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Credit Card Promotional Interest Rates: Understanding Special Offers on Credit Cards

By Dan Miller · August 05, 2022 · 7 minute read

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Credit Card Promotional Interest Rates: Understanding Special Offers on Credit Cards

Some credit cards offer a promotional interest rate, as low as 0% APR, for purchases and/or balance transfers. Often, these promotional interest rates are offered for a limited period of time when you apply for a new card, though some issuers offer promotional rates for existing cardholders as well.

If you have a large purchase coming up, or an existing credit card balance that you want to transfer over, these cards can save you a significant amount of interest. You’ll just want to make sure to pay off the full balance by the end of the promotional period, as your interest rate will likely jump significantly when your promotional APR expires.

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What Are Credit Card Promotional Interest Rates?

A credit card promotional interest rate is an interest rate that is offered for a limited amount of time, as a promotion. During the promotional period, you’ll be charged a lower interest rate than your typical interest rate.

It’s common for credit cards to offer these introductory promotional interest rates for new members when you open a credit card account. However, it’s also possible for issuers to offer promotional interest rates to existing cardholders.

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How Credit Card Promotional Interest Rates Work

One common scenario for how credit card promotional interest rates work is that an issuer might offer a 0% promotional interest rate on purchases and/or balance transfers for a certain period of time. When you’re using a credit card during the promotional interest period, you won’t pay any interest.

It’s important to note that there are two major types of promotional interest rates, and they vary slightly. With a 0% interest promotion, you won’t pay any interest during the promotional period. If there’s any balance remaining at the end of the promotional period, you’ll begin paying interest at that time. With a deferred interest promotional rate, on the other hand, you’ll pay interest on any outstanding balance back to the date of the initial purchase.

Benefits of Credit Card Promotional Rates

As you may have guessed, there are certainly upsides to taking advantage of credit card promotional interest rates. Here’s a look at the major benefits.

Low Interest Rate During the Promotional Period

One benefit of credit card promotional interest rates is the ability to take advantage of a low or even 0% interest rate during the promotional period. Having access to these promotional rates can give you added flexibility as you plan your financial future.

Ability to Make Balance Transfers

One possibility to maximize a credit card promotional rate is if you have existing consumer debt like a credit card balance. By using a balance transfer promotional interest rate, you can transfer your existing balance and save on interest. This can help lower the amount of time it takes to pay off your debt.

Can Pay For a Large Purchase Over Time

If your credit card has a 0% promotional interest rate on purchases, you can take advantage of that to pay for a large purchase over time. That way, you can spread out the cost of a large purchase over several months rather than needing to pay it off within one billing period.

Just make sure to pay your purchase off completely before the end of the promotional period to avoid paying any interest.

Drawbacks of Credit Card Promotional Rates

There are downsides to these offers to consider as well. Specifically, here are the drawbacks of credit card promotional interest rates.

Deferred Interest

You need to be careful if your credit card promotional rate is a deferred interest rate, rather than a 0% interest rate. Because of how credit cards work with a deferred interest rate promotion, you’ll pay interest on any outstanding balance at the end of the promotional period — back to the date of the initial purchase. This amount will get added to your existing balance, driving it higher.

Penalty Interest Rates

You still have to make the minimum monthly payment on your credit card during the promotional period. If you don’t make your regularly scheduled payment, the issuer may cancel your promotional interest rate. They may even impose an additional credit card penalty interest rate that’s higher than the standard interest rate on your card.

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May Encourage Poor Spending Habits

Establishing good saving habits and living within your means is an important financial concept to live by. While it may not always be possible, it’s generally considered a good idea to save up your money before making a purchase. While a 0% interest promotional rate means you won’t pay any interest, it can contribute to a mindset of buying things you don’t truly need.

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How Long Do Credit Card Promotional Interest Rates Last?

By law, credit card promotional interest rates must last at least six months, but it is common for them to last longer. You may see introductory interest rates lasting 12 to 18 months, or even longer.

Regardless of how long your promotional period lasts, make sure you have a plan to pay your balance off in full by the end of it. Credit card purchase interest charges will kick in once your promotional period is over.

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Zero Interest vs. Deferred Interest Promotions

Both 0% interest rates and deferred interest rates are different kinds of promotional rates where you don’t pay any interest during the promotional period. However, they come with some key differences:

Zero Interest Deferred Interest
Often marketed with terms like “0% intro APR for 15 months” Often marketed as “No interest if paid in full in 6 months”
No interest charged during the promotional period No interest charged during the promotional period
Interest charged on any outstanding balance starting at the end of the promotional period At the end of the promotional period, interest is charged on any outstanding balance, back-dated to the date of the initial purchase

What to Consider When Getting a Card With a Zero-Interest or Deferred Interest Promotion

One of the top credit card rules is to make sure you pay off your credit card balance in full, each and every month. But if you’re carrying a balance with a promotional credit card rate, you’ll want to make sure you understand if it’s a 0% rate or a deferred interest promotion.

With a 0% promotional rate, you’ll start paying interest on any balance at the end of the promo period. But with a deferred interest promotional rate, you’ll pay interest on any balance, back-dated to the date of the initial purchase.

In either case, the best option is to make sure that you have a plan in place to pay off the balance by the end of the promotional period.

Paying off Balances With Promotional Rates

You’ll want to have a gameplan for how to pay off your balance before the end of the promotional period. That’s because at the end of the promotional period, your credit card interest rate will increase significantly.

If you still are carrying a balance, you will have to start paying interest on the balance. And if you were under a deferred interest promotional rate, that interest will be calculated back from the initial date of purchase.

Watch Out for High Post-Promotional APRs

Using a 0% promotional interest rate can seem like an attractive option, but it can lull you into a false sense of financial security. You should always be aware that the 0% interest rate won’t last forever. Your interest rate will go up at the end of the promotional period, and if you’re still carrying a credit card balance, you’ll start paying interest on the balance.

Exploring Other Credit Card Options

There are some other credit card options besides getting a card with a promotional interest rate. For instance, you might look for a credit card that offers cash back or other credit card rewards with each purchase.

Before focusing on credit card rewards or cash back, however, you’ll want to make sure that you first focus on paying off your balance. Otherwise, the interest that you pay each month will more than offset any rewards you earn.

If you’re carrying a balance, you can also attempt to get a good credit card APR by making on-time payments and asking your issuer to lower your interest rate. By simply securing a good APR, you won’t have to worry about it expiring and then spiking like you would with a promotional APR.

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The Takeaway

Some credit cards offer promotional interest rates to new and/or existing cardholders. These promotional interest rates could be a 0% interest rate for a specific period of time, or a lower interest rate to encourage balance transfers.

While taking advantage of promotional interest rates can be a savvy financial move if you have existing consumer debt or need to make a large purchase, you’ll want to make sure you have a plan to pay off your balance in full before the promotional period ends. That way, you avoid having to pay any interest.

Another option can be to sign up for a cash back credit rewards card like the SoFi credit card. If you open a credit card with SoFi, you can earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1 Plus, for a limited time, new credit card holders who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/22

Earn cash back rewards with the SoFi Credit Card.

FAQ

Will my interest rate spike after a promotional deal ends?

Yes, generally credit card promotional interest rates last only for a specific number of months. The way credit cards work is to charge interest on balances that are not paid off. So, while your credit card may charge 0% or a lower promotional rate for a period of time, the interest rate will rise once the promotional period is over and will apply to any outstanding balance on the card.

How does promo APR work?

Promotional APR offers are generally put forward by credit card companies as a way to entice new applicants. Cards may offer a 0% introductory APR for a certain number of months on purchases and/or balance transfers. Once the promotional period is over, your interest rate will rise to its normal level.

Should you close a credit card with a high interest rate?

Having a credit card with a high interest rate will not negatively impact your credit or your finances if you’re not carrying a balance. So, simply having a high interest rate is not a reason, in and of itself, to close a credit card. But if you have a balance on a credit card with a high interest rate, you might want to consider doing a balance transfer to a card with a promotional 0% interest rate while you work to pay it off.

Is my credit card’s promotional rate too good to be true?

Promotional interest rates are a legitimate marketing strategy used by many credit card companies. While you shouldn’t treat them as a scam, you also need to make sure that you are aware of the terms of the promotional rate and how long the rate is good for. Make a plan to completely pay off your balance by the end of the promotional period before your interest rate increases.


Photo credit: iStock/Jakkapan Sookjaroen

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
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The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
New and existing Checking and Savings members who have not previously enrolled in direct deposit with SoFi are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 25-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. Entry into the Program will be available 10/1/22 to 12/31/22. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.25% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 11/3/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet

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