Move quickly to catch the last zero deals

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Virgin Money added its name on Friday to the list of providers no longer offering such deals to lure new customers.

Those taking up its introductory offer of a 0 per cent annual percentage rate (APR) for nine months on balance transfers must now pay a 2 per cent charge (up to a maximum of £50) for the privilege.

"The move is necessary if we are to continue to offer the 0 per cent balance transfer option," a spokesman says.

MBNA, Barclaycard, Mint and Egg - the lender that first introduced the 0 per cent balance transfer five years ago - all now levy a fee of around 2 per cent if customers want to switch existing debt from a rival card.

Many lenders now charge a fee for 0 per cent balance transfers to clamp down on savvy rate tarts who repeatedly switch between deals to avoid paying interest on their debt, says financial analyst Moneyfacts.

Only a handful remain fee-free, including Capital One, Abbey and Yorkshire Bank.

If your 0 per cent transfer deal is coming to an end, you'll need to move quickly to secure another free deal while they still exist.

Alternatively, you could opt for a low-rate life-of-balance transfer card - such as Capital One, charging an APR of 6.9.

Virgin's decision to charge for transfers follows a move by Sainsbury's Bank to ditch the choice of loyalty points or cashback for new credit card customers, in favour of in-store discount vouchers.

It offers an APR of 0 per cent on new purchases for 10 months, and a lifetime rate of 5.9 per cent for balance transfers made within the first six months of the card being taken out.

"With 0 per cent interest deals reportedly costing the card industry in excess of £1bn per year, and many high-street banks reporting a steep increase in bad debts, it's not surprising to see providers taking measures to reduce their costs," says a Moneyfacts spokeswoman.

When you switch debt between credit cards, check exactly how your debts - new and old - are repaid.

Many lenders use your monthly repayments to pay down your cheaper debt first - whether on new purchases or balance transfers. This allows them to make more money on your more expensive balances.

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