Here are three routes to interest-free money that won't be found in the 'loans' section of your bank!
In a perfect world, we'd all live within our means and never spend money we didn't have.
Unfortunately, that's not always how it works.
Thankfully genuine interest-free loan deals do exist – and when you really need to access extra cash, they can be an economical and useful financial tool.
They can also help you get your finances back under control, by chopping the amount of interest you're already paying on debts.
Here, we're going to highlight three good ways of getting interest-free cash. We'll also outline the pitfalls you need to watch out for – so your 'free' money doesn't drag you deeper into the financial mire.
By the way, if you've been hunting through the personal loans section of your bank, you won't have found these options. In fact, providers don't label them as 'loans' at all!
1) An interest-free overdraft
Some current accounts have a 0% interest overdraft facility included in the package.
How much can I borrow? It depends on the account you go for and your personal circumstances.
Nationwide gives an example of £1,200 on its FlexDirect account, which charges no interest at all and no fees for the first 12 months.
The Santander 123 Current Account pays up to 3% cashback on certain household bills and up to 3% on in-credit balances between £3,000 and £20,000.
To qualify for these perks you need to be able to deposit at least £500 a month, set up at least two direct debits and pay a £2 monthly account fee. You'll get an interest-free overdraft for four months (representative £1,200) so long as you use the bank's 'dedicated switching service' to transfer over your direct debits.
With the Santander Everyday account, you can get the same interest-free overdraft of up to £1,200 for four months but you don’t have to pay the £2 monthly fee and you won’t earn cashback.
After four months, both accounts will apply a 'usage fee' of £1 a day.
Alternatively you can get a £500 overdraft from First Direct with its 1st Account, of which the first £250 is absolutely interest-free.
And with M&S Bank both its Current Account and Premier Current Account come with a £500 overdraft of which the first £100 is interest free.
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, it 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 the first few months.
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 – on which you'll be charged horrendous rates of interest (typically 20-30% APR) and possibly usage fees as well.
2) A 0% on purchases credit card
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. At the moment, the longest 0% period comes from the Santander 123 card, which boasts a 23-month interest-free offer. It also pays cashback on your spending of up to 3%, though there is a £24 annual fee to consider.
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 15-20% + APR) – 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 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
If you're already paying interest on a debt, you could turn it into an interest-free loan by shifting it onto a credit card offering 0% on balance transfers.
How much can I borrow? As with a 0% 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 longest general balance transfer deal is on offer from Barclaycard and Virgin. It lasts for 36 months (with a 2.99% balance transfer fee on the Barclaycard or 3.49% with the Virgin card). After this, the typical APR is 18.9% on both.
There are a host of other cards offering more than 30 months interest free. For the latest best buys, read The best 0% balance transfer credit cards.
What to watch out for: While you'll temporarily eliminate interest payments on your debt, this is not totally free money. The vast majority of balance transfer credit cards charge transfer fees of 2-3% of your total debt to move your money onto them.
More importantly, 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 15-20% 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!
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.
This is a classic article that is regularly updated