0% purchase cards are available from a number of UK credit card issuers and are extremely popular products. Many people in the UK will have switched to a 0% balance transfer card to reduce the amount they pay on an existing balance, and 0% purchase cards operate in a similar manner. The key difference with 0% purchase products is that they offer 0% interest, not on existing balances, but on new purchases. This means that holders of these products do not need to pay a fee to gain access to a 0% interest rate, as balance transfer holders typically have to pay with the transfer fee.
In a sense, all credit cards, and indeed charge cards, offer 0% on purchases, in that customers typically get up to 56 days interest free before their balance needs to be cleared. Where 0% purchase cards differ is that they offer their holders 0% on purchases for an extended introductory period (often over 2 years).
As long as an individual makes their minimum payments on time, they are not charged interest on their remaining balance.
As well the main feature of 0% purchases that these cards attract customers with, they also offer a number of benefits that are common to all credit cards, but are perhaps of greater relevance to people transacting with their credit cards, rather than using them as a vehicle for debt (as with balance transfer cards).
Unlike some other popular credit card types whose features or terms discourage holders from purchasing with them, 0% purchase credit cards enable their holders to gain the full protection of some of the most powerful consumer protection legalisation available anywhere in the world – Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
Section 75 makes UK credit card issuers (and other lenders where the debt is associated with a particular product or service), 'jointly and severally liable' for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by a supplier, where the goods in question cost more than £100 (but less than £30,000).
In effect, it means individuals paying for goods or services on their credit card can (in many circumstances) claim back the full cost from their issuer of any product that is faulty or has been misrepresented in the negotiation to sale. This protection is in addition to the rights enshrined within the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which replaced the Sale of Goods 1974) and gives credit card holders powerful protection if they fail to receive satisfactory remedy elsewhere. They can claim redress directly from their credit supplier and avoid unnecessary argument and delay.
FCA guidance to credit card issuers regarding affordability means they are more likely than ever before to check the credit available to applicants from other sources. In practice, this is likely to mean restrictions to the number of cards individuals can hold.
Given this situation, many individuals with existing card balances feel they need to forfeit getting 0% purchases in favour of traditional balance transfer cards. However, a number of purchase products now also offer balance transfers in addition to their primary 0% purchase offering. Also, changes to credit card payment hierarchies, whereby the most expensive debt is cleared first, have made purchases a viable alternative to people with existing debt. Indeed, often by forfeiting a couple of months of 0% purchases, applicants can find issuers offering equal length 0% deals on balance transfers and purchases for reasonably long periods (meaning they get the best of both card types).
If the ability to make purchases at 0% for around 2 years were not incentive enough to use their cards, some 0% purchase cards exist that enable their users to claim points for popular reward schemes (Avios, Clubcard, Nectar, etc.), or even get cashback on their purchases too.
Whilst all purchase cards offer 0% interest on new purchases for an introductory period, the durations of those periods differ widely from issuer to issuer (and from product to product), as do the additional features and rewards they support.
Comparison tables can help people quickly evaluate different products impartially based on specific attributes. They also feature details regarding which of the cards offer an eligibility checker to help people understand the likelihood they have of being accepted for a particular product (before a ‘full search’ of their credit report is made, which could harm their prospects of getting other credit products).
Although all purchases made on 0% purchase cards benefit from the introductory period, it is perhaps when purchasing high value items that these cards offer the greatest benefit.
For example, a number of options are available to someone who gets a fault with an essential piece of electrical equipment. They could use their own savings, they could turn to friends or family if they don’t have the money, they could use a short term lender and pay a prohibitive interest rate, or perhaps they might find a store that offers store credit.
In all but one of these instances, the individual would lose the protection of Section 75. In the last option they will get Section 75 protection, but they will not be able to shop around for the best deal and may end up paying over the odds.
People who have a standard credit card, “for emergencies”, might use that to make the purchase. They will benefit from Section 75 and be able to shop around, but will also have to pay interest on the purchase once their grace period is over (around 56 days maximum).
0% purchase cards enable holders to gain Section 75, shop around for the best deal and avoid high interest for a set period. They can then pay back the monies owed in full at a more convenient time (assuming they maintain the minimum payments) or split the costs over a number of months. Indeed, the advantages of 0% purchase cards for high value items are so profound that even those individuals with savings should consider getting one, even if it’s just to get Section 75 protection.
The promotional 0% on purchases available on these cards is subject to certain conditions. If card holders fail to meet these obligations, an issuer is likely to withdraw their promotional rate and revert to the standard APR, which can be very expensive if an individual has only just paid for a high value item with their card. The simplest way to avoid this issue is to meet the conditions and obligations agreed to with the issuer in the credit agreement. These conditions vary slightly from issuer to issuer, but the most important ones are common to all:
Ensure that at least the minimum payment stated the monthly statement is made (this amount varies from month to month depending ones balance)
Ensure monthly payments made are completed in good time (so that funds reach the account before the payment date)
Direct debits can be a useful tool to ensure these obligations are met, but even they are dependent on the individual having sufficient funds in their bank account.
The increased demand for bad credit products over the past few years has fuelled increased demand and competition. This has resulted in a number of bad credit products offering 0% deals on purchases (traditionally only available to customers with good/excellent credit scores).
Of course, the introductory periods available to people with poor credit do not match the 0% purchase durations available to people with good credit history, but at around 3 to 6 months, they do offer people with bad credit the opportunity to split payments over a series of months and reduce the impact to their finances of a big purchase.
What happens at the end of the 0% introductory period for purchases? Once the introductory period for 0% purchases has ended, the interest rate applied to the balance held on the card will revert to the consumer’s standard APR.
This standard interest rate is typically considerably higher than the promotional rate, and it is at this point (when consumers have failed to clear the balance they accrued at 0%) that issuers make much of their money.
There are a couple of ways that interest can be avoided. The first is perhaps the simplest, and most recommended: individuals should clear their balances before the end of the promotional period. The second common way that consumers can continue to defer the interest charged on their 0% purchase cards is by switching their balance with a 0% balance transfer card. Transferring a balance to one of these cards does incur a fee, but it is likely to be considerably lower than the ongoing interest that a balance is likely to attract over a year (or however long it is held for).
Remember: The 0% purchase rate available on these cards only applies to new purchases. It will not apply to the ATM withdrawals made using it, and it will not apply to purchases of foreign currency or even prepaid card top ups. These transactions will be treated as cash advances and will attract a considerably higher interest rate without a grace period.
Typically the 0% introductory period on purchases applies whether those purchases were made in the UK or abroad. However, individuals wanting to use their purchase card whilst abroad should remember that although no interest will be attracted on the purchases, they will remain subject to the issuer’s “Foreign Usage Fee”.
These fees differ from card to card, but are typically in the order of 3.00% of the transaction value when converted to pounds. Individuals who are close to their credit limit need to be conscious of these fees, as they can be the difference between staying within or breaching a credit limit.
Also cash withdrawn or paid for using a credit card abroad is treated in the same way as cash advances made in the UK, in that it attracts immediate interest. In some respects, it is actually worse for customers withdrawing cash abroad, as they also often incur a “Cash Fee” which inflates the amount by around 3% before standard interest is also instantly applied.