Cold start to the year for zero interest credit card market, research finds

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Borrowers looking to ease the cost of their Christmas debts may find the range of balance transfer card deals on offer is not as competitive as it once was, analysis has found.

Moneyfacts.co.uk said  the longest interest-free periods being offered to consumers on balance transfer cards have shrunk by five months compared with a year ago.

It said 2018 had seen a "cold start" to the market when it comes to the 0% balance transfer credit card market, with "very few" launches or improvements in the sector.

It said that since the start of January, only a couple of card providers have improved or launched fresh interest-free balance transfer offers.

Moneyfacts said in 2017 there was a much bigger drive to launch or improve on 0% balance transfer offers, some of which were market-leading at 43 months interest-free.

The longest 0% introductory periods currently available to borrowers on balance transfer cards are for a shorter period of 38 months, it said.

Rachel Springall, a finance expert at Moneyfacts.co.uk, said: "It seems that the usual boom in interest-free credit card offers has gone a bit stale this year, with very few tantalising offers propelled onto the market to choose from.

"As it stands today, borrowers looking to take out a balance transfer credit card will find that they have a shorter term to repay any debts.

"The longest offer a year ago boasted 43 months interest-free for balance transfers, but today, the best deals offer five months less, at 38 months."

Ms Springall said that despite the lack of recent competition, borrowers generally still have a wide choice of 0% deals.

She said: "The market has definitely shifted over the last decade to provide borrowers with a bit of breathing space for their debts, but consumers must ensure they do not use these offers as a crutch for their debt."

Ms Springall said the "number one rule" for borrowers should be to never miss a card repayment, which could damage their credit score.

A recent survey of lenders by the Bank of England found the availability of non-mortgage credit to households was reported to have decreased across all four quarters of 2017.

Banks and building societies also anticipated a further significant decrease in the first quarter of 2018, with lenders expecting to tighten their credit scoring criteria, the Bank's report said.


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