This post comes from Jason Bushey, who writes about personal finance and credit cards daily on Creditnet.
I recently received this question from a Money Talks News reader:
I’m in the market for a new credit card, and my biggest concern is the introductory period. I have a sizable amount of debt I’m hoping to transfer, and wanted to hear your thoughts on which cards have the longest 0 percent introductory periods. My credit is pretty good and I’m honestly not concerned about rewards, just the introductory period! — Bob U.
Bob’s got his head on straight by considering a credit card’s introductory period length over rewards. If you’re carrying a balance and paying interest, you’re putting an unnecessary toll on your personal finances. Credit cards with 0 percent interest applied to balance transfers give good-to-excellent-credit consumers an out when it comes to paying interest, and in my opinion they’re the most valuable credit cards available to those consumers who carry debt.
Some credit cards offer 0 percent interest in the introductory period applied to purchases or balance transfers or both. Since Bob is most concerned with transferring his balance, we’ll keep the answer focused primarily on those cards.
The good news for Bob and consumers like him is that – as required by the Credit CARD Act of 2009 – if a credit card chooses to offer an introductory rate, it must last at least six months. So essentially, you can’t do worse than six months if you’re approved for a 0 percent offer. But which cards offer the longest introductory periods in the U.S.? The first two cards that come to mind are both from Citi.
You may have seen ads for the Citi Simplicity card on your television. This card (reserved for consumers with very good to excellent credit) is one of the best available for consumers most interested in a balance transfer because it offers an 18-month interest-free period. This offer applies to both balance transfers and new purchases, there’s no annual fee and – get this – no late fees. There is, however, a 3 percent balance transfer fee to consider, which means you’ll be charged 3 percent of the total balance you plan to transfer.
Another 18-month introductory option from Citi is the Citi Diamond Preferred Card. Again, this offer applies to balance transfers and new purchases, and the fee to transfer a balance is also 3 percent.
These cards tie for the longest 0 percent intro periods applied to balance transfers for U.S. consumers, but they’re not the only options to consider.
One intriguing offer is Slate from Chase. The 0 percent offer applied to balance transfers and new purchases on this card is a little shorter – 15 months. However, there is no balance transfer fee to pay as long as you make your transfer in the first 60 days of card membership. For a consumer like Bob who says that he carries a “sizable” balance, it’s worth considering this card because the savings on the balance transfer fee might be worth sacrificing the three additional interest-free months the Citi cards offer. Again, this is another card for people with good to excellent credit.
The last card for Bob to consider is the Discover it — 18-Month Balance Transfer promotion. This card offers 18 months of 0 percent interest applied to balance transfers (the intro period for new purchases is just six months). Unlike the other cards, this one offers an excellent cash-back program. That’s the least of Bob’s concerns, but considering that the introductory offer applied to balance transfers is the same, this card is certainly worth considering for those interested in paying off debt.
For U.S. consumers, 18 months is essentially as good as it gets when it comes to introductory periods. But if you think about it, a year and a half is a substantial amount of time to commit yourself to more aggressive monthly payments, especially considering that your entire monthly payment will go to paying down your debt.
The only catches are the credit required for these cards (very good to excellent) and the cost to transfer your balance, which is ultimately a small price to pay for the opportunity to pay down debt over an extended period of time, interest-free.
Note: While we attempt to be completely objective when reporting on credit cards, this site may be compensated by issuers when a reader applies for a credit card through the links within credit card stories or on our credit card search page. Also note that any terms, rates or other features described in this article can change without notice. Always double-check everything with the issuer before applying for any credit card.