If that credit card deal you just received offers money for zero percent interest, don't just rip it up. Interest-free money is a good thing.

Some of the biggest credit-card companies are offering a no-interest loan for as long as 15 months. It's a help for people who want to transfer a high-interest balance. But it's also great for those who want to use the money for tuition bills or down payments.

Oddly, a business that makes its money on people who carry big balances is pitching these deals to customers with histories of paying bills on time. Most deals, however, include hefty fees and high interest rates for those who make late payments, and the interest rate climbs to about 10 percent when the offer expires. (Still not a bad deal.)

There are lots of zero percent offers now because the credit-card industry isn't growing as fast as before. Credit-card debt grew 16 percent from 1999 to 2000, but only 6.9 percent from 2000 to 2001. Figures for 2002 are incomplete, but are projected to be less than 10 percent. Zero percent offers are nothing less than an attempt to steal customers from rival companies.

Of course, if you ever pay the minimum charge even one day late, the companies could boost your interest rate to 20 percent or higher!