What happens when your credit card's 0% intro APR ends?

Credit cardholders need to know what to expect when a 0% APR expires. (iStock)

Timing really is everything when it comes to credit cards – especially when a promotional 0% APR period ends.

What happens when your credit card's 0% intro APR period concludes and what does it mean for credit cardholders? Apparently, a great deal. Here's what you need to know.

What is an introductory 0% APR offer?

“A 0% APR introductory offer is a new credit card offer that allows consumers to make use of 0% interest charges for a period of typically 6-to-21 months,” explained Adem Selita, president and co-founder of The Debt Relief Company, in New York, N.Y. “Essentially, promotional offers in the form of 0% are meant to entice consumers into opening a new credit card with the hopes they cannot repay the borrowed amount within the guidelines of the introductory offer.”

The promotional card offer often appeals to card consumers looking for a balance transfer card to better handle excessive credit card debt. Those looking for balance transfer cards, which typically come with a 0% intro APR – or fairly low APR – for 6 to 18 months, can use Credible's free online tools to view their options and choose a card that best meets their needs.


There are significant advantages and disadvantages of 0% APR credit card offers, however:

Advantage: “The main advantage of the 0% intro APR period is carrying credit card debt that doesn't charge interest, but for a limited time as specified at signup,” said Mark Nicholson, marketing director at Match Financial, a personal finance platform. 

Disadvantage: Consequently, cardholders need to know the terms of the promotional offer and when it expires – or you risk owing much more in interest when the 0% APR offer shuts down for good. “Should you fail to pay the balance owed before the introductory period ends, you’ll be charged the regular interest rate on the unpaid balance," Nicholson said.

What happens when your 0% introductory APR period ends? 

“While these offers can differ slightly, most credit card companies have a clause within the offer stating that if the balance is not paid back in full by the end of the introductory period, you may owe retroactive interest (based on the standard APR) on any purchases made throughout the entirety of the promotional period,” Selita says. “If you don’t know when the promo period ends and still retain a balance at the end of it, you could be held liable for interest charges made throughout the period, even if your balance was next to nothing at the time the 0% APR offer period expires.

“Thus, the main thing to know about the length of the promotional period in reference to a balance transfer card is that for the 0% offer to hold up — the balance must be paid in full by the end of the promo period,” Selita said.


Upsides and downsides

There are plenty of upsides in knowing when the promotional APR period ends, with saving cash at the top of the list.

“Once the promotional offer ends, the interest rate will go up - probably way up,” said Bobbi Olson, budget coach and host of the CentsAble Chat Podcast. “So, the main upside of knowing when it ends is paying off all the card debt, or as much as possible, before the interest rate goes up. This will save money.”

Use Credible to determine if a balance transfer or 0% credit card makes more sense for your financial situation. Credible makes it simple to compare options.


Correspondingly, there’s a big risk in not knowing the 0% APR expiration debt.

“The downside is that you will have a rude awakening when your minimum payment significantly increases and the interest begins to pile on to your existing balance, along with any new purchases,” Olson said.

For balance transfer cardholders, knowing when the 0% APR expiration debt ends is especially critical.

“Balance credit card users have to read the APR contract teams carefully,” she added. “That’s because it may be that the 0% interest only applies to the amount you transfer (many times it's only what you transfer within the first 30 days). This means that, if you make purchases with this card, those purchases will be subject to the normal interest rate for that card, starting on day 1. Either way, once the promotional period ends, the normal interest rate will be applied to any unpaid balance.”

Credit card consumers who are looking for a new balance transfer credit card can leverage multiple card offers simultaneously via Credible.


How do you find out when your 0% APR ends?

The best way to find out the 0% interest rate promotional period is by digging into the fine print.“Read through the information provided in the card contract or promotional literature - it will usually tell you all you need to know,” Olson said. “Typically, it's either 12 months from the date the account is opened or 12 billing cycles. If the information you have is unclear, call the credit card company and ask or visit their website or mobile app for help.”

You can also ask the card provider what interest rate you can expect to pay once the APR promotional period ends – the rate will surely go up.


“The APR average is usually close to 16%, so paying down the balance would be a priority or it would be like carrying a high-interest personal loan,” said Nicholson.Nicholson advises closely reviewing not only the 0% APR expiration date, but also the “fine print” that can lead to more cash coming out of your pocket. 

“When signing up for a 0% APR introductory period check the future interest rates after the promotional period and look for any penalties or fees attached to the card offer,” he said.