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How to ensure a successful balance transfer application

Learn what credit card issuers look for – and how to successfully apply for a balance transfer credit card.

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You’ve done your homework and found the balance transfer card that meets your financial needs. You’ve scoped out an offer with a credit limit that lines up with how much debt you have, and you even know how much you need to repay each month in order to pay off your debt during the introductory no-interest period.

Your next step is to actually apply for the balance transfer credit card.

This comprehensive guide covers the important factors to consider in order to successfully apply for a balance transfer credit card. Learn about options that apply to your specific situation – your debt balance, the types of accounts you’re paying off, your current income and your credit history.

Scotiabank Value Visa Card

Scotiabank Value Visa Card

12.99 % APR

Purchase interest rate

Eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, fees and charges apply

Scotiabank Value Visa Card

Apply today and enjoy a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months.

  • Purchase interest rate: 12.99%
  • Cash advance rate: 12.99%
  • Intro balance transfer rate: 0.99% for the first 6 months
  • Standard balance transfer rate: 12.99%
  • Annual fee: $29
  • Minimum income: $12,000
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Compare balance transfer options for 2020

Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Balance Transfer Rate Balance Transfer Fee Annual Fee Minimum Income Reward Description
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
12.99%
3.99% for the first 9 months (then 12.99%)
1%
$20
$15,000
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
19.95%
1.95% for the first 6 months (then 19.95%)
3%
$0
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (or three categories if you open a Tangerine Savings Account and directly deposit your cash back into the account), and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
No-Fee Scotiabank Value Visa Card
16.99%
3.99% for the first 6 months (then 16.99%)
N/A
$0
$12,000
Save with a low interest rate, no annual fee and a balance transfer offer.
Get a 3.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Get 1 BMO Reward point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases, and get 2 BMO Rewards points for every $1 spent at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car locations.
Get a bonus of 15,000 BMO Rewards points. Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Get 2 AIR MILES for every $20 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and get 1 AIR MILE for every $20 spent elsewhere.
Earn 800 AIR MILES Bonus Miles. Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases.
Get up to 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard For Students
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 2 AIR MILES for every $20 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and earn 1 AIR MILE for every $20 spent elsewhere.
Earn 800 AIR MILES Bonus Miles. Plus, get a 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to balance amounts transferred.
BMO CashBack Mastercard For Students
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases.
Get up to 5% cash back in the first three months (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months, with a 1% fee for every transferred balance.
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
12.99%
0.99% for the first 6 months (then 12.99%)
N/A
$29
$12,000
Save on interest for 6 months by consolidating your higher-rate balances with the balance transfer offer, and get an on-going 12.99% interest rate on purchases, cash advances and balance transfers.
Get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
Scotia Momentum Visa Card
19.99%
2.99% for the first 6 months (then 22.99%)
N/A
$39
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back on all eligible gas station, grocery store and drug store purchases and on recurring bill payments (up to a $25,000 annual spend), and earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases (and on all eligible purchases once the $25,000 annual spend is reached).
Get a 2.99% introductory rate on balance transfers and a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
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Steps to help you get your balance transfer approved

1. Check your credit score

Your credit history is one of the most important factors that credit card issuers use to decide whether or not your application is approved. While each credit card provider uses its own algorithm to assess whether you’re a risky borrower, certain clues in your credit report may help you predict how successful your application will be.

Credit defaults, late payments, court orders and bankruptcy are some of the red flags that could negatively affect the outcome of your balance transfer application. Sometimes there can be mistakes in your credit report too, which can and should be rectified by the credit reporting agencies.

With this in mind, it’s important that you request your free credit report and a copy of your credit score yearly to stay up to date. Making timely repayments, paying down your debt and other actions can help improve a bad credit score. Spend time repairing your current situation rather than applying for a credit card that you’re not eligible for and being rejected, which will damage your credit history even more.

2. Check your credit card balance

You’re going to need to know your existing credit card balance when you apply for a balance transfer. It’s important to get an exact idea of your card debt so that you can move the entire amount to your new balance transfer credit card if possible. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a balance and have difficulty closing off that account and making the payments on time.

Checking your balance online can be the easiest way to get this information, but your online balance may not reflect the total amount you need to pay in order to clear your account. Some account or interest fees may be pending and only added to your statement at the end of the month, which may not show up online until the next billing cycle. It’s safer to call your current credit card provider and ask them for the exact balance on your account.

3. Compare a range of balance transfer credit cards

This step may be the most important, as you won’t be able to find the right card for your financial needs if you don’t do your research and compare your options.

First, you’ll want to compare the balance transfer offer. Most balance transfer credit cards offer a promotional rate of low or 0% interest that typically lasts between 3 and 12 months.

Consider the amount of debt you have and make sure you can pay off the entire balance before the promotional offer ends. When the offer ends, a revert rate will apply – usually the standard interest rate for purchases or cash advances. Make sure that the length of the promotional period is long enough for you to pay off your debt in full, otherwise the remaining amount will continue to accrue interest. This can put you back into a cycle of debt.

Aside from comparing the introductory APR, you’ll also want to consider other features such as the annual fee, balance transfer fee and other interest rates to make sure that the cost of the card doesn’t outweigh the savings you’ll receive from your balance transfer.

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Should I click “apply” right now?

One major issue stands in your way: your fear of rejection.

To make sure that you’re not applying for an offer that won’t work out, take a look at how credit card providers evaluate your application. By figuring out the criteria for a successful application, you can ensure that you receive the credit card you need and avoid damaging your credit score.

Once you’ve learned the factors that matter, you’ll have the tools to become a strong candidate and apply with confidence.

Five basic steps to improve your approval odds

Here’s how to make yourself a stronger balance transfer credit card applicant.

  • Make all minimum payments. Pay your minimum each month to get any outstanding loans out of default.
  • Pay down your debt principal. Use a big amount of money — like your tax return — to pick away at your principle debt and improve your credit utilization rate.
  • Refrain from closing old accounts. A credit bureau favours long relationships with credit card providers. Lengthen a relationship and improve your credit history by putting a card you no longer use in a drawer so that you’re not tempted to use it.
  • Stop using the credit cards you have. Bring your debt-to-limit ratio down as you make more payments. A low debt-to-limit ratio is better for your credit history, because it means you aren’t spending close to your allowable credit limit.
  • Track the accounts you already have. Write down the due dates, minimum payment requirements, interest rates and total amount owed. A credit bureau will favour those who make payments on time every month.

Recently applied and not sure about your application status?

Call your provider’s customer service line to find out if you’ve been approved or rejected – and ask why.

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Will applying and getting denied for a balance transfer ruin your credit score?

Applying for a credit card typically involves a credit card provider inquiring into your credit score, otherwise known as “pulling your credit”, which could affect your credit score. However, neither applying nor getting rejected for a balance transfer will ruin your credit or make you ineligible for future cards.

  • What “pulling your credit” means

When you apply for a balance transfer card, the credit card provider will do what is referred to as a hard pull. This means that it contacts the two national credit bureaux, Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada, to get your credit score. This action typically remains on your credit report for three years.

If you’re applying for one card, the impact of this inquiry on your credit history should not be significant – potentially lowering your score by only a few points. However, the more inquiries you make or the more applications you complete for different credit cards, the more points you will lose on your credit score.

  • Quick note: Your credit report may include soft pulls, which do not impact your credit score. Soft pulls refer to those situations where you check your own credit score or you are preapproved for a credit offer.
  • What an application denial does to your score

While multiple hard inquiries from credit card providers could negatively impact your credit score, getting denied for a credit card application should not. The denied account itself isn’t typically on your report, because the report is a record of opened or closed accounts.

However, if you repeatedly apply for more loans and credit cards, the inquiries on their own could hurt your credit score.

How does a balance transfer affect my score?

Can I use the same credit card provider to reduce my debt?

No. Let’s say you have the Scotia Momentum Card with a debt balance you can’t seem to reduce. You’re trying to get back on track and find an offer for a different Scotiabank credit card with a balance transfer promotion. It’s a different card, so you qualify for the deal – right?

Unfortunately, this isn’t how it works. You’ll need to apply with a different credit card provider to “move your debt”.

Credit card providers offer these deals because they’re competitors. They want to earn your business from a competing bank, not their own bank. To be considered for an offer, make sure you’re not applying to a company you already have an account with or one of its affiliates.

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How do credit card providers make approval or denial decisions?

When you’re considering a new balance transfer credit card, you might scan the list of perks and then start reading about the eligibility requirements. Some of these will be easy to interpret, with clear numbers and simple bottom lines. As you move through the terms and conditions, however, things can get a little hazy.

Some of this is intentional: Credit card providers have their own special formulas for making decisions, and parts of that process are unique. Also, each applicant comes to a provider with different needs and credit histories. Due to these unique factors, a combination of “case evaluation” (which may work in your favour) and “set procedures” decides who qualifies, and who doesn’t.

You can gauge the strength of your application by looking closely at the following eligibility factors.

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Top 4 balance transfer eligibility factors

1. Credit history and score.

Your credit use, habits and history provide a record that allows credit card providers to see what you are like as a potential lender. Are you someone with a long credit history? Do you typically make payments on time, or do you have loans in default? To a provider, the answers indicate how you’ll behave as a future borrower.

As an example, let’s say you have an account balance but you pay it on time and have had a credit card for a few years. Does this mean you have good credit?

The process of building good credit is a little more complicated than that. Let’s check out the hard numbers.

What qualifies as good credit?
CreditScore range
Poor300–599
Fair600–649
Good650–799
Excellent800–900

According to TransUnion Canada, 650 is the “magic middle number”, meaning anything above that is considered good to excellent credit, while anything below 650 typically means you may have some issues getting approved.

The higher your credit score and the better your repayment habits are, the more money a provider will be willing to loan you. Higher credit scores also tend to mean that your credit limit will be higher and your interest rate lower.

2. Amount and type of debt.

The balances you owe on other accounts is another hard number that credit card providers consider. In many cases, if you have a large balance it will be critical for you to have a good credit score in order to be eligible for the balance transfer. These factors will work together to prove to the provider that you will be able to pay off your debt balance each month.

The type of debt you have is another indicator of your ability to use credit responsibly. If you have a student loan or home equity line with low payments and low interest that you consistently pay on time, it offers a stronger case than having three store credit cards with maxed-out limits.

While carrying different types of debt won’t prevent you from being approved for a balance transfer, to providers it is another reflection of your spending habits.

3. Debt-to-income ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio compares two numbers side by side – the total amount you owe and the total amount you make. This results in a number that indicates to a credit card provider how significant your debt is. It also shows how capable you are of paying off your debt.

Debt / Income = Debt-to-income ratio

For example, it you owe payments of $1,100 every month and your monthly income is $4,000, you’d calculate your debt-to-income ratio like this:

$1,100 / $4,000 = 0.275

That 0.275 means that 27.5% — or almost a third of your income — goes toward your debts.

DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO LEVELS
  • Under 15% = Good
  • 15%–20% = Caution
  • Over 20% = Danger

A 27.5% debt-to-income ratio is typically in the debt-level danger zone.

A credit card provider will compare these two numbers to gauge your ability to repay the money you’ve borrowed, and whether you can handle borrowing more.

4. Income

While your income is already covered in the debt-to-income ratio, it’s a significant factor on its own too. For instance, you may not have a large debt balance, but you could still have trouble paying your interest payments if your monthly income is not enough.

Again, this factor is an indicator to a credit card provider of how well you will manage to repay your debt with your new balance transfer credit card.

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5 tips before applying for a balance transfer application

  • Research your options. Take a look at the balance transfer cards on offer and find one that fits your unique financial situation.
  • Plan your repayment strategy. You don’t want to sign up for a 0% interest rate only to find out that you’re unable to make the payments within 3 to 12 months, depending on the card you choose.
  • Read the fine print carefully. Before you complete any applications and send in your paperwork, research any complex credit card jargon that still isn’t making sense.
  • Weigh alternative options. You may be able to negotiate with the credit card provider or bank you already have an account with or you may be able to take out a personal loan.
  • Take time to ask questions. Ask the credit card provider to clarify the application process or credit terms, and don’t rush into a decision if you’re not ready.

The ultimate guide to balance transfer credit cards

Can I lie on my application?

It’s entirely possible for you to lie on your application, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get caught. The number of accounts you have, the amount of debt you’re in or your monthly income may not be as desirable as you’d like, and throwing off the numbers might seem like a good way to overcome that. That’s almost certainly not the case though.

It’s more than likely your credit report will be checked and your income will be verified, which will give away any lies fairly quickly. Getting caught stretching the truth could be more than just embarrassing as the provider may blacklist you from future applications. In short: it’s probably better to get declined for your current situation than lie and wind up with even fewer options.

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What to do when you get your balance transfer credit card

Once your application has been approved, you can expect your new credit card to arrive within 5–10 business days. You will need to activate your credit card, which can usually be done by calling the number on the card. This step will initiate the balance transfer process, which can take up to two weeks to be processed.

Use this time to tie up any loose ends with your old credit card. Check your old account for any other fees that may have popped up, pay them off and consider closing the account to avoid any future fees.

Bottom line

Now that you’re ready to get started on your balance transfer application, take your time and follow the steps we’ve outlined. Doing plenty of research and planning ahead will increase your chances of a successful application. Remember: when in doubt, always ask for help.

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Frequently asked questions

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