Here’s how to choose the balance transfer credit card that’s best for you.
Paying down high-interest debt or debt from several places can be daunting. Luckily, many balance transfer credit cards offer temporary periods of low or no interest. You can pay down your balance during this time, saving money you’d otherwise spend on interest. And if you have debt from multiple sources, you can consolidate it on one card.
Not all balance transfer credit card offers are created equal. Some cards have more enticing terms than others, so it’s best to know which factors to consider while comparing offers. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know to find your perfect balance transfer card.
How do balance transfer offers work?
With a balance transfer, you can move high-interest debt to a new credit card. If the card provider allows it, you’ll receive a low APR on the debt — often 0%.
This low rate will be in effect only for a certain time, typically between six and 21 months. The promotional period usually begins as soon as your card is approved, so consider making payments as soon as possible to take full advantage of the low rate.
Once the introductory offer ends, your remaining balance will start accruing interest at the revert rate, which is usually the much higher purchase or cash advance APR. That said, it’s a good idea to repay your entire balance before the revert rate kicks in.
Top considerations for a balance transfer card
Weigh these factors while looking for a balance transfer card.
- Introductory balance transfer APR: When you transfer your balances, this is the APR that will be charged to those balances. Many balance transfer cards offer 0% introductory APRs on transferred balances.
- Length of introductory period: Usually, the promotional interest rate lasts between six and 21 months. Generally, a longer introductory period is better, as it gives you more time to pay down balances with a low APR.
- Balance transfer fee: With most cards, you’ll be charged a one-time balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% when you make a transfer. However, some cards let you transfer balances without paying fees. Look for cards that cap their balance transfer fees. Also, understand how to calculate your fee, especially if you’re transferring a large balance.
- Balance transfer time frame: If you open a card with no balance transfer fees, you generally have to transfer your balances within a certain time to avoid paying the transfer fee. If you miss this window, you’ll pay a fee or may not be allowed to transfer your balances at all.
- Revert APR: When picking a card, keep an eye on the revert APR, which is the APR you receive after the introductory interest rate ends. Ideally the revert APR should be lower than the APR on your original credit card, or you’ll be stuck with a higher interest rate.
- Balance transfer limit: Check with your card provider to learn the maximum amount you can transfer. Look for a card with a limit that’s high enough to accommodate your transfer size.
- Credit card issuer: A card provider generally won’t transfer a balance from a card it issued to you — only from a card issued by another bank.
- Other fees and rates: The balance transfer fee might not be the only fee to consider. Check out other potential fees such as annual fees, late fees and foreign transaction fees.
- Other benefits: It’s usually best to use a balance transfer card solely for consolidating debt. However, card perks may tip the scales when you’re torn between a few products — especially if you plan to keep using your card after paying off your transferred balance. Consider whether the card comes with a rewards program.
When you open a balance transfer card, the exact terms you receive will vary based on your credit. The best balance transfer cards are generally offered only to those with good to excellent credit scores.
However, if you have less-than-stellar credit, you can still find cards that let you transfer debt. Check out our guides below to compare cards for fair and poor credit.
Types of debtYou might not be able to transfer all types of debt to your new card. Here are a few sources you may or not be able to transfer from:
- Store credit card
- Auto loan
- Student loan
- Small business loan
- Payday loan
Check with your lender to see which transfer sources it allows.
Comparison of balance transfer credit cards
How to find the best balance transfer offers for…
There are different types of balance transfer cards, and one might work better for you than the others. Here are a few types you may want to look into more closely.
Many balance transfer cards offer 0% intro APR to entice new customers. These aren’t difficult to find. However, consider what else is important to you in a balance transfer card.
For example, you may want rewards, which means you may have to settle for a slightly shorter zero-interest period. Or you may want a market-leading 0% intro APR, when you might not find rewards.
Here are a few cards with a good mix of 0% APR and rewards:
- Discover it® Cash Back: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories.
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. Earn more cash back at gas stations, grocery stores and wholesale clubs.
Longest intro period
Balance transfer promotions can extend for impressive periods — up to almost two years. Currently, one of the top choices on the market is the Citi Diamond Preferred.
- Citi Simplicity® Card: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months.
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: You’ll have a 0% APR on purchases for only 12 months. However, the balance transfer offer is the real prize: Receive 0% APR on transfers for 21 months.
- Chase Slate® Credit Card: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. No fees on balance transfers made within the first 60 days.
High-limit balance transfers
Different providers will cap your balance transfer maximum at different limits. With some cards, you may be able to transfer up to 100% or 95% of your credit limit. With other cards, you may be able to transfer only up to 75% or 50% of your credit limit.
If a high balance transfer limit is important to you, check with your provider to learn its rules.
With some cards, you won’t have to pay balance transfer fees for a certain period (or at all). If a card comes with no balance transfer fees at any time, it’s far less likely to offer a 0% intro APR.
- American Express EveryDay: No fees on balance transfers made within the first 60 days.
- Chase Slate® Credit Card: No fees on balance transfers made within the first 60 days.
- Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®: It doesn’t have a 0% intro APR, but it comes with no balance transfer fees ever and a relatively low APR.
6 tips to get the most out of your balance transfer card
Balance transfer cards can be incredibly helpful as long as you know what you’re doing with them. Here’s how to use one properly so it’ll be smooth sailing for you:
1. Make a plan to pay off your balance fully before the revert rate strikes.
Balance transfer cards are great tools that help you pay off debt. However, you’ll want to make sure you pay off your debt before the intro APR period ends. If your card has a high revert APR and you still have a balance, you may be in a worse situation than before you transferred the balance. To avoid this, carefully create and follow a plan to pay off the balance before the intro APR ends.
2. Make sure you make the minimum payments.
Some people think that “0% APR” means they don’t have to make any payments on their balances. The 0% APR means your balance won’t accumulate
3. Don’t get hit with APR penalties for late payments.
This is one of those stipulations that is buried in the fine print: You can lose that great 0% intro APR if you pay late even once. To avoid this, apply for a card that doesn’t charge a penalty rate for late payments or set up automatic payments so you’ll never pay late.
4. Avoid using the card for purchases.
Because you’re primarily using your balance transfer card to repay debts, it is recommended that you not purchase anything with the card and add more to your balance. Some cards also charge interest on your purchases immediately. If you start accumulating interest, it defeats the purpose of getting a balance transfer credit card. If you need to make an emergency purchase, consider using another card with a low APR.
5. Know your interest rate for cash advances.
Don’t confuse your cash advance APR with your balance transfer APR. Most cards won’t give you the same attractive 0% interest rate on cash advances. In fact, the APR on cash advances can actually be very high. Before taking out a cash advance, check out your card’s terms and conditions carefully.
6. Avoid a late fee on your original card.
It can take a while for a balance transfer to be completed — usually 7 to 10 days. To avoid being charged late fees on your old card, continue to make timely payments until the balance has been successfully transferred to your new card.
Balance transfer credit card calculator: How much can you save?
Your current credit cards:
Card that you are transferring to:
Intro Term (months)
Balance Transfer Fee
Your monthly repayment
At this rate, you will not pay off your debt.
At this rate you will pay off your debt during the card's intro period
At that rate you will not pay off your debt. You will need to make higher repayments.
Months that it will take you to pay off your debt:
With a balance transfer
Without a balance transfer
Money saved transferring debt to a balance transfer card:
Savings = $1,000
There are many great balance transfer cards, and there will be a few that are better for your needs. Take the time to compare several cards and providers. Once you’ve received your balance transfer card, keep up with payments to avoid penalties and pay off your debt in good time.