Reminder: Deferred Interest Credit Cards Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be

deferred-interest-image2Each year, consumers marking items off their holiday shopping lists are tempted by retailers’ store-branded credit cards and the offers of “0% interest for 12 months” or “special financing.” And this year – although it’s only October – is no different. 

While these offers are incredibly alluring, the folks at remind us they are like “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” leaving consumers thinking they’re getting a great deal, while actually paying more if they miss the fine print.

Remember, as opposed to true 0% interest offers, where you are not accruing any interest during the introductory promotional period, a deferred interest card account is actually accruing that interest during those months.

So in most cases under deferred interest plans, if you leave an unpaid balance of even $1 at the end of the introductory period, or if you miss even a single payment, interest is retroactively applied to your entire purchase amount.

To illustrate the difference, use this example of an $800 purchase for your children’s wish list from their favorite store: One card offers a true 0% interest offer for six months. A second card is a 0% deferred interest account for six months. Both have 20% APRs (which is about average for retailer-branded cards) after their intro periods.

According to CardHub’s report, if you pay off that $800 before the six months is up, you don’t have anything to worry about in either case.

But if you need a seventh month, the difference is huge. That extra month will only hit you with around $2 in interest for the true “0% for six months” offer. But if you need a seventh month and you used a deferred interest card, you’ll be hit with all of the interest that has accrued during the six months, which is around $55, according to CardHub.

In its report, CardHub found that nearly three-fourths of major retailers offer financing options to shoppers, many of which offer deferred interest plans.

Among the stores offering deferred interest cards are: Apple, Macy’s, True Value, Dell, JCPenney, Menards, Sears, Home Depot, Office Depot/Office Max, Staples, Walmart, Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ US, Pottery Barn, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply Co., and Amazon.

While these companies may offer some questionable cards, many are good at actually relaying that information to customers.

For example, Best Buy and Walmart do not go out of their way to hide the fact that you will be hit with all the interest if you have an unpaid balance at the end of the promotional period, CardHub found.

Conversely, Apple and True Value scored the lowest overall on transparency. This was a stark contrast for Apple, which CardHub reports had the highest transparency ratings in both 2013 and 2014.

Not only can deferred interest cards hit you in the back of the head if you don’t pay off the balance in time, that interest is often bordering on usury.

For example, Staples offers an APR of 27.99%, while TJ Maxx, Toys ‘R’ US, GameStop, Pottery Barn, Macy’s, and JCPenney offer APR at 26.99%.

Bottom line, whatever card you choose, you should do everything you can to pay off your balance before that promotional APR expires. Credit card companies are banking that you won’t be responsible enough to do that, so prove them wrong.

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