt on the card; others charge different rates for different kinds of debt (purchases, cash advances, etc.). APRs are listed on your monthly statement.

Issuers commonly set their rates at a certain number of percentage points above the prime rate, which is the rate big banks charge their best customers. For example, your rate?might be?"prime?+ 12 points." If?the prime rate was 5.5%, your APR would be 17.5%.?With the exception of introductory 0% or teaser-rate offers, you're?not going to find a credit card APR lower than the prime rate.

Although interest rates are expressed in annual terms, they're usually charged on a daily basis. An annual rate of 17%, for example,?would translate to a daily rate of about 0.0466%. So for every $1,000 in debt, you'd pay about 47 cents a day in interest.

? MORE:?How credit card interest is calculated

How to avoid paying credit card interest entirely

Most credit cards?offer a "grace period" that allows you to avoid paying any interest at all.

  • If you pay your balance in full each month, then you will not?owe any interest on your purchases.
  • If you carry debt over from month to month, then interest will start accruing on purchases as soon as they land on your statement.

If you're what the credit card industry refers to as a "transactor" — someone who uses their card for convenience and rewards and pays?the bill?in full every month — then your APR is pretty much irrelevant, because you'll never pay a dime in interest.

On the other hand, if you're a "revolver" — someone who uses cards to float purchases they can't pay off all at once and carries debt from month to month — then your APR is very important, because it?dictates how much you pay in interest.

? MORE: Credit card grace period puts interest on hold

Whats's the difference between interest and APR?

When you're talking about credit cards, there is no difference between your interest rate and APR.?They're the same thing.

That leads to another question: Why?do credit card issuers refer to?it as the "APR" rather than the interest rate? Mostly because federal truth-in-lending laws require it.?The APR?is the “real” annual cost of borrowing money, and it includes not just interest on the money you borrow, but also fees and other charges. With some financial products, such as mortgages, the APR can be significantly different from the stated interest rate. Those other charges are not included in the credit card APR calculation, in large part because?issuers cannot?predict who will have to pay them or how much they will pay.

? MORE: Credit card interest rate vs. APR

Glossary of APR terms

  • Purchase APR.?This is?the rate?your card charges when you?pay for things with the card. Most credit cards offer a grace period: If you pay your balance in full every month, you won't?have to pay?interest on purchases. If you roll over debt from one month to the next, then?interest will start adding up on a purchase as soon as you make it.
  • Balance transfer APR.?This is the rate on debt that you've moved to the card from somewhere else. To attract your business, card issuers often offer a?low rate, even 0%, on transferred debt.
  • Cash advance APR.?This is the rate charged when you use your credit card to get cash from an ATM. Interest usually starts adding up on cash advances immediately. Grace periods don't apply.
  • Introductory APR.?Sometimes called a "teaser rate," this is a low interest rate offered?when you first open your account. Many credit cards offer people with good credit an introductory rate of?0% on purchases for a year or more.
  • Ongoing APR.?This is the "regular" rate that goes into effect once?any introductory APR period expires.
  • Variable APR.?Most credit card interest rates are tied to the prime rate. When the prime rate goes up (or down), your credit card's interest rate will usually go up (or down) an equal amount. "Variable APR" just means your current rate is not permanent?and could?change if the prime rate does.

How credit card issuers set interest rates

Credit card issuers are required by law to clearly state the interest rate on a credit card before you apply. You can find?the interest rate (or rates) charged by a?card in its "terms and conditions,"?sometimes referred to as the fine print. When looking at a card online, look for a link?that says something like?"See terms and fees" or "View rates and fees" or "Offer details." The rate will be prominently displayed in a large chart known as the Schumer box.

  • With some cards, everyone?has the same APR. This is common especially with cards for people with bad credit (in which the rate is very high) or super-low-interest cards for people with good credit.
  • Many charge charge a range of APRs.?It's common to see a card saying it charges something like "15.99% to 23.99%." When a card has a range of available APRs, the?rate you get will usually depend on your creditworthiness. See below for how your credit score affects your interest rate.
  • Rewards cards tend to charge higher APRs.?Cash-back and travel-rewards?programs are expensive, and one of the ways credit card issuers pay for them is?by charging higher interest rates on balances on rewards cards.

? MORE: Why are credit card interest rates so high?

How do 0% APR?offers?work?

Say you have a card with an introductory 0% purchase APR for 15 months.?A "0%" rate means no interest at all will be charged on purchases, in this case for the first 15 months you have the card. Once that introductory period runs out, interest will be charged at the ongoing APR — but only on your balance going forward. There is no "retroactive" interest. (One note of caution, though: If you have a 0% offer, make sure you pay your bill on time every month; a late payment can cancel your 0% rate and immediately move you to the ongoing rate.)

Zero-percent?periods?on credit cards are different from the "no interest for 12 months" offers you see in stores. Those are what's known as "deferred interest." In those offers,?you don't have to?pay?interest during the promotional period, but interest is silently being?calculated?in the background. If you have any balance remaining at the end of the period, you will be charged interest on your whole purchase, going all the way back to the time of purchase. That could cost you hundreds of dollars.

? MORE:?Deferred interest vs. 0% APR

How?your credit score affects your interest rate

The interest rate you pay on your credit card is?heavily dependent?on your credit history, which is summed up in your credit scores. Interest rates are how issuers put a price on risk:

  • When you have a low credit score,?lenders?see a higher risk in lending you money. As a result, the interest rate charged by your credit card will be higher.
  • When you have a high credit score, the risk is lower that you wont repay borrowed money. So the interest rate on your credit card will be lower.

If a card advertises a range of APRs, a lower score will put you toward the higher end of that range (or you might not qualify for a card at all), while a high score will put you on the lower end of the range.

As a very general rule of thumb:

  • If you have good or excellent credit (a score of 690 or more), look for prime + less than 12 points.
  • For average credit (630 to 690),?you'll likely see prime + 15 to 20 points.
  • For bad credit (below 630), expect to find APRs more in the range of prime + more than 20 points.

? MORE:?What is a good APR on a credit card?

Improving your credit to qualify for a better rate

As with most financial products, the best interest rates on credit cards are available to those with the?strongest?credit profiles. Improving your credit is the first step toward improving your rate. Steps to take:

  • Know your credit score. You can get free access to your score through NerdWallet. Get your free score here.
  • Make 100% of your payments on time.?This applies not only to credit cards, loans and other lines of credit, but also?to utility bills and other?accounts. Unpaid bills that that go into collections can seriously hurt your credit.
  • Keep your?credit utilization?low.?Don't let your balance on any card (or all cards put together) exceed 30% of the total credit limit.
  • Limit your credit applications. New accounts lower the average age of your open lines of credit, which makes up?part of your credit score. Multiple credit inquiries from applications can also ding your score.
  • Keep accounts open. Unless a card has an annual fee, keep?it?open and active, even if for only one bill a month. This will help both your credit utilization and the length of?your credit history.
  • Check each of your credit reports?each year?for errors and discrepancies.

? MORE: How to build credit

The high cost of a higher interest rate

A higher APR costs you money in two ways:

  • First, obviously, it increases the amount of?interest charged on your purchases.
  • Second, because you are paying more in interest, you have less money available to pay down the principal — the?debt you actually?put on the card. That means you could stay in debt (and pay interest) for a longer time.

Let's walk through an example and see how a higher?APR affects you at every turn.

1. Your interest charges are higher

If you have excellent credit, you might qualify for a credit card with a super-low rate, let's say 8%. Meanwhile, a person with bad credit or no credit history at all might only qualify for a "starter" card with an APR of 26%. Let's say each person carries a $1,000 balance from one month to the next:

  • The 8% APR card produces an interest charge of about $6.58?in the first month.
  • The 26% APR card produces an interest charge of about $21.36?in the first month.

2. Your minimum payments are higher

The minimum payment on?a credit card is typically made up of all the accrued interest, plus any fees, plus a percentage of the principal (the money you actually spent on the card). In this case, let's say?that percentage is?1.5%.

  • The 8% APR card?will have a minimum payment of?$21.58?in that first month.
  • The 26% APR card has a?minimum payment?of about $36.36?the first month.

3. Your?debt?shrinks more slowly

Now say that each person has only $50 a month to put toward credit card debt. That's more than the minimum (and paying more than the minimum is always good), but it's not enough to cover their debt entirely. This is a common way people use credit cards — they're "revolvers" who pay down slowly over time.

  • With a $50 payment on the?8% APR card, $6.58 goes to interest and $43.42?goes to reduce the debt. The cardholder now has $956.58 in debt left to repay.
  • With a $50 payment on?the 26% APR card,?$21.36?goes to interest and only $28.64 goes to reduce the debt.?The?cardholder now has $971.36 in debt left to repay.

After just one month, the person with the lower APR is about $15 ahead of the person with the higher APR in the "race" to eliminate their debt.

4. You're in debt longer and pay more to get out

Say they continue like this, each paying $50 a month. For each cardholder, the interest charges will shrink each month as they pay down the principal. But the one with the lower APR will get out of debt more quickly and pay less in interest:

  • After a year, the person with the 8% card has reduced their debt to about $460. That means $600 worth of payments has reduced their debt by about $540. They'll be debt-free after 22 months, and they'll pay a total of about $76 in interest.
  • After a year, the person with the 26% card has reduced their debt to only about $613. That means $600 in payments has cut the debt by only about $387. They'll need 27 months to get debt-free, and they'll pay a total of $318 in interest.

? MORE: How to stop wasting money on credit card interest

Reducing your interest costs

As discussed, you can avoid interest entirely by paying your balance in full every month. But that's not always possible for everyone. Sometimes carrying a balance is unavoidable. Here are?some options.

Pay more than the minimum due

The minimum payment shown on your billing statement is the absolute least you can pay without incurring a penalty. It won't get you very far toward paying off your debt, though, as the above example makes clear. To see real interest savings, you need to pay interest on?less money, and that means attacking the principal by paying more than the minimum.

We've created a calculator to help you see how much you could save in interest by paying down your credit card balance. Enter your balance and choose an interest rate, then see your savings if you reduced the balance by 5% to 50%. See the calculator here.

Ask if you qualify for a lower rate

This may be an option if your credit score has improved considerably since you opened the account. The issuer might knock some points off your rate, or move your account to?a card with a lower rate.?You issuer might say no to your request, but you don't know unless you ask.

Move debt to a?0% interest credit card?

Transferring?high-interest debt to?a credit?card with an introductory 0% APR period can save you hundreds of dollars in interest. You?may have to pay?a fee of around 3% of the amount you transferred, but you'll get breathing room to pay down your debt. Keep in mind, though, that 0%?interest credit cards are generally available only to people with good or excellent credit.

? MORE: NerdWallet's best balance-transfer credit cards

How to?compare?0% and low-interest cards

When choosing a 0% APR credit card or a low-interest credit card, let?your specific needs be your guide:

  • If you have a big purchase coming up and will need time to pay it off, your best bet is a card with a lengthy 0% introductory APR period. Many rewards cards offer a year or more at 0%, which allow you to collect rewards on your purchase, then pay it off interest-free.
  • If you find you're consistently carrying a balance a from month to month,?look for a card with a low ongoing interest rate. Cards with an?introductory 0% period tend to charge higher rates down the road.
  • If you want to transfer a balance to pay it down at a lower cost, you'll want a card with a 0% intro period and a low (or no) balance transfer fee. Many of the cards on this list are good for transfers, but check out our?best balance transfer credit cards?for further options.

Once you've decided what type of card to look for, compare cards based on the following factors.

Introductory APR period

Dozens of cards offer newcomers a 0% APR period of a year or more when they first open the account. This includes a number of popular rewards cards, where you can get 0% interest for as long as 15 months.?If you've got a big purchase coming up and will need time to pay it off, a 0% offer is perfect. In general, the longer the 0% period, the better, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you're late with a payment, the issuer can cancel your 0% rate, leaving you paying high interest on a big balance.
  • Some cards offer long 0% periods for balance transfers, but shorter ones (or no 0% period at all) for purchases. Read the fine print before applying.
  • The best?0% interest credit cards — those with 0% APR periods of 18 months or more — generally don't offer rewards, so once the 0% interest period runs out, there's not a lot of incentive to use the card, unless the card offers a low ongoing rate.

Some cards don't?have a 0% introductory period but instead?offer you a super-low teaser rate, say 3%, or the prime rate. These are worth considering, too, especially if the ongoing rate is low.

Ongoing APR

In general, you can get a card with a 0% introductory period or you can get a card with a low ongoing APR, but there aren't a lot of cards that?give you both. If you expect?that you'll be?carrying a balance regularly, the ongoing APR is an important consideration.

Balance transfer fee

Most cards charge a fee of 3% to 5% of the amount transferred — equal to $30 to $50 for every $1,000 worth of debt moved to the card. Depending on the APR on the card you?transfer the debt to and how long it takes you to pay it off, you could save more in interest than you pay in transfer fees. Some cards charge no transfer fee. Of course, if you're only interested in purchases rather than transfers, this fee is irrelevant.

Required credit profile

You're unlikely to qualify for a low-interest or 0% credit card unless you have good credit, generally defined as a score of 690 or better. Some cards even require excellent credit, generally defined as 720 or better.

Penalty policies

It's important to pay your bill on time every month. Paying late?usually?results in a stiff fee (often nearly $40), and if you're 30 days or more late, it can badly damage your credit score. Finally, a late payment can trigger a penalty APR, jacking up your interest rate as high as 30% in some cases. When you're on a 0% period or have a low ongoing rate, being bumped up to a penalty rate can be disastrous. Some cards, however, have forgiveness policies in place: Some don't charge late fees at all, some will waive your first late fees, and some pledge not to charge a penalty rate. If punctuality is an issue for you, look into a card's penalty policies (and, for your own sake, work on your punctuality).

Annual fee

Saving money is the primary reason to get a low-interest credit card, so you shouldn't be paying an annual fee on such a card. However, some rewards cards with 0% interest periods do charge an annual fee;?whether it's worth paying depends on how much you expect to earn in rewards.

Free credit score

Most major credit card issuers and many smaller ones give cardholders free access to a credit score. When you're looking to manage debt with a low-interest card, it's smart to keep an eye on your score.

Rewards and perks

As mentioned, many rewards cards offer a 0% interest period, but rewards cards also tend to have higher ongoing APRs. If saving money on interest is your primary motivation, then rewards and perks should be a lesser concern.?Still, all other things being equal, a card that offers rewards, perks or other goodies is preferable to one that doesn't.

? MORE: See our guide to choosing a 0% credit card

Making?the most?of your 0% or low-interest?card

If your card has a 0% intro period, strive to eliminate as much debt as possible before that introductory period ends and the?interest resets to its ongoing rate. A 0% card should be a tool for getting rid of debt, not just a place to park debt and forget about it. If you find yourself moving debt from one 0% card to another?but never paying it down, it's time to consider?other debt solutions.

Although a card with a low ongoing rate can save you a lot of money over time,?you're still paying interest. Apply those savings toward whittling down your debt faster. Saving, say, $20 a month on interest means you have $20?more you can use to reduce the balance on your credit card and move that much closer to freedom.

With any card, watch your balance. For the sake of your credit scores, it's best to keep your balance under 30% of the credit limit on the card. Under 10% is even better. When balances rise above 30% of credit limits, scoring formulas start to interpret that as a sign of financial stress.

Other cards to consider

Looking to?transfer?a balance to save money? Our roundup of the?best balance transfer cards?evaluates cards — including many of the cards on this page — with that specific goal in mind.

Do you even need a low-interest card? You might not. If you pay your balance in full every month, the APR on your credit card doesn't matter, because you're never actually charged interest. In that case, consider a?rewards credit card, which gives you a little something back very time you make a purchase. Rewards cards fall into two major categories:?cash back credit cards?and?travel credit cards.

Last updated on October 1, 2019

Methodology

NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best low interest and 0% APR credit cards based?on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of?consumers.?Factors in our evaluation include annual fees, the length of a card's introductory 0% APR periods (if any) on purchases and balance transfers, ongoing APRs, balance transfer fees, bonus offers for new cardholders, rewards rates and redemption options, and?other noteworthy?features such as fee waivers or the ability to qualify with less than good credit.

Frequently asked questions

Both a 0% credit card and a low-interest credit card save you money on interest, but they do it in different ways — short-term versus long-term.

  • A 0% card doesn’t charge any interest at all for a period of time after you open the account, then it shifts to an often-high ongoing interest rate. Zero-percent cards are good for people who want to spread out payments on a large purchase or gain breathing room to pay down debt without interest.
  • A low-interest credit card doesn’t typically have a 0% period. Instead, it charges an ongoing interest rate that lower than other cards on the market. Low-interest cards are good for people who expect to roll over a balance most months (meaning they don’t pay off their balance in full every month).

While 0% cards often offer rewards as an incentive to keep using them after the 0% period runs out, low-interest cards do not. The lower interest rate is the "reward."

A 0% credit card works just like any other credit card except that for a certain period of time after you open your account, the bank doesn’t charge any interest on your balance. You’re still responsible for paying at least the minimum amount due each month. (And be sure you do: If you don't, the issuer might cancel your 0% period.)?Once the introductory 0% period ends, your APR rises to the ongoing rate, and you will be charged interest on your balance going forward.

Among credit cards from major issuers, the longest 0% APR periods tend to be around 18 months, although in a few cases you might find 20 or 21 months, especially for balance transfers. (Depending on the card, the 0% period may apply to purchases, balance transfers or both; some cards have different 0% periods for purchases and transfers.) Cards from smaller issuers or credit unions may offer longer 0% periods. It’s most common to see periods of 12 to 15 months.?

Credit card issuers use 0% introductory offers to attract new customers, so to get one, your best bet is to apply for a new card that advertises a 0% period. Generally speaking, you’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for a card with a 0% offer. That roughly translates to a credit score of 690 or better — although credit scores alone do not guarantee approval for any credit card. You’ll also need to be able to show income and meet other requirements.???

Occasionally, credit card companies will make a 0% offer to existing customers to encourage them to use their cards (especially if they haven’t been doing so recently), but that’s not something you can count on happening.?

With low-interest cards,?too, you generally need good to excellent credit to qualify. The same caveats apply — credit score alone?doesn't guarantee approval.

If the card doesn’t charge an annual fee, there’s no harm in keeping the?account?open once the introductory 0% rate expires. In fact, closing the account could hurt your credit score by reducing the amount of credit you have available, which could increase your credit utilization. If the card charges a fee, however, or if you fear that the open credit line will tempt you to overspend, then closing it might be the best action.

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