While interest rates on credit cards have gone up by 2.6% over the last five years, the good news is that 0% introductory rate offers have become more generous.

According to financial research company Defaqto, average credit card APRs have increased from 15.8% to 18.4% since 2006. Read on to find out more about the credit cards that are currently offering the longest 0% introductory purchase and balance transfer periods, as well as some useful tips for choosing the right credit card for you.

At the same time, the research shows that introductory offers are becoming far more generous – you need to be proactive to take advantage of the deals available.

David Black, Defaqto’s insight analyst for banking, said: “The credit card market abounds with some very attractive offers but it remains the case that the best deals are aimed at new customers. Therefore, those with good credit ratings have a real incentive to change their credit card on a regular basis and should ensure that they choose a card that matches their likely usage. If someone always repays their entire balance every month then it makes sense to opt for a card that gives rewards.

“In addition, it is unusual to find one credit card that offers the best deal for all types of usage. For this reason, people able to get credit cards may find it beneficial to have more than one credit card and use each for a specific purpose to take advantage of the best features of that card. Clearly an individual would need to be disciplined to do this.

“Against this backdrop, it is important to remember that as an individual’s credit blemishes increase it becomes increasingly difficult to get the credit cards with the most attractive standard interest rates – because of the widespread use of personal pricing – and, as credit records deteriorate further, even to get a credit card at all.”

The longest 0% introductory rate for purchases available is for 15 months from:
• Marks & Spencer Credit Card
• Tesco ClubCard Credit Card

The longest 0% introductory rate for balance transfers are from:
• Barclaycard Platinum with Balance Transfer: 0% on balance transfers for 24 months with a 2.8% balance transfer fee
• Halifax Balance Transfer Card: 0% on balance transfers for 20 months with a 3% balance transfer fee
• Barclaycard Platinum with Balance Transfer (19 months): 0% on balance transfers for 19 months with a 2.4% balance transfer fee
• Virgin Credit Card: 0% on balance transfers for 19 months with a 2.49% balance transfer fee

Here are some tips for comparing credit cards:
• If you have a good credit rating then it pays to change your credit card on a fairly regular basis – this is because many of the most attractive deals are for new customers
• It can pay to have more than one credit card and use each to take advantage of its best feature
• If you don’t, or can’t pay, off the entire balance every month then you should base your choice on the interest rate elements of a credit card rather than any rewards – conversely, if you always pay off the entire balance every month then you should base your choice on the reward elements of a credit card rather than the interest rate
• If you can’t repay your entire outstanding balance every month then always try and repay as much as possible
• Used responsibly credit cards can be a very useful financial tool – however, always remember that if you borrow money you will have to pay it back. So be disciplined in the use of your credit card. It can be all too easy to build up a substantial amount of debt, but it may take you years to repay it