How to Avoid Credit Card Finance Charges

Man running from credit card
••• Fanatic Studio / Getty Images

Credit cards give you the ability to make purchases today and pay for them later. If it takes you longer than a month to pay off your balance you'll pay a fee in the form of a finance charge. Paying finance charges increases the cost you pay for having a credit card, even moreso if you never fully pay off your balance. You can avoid finance charges on almost all credit cards, but it's all about the timing and amount of your credit card payment.

How to Avoid a Finance Charge

Since finance charges are the credit card issuer's way of charging you for carrying a balance, the simple way to avoid finance charges is to not carry a balance. Paying your credit card balance in full every month will prevent your credit card issuer from adding a finance charge to your balance.

Here's how it works. Your credit card has a grace period, which is typically between 21 and 25 days after your billing cycle ends. You can typically find the length of your grace period on the front or back of your billing statement. The grace period is your chance to pay your full credit card balance and dodge finance charges. Your statement may even include a disclosure that states the date you have to pay off your balance to avoid finance charges.

Pay the full balance listed on your credit card statement to avoid seeing a finance charge on your next statement. If you pay just part of your balance, your next billing statement will have a finance charge calculated based on the unpaid balance and any new purchases you make.

How Promotional Rates Affect Finance Charges

Some credit cards offer a zero percent introductory interest rate to entice new customers who want to avoid interest. During the promotional period, you generally won't receive a finance charge even if you don't pay your balance in full. However, once the promotional period ends, any remaining balance will start accruing finance charges at the regular APR.

During the promotional period, you can also be assessed a finance charge on balances that aren't subject to the promotional rate. For example, if the promotional rate applies only to balance transfers, then purchases you make will be charged a finance charge.

Deferred interest promotional offers are often promoted similar to zero percent balance transfers, but they're a little different. A deferred interest offer will backdate interest on your balance - assess the full finance charge from the start of the promotional period - if you don't pay the balance by the time the promotional period ends.

Always read the terms of your promotional offers to know whether you need to pay off the full balance before the end of the promotional period to avoid paying finance charges on the balance. You don't want to be caught off guard with several months of finance charges added to your balance.

Finance Charges You Can't Avoid

You'll typically only get a grace period when your previous balance was paid in full and you started the billing cycle with a zero balance. If you had a balance at the beginning of the billing cycle, you may not be able to avoid a finance charge. You will have to bring your balance to $0 before the grace period applies again.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to avoid finance charges on all types of balances. Balance transfers and cash advances don't have a grace period, so finance charges start accruing as soon as the balance hits your card. When it comes to these types of balances, the best way to avoid a finance charge is to stay away from those transactions completely. The exception is when your credit card has a zero percent interest rate promotion, but these rarely apply to cash advances.