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Best 0% APR and Low Interest Credit Cards of May 2020

NerdWalletApril 27, 2020

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

A low-interest credit card saves you money by reducing the cost of debt: When you're paying less in interest, you can pay back what you've borrowed more quickly. A card with a 0% intro APR period will save you the most on interest in the short term. Look for one with an introductory interest-free period longer than a year. If you tend to carry a balance most months, a card with a low ongoing interest rate will work to your advantage in the long run.

Some of our selections for the best low interest credit cards can be applied for through NerdWallet, and some cannot. Below, you'll find application links for the credit cards from our partners that are available through NerdWallet, followed by the full list of our picks.

NerdWallet's Best 0% APR and Low Interest Credit Cards of May 2020

Best 0% APR and Low Interest Credit Cards From Our Partners

Our pick for

0% intro period and flat-rate cash back

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® starts you out with an excellent 0% intro APR period (and a nice bonus offer) and delivers ongoing value with its cash back rewards.

Pros

You get an introductory 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR. You'll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and new cardholders get this offer: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Cons

Unlimited 1.5% cash back is fairly standard nowadays. You might earn more rewards with a card that pays higher rates in specific categories. Still, this card's combination of rewards and 0% period makes it a formidable choice.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

Want to compare more options? Here are our other top picks:

FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS:
BEST 0% APR AND LOW INTEREST CREDIT CARDS

Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Our pick for: Long 0% intro APR period

A lengthy 0% introductory APR period for both purchases and balance transfers has made the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card a NerdWallet favorite. Read our review.

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Our pick for: Long 0% intro APR period

The Wells Fargo Platinum card is pretty bare bones — but they're good bones. You get a nice, long introductory 0% APR period on both purchases and balance transfers, plus no annual fee. There are no rewards, but you get automatic cell phone protection when you pay your wireless bill with the card, so there's a great reason to hold onto it long-term. Read our review.

BankAmericard® credit card

Our pick for: Long 0% intro APR period

The BankAmericard® credit card is short on flash but long on savings. If you're looking to finance a large purchase or, especially, transfer and pay down high-interest debt, it deserves a place on your short list. Read our review.

HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card

Our pick for: 0% intro period and late fee waiver

How does the HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card set itself apart from competing cards that have a similar introductory 0% APR periods? By offering a little forgiveness: It waives the fee on a late payment if you haven't been late in the preceding year. Read our review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Our pick for: 0% intro period and flat-rate cash back

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® pays a simple, flat cash-back rate on all purchases. You can redeem cash back in any amount (no minimum redemption), or transfer your rewards to one of Chase's Sapphire travel cards for more value. There's an outstanding introductory 0% APR period for purchases, plus a solid sign-up bonus. Read our review.

Chase Freedom®

Our pick for: 0% intro period and bonus category cash back

The Chase Freedom® offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate. In past years, those categories have included common spending areas like gas stations, grocery stores, department stores and drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There's a nice sign-up bonus offer and a 0% intro APR period, too. Read our review.

Discover it® Balance Transfer (No longer in market)

Our pick for: 0% intro period and low fees

What makes the Discover it® Balance Transfer (No longer in market) stand out from other balance-transfer cards is its ongoing cash-back rewards, which give you a great reason to keep using the card regularly even after its introductory 0% APR period ends. Read our review.

DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card

Our pick for: Low interest for bad credit

The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card is a secured card for bad credit, but it offers a lower interest rate than many unsecured cards for people with good credit. 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. Read our review.

USAA® Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card

Our pick for: Low interest for military

Military members and their families can get an outstanding interest rate on the USAA® Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card if they qualify. Read our review.

 

OTHER RESOURCES

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.

» MORE: How to get a lower APR on your credit card

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 April 27, 2020

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.