We know balance transfers can feel confusing. Let’s break it down.
A balance transfer credit card lets you move your existing credit card balance onto a new card with a lower rate, sometimes as low as 0%. That lower rate runs for a fixed number of months (usually between 6 and 24), after which the interest reverts to a higher rate. You are typically required to pay a one-time balance transfer fee, which is often a percentage of the amount you are transferring to the new card. There may be an annual fee.
The lower APR means significant savings.
What are the steps?
1) Find a balance transfer card that meets your needs.
2) Check how much you’re eligible to transfer.
3) Submit your application, including the transfer amount.
4) Wait 5-7 days for your application to be approved.
5) Confirm transfer and start saving.
Too good to be true?
Credit card issuers make money when you pay interest, so why would they charge 0% when they could charge 24% or more?
The card will eventually revert to a higher rate. If you don’t pay off your entire debt at the 0% rate, you’ll end up back on the regular rate for your card. Once that happens, your new credit card issuer can potentially make hundreds or even thousands of dollars from you in interest charges.
Persuading you to switch is tough. Many users are reluctant to switch banks, and the cost of acquiring a new customer is hundreds of dollars. Offering a discounted interest rate is one of the cheapest ways for banks to woo potential customers. It’s essentially a cheap form of marketing.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this calculator,
the results should be used as indication only. Certain assumptions have been made around
the repayments made. This calculator is neither a quote nor a pre-qualification for a credit
Take control of your debt with a balance transfer credit card offer
Are you in the same situation as many Americans? You’re overwhelmed with credit card debt, and you can’t seem to pay down your balance no matter how hard you try.
In fact, for some of us the balance is only growing. With the average credit card interest rate at 18%, paying off your debt might seem like an impossible task. But transferring that debt to a new card with a low introductory interest rate could be the solution to paying it off faster.
This guide on balance transfer credit cards will empower you with the knowledge necessary to determine if transferring your credit card balance is the right solution for you.
A balance transfer credit card offers new users the opportunity to transfer existing credit card debt to their new card with a low introductory APR, sometimes as low as 0%. This brings big savings on interest if you are carrying debt on a high interest credit card. But keep in mind that this is an introductory rate, meaning it is not permanent.
With a high APR, if you are simply making the minimum payment, the majority of your payment is going toward paying the interest, not the principal balance. A low interest rate on a balance transfer card gives you the chance to make some real headway on paying down your debt during the introductory period, if not paying it off altogether.
Balance transfer fees
Many balance transfer credit cards will charge a fee to move your existing debt to the card, usually 3-5% of the amount of your balance you are transferring.
A balance transfer credit card functions the same way as a traditional card, but it comes with the opportunity to transfer high interest debt to your new card. Essentially, your new credit card will pay off your old credit card(s).
When applying for a balance transfer credit card, you will be asked to list the creditors and the amount you wish to repay them, in addition to the typical personal and financial information that is required. This is only a request on your part.
If approved, the amount that is ultimately repaid will be determined by the credit limit on your new card, which is determined by your creditworthiness.
Did you know?
The amount you wish to transfer can be provided after the application process, but any transfers must be completed within a specified period of time. Make sure you read the fine print to know how many days you have to get it done.
Once you are approved, the credit card company will then pay off the creditors you listed on your application. If you don’t qualify for the total amount you requested to be repaid, your creditors will be paid off in the order listed on the application, stopping when your credit limit is reached, minus any fees. Or, if you chose to transfer debt after the application process, you can contact your credit card company once you are approved. Often, transfer requests can be made online.
Speaking of fees, most balance transfer credit cards come with a balance transfer fee. The typical fee is 3-5% of the total amount transferred to your new card. So, if you are approved for a credit limit of $5,000 with a balance transfer fee of 5% and you have requested $5,000 to be transferred to your new card, you will not be able to transfer the full $5,000 because the balance transfer fee ($250) will put you over your credit limit of $5,000.
The balance transfer process isn’t a difficult one, but here are some steps you’ll want to follow:
Choose a balance transfer offer that suits your needs. Compare the different APR lengths, fees, and rewards.
Confirm how much you can transfer. You may only be able to transfer up to a percentage of the available credit limit. Before completing the application, confirm what exactly this amount will be.
What are the benefits of a balance transfer credit card?
Saves you money: A low interest rate equals more money paid toward the principal balance and less money paid in interest, which equals big savings.
Gets you out of debt faster: A lower interest rate allows you to pay down your debt more quickly because the majority of your payment is going toward the principal balance, not toward interest.
Simplifies your finances: Transferring the balances of multiple cards consolidates your monthly payments into one payment.
How much can I save by moving my debt?
Credit ratings and balance transfer credit cards
Your credit score can have an impact on the type of balance transfer card you receive and your APR (annual percentage rate). Typically, you will need good to excellent creditworthiness to be approved for balance transfer cards with a low APR. However, there are also some great options for people with fair or bad credit, provided your score is at least in the low 600s. Balance transfer cards can also affect your credit score, either positively or negatively depending on how you use the card. Continue reading for more information.
If you have excellent creditworthiness, which is defined as a score of 750 or above, you will have the option of being approved for virtually any balance transfer credit card. Another bonus is a low APR of 12.24% on average. Consider the following cards and contact your bank or credit union for more information:
Citi ThankYou Preferred Card: APR varies from 13.24% to 23.24%, but it’s typically the lowest rate possible if your credit score is over 750. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months.
Citi Diamond Preferred Card: APR varies from 12.24% – 22.24%, but it’s typically the lowest rate possible if your credit score is over 750. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 21 months. That’s one of the longest promotional periods on the market!
Good creditworthiness will also provide a wide array of options for balance transfer cards. If your score is 700-749, consider one of the following cards:
JetBlue Credit Card: APR varies from 12.24% to 25.24%, but it’s typically closer to 15.24% if your credit score is over 700. Enjoy 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to the account within 45 days of opening the account.
Barclaycard NFL Extra Points Credit Card: APR varies from 15.24% to 25.24%, but it’s typically on the lower end if your credit score is over 700. Enjoy 0% APR for the first 6 months on eligible NFL purchases.
With a fair credit rating of 640-699, your APR will be a bit higher, normally around 20.24%. You will also have a few less options when looking for a credit card, but there are still some great choices available out there such as:
Santander Sphere Visa Signature: APR varies but is usually around 20.24% with a fair credit rating. Enjoy 0% APR for the first 24 months. The minimum credit score approved for this card is 680.
Chase Slate:APR varies but is usually around 20.24% with a fair credit rating. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balances transfers for the first 15 months. With this card you will also enjoy 0% fees on transfers for the first 6 months and you’ll get your free Monthly FICO® score. The average credit score approved for this card is 685.
Chase Freedom: APR varies but is usually around 20.24% with a fair credit rating. Enjoy 0% APR for the first 15 months. The average credit score approved for this card is 672.
Having poor creditworthiness is categorized as having a credit score of 300-639. If your credit score is under 600, getting approved for a balance transfer credit card may be a challenge. Consider applying for a regular credit card through your bank or credit union to work on building your score. If your credit rating is in the low 600s, the following options may be of consideration:
Chase Freedom: APR varies but is typically higher, at around 23.24% to 25.24% if your credit rating is in the low 600s. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. The minimum credit score approved for this card is 617.
Chase Slate:APR varies but is typically higher, at around 23.24% to 25.24% if your credit rating is in the low 600′s. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. With this card you will also enjoy 0% fees on transfers for the first 6 months and you’ll get your free monthly FICO score. The minimum credit score approved for this card is 627.
Capital One Platinum Prestige Credit Card: APR varies but is typically higher, at around 23.24% to 25.24% if your credit rating is in the low 600′s. Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. The minimum credit score approved for this card is 628.
How can a balance transfer affect your credit rating?
There are several factors that can affect your credit score should you decide to apply for a balance transfer credit card. These include but are not limited to the total amount transferred, your new available credit limit, and if you’re transferring to pay off a credit account in full. The application itself can take anywhere from 5-20 points off your credit score, so may want to avoid making any major purchases around that time.
A balance transfer credit card can also help to slightly improve your creditworthiness via credit card utilization. A general rule of thumb is to keep your credit card debt to 30% or less of your spending limit.
If you currently owe $2,000 on a card with a $4,000 limit, transferring that balance to a card with an $8,000 limit could minimally improve your credit by bringing your utilization ratio from 50% down to 25%. Since everyone has a different credit history, it’s always a good idea to look into how any new line of credit would impact your credit score. Learn more about how a balance transfer credit card might affect your score
Take into consideration every feature of a balance transfer credit card to make sure you are prioritizing the right features:
What to Expect
This is the APR that will be charged on the balance you transfer to the new card. Your APR is determined by your creditworthiness, but a good intro APR is 0% for a period of time.
0% – low APR
Length of promotional period
Low APR balance transfer offers are only in place for a fixed period. This can last anywhere from 6 to 18 months depending on the card, though it can sometimes be for up to 24 months. Consider the APR, the size of your debt, and the length of the promotion to calculate whether you can repay your balance before the revert rate is charged.
typically for 6, 15, 18, 21 or 24 months
When the promotional offer expires, your interest rate will revert to a much higher APR, sometimes higher than average. Confirm what this rate is before applying.
Balance transfer fee
A fee is often charged for transferring a balance, typically from 3-5% of the total amount. Weigh this fee against the savings to see if the transfer is worthwhile for you. Make sure to shop around.
3-5%, but no-fee cards do exist. Ask to have the fee waived.
Some cards charge an annual fee, but not all. This fee is charged once a year for use of the card.
Other fees and rates
While the balance transfer may be your main priority, it’s important to consider other rates and fees to ensure you can afford the card.
Consider the costs of late payments, returned payment fees, transactions abroad, and the purchase APR (which is often separate from the balance transfer promotion).
Credit card perks can range from travel rewards to cash back to credit monitoring. Look for the ones that appeal to you most.
FICO score tracking, purchase protection, cash back
What exactly can I do with my balance transfer credit card?
Of course the main purpose of a balance transfer credit card is to consolidate debt, but there is a lot more you can do with your card than just a one-time debt consolidation. It’s useful to know that there is no limit to the amount of balances you can transfer to your new card, granted that you stay within your credit limit. Some people will also choose to move their debt from one balance transfer card to another once the promotional APR ends.
Balance transfer checks are one feature that credit card companies will use to entice you to sign up for their card. Essentially a blank check, you can write a check to your other creditors, or to yourself and put cash in your checking account. How much you are able to write is dependent upon the credit limit you qualify for; and how much you do write will be added as a balance on your new balance transfer credit card.
If you get an offer in the mail with these blank checks attached to them and you opt to use them, make sure you understand you are signing up for the provider’s offer and will be responsible for paying back the amount within their terms.
There is even the option to transfer someone else’s debt to your card, if you’re looking for a way to help out a struggling friend or relative. There are plenty of options available, so knowing exactly what’s offered and what you can do will ensure that you get the most out your balance transfer credit card.
Mistakes to avoid with balance transfer credit cards
Balance transfer credit cards can be a valuable way to reduce your debt; however, there are some risks involved. Here are some of the common errors you should steer clear of when you make a balance transfer:
Forgetting you still have to make payments
Although you won’t have to pay interest on your debt, you’ll still have to make minimum payments each month. Don’t let the label 0% trick you into thinking that the card comes without costs, as you’ll need to meet the minimum payments (though preferably, make even more) to repay your debt.
Ignoring the revert rate
Once the promotional APR expires, you’ll be paying the revert rate on any remaining balance. Choose a card with a revert rate that’s lower than your current credit card rate if possible to curb your debt from growing.
APR penalties for making late payments
It is essential that you make your minimum monthly payment on time if you want to avoid losing your 0% intro APR. If you know that you struggle to make payments on time, consider a card that doesn’t charge these penalty rates.
Using the card for purchases
Remember that you’ve conducted a balance transfer to repay your debts, so using your card for purchases and adding on to said debts isn’t a good idea. Consider using another card with a low APR on purchases if you need one for emergencies.
Paying high APR on cash advances
Most cards do not extend the 0% promotional APR to cash advances. As a matter of fact, the APR on cash advances is usually very high. Always verify the terms of your card.
Late fees on old cards
It can takes weeks for a balance transfer to be completed. If you stop making payments on your old card too soon you could end up paying late fees. That’s the last thing you need to deal with when trying to consolidate debt.
The biggest mistake you can make: Using your new card for purchases
Clearly, the best thing to do with a balance transfer credit card is pay off your balance. But that 0% APR can tempt you into using the credit card for new purchases. Not only are you risking not being able to pay off your credit card before the intro period, but the 0% APR may not actually apply to new purchases, and it certainly won’t apply to cash advances.
If you make a purchase on your balance transfer credit card and it has a purchase interest rate more than 0% APR, each of your monthly payments will go toward the balance with the lowest interest rate. This means until you pay off the balance on the amount you transferred, you’ll still have to pay the purchase interest rate.
This could mean that in your attempt to get ahead of your debt, you actually accelerate its growth. Overall, the best thing you can do with a balance transfer credit card is to transfer your debt, make your payments on time, and pay off your balance before the intro period ends.
How do I apply for a balance transfer credit card?
Applying for a balance transfer credit card works much in the same way as applying for a traditional credit card. In addition to the usual personal and financial information you are required to provide, you can also list the lenders and the amounts you wish to pay each one.
It is also possible to transfer a balance after you have been approved for the card. Just remember that most balance transfer credit cards require you to transfer debt within a certain period of time in order to take advantage of the low APR.
Applying takes as little as 10 minutes and can be done online or over the phone.
If applying online, you will be asked to provide your personal information, including contact info, date of birth and Social Security number, along with your financial information. The financial information required could be as simple as providing your annual salary, or as detailed as divulging how much you spend a month.
List any authorized users you would like to include.
List the account numbers for any credit card debt you would like to transfer and the amount. (This also can be done after approval.)
Carefully review the terms and conditions.
Agree to terms and conditions.
Hit the “submit” button.
You will either be given an instant response, or the bank might inform you that they need more time to review your information.
Balance transfer credit cards vs. debt consolidation loans
There are several factors that come into play when deciding whether to choose a balance transfer or debt consolidation loan. How your debt is distributed would have a large impact. Some card issuers won’t allow you to transfer balances from multiple cards or other debts. You will also have to consider how much you will be paying in fees.
If you are transferring multiple balances, you may have to pay a fee for each transfer, which can add up in the end. With a good debt consolidation program, you can combine all your debt into one monthly payment and maybe even pay less each month. If you have any collateral to get a secured loan, your interest rate might be lower than the credit card APR after the promotional period ends.
Check out these helpful links for more information:
Do you still have to make payments on a 0% balance transfer card?
Yes, you will need to repay the minimum amount on the card each month, which differs from bank to bank.
How do I apply for a balance transfer credit card?
Applying for a balance transfer credit card is a similar process to your standard credit card, though there will be a separate section on the application dedicated to the balance transfer. Here you’ll need to provide details including the transfer amount and existing account information. If your application is approved, your debt will automatically transfer to the new account. Note that it’s your responsibility to contact your old bank if you wish to close the existing account once the transfer is complete.
What is a balance transfer fee?
This refers to the one-time fee you’ll be charged when you move your balance from the old card to the new account. This fee is usually 3% to 5% of the transferred balance, and is added on top of that balance.
Can I transfer balances online?
Often times, yes. It’s a convenient and simple way to make transfers. Check with your bank to see if this is an option.
How long will it take for my lender(s) to receive the payment(s)?
Can I do a balance transfer with my current provider?
Generally you can’t conduct a balance transfer from one account to another under the same bank. If you’re unsure, check with the provider you’re interested in transferring to for further information.
Will I earn rewards on the balance transfer?
Most likely no. This can vary from lender to lender, but most will not apply rewards to the balance transfer. Check the terms and conditions for the specific card you are considering.
What happens if I don’t pay off my balance before the end of the promotional period?
Any remaining balance left at the end of the introductory period — including the original balance transfer —will revert to a higher APR. It is best to pay off your balance during the promo period, if possible, in order to reap the most benefits.
Are there any hidden fees or catches?
All of the fees and rates should be available in the relevant disclosure documents. Fees you should keep an eye out for include the balance transfer fee, the revert APR that you’ll be charged at the end of the promotional period, and the annual fee. You don’t want these to be more than the potential savings you can make from the card, so you’ll want to compare these and calculate how much the card will cost before applying.
While the card may have a 0% APR, it’s important to remember that you’ll have to make minimum payments each month. Ideally, you’ll want to pay more than the minimum to ensure your entire balance is repaid before the promotional period ends.
What is balance transfer leverage?
Balance transfer leverage, also known as credit card arbitrage, is a legal scheme in which you borrow money from your credit card and invest those funds in something that returns you higher interest than you need to pay in order to maintain your loan.
Once you borrow the money from your card, you would invest it in a CD, high-yield savings account, or anything else offering a higher interest rate. Then you would make the minimum monthly payments until the promotional 0% APR expires, at which point you would withdraw the money, pay the balance in full, and profit from the difference remaining.
While it may seem like an easy way to make some extra money, there are some risks involved. Making a wise investment decision is difficult in today’s market, and typically people who are successful in arbitrage are investment professionals. It also encourages bad financial habits by leaving you frequently carrying debt and exceeding the recommended credit card utilization ratio, which would have a negative impact on your credit score.
finder.com is an independent comparison platform and information service that aims to provide you with the tools you need to make better decisions. While we are independent, we may receive compensation from our partners for placement of their products or services. We may also receive compensation if you click on certain links posted on our site. While compensation arrangements may affect the order, position or placement of product information, it doesn't influence our assessment of those products. Please don't interpret the order in which products appear on our Site as any endorsement or recommendation from us. finder.com compares a wide range of products, providers and services but we don't provide information on all available products, providers or services. Please appreciate that there may be other options available to you than the products, providers or services covered by our service.