Take the next step to getting your debt paid off
A balance transfer credit card can be an essential tool for paying down debt, if you can qualify for a card with a competitive introductory rate. A balance transfer credit card is a card that comes with a temporary period of low or no interest, so that you can transfer existing debts and get ahead on your payments.
What’s in this guide?
If you have poor or little credit history, your choices might be limited when it comes to qualifying for a balance transfer credit card. You probably won’t be offered the same benefits that someone with excellent credit might receive, so you will want to compare the length of the introductory period, the introductory interest rate, the revert interest rate (what the interest rate bumps up to when the intro period is over), the balance transfer fee, and the maximum transfer limit.
Two ways to narrow your search are to find cards that you prequalify for and that openly list credit history requirements.
- Prequalifying. When you prequalify for a balance transfer credit card you stand a much higher chance of being approved. Prequalification essentially says that the provider accepts the information you’ve provided as being within at least some of its underwriting standards. However, prequalification doesn’t guarantee approval. Your eligibility may shift between prequalifying and applying, or you may not meet all of the necessary criteria once your information is verified.
- Advertised requirements. Some credit card issuers are very clear about credit score requirements and recommendations. You can easily narrow down options by having your credit score handy to compare against recommended scores.
|Name||Intro APR and Period||Revert APR||Transfer fee|
|Unity Visa Secured Credit Card||9.95% for 6 months||17.99%||3.00% or $10.00 (whichever is greater)|
|Discover it Secured Credit Card||10.99%||24.74% variable||3.00%|
|Capital One Secured Mastercard||N/A||24.99% variable||3.00% or $10.00 (whichever is greater)|
|USAA Secured Card American Express||N/A||11.65% to 21.65% variable||maximum fee per transfer $200: amount of each transfer 3.00%|
|Bank of America BankAmericard Secured credit card||N/A||21.74% variable||3.00% or $10.00 (whichever is greater)|
When you’re looking to get a balance transfer credit card fast, the first factor that comes to mind is your credit score. With impeccable credit, it’s easier to get a card — and get it fast. For those of us whose credit is less than perfect, however, there are still options.
If you don’t have time to build your credit, you can keep your eye out for a few key offerings. Lenders who accept poor or no credit history are a top way to bump up your chances of being approved.
1. Credit history and score.
Your credit habits and history provide a record that allows credit issuers to see how you’d be as a potential lending candidate. Are you someone with a long credit history? Do you typically make payments on time? Have loans in default? The answers to these questions indicate to creditors how you will behave as a future borrower.
The better your score and payment habits, the less risky you appear to a company — and the more money they will be willing to lend. Also, higher credit scores generally mean that your credit limit will be higher and your interest rate lower.
As you may know the labels of excellent, good, fair and poor are assigned to different score ranges by different agencies. At finder we use 680-719 as the range for good credit scores.
2. Amount and type of debt.
The balances you owe on other accounts is another hard number credit issuers consider. If you carry large balances, it may be critical for you to have a good score to be eligible for the transfer. These factors work together to “prove your case” to the lender — to show that you will be able to pay off your debt balance.
The type of debt you have is another indicator of your ability to use credit responsibly. A student loan or home equity line with low payments and low interest that you consistently pay on time offers a stronger case for your reliability than 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, it’s another reflection of your spending habits.
3. Debt-to-income ratio
This ratio is two numbers — the total amount you owe and the total amount you make — compared to give an indication of how significant your debt is. A credit issuer will compare those two numbers to gauge your ability to repay the money you’ve borrowed and whether you can handle borrowing any more.
Debt/Income = Debt-to-income ratio
For example, it you owe payments of $1,100 every month and your monthly income is $4,000, your debt-to-income ratio is $1,100 divided by $4,000 — that’s 0.275 or 27.5%. So about 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 tends to be in the danger zone of debt levels.
It may appear that income is covered in the debt-to-income ratio, but it’s a significant factor on its own. For example, you may not have a large debt balance, but you could still be in a tight spot if your income is lower and your interest payments are high relative to your income.
This factor also indicates to a potential creditor how well you will manage to repay your debt with your new balance transfer credit card.
Wondering how a balance transfer will affect your credit score is perfectly reasonable. The answer isn’t as simple as saying it will definitely help or hurt, but it’s relatively easy to see the impact it will have based on your situation. The main parts that relate to balance transfers are credit utilization and established credit.
Your credit utilization may change for the better. Another term for credit utilization is debt-to-credit ratio, which is discussed above. When you keep your old card open and add on the credit of the new card, you have a lower debt-to-credit ratio than you did before you opened the new credit card. However, using either of the cards will raise your credit utilization again.
Established credit is the average length of time your accounts have been open, and older accounts often mean a well-established relationship with your creditors. Opening a new account will lower the average age, which is not as favorable.
Once you have decided on a card it’s time to apply. The application process usually only takes a few minutes and likely won’t require too much documentation. Be prepared to provide the following:
- Your basic information such as name, birthday and Social Security number
- Your employer’s name and address
- Either your monthly or annual income
- The amount you want to transfer
- The account information for the credit card you’re transferring from
Upon approval transfers can take anywhere from a few business days to several weeks depending on the state of your application information and the creditor that you’re transferring from. Be sure to continue making your minimum monthly payments on your old credit card during the transfer to avoid additional fees.
You may consider closing your old card, especially if there’s an annual fee, but there’s nothing to stop you from keeping it open. You’ll need to make minimum monthly payments on any remaining balance until it’s paid off completely whether you want to close it or not. Likewise, an introductory period doesn’t mean you can skip on minimum monthly payments with your new credit card. Be sure to keep on top of them or you may lose the promotional rate.
Despite it being more difficult, you may not be out of luck when it comes to a balance transfer card when you have less than perfect credit. A balance transfer credit card alone isn’t enough to get you out of debt. Make a clear plan that you can follow and hold yourself accountable. Aside from a clear plan, you can raise your chances of success by comparing your options closely to find the card that best matches your situation.