Balance transfer cards for bad credit

Even with a poor credit score, you've got options to rebuild your credit and pay off your debt.

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Rebuilding your credit can seem daunting — but it doesn’t have to be. Many Canadians with poor or no credit are looking for solutions to improve their financial health.

One solution is a balance transfer credit card, which allows you to move your existing debt onto a single new credit card with a low or 0% introductory interest rate. A card with low or 0% interest for six months, for example, gives you the opportunity to focus on paying down your debt without the balance accruing interest. There are a fair number of balance transfer offers out there — but not every card caters to those with poor credit.

Are there 0% intro balance transfer credit cards for poor credit?

Typically, no. Balance transfer offers with a 0% intro APR are usually made to attract customers with higher credit scores and those who are considered lower risk and able to steadily pay off their debt.

If you have a credit score between 300 and 599, it could be difficult to find a balance transfer credit card in general. With a good to excellent credit score of 650 or higher, more favourable credit products will become available to you.

You could find a solution with a balance transfer card — but it likely won’t come with a 0% intro rate. High balances and APRs mean paying the minimum monthly repayments won’t help, but a lower interest rate could help cut some time off paying off your debt — and save you some cash along the way that would otherwise go toward interest charges.

How to compare balance transfer offers

Balance transfer cards temporarily lower the interest rate on your transferred amount, so you can make a dent in your debt instead of constantly accruing interest. Here’s what to look for when comparing balance transfer offers:

  • Credit score. Most offers require a credit score of 650 or higher, so carefully read the eligibility requirements before you apply.
  • APR. Look for an offer that has a lower APR than the rate you’re currently paying on your credit card or loan debt.
  • Transfer fees. Many cards come with balance transfer fees between 1% and 3% of the amount you transfer, while some cards come with no transfer fee. It’s essential to consider this fee as it can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost of paying off your debt.
  • Length of offer. Low or 0% interest offers last for a certain amount of time – usually six to 10 months – then the APR is reverted to a higher interest rate. Compare if the reverted rate is lower than what you pay already to make the transfer worth it.

Will I be approved for a balance transfer card with poor credit?

It’s difficult to be approved for a balance transfer card – or many other types of credit cards for that matter – with poor credit because lenders typically require a credit score of 650 or higher. While you might feel like you have no options, look into a secured credit card to work on rebuilding your credit score. With good spending habits and on-time payments, you could improve your credit enough to graduate to a balance transfer card.

How another card can affect your credit score

You can build credit with just one credit card if you make consistent purchases and on-time payments. Opening another credit card account could improve your credit utilization ratio, which may have a positive effect on your score.

Your credit utilization ratio is how much of your available credit you’re using compared to how much credit you actually have in total. So if you have a balance of $500 and a credit limit of $1,000, your credit utilization ratio is 50% — or $500 divided by $1,000. Lenders like to see a credit utilization ratio of 30% or less.

A balance transfer can help with keeping your utilization ratio low. Here’s an example:

  • You have a $1,000 balance on your current card. This card has a $2,000 credit limit. Your credit utilization rate is 50%.
  • But when you transfer that $1,000 balance to another card with a $3,000 credit limit, your credit utilization rate is 25%.

With that 25% credit utilization rate, you’ll see a slight increase to your credit score.

What to watch out for

  • A small amount of your credit score is determined by the age of your credit. This means that a credit card you’ve had since the end of university actually looks good on your credit report. Opening a new card can lower the average age of your credit.
  • The lure of a new credit card can bring the urge to overspend. If you open a balance transfer card in the hopes to get out of debt, make sure you don’t make any new purchases on the card – and always pay your bill on time.

What credit card providers get out of balance transfer cards

Balance transfer credit card offers are tools to attract new customers. The introductory offers can be enticing and helpful to manage and pay down debt.

But once the introductory period ends, interest rates revert to a much higher rate. Prioritize paying off your debt within the introductory period so you aren’t caught off guard when the intro rate ends.

Can a balance transfer help rebuild credit?

Most balance transfer cards have a low or 0% introductory APR for 6 to 10 months, sometimes longer. During this time, your debt won’t accrue any new interest – or interest at the low rate – making it easier to get a handle on your debt and pay down your balance.

Balance transfer cards typically report to the credit bureaus, so you can strengthen your credit score as you pay off your debt. Each on-time payment will start building a positive history.

Choosing a credit card when your credit score is damaged

If you have a credit score of 599 or less, you may only qualify for certain cards. If you can’t get approved for a balance transfer credit card, you can always sign up for a secured credit card and focus on rebuilding your credit score before graduating to an unsecured balance transfer card.

Compare secured cards and look for terms like “no credit check”, “no credit history required” or “guaranteed approval”. Also consider the fees, interest rates and eligibility requirements for these cards. Note that secured credit cards do not come with perks like other regular credit cards. They are meant for credit-building only, so that you can eventually get a better card.

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Alternative options for low credit scores

Aside from balance transfer credit cards, consider looking into debt consolidation, secured credit cards and prepaid cards. These alternatives can help you reduce your interest rates, stick to a budget and encourage you to cut back on expenses.

Debt consolidation

Pros

  • Simplifies monthly payments to one lender and one bill.
  • Could lower your interest rates and monthly payments.
  • Potential to pay off debt quicker.

Cons

  • Doesn’t eliminate any of your debt.
  • Could harm your credit utilization ratio if you close your cards.

Prepaid debit card

Pros

Cons

  • Don’t report to the credit bureaus, so using them won’t improve your credit score.
  • Typically charge fees for reloading and making transactions.

Secured card

Pros

  • You set your monthly credit limit by paying a security deposit.
  • Learn how to manage credit with a predetermined credit limit.
  • Most secured credit card providers report to the credit bureaus, which helps rebuild your credit score.

Cons

  • The initial security deposit can be expensive, especially if you want a high credit limit.
  • Can come with fees and high interest rates.

How poor credit can change your life

We understand that having bad credit can impact your life both financially and emotionally. If you have credit card debt, you’re not alone. According to the Financial Post, Canadians had a collective debt of over $599 billion dollars worth in 2018, and this is just non-mortgage debt – which includes credit cards, loans, auto loans, etc.

Caught in a debt cycle?

When your interest rate is so high that your balance increases every month, even though you’re paying the minimum payment, you’re stuck in a cycle of debt. This can happen if you’ve opened balance transfer credit cards and weren’t able to pay it off before the revert rate takes effect.

When you feel like you can’t get a handle on your debt and it’s dragging your credit score down, it’s hard to qualify for loans, mortgages and other types of credit. And if you’re actually approved for credit products, you can pay significantly higher APRs. Typically, lenders have stricter terms for those with less-than-ideal credit.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a cycle of debt, check out our tips on how to get out of credit card debt.

What to do when credit collectors harass you

When collectors repeatedly call your home — sometimes not stating who they are — that can be considered harassment. Certainly, you don’t have to put up with callers who use profane language or raise their voices. You do have rights when it comes to dealing with debt collectors, which you can learn more about here.

If you want to make a complaint about a debt collection agency, you’ll need to contact the consumer affairs office in your province or territory of residence.

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a better way to manage your debt, you have options. When your credit is low, focus on rebuilding your score so you can eventually get a credit card or loan offering lower and more competitive interest rates. Once you qualify for a balance transfer credit card, you’ll save money on interest charges and be able to focus on paying down your debt at last.

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