No-fee balance transfer handbook and tutorials
The problem? Balance transfers usually come with fees that can take a chunk of money out of your pocket before you can even get a chance to take advantage of your new card.
- Move their credit card debt to another card with a lower interest rate.
- Consolidate debt from multiple credit cards.
To get around those fees, consider applying for a no-fee balance transfer card. These cards pack the same punch as normal balance transfer cards but sweeten the deal with a few more perks. Learn more to find out if a no-fee balance transfer card is right for your situation.
1. What are no-fee balance transfer cards — and what makes them great?
A no-fee balance transfer card lets you transfer balances from other credit cards to it without paying fees.
How much money can I save with no-fee balance transfers?
Transferring balances can be convenient, but there’s one thing that isn’t so great: the balance transfer fee.
This fee is either a flat fee or a percentage of the amount you’re transferring. For example, your credit card company might write the terms of your balance transfer fee as:
“Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.”
Let’s say you’re transferring $1,000
Using the balance transfer terms, you’d pay the greater of $5 or 5% of your transfer amount. To calculate 5% of $1,000, you’d multiply 1,000 by 0.05 to get $50 — which is more than the flat $5 fee.
Here, you’ll pay the greater of $5 and $50 — which ends up being a $50 fee.
Paying a $50 fee to make a balance transfer is no fun — but this is where a no-fee balance transfer card could be helpful. If you transfer $1,000 to this type of card, you’ll pay $0 in fees. Which could lead to big savings, especially if you’re transferring large balances or making multiple balance transfers.
The truth behind the flat-fee balance transfer myth
There’s a lot of misinformation about balance transfers, especially when it comes to fees.
One myth is that a balance transfer is cheap because you’ll always pay a flat fee for it. As we’ve shown, initiating a balance transfer rarely comes with just a flat fee. Many people miss the “whichever is greater” part of the credit card terms and end up paying a shockingly big fee based on a percentage of the transfer.
As a rule of thumb, always calculate your percentage fee when transferring to any credit card that is not a no-fee balance transfer card. If you’re transferring a large balance, you could easily exceed the flat fee.
What are the perks of no-fee balance transfer cards?
- You can save cash. You’ll pay nothing to transfer your balance to this credit card — even if they’re larger balance transfers.
- Possible low intro APR on transferred balances. You can sometimes get a stellar APR on the debt you move to a no-fee balance transfer card.
Potential costs of balance transfers
When it comes to balance transfers, the math can add up. Check out the fees you’ll pay for typical balance transfer cards compared to a no-fee balance transfer card.
|Balance transfer of…||$5,000||$15,000||$30,000|
2. The best no-fee balance transfer cards
Balance transfer cards are a dime a dozen, but no-fee balance transfer cards are harder to find. Regardless, here are our best picks:
Compare balance transfer credit cards
3. Will I qualify for a no-fee balance transfer card?
Now that you know what a no-fee balance transfer card is, let’s discuss how you might qualify for one.
Your credit history
Generally, credit card companies will take on your debt if they’re reasonably certain they’ll be repaid. That said, it’s easier to qualify for a no-fee balance transfer card if you have good or excellent credit (680+). It may be possible to get a balance transfer card with lower credit, but the card’s terms may not be as generous.
The size of your debt
Another factor to consider is how much debt you’re planning on transferring. Of course, the less credit card debt you have, the better: Almost a third of your credit score is based on how much of your available credit you’re using — or your credit utilization ratio.
If you have a lot of debt, your credit card company may extend a lower balance transfer limit than you hoped for. Even though you might not be able to transfer all of your debt, you should still consider transferring at least some of it, especially if the new card offers a solid interest rate.
Income and other factors
Like any other credit card, applying for a no-fee balance transfer card means that you’ll submit your income and other financial information for approval. Just as your credit score helps a provider to determine how reliably you’ll pay your bills, your income can indicate whether you’re a good candidate for a no-fee balance transfer card.
The minimum income required for a no-fee balance transfer card varies by card provider. However, the higher your income, the better your chances of approval.Back to top
4. Pros and cons
A balance transfer card can be incredibly helpful, but you should understand your card’s terms before proceeding with any transfers. Knowing the various pros and cons other cardholders have experienced can help you avoid falling into some traps.
- No fees for balance transfers. Balance transfer fees can add up quickly, especially with large or multiple transfers. No-fee balance transfer cards can eliminate this hassle.
- Low interest rates. No-fee balance transfer cards typically come with the added benefit of solid APRs. While a few offer 0% interest rates for several months, others offer low interest rates immediately instead.
- Potential $0 annual fees. No-fee balance transfer cards often come with no annual fees. That’s a welcome addition to an already great perk of paying $0 fees on balance transfers.
- Ongoing APRs can be high. A 0% APR promotion is nice, but it can only last so long. If you don’t pay off your balance by the time the promotion expires, your remaining debt might be assessed at a high interest rate.
- 0% APR promo not a given. With some no-fee balance transfer cards, you’ll start paying interest on balance transfers immediately.
- Other fees. Cards usually aren’t limited to annual fees and balance transfer fees. Other fees can include cash advance fees and foreign transaction fees.
Is a no-fee balance transfer card right for me?
As with any other card, weighing the merits of a no-fee balance transfer card involves a bit of math. Specifically, you want to see how your savings will stack up.
Let’s look at two examples of hypothetical cardholders to illustrate who might need (or not need) a no-fee balance transfer card.
However, consider the potential balance transfer fees on that $20,000. If she’s transferring her balance to a card that comes with a 3% balance transfer fee, she’ll pay $600 (or 20,000 x 0.03) in balance transfer fees alone.
If Mary applies for a no-fee balance transfer card, she can transfer her $20,000 balance and pay nothing to do so. Assuming her card doesn’t come with annual fees, she’s saved a cool $600 just by picking the right card.
Verdict: A no-fee balance transfer card is a fine choice for Mary.
Let’s say he’s considering the QuicksilverOne card from Capital One, which comes with no fees on balance transfers but has a $39 annual fee. Would it be worth it for John to get this card?
If John’s only considering his savings on balance transfers, the card probably isn’t his best choice. He does save money by not having to pay balance transfer fees, but he still has to pay the $39 annual fee.
By contrast, John might apply for a typical balance transfer card like the Citi Simplicity, which offers 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for a whopping 21 months. The Citi Simplicity does come with a balance transfer fee, which is 3% of the transaction amount. With this card, John would pay a fee of $30 (1,000 x 0.03) to transfer his balance. That’s less than he would pay if he applied for the QuicksilverOne card.
Verdict: Because John is transferring a smaller amount, he might have better options than a no-fee balance transfer card.
5. How to compare and pick a no-fee balance transfer card
To help you decide on the best no-fee balance transfer card for you, consider these criteria:
- Intro APR. Some cards offer 0% APR on balance transfers, which can provide you a break from interest.
- Ongoing APR. Will you pay off your debt before your intro APR ends? If not, consider what the ongoing APR will be. If you plan on carrying debt for a long time, low-APR cards might be a more attractive option, even if you have to start paying interest on your balance immediately.
- Annual fee. An annual fee can knock off a bit of your savings from a balance transfer card, so factor it in when you’re doing the math.
- Ongoing balance transfer fees. If you plan on transferring balances over long periods of time, confirm whether your card offers no fees indefinitely or only for an intro period.
Applying for a no-fee balance transfer card
To apply for a no-fee balance transfer card, you typically must be at least 18 years old (though in some states, the age limit is higher). While you’re applying, have the following information on hand:
- Your name, residential status and home address.
- Your Social Security number.
- Your email address, phone number and date of birth.
- Financial information, like your annual salary and wages.
6. Speeding up your debt elimination
Let’s look at two hypothetical scenarios with our friend, Dan, to see how much one can save with a no-fee balance transfer card.
Scenario 1: Dan is paying off two credit cards
Here’s Dan’s situation with two credit cards:
- On Card A, he’s carrying $5,000 in debt with a 23% APR.
- On Card B, he’s carrying $7,000 in debt with a 14% APR.
He’s paying $600 every month on each card — $1,200 total each month for the two cards — toward eliminating his debt.
By paying $600 every month on each card, Dan will pay off:
- Card A in 10 months and pay $501 in total interest.
- Card B in 13 months and pay $569 in total interest.
That means that on his $12,000 in credit card balances, Dan’s paying $1,070 in interest over the lifetime of his debt — or $13,070 in total.
Is there a better way? Let’s look at a different option Dan can take.
Scenario 2: Dan consolidates his debt
Let’s say that instead of paying off the debt through his existing credit cards, he consolidates his debt with a no-fee balance transfer card like the Chase Slate card.
- Dan will transfer $12,000 to the Chase Slate and pay $0 in fees.
- Since the Chase Slate offers 0% APR for 15 months, Dan’s debt won’t accumulate interest for a while.
- Continuing to pay $1,200 a month toward his debt, Dan will pay off his debt in 10 months.
Since Dan pays off his debt before his intro APR expires, he pays nothing in interest. In total, he pays $12,000 and saves $1,070 in interest payments.
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7. Mistakes cardholders make with no-fee balance transfer cards
To stay out of trouble with no-fee balance transfer cards, avoid these common mistakes.
Defaulting on payments
Even with a 0% interest rate on balance transfers, you’re required to make monthly payments.
Missing monthly payments can lead to painful consequences. Not only will your credit score go down, but you could also be subject to a penalty rate.
- You may immediately lose your nice 0% interest rate.
- Your interest rate may shoot up to as high as 29.99%.
You can avoid an unfortunate credit card fate by staying vigilant with your payments.
Getting hit with late fees
Beyond potentially receiving a penalty interest rate for defaulting on payments, you might also pay late fees, which can run up to $35.
To avoid missing payments, consider setting up automatic payments, if your card provider allows them.
Transferring balances after the intro fee period ends
Unfortunately, the “no fee” part of “no-fee balance transfer cards” sometimes expires. You may pay nothing on balance transfer cards for, say, 60 days, after which you’ll have to start paying fees. To avoid surprise balance transfer fees, read your card’s fine print to see if and when your no-fee promotion ends.
Making more purchases with the card
Moving your debt to a no-fee balance transfer card — especially one with a 0% APR promo — is a fresh start. Namely, it’s a golden opportunity to pay off your debt while it’s not burdened by heavy interest rates. If you can, try to avoid adding more debt to your card with new purchases.Back to top
8. Alternatives to balance transfers
Balance transfers aren’t the only way to deal with credit card debt. You might want to consider these other options. As always, do your research to see if a method is right for you.
- Payday loans. A short-term loan that’s offered for a small amount — about $500 or less. It got its name because you typically pay it back on your next payday.
- Personal loans. You borrow money that you pay back over a slightly longer period of time — usually in one to five years.
- Filing for bankruptcy. If you’re unable to pay your credit card debt in any capacity, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can help you reduce debt and prevent lenders from taking legal action against you.
- Slowly pay off debt. If you’re not getting approved for balance transfer cards and other options for debt elimination don’t seem appealing, you could tackle your debt the old-fashioned way: paying it off slowly.
- Debt consolidation. You take out a loan to pay off multiple debts — then you’ll pay off that one loan.
- Credit counseling. Can help you create a a plan to pay off your debt and stay out of debt in the future. Though counseling can cost money, in the long run it might save you more than the price of admission.