There's no such thing as an interest-free personal loan in the traditional sense. However, there are other simple ways to borrow money without paying any interest whatsoever.
There are a number of interest-free loans available on the market that will help you borrow money while keeping rising debt in check.
We're going to highlight the various ways you can get your hands on interest-free cash. But be warned, not all of them are truly free.
Confused? We'll explain more as we run through each option, outlining all potential pitfalls to look out for, so your 'free' loan doesn't drag you deeper into the financial mire.
By the way, if you've been comparing personal loans online, you won't have found these options. That’s because providers don't label them as 'loans' at all!
If you've been in debt for a long time now, or are going further into the red, we've put together a guide to getting out of debt and help available.
1. An interest-free overdraft
Good for: reliable, truly cost-free credit whenever you need it
A number of current accounts offer a 0% interest overdraft facility.
How much can I borrow? That depends on the account you choose and your personal circumstances but we're generally talking about small amounts here.
For example, Nationwide gives an arranged overdraft of £1,200 on its FlexDirect account, which charges no interest at all and no fees for the first 12 months (50p per day thereafter).
Remember that the size of the interest-free overdraft you're offered will also depend on your credit rating.
How long is the cash interest-free? Again, this depends on the account, but borrowing via a 0% overdraft is definitely not a long-term borrowing solution.
Unless you are a student, the majority of current accounts will only let you have an interest-free overdraft for a few months (first direct is the exception here).
After this, you'll be charged substantial interest on your remaining negative balance (or in some cases a fixed daily fee) so you need to make sure you've paid off your debt within the 0% period.
What to watch out for: It's very important you don't exceed your 0% overdraft limit. Doing so will push you into an 'unauthorised' overdraft – at which point you'll rack up hefty costs (up to £35 a month).
Some providers are starting to do away with punitive unauthorised overdraft fees, but it's never going to be an affordable option.
2. A 0% new purchase credit card
Good for: moderate amounts of debt and single large purchases
The other main way of getting a totally 'free' loan is to take out a credit card that offers 0% interest on new purchases.
How much can I borrow? A credit card will normally indicate what its maximum credit limit is before you apply. However, the credit limit you're offered might be much lower, and (like an overdraft) will depend on your personal financial circumstances.
How long is the money interest-free? This depends on the credit card. Currently, providers are offering up to 28-month interest-free cards, but the top rates can change on a weekly basis.
What to watch out for: When your 0% deal ends, you'll be charged a very high level of interest on your remaining balance (typically APR of up to 20%) – so it's crucial you clear your balance before this happens.
If you do still have a balance remaining when your 0% deal ends, you could try to take out a 0% balance transfer card (see below) and shift the leftover debts across to it.
You also need to make absolutely sure you make the minimum repayments every month (more if you can afford it). If you're late or default on a payment, you may well be fined, and your 0% deal is likely to be whipped away from you.
3. A 0% balance transfer credit card
Good for: consolidating and paying off credit card debt
If you're already paying interest on a credit card debt, you could turn it into an interest-free loan by moving it onto a credit card offering 0% on balance transfers.
How much can I borrow? As with a 0% new purchase card, a 0% balance transfer credit card will normally indicate what its maximum credit limit is before you apply. However, the credit limit you're offered will depend largely on your credit rating and salary.
How long is the cash interest-free? Again, this depends on which card you choose. At the moment, the top offer is 28 months with HSBC. For the latest best buys, read our guide to the best 0% balance transfer credit cards.
What to watch out for: While you'll temporarily eliminate interest payments on your debt, most of these cards are is not totally free.
The vast majority of balance transfer credit cards charge transfer fees of 1-3% of your total debt to move your money onto them (although there are some truly fee-free balance transfer cards available).
If you're willing to opt for a slightly lower 0% window, you could choose one of the few truly fee-free balance transfer deals out there.
Currently, you can get the Sainsbury's Bank Balance Transfer Card (22 months) or the Barclaycard Platinum Balance Transfer Card (20 months) without paying a penny in fees.
As a final point, remember that if you don't manage to clear your debt during the 0% period, you'll be saddled with big interest charges.
Rates will typically be between 18-22% APR – but there are plenty of horror stories about people being charged 30% APR or even more!
And again, make absolutely sure you make (at the very least) the minimum payments every single month. Otherwise, you could end up with a fine and a hefty rate of interest on that large balance!
4. A 0% money transfer credit card
Good for: consolidating and paying off overdraft debt
If you have an expensive overdraft you want to pay off, you could clear it with a 0% money transfer credit card.
How much can I borrow? Again, this will depend on your financial situation.
How long is the cash interest-free? The top money transfer card is also the top balance transfer card – currently topped by MBNA's 28-month offer (2.99% fee).
What to watch out for: Like with balance transfers, money transfer cards come with an up-front fee for securing the 0% rate. This will vary depending on which card you choose, but tend to be between 2% and 4%.
The only real difference between balance transfer and money transfer cards is that, with the latter, you’re transferring money from a credit card to a bank account, instead of transferring debt from one credit card to another.
Good for: small purchases you can pay off in a month
Klarna's 'Pay Later' offer is the only interest-free loan listed here which doesn't require a hard credit check and won't appear on your credit report. However, it's only available if you're looking to buy from specific retailers so it's far less flexible than some of the other options.
You get 14 to 30 days to pay off a purchase, depending on the retailer.
You don't get charged any interest or fees: however, failing to pay will harm your credit report.
Klarna also offers longer instalment plans via its 'Slice It' offer, some with interest attached and hard credit checks. Read more about Klarna here.
6. PayPal Credit
Good for: immediate access to credit
If you need money today, PayPal Credit could be a good bet.
You apply online and it applies a credit limit to your PayPal account, usually within the same day, which can be used for online purchases from retailers that accept PayPal.
However, to make it interest-free, you need to spend above £150 in a single transaction. You'll then get 4-months interest-free in order to pay off your debt.
It's important to pay off your debt within that time because the usual interest rates are as expensive as an overdraft.
It's not available to those with a poor credit rating: we've included alternatives in our guide.
Longer-term, low-rate solutions
As you can see, all these are relatively short-term borrowing solutions.
If you need a low-interest repayment plan that lasts longer, a low-rate credit card might be a better solution for you.
Alternatively, if you need to borrow a larger sum of money you may qualify for a low-rate personal loan.
And again, if you're borrowing more money to pay off existing debts, it may be time to seek help with your debts.
This article is regularly updated
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