Pay down your debt with no late fees ever on the Citi Simplicity credit card

Benji Stawski, CNN Underscored
Fri February 14, 2020

Story highlights

  • The Citi Simplicity® Card has no rewards or benefits, but it can seriously help those trying to get out of debt.
  • The card features a super-lengthy 21-month introductory interest rate on balance transfers.
  • Card holders also pay no late fees, no penalty interest rates for late payments and no annual fees.

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

Our quick take: Everything about the Citi Simplicity® Card is, well, simple. The card earns no rewards, but also has no late fees, no penalty rates and no annual fee. It offers an introductory interest rate on balance transfers that lasts a full 21 months, making it ideal for those who want lots of time to pay off their existing debt.

Pros:

  • No late fees and no penalty interest rates for late payments.
  • 0% interest for 21 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (rises to a variable APR of 14.74%-24.74% afterwards).
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (rises to a variable APR of 14.74%-24.74% afterwards).
  • No annual fee.

Cons:

  • There are no rewards on the card, including no sign-up bonus.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • 5% balance transfer fee with a $5 minimum.
  • No travel or luxury perks and minimal purchase protections.

Current sign-up bonus: None.

Best for: People looking to consolidate debt at a low interest rate for the longest possible period.

Digging into the Citi Simplicity

Some credit cards can be extremely lucrative, offering perks like rewards that can be redeemed for cash back or free trips, annual travel credits or airport lounge access. But before you can get approved for any of these enticing credit cards, it's important to make sure you have a healthy credit profile and aren't carrying any credit card debt.

Related: Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its "Best credit cards of 2020."

The first step to getting out of credit card debt is putting a halt to the exorbitant interest you're currently paying on your accumulated debt. The best way to do this is with a credit card that has a long introductory balance transfer offer.

Enter the Citi Simplicity. This credit card doesn't earn any rewards or offer a sign-up bonus, but it does come with a lengthy 21-month introductory period, during which you'll pay 0% interest on any balance transfers made in the first four months you have the card. However, it's important to pay off those balance transfers in full during those 21 months, because when that introductory period ends, the rate jumps to a variable APR between 14.74% and 24.74%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Advantages of the Citi Simplicity

The biggest perk of the Citi Simplicity is its super-lengthy introductory balance transfer offer. Other cards that have introductory rates on balance transfers typically only offer them for the first 12 to 18 months you have the card, so 21 months is a real advantage.

It's important to note that balance transfers on this card do incur a 5% balance transfer fee with a $5 minimum, so the transfer isn't entirely without cost. But it's likely a massive improvement over the high interest rate you're paying on another credit card.

On top of the balance transfer offer, the Citi Simplicity offers 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months, which rises to a variable APR of 14.74%-24.74% afterward depending on your creditworthiness. While you can find cards with introductory rates on purchases that last longer, it's still a nice feature to have along with the balance transfer offer.

Another plus is that the Citi Simplicityy keeps its fees nice and simple. It charges no late fees and no penalty interest rates, meaning you won't get hit with an extra fee for being a few days late. Late fees on other cards can be as high as $40 after the first time you're late.

That said, "no late fees" doesn't mean "no interest" — you'll still pay interest if you're late with a payment. So you'll still want to shoot for paying on time to avoid accruing interest and dinging your credit score. And if you're utilizing the introductory balance transfer feature and miss a payment, you'll lose your 0% interest rate.

The Citi Simplicity has absolutely no annual fee, so you can keep the card for as long as you wish without having to worry about whether you're getting enough value from it. Plus, it's a Mastercard, so you shouldn't have trouble finding merchants who will accept it.

Disadvantages of the Citi Simplicity

The biggest drawback of the Citi Simplicity is that it doesn't earn any rewards or offer a sign-up bonus. So while the card is great for paying down any debt you might have, there isn't much value for using it on your everyday spending in the long run.

Similar credit cards tend to offer at least 1% in cash back on spending at a bare minimum, and CNN Underscored's benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, earns 2% cash back on every purchase you make — 1% when you buy something, and another 1% when you pay it off.

Even the great balance transfer offer on the Citi Simplicity has a downside — beyond the introductory rate, you'll be charged a 5% fee for any transfers you make. That's at least 2% more than many other credit cards with low-interest balance transfer offers, so even though you'll have longer to pay off the balance at a low interest rate, you'll pay a little more for the privilege.

You won't want to use the Citi Simplicity to make purchases overseas, as you'll face a 3% foreign transaction fee. That fee can quickly add up when traveling internationally, especially considering you aren't earning any rewards for your spending on this card.

Finally, the Citi Simplicity doesn't have any significant travel or purchase protections, nor any other perks. It's very much a card that should be used primarily to get out from under a tidal wave of debt, so you can stop bleeding interest with another credit card and get your financial house in order.

Stacking up the Citi Simplicity to our benchmark card

CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash card as our current "benchmark" credit card. That doesn't mean it's the best credit card on the market — rather, we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they're worse.

Here's how the Citi Simplicity scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

Other credit cards similar to the Citi Simplicity

There aren't any other credit cards that offer an introductory rate on balance transfers for as long as 21 months as well as an introductory rate on purchases for 12 months. However, there are cards that offer slightly shorter introductory periods but also earn rewards.

Our benchmark card, the Citi Double Cash Card, is a great alternative to consider in this case, as it offers a 0% introductory balance transfer rate and no annual fee, but it also earns cash back rewards. The key difference is that the Citi Double Cash's introductory balance transfer period is only 18 months, then a variable rate of 13.99% to 23.99% applies.

The balance transfer fee is also slightly lower at 3% or $5, whichever is greater, though balance transfers unfortunately don't earn cash back. But unlike the Citi Simplicity, the Citi Double Cash doesn't come with an introductory purchase interest rate, and only waives your first late fee.

Related: Read CNN Underscored's comprehensive review of the Citi Double Cash Card.

For the best introductory rate on purchases, you'll want to look at the BankAmericard® credit card. It offers 0% interest on all purchases for the first 18 billing cycles you have the card, though note that the interest rate rises to a variable APR of 14.49%-24.49% after the introductory period ends. That's a longer introductory period on purchases than the Citi Simplicity, and almost any credit card on the market.

The BankAmericard also offers 0% interest for 18 billing cycles on balance transfers (14.49%-24.49% variable APR afterward), but they must be made in the first 60 days after you open the card. Like the Citi Simplicity, the BankAmericard credit card doesn't earn rewards and also doesn't have an annual fee, but it does charge late fees.

Should you get the Citi Simplicity card?

With no rewards or major benefits, the Citi Simplicity definitely isn't a flashy or lucrative credit card. However, it can seriously help those trying to get out of debt, and that's extremely valuable.

If you can give up a few months on the length of your introductory rate, you might want to consider our benchmark Citi Double Cash card — you'll get only 18 months at the introductory interest rate for balance transfers, but you'll also earn cash back on every purchase.

But if you need to pay zero interest on your debt for the maximum amount of time possible, the Citi Simplicity card can potentially be worth the extra cost to buy yourself time to get back on track and firm up your financial picture. Just remember to pay off all your debt by the end of your introductory rate period, or you'll be back on the hook for some major interest payments.

Learn more about the Citi Simplicity Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2020.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.