Balance transfer credit cards for bad credit

If you’re looking to pay off existing credit card debt, but you have bad credit, find out what your options are.

Balance transfer credit cards can prove a useful tool if you have expensive card debt to pay off. Offering 0% periods that last over two years in some cases, balance transfer cards can help you to clear your debt more cheaply and more quickly.

Unfortunately, the longest 0% deals are reserved for people with good credit scores, but the good news is that there are balance transfer deals out there for those with less-than-perfect credit scores, even if they are more of a rare breed.

Compare balance transfer cards for bad credit

Table: sorted by length of 0% balance transfer offer, promoted deals first
Name Product Purchases Balance transfers Annual/monthly fees Representative APR Incentive Link
Vanquis Bank Balance Transfer Credit Card Visa
0% for 6 months
(0% fee)
33.5% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 33.5% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 33.5% APR (variable).
Capital One Balance Transfer Mastercard
0% for 6 months
(3% fee)
34.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
Fluid Credit Card
0% for 9 months
(4% fee)
34.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
Post Office Classic Card
0% for up to 12 months reverting to 34.94%
0% for up to 12 months reverting to 34.94%
(2.9% fee)
34.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
Aqua Classic Balance Transfer Card
0% for 6 months
(3% fee)
34.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: Assumed credit limit £1,200, representative 34.9% APR (variable), purchase rate 34.95% p.a. (variable).
Please note: you can’t have two Aqua accounts or open an Aqua account within 12 months of opening a Marbles, Fluid or Opus account, issued by New Day

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Approval for any credit card will depend on your status. The representative APRs shown represent the interest rate offered to most successful applicants. Depending on your personal circumstances the APR you're offered may be higher, or you may not be offered credit at all. Fees and rates are subject to change without notice. It's always wise to check the terms of any deal before you borrow.

How does a balance transfer card for bad credit work?

If you have credit card debt, you’re far from alone. According to The Money Charity, Brits owed a total credit card debt of around £56 billion in June 2021, with the average household owing £2,022, or around £1,063 per adult.

If you have a large outstanding debt that’s incurring a high rate of interest, paying the minimum monthly repayments won’t make much of a dent. Even if you aim to pay more, a sizeable part of your repayment will go towards interest.

When you’re paying a high rate of interest on credit card debt, it’s sensible to shift it over to a 0% balance transfer credit card. These cards charge no interest for a set number of months which can give you some much needed breathing space while you focus on repaying your debt.

You’ll usually need to pay a “balance transfer fee” of around 3% of the balance. These are generally worth shouldering to get to the low rates, but it’s important to factor this fee into your comparison. Since the fee is usually a percentage of the balance to be transferred, the larger your existing card debt, the more significant the transfer fee.

When the introductory low-or-0% rate expires, any outstanding balance starts accruing interest at the much higher “standard” rate. So in an ideal world, you’d want to clear the balance before any introductory low or 0% interest period expires. If you know that you won’t fully clear your balance before any introductory offers expire, then the revert rate should be a factor in choosing a card.

Can I get a balance transfer card with bad credit?

Realistically, if you have a low or poor credit score, it can be difficult to get approved for a balance transfer card. The higher your credit score, the more options you have, and the longer the interest-free periods offered to you. However, there are cards and card issuers that specifically focus on those with lower credit scores.

The best way to see whether you’ll qualify for a balance transfer card is to use an eligibility checker. These show you which credit cards you’re most likely to get accepted for. And the best bit is, they won’t hurt your credit score. “Soft-search” eligibility checks give you a clear indication as to your likelihood of getting approved, and potentially also what level of credit limit you might expect and what sort of interest deal you’d be offered (some issuers might be willing to offer you the card, but with a shorter 0% period than advertised).

A soft search is different to an application for credit – where lenders will run a full, “hard” search of your credit file. A hard credit search usually has a small (and typically short-lived) negative effect on your credit score. For this reason, you shouldn’t make multiple applications for cards in a short space of time.

Pretty much all card issuers now offer an eligibility checking tool on their website, but sometimes refer to it by other names. However a lender refers to this facility, make sure it includes a disclaimer somewhere on the page stating that using it won’t have an impact on your credit score. You’ll need to enter a few basic bits of information, such as your name, date of birth and address details for the last three years.

Don’t forget that credit scores aren’t the only factor that lenders base their decisions on. Minimum requirements vary from lender to lender, and some will quote a minimum income. Most importantly, a responsible lender should strive to make sure that any credit offered is affordable for the borrower.

What is the easiest balance transfer credit card to get?

This will depend on your situation, which is why it’s well worth using an eligibility checker. If you use one on a comparison site, it will check a whole range of cards for you in one go so you’ll be able to see the best one to apply for.

Using an eligibility checker will give you a clear indication as to your likelihood of getting approved, what level of credit limit you might expect and what sort of interest rate you’d be offered. Be aware that if you’re looking for 0% credit cards for bad credit, it’s likely that any 0% rate you’re offered will be for a shorter time than advertised, and the rate of interest charged after the 0% deal ends will be higher.

An eligibility checker won’t affect your credit score because it involves a “soft” search of your credit file. A soft search is different to an application for credit – where lenders will run a full, “hard” search of your credit file.

A hard credit search usually has a small (and typically short-lived) negative effect on your credit score. For this reason, you shouldn’t make multiple applications for cards in a short space of time.

How should I compare balance transfer deals for poor credit

Once you’ve checked your eligibility, you should be in a better position to know which balance transfer deals are available to you. If you’re lucky enough to have plenty of options, here are some factors you can use to compare offers:

  • Balance transfer fees. Most balance transfer cards come with transfer fees between 1.5% and 4% of the amount you transfer.
  • Length (and rate) of balance transfer offer. Low or 0% offers are only for a certain amount of time and then the interest reverts to the card’s standard rate.
  • Standard interest rates. After any introductory rates are over, the standards rates will apply.
  • Transfer limits. Credit limits are generally tailored to the individual, and you’re allowed to use a specified percentage of that amount (normally around 90%) for your balance transfer. For example, you might be offered a credit limit of £2,000, and the cards balance transfer limit might be 90% of your credit, i.e. £1,800.
  • Annual fee. These fees are increasingly rare with balance transfer cards, and some providers that do charge one often waive it for the first year.
  • Purchase rate. Although balance transfer cards may offer a 0% or low interest rate on balance transfers, there could be a higher rate on purchases (for any new transactions you make on the card).

Woman in debt looking at her bills with calculator

How a balance transfer can help rebuild your credit

All credit card issuers report borrower activity back to credit reference agencies (CRAs) such as Experian or Equifax. Provided you stick to your repayments, you’ll build up a positive record. At the same time, provided you pay off more than you’re spending and being charged interest, you’ll also improve your debt-to-income ratio.

Credit cards designed for those who need to build their credit are known as credit builder cards. Credit builders typically have less strict eligibility requirements than most credit cards, but higher rates and lower opening credit limits. In a few cases, these cards can come with balance transfer offers.

Specialist cards such as these can make good “stepping stone” products. The rates are relatively high, but the eligibility criteria are less strict. So they can be a smart way to transition to credit products with better rates.

Will getting a balance transfer card affect my credit score?

When you apply for a balance transfer credit card, the lender will run a full credit search. This has a small (and usually short-lived) negative effect on your credit score.

As you start to use your credit card and make your monthly repayments, the lender will report this to credit reference agencies (CRAs). As long as you keep up with your repayments and use your card responsibly, your credit score should start to increase over time. Additionally, as your debt reduces, you become more appealing to lenders.

Credit utilisation ratio

Once you’ve transferred over your balance from your old credit card to the new one, you might want to close your old credit card account (especially if it’s a card with an annual or monthly fee). After all, by closing the card, you’ll remove any temptation to use it for further spending, and you’ll have one less account to stay on top of.

However, there is a small argument for keeping the old account open to benefit your “credit utilisation ratio”.

Your credit utilisation ratio is how much of your available credit you’re using. So if you have a balance of £500 and a credit limit of £1,000, your credit utilisation ratio is 50%. A low credit utilisation ratio is preferable and shows that you’re not maxing-out your credit.

Opening the new credit card, while also keeping your old credit card account open, could improve your “credit utilisation ratio”, which may have a positive effect on your score. However, it’s important that you don’t start spending on your old card again, and make sure you regularly check your statements to reduce the risk of fraud. By reducing your debt on your new card, you’re improving your debt utilisation ratio anyway. And given that most cards charge an inactivity fee of around £12, there’s usually more arguments in favour of closing your old account

Age of credit

A small part of your credit score is determined by the age of your credit. That means that a credit card you’ve had since student days actually looks good on your credit record. Opening a new card and transferring the balance over lowers the average age of your credit. However this is just one small fact, and reducing your debt is more important and likely to benefit your credit score more.

The lure of a new credit card can bring the urge to overspend. If you open a balance transfer card in the hopes of getting out of debt, make sure you don’t make any new purchases and pay your bill on time.

Never withdraw cash on a credit card as the interest is usually charged immediately (unlike on purchases and balance transfers), and there’s normally around a 3% fee involved. Plus, cash withdrawals are recorded in your credit file and can impact your score. Find out more about what is termed a cash advance on your credit card.

What types of cards are available to people with bad credit?

Credit builder cards or prepaid cards can help you stick to a budget and encourage you to cut back on expenses. Prepaid cards don’t typically offer a credit facility.

Credit builder cards

  • Restore or build your credit score while making purchases.
  • Could offer access to credit even if you’ve been refused elsewhere.
  • May offer benefits such as 0% interest on purchases or balances transferred to the card.
  • Enjoy standard credit card benefits, such as payment protection if your goods are faulty or a mobile app to track your payments.
  • Unfavourable terms, such as high interest rates and low credit limits.
  • Limited rewards.

Compare credit builder cards

Prepaid cards

  • Can only spend money you have and avoid debt.
  • Can use them anywhere credit cards are accepted including online, stores, ATMs and paying bills.
  • Easy to get – no pre-approval needed.
  • You won’t pay interest on purchases.
  • Don’t report to credit bureaus, so using them won’t improve your credit.
  • Fees for reloading and transactions.
  • Normally not a credit product.

Compare prepaid cards

Bottom line

Although it’s harder to get accepted for a balance transfer credit card if you have bad credit, there are still options available to you. If you’re lucky enough to get accepted for a 0% balance transfer card, use it wisely and do your best to clear your debt before the 0% deal ends.

If you do get approved for a balance transfer deal, use the initial 0% period to clear as much debt as you can. Simultaneously, you should take steps to get to know and improve your credit record.

If you can’t get approved for a 0% balance transfer deal, maybe you can get approved for a card with a lower rate than you’re currently paying. If not, focus on your credit score for a while and then check your eligibility again after a few months. If your debt becomes unmanageable, speak to your card issuer to find a solution that works for both of you and seek free debt advice. Read our debt help guide for more information.

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We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you.

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