It's impossible to plan for unexpected expenses, so those caught by surprise with breakdowns of white goods or even the necessity to replace a car will likely be hard-pressed to cover the cost at short notice. Fortunately for consumers who may not have a large enough nest egg to dip into, there are an abundance of interest-free purchase credit cards to choose from that can help spread the cost.
In fact, our latest research reveals that the top interest-free deal on purchases has hit a new record, with Halifax offering the longest ever term for a 0% purchase card at 30 months, which is an entire year longer than the Best Buy on offer five years ago.
Not only that, but half of the overall credit card market now offers interest-free purchase deals (104 cards), and 53% (55) of the 0% deals on offer are for six months or more, with 35% (37) offering 12 months or more. The table below highlights the improvements seen in recent years, as despite the fact that availability has marginally dipped, both the average introductory term and the longest term available have improved dramatically.
|Number of credit cards overall||Number of introductory purchase cards||Longest 0% interest-free purchase credit card||Longest 0% interest-free purchase credit card|
|Feb 2007||217||111||180 Days||Halifax - 0% for 12 months|
|Feb 2012||178||101||176 Days||Nationwide - 0% for 18 months|
|Today||207||104||312 Days||Halifax - 0% for 30 months|
|Source: Moneyfacts.co.uk||Compiled 28/02/2016|
"It's encouraging to see rivalry in the credit card market, which is particularly good news for customers looking to make a large purchase," said Rachel Springall, finance expert at Moneyfacts. "Today, there are deals available that could give them an entire year more interest-free when comparing the current Best Buy with the best deal available five years ago. With this extended time to repay their debts, these types of cards could significantly help those faced with an emergency purchase who have no other means to cover the unexpected cost."
She points out that, while the number of interest-free purchase cards has remained relatively stable over the years, it's the deals themselves that have improved immensely, as card providers continue to leapfrog to the top of the Best Buys. Indeed, the average length of a 0% interest-free purchase deal has increased by 77% over the last five years to an impressive 312 days, with competition being incredibly fierce in this sector. And, even if you don't apply for the longest deal available, half of all interest-free cards still provide six months or more at 0%, which can make a big difference if you've run out of options to pay for pricey goods or unexpected services.
The savings can be marked, too. Our calculations show that customers who make a £5,000 purchase on a 30-month 0% purchase credit card would have a much more manageable monthly repayment than if they opted for a credit card with a 12-month interest-free deal and aimed to pay it off within that timeframe: it would take 30 repayments of £167 with Halifax's market-leading card to clear the balance, whereas if they choose a one-year 0% deal, they'd have to make 12 repayments of £417 to clear the £5,000 before interest applies.
That's assuming they'd be able to pay it back within that year, too. After all, you may have the best intentions to repay the debt over the short-term, but it doesn't always work out that way, and it's all-too easy to fall back and make miniscule repayments each month. This could result in the debt staying on the card far beyond the interest-free offer, which would mean interest starts to accumulate and the debt becomes harder to clear.
"Whichever option customers choose to help them manage their money, they ideally need to have a glossy credit rating to be eligible for the best deals," added Rachel. "Therefore, it's vital they review their credit score (for instance with Experian), check credit limits across their cards, and above all else keep up with regular repayments on any debts, to be viewed favourably by lenders."
Make sure your credit rating is up to scratch by reading our guide
Looking to make that all-important purchase? Compare the top 0% purchase credit cards to give yourself as long as possible to clear the balance
Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.