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Do you want to consolidate your debts and save on interest? A balance transfer credit card offers you an introductory low or 0% interest rate when you move your existing debt from a different institution or network onto the new card. This promotional interest rate runs for a fixed number of months (usually between 12 and 24 but in some cases much longer) and then reverts to a higher standard variable rate. Sometimes you’ll also pay a one-time balance transfer fee when you move your balance to the new card and you’ll generally pay an annual card fee. Even with these costs, a low or 0% interest rate means you can save a lot when repaying your debt.
Use this guide to learn how balance transfers work and how they can save you money on credit card interest payments. We also look at the different types of balance transfer cards available in the UK; how to compare balance transfer cards to pick the best one for you; common concerns about these cards; mistakes to avoid with balance transfers; and how to increase the chances of your application being successful.
Balance transfer credit cards comparison
More about balance transfers
A balance transfer refers to the process where you transfer your existing debt to a new credit card with a different bank that offers a lower interest rate for an introductory period. Generally, this promotional interest rate is 0% for a set period that varies from about 3 to 20+ months.
Credit card expert Chris Lilly on choosing the right balance transfer card
Answers to the most common balance transfer questions and concerns
How do I apply for a balance transfer credit card?
You usually need to request a balance transfer when you apply for a new credit card if you want to take advantage of a promotional 0% interest rate. Generally, there is a section on the application that asks if you’d like to transfer existing debt to the new account. You’ll need to include the details of your existing credit card debt on the application – including where it’s from and how much you’re transferring – and ask to have the balance transferred to the new card. If you’re successful, your debt will be automatically moved over to your new account after you have activated the new card.
What is a balance transfer fee?
Some balance transfer cards (particularly those with longer promotional periods) charge a balance transfer fee. This is a one-time fee that is calculated as a percentage of the debt you transfer to the new card. Typically the balance transfer fee is between 1% and 3%. For example, if you had a £2,000 debt, a 3% transfer fee would cost you £60. This £60 would be added to the balance and is also subject to the 0% promotional period.
How much money can I save with a balance transfer?
Exactly how much you’ll save will depend on the size of your debt, the length of the 0% balance transfer offer and your repayments, but you could save hundreds or thousands of pounds in interest while you clear your debt.
Do I have to contact my old bank and new bank to make the switch?
Your new card issuer manages this process after both your card and the balance transfer are approved. You just need to provide details of your existing card when you apply. But if you want to close your old card, you’ll need to do that yourself by contacting your bank. If you don’t close your old account, you could be stuck with annual fees and any other maintenance costs that come with your existing account.
What’s in it for my new credit card issuer?
Credit card issuers make money when you pay interest, so why would they charge 0% when they could charge 20% or more? Here’s why:
- You’ll eventually revert to a higher rate. If you don’t pay off your entire debt at the 0% rate, you’ll end up collecting interest at the standard rate for your card. This is usually the purchase rate or cash advance rate, which can range between 9% and 22%. Once that happens, your new credit card issuer can potentially make hundreds or even thousands of pounds from you in interest charges.
- Persuading you to switch is tough. Brits are reluctant to switch banks, and it’s expensive to acquire a new customer. Offering a discounted interest rate is one of the cheapest ways for banks to attract potential customers. It’s essentially a cheap form of marketing.
Can I do a balance transfer with my existing credit card issuer?
No, you typically can’t perform a balance transfer while staying with the same institution. You also can’t perform a balance transfer to other banks within the same group or owned by the same organisation. For instance, you can’t transfer from NatWest to Royal Bank of Scotland as both banks are part of the same company.
Are there any hidden catches involved in a balance transfer?
Credit card issuers have to provide full details about a balance transfer. But here are two key details to remember that could help you avoid snags:
- Reverting interest rate. The promotional rate for your balance transfer is locked in, so you won’t have to pay higher interest rates during the offer period. When the promotional offer ends, a higher revert rate will apply to any remaining debts.
- Minimum payments. Even if the card offers a 0% balance transfer rate, you will still have to make the minimum payment each month. If you only make the minimum repayment, you likely won’t clear the entire debt before the promotion ends. Once it finishes, any remaining debts will start collecting interest and your balance will continue to grow.
Hundreds of thousands of Brits arrange balance transfers each year, and the process is safe.
Can I take advantage of interest-free days on a balance transfer credit card?
Most credit cards offer a set period of interest-free days as a standard feature of the card – some will offer promotional interest-free periods of up to 30 months. During this time, you can use your card to make purchases and you won’t pay any interest on them for the duration of the period. However, if you don’t pay off the balance resulting from these purchases within the agreed time-frame – which is a separate time-frame from your balance transfer deal – you’ll be liable for interest. In some cases, missing payments on purchases will also invalidate your balance transfer deal. The exact terms and conditions will depend on your bank.
Can I request a balance transfer after submitting my application?
Yes, it is possible to transfer a balance after you’ve applied for the card. However, the exact terms and conditions of doing this vary between banks. It’s best to contact your bank directly to discuss your options, but here are some examples of bank processes below:
- Halifax. Promotional balance transfer rates are available for all transfers made in the first 90 days, a 3% fee applies thereafter.
- Santander. Transfer a balance fee-free at any time during the promotional period.
- Barclays. You can apply for a balance transfer offer within 60 days of card approval.
- TSB. Balance transfers must be made by a certain date depending on the specifics of the promotion it is running at any given time.
- Sainsbury’s Bank. In the first 3 months a 1.5% balance transfer fee is charged and then fully refunded directly to your account within 60 days. A 3% fee applies thereafter.
Can I get a balance transfer for a personal loan or store card?
While most balance transfer deals are for credit card debt, some credit card issuers will let you transfer debt from a personal loan or store card as well.
How to do a balance transfer in five steps
Follow these five steps to successfully apply for a balance transfer credit card and improve your chances of approval:
- Find a balance transfer offer that meets your needs. Use our comparison tables to easily compare a range of cards and see how much you could save.
- Check how much you’re eligible to transfer. The amount you can transfer to your new account will vary, but is usually capped at between 90% and 95% of your approved credit limit. So, if you can only transfer 90% of your £1,000 credit limit, you’ll only be able to transfer up to £900. Remember, you won’t know for sure what your credit limit will be until you’ve made your application, and this will depend on a number of factors, such as your overall credit rating, address and employment status. You can contact the bank in question to get an estimate before you apply. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve selected a new card that accepts transfers from your current bank and card.
- Submit your application. If you’ve found a balance transfer credit card that is right for you, you can click on the ‘Go to site’ button to be directed to a secure online application. Check out our guidelines for successfully applying to maximise your chances of approval.
- Wait for your application to be approved. Some banks can process your request and offer approval within 60 seconds of applying, but others can take between 5-7 days. If you haven’t heard from the bank after this time, you may wish to contact them to find out if there’s an issue.
- Confirm transfer and close your old account. Once your new card is set up, contact your old bank and make sure the previous account is closed to avoid any further fees or interest payments. Now it’s time to start repaying your debt. Use our tips for paying off your credit card debts faster to clear your debt and maximise your interest savings.
3 key steps to finding the best balance transfer credit card for you
There are lots of balance transfer card deals available, so how can you pick the right one? Here are the most important questions we’d recommend asking yourself.
How long do you need in order to clear your debt?
Work out how much you can afford to pay towards clearing your debt each month. Then divide the outstanding balance by this figure to establish how many months at 0% you need. It’s a good idea to add a couple of months to act as a buffer.
Could you get a deal with no transfer fee?
Balance transfer fees typically come in at about 3% of the total sum being transferred, so they’re worth avoiding, if possible. No-fee deals don’t tend to have the very longest 0% periods around, so sometimes the fee is worth shouldering.
What else could a credit card do for you?
If you’ve found cards offering the length of 0% period you need, and you can avoid a transfer fee, maybe a new card could offer you some perks. Just watch out for cards that encourage you to use them for further spending. If you only need the balance transfer deal for a brief period, then factors like the card’s standard rate and any perks on offer might have a greater importance to you.
Why might my application be refused?
Financial institutions assess balance transfer applications carefully. To increase your chances of approval, consider some of the factors that could cause a bank to decline your application before you apply:
- Poor credit history. You’ll need a good credit history to obtain a balance transfer deal. However, if you have a poor credit history due to missed payments, defaults on your account or significant levels of debt, you might need to repay more of your debt and demonstrate your ability to make regular repayments before you apply.
- Submitting multiple applications too rapidly. Each application you make for a balance transfer deal is recorded in your credit history. If your application is refused, don’t just apply to a different credit card issuer straight away. Instead, take some time to repay your debt and carefully compare other card options and ensure that you tick off the eligibility criteria before you apply.
- Transferring to the wrong bank. If you try to get a balance transfer deal from a bank with the same owner as your current card, you’ll be immediately refused. You can’t transfer your debt from a Royal Bank of Scotland account to a NatWest card, for instance, as they’re both owned by the same group.
- Cards in a different name. Your new balance transfer card must be in the same name as your current card. If you apply with a different name, such as your partner’s name, you’ll be turned down.
Can’t get a balance transfer?
If you don’t qualify for an interest-free balance transfer on a credit card, look at debt consolidation loans to see if they can help you pay off your debt.
Mistakes to avoid with balance transfers
Used intelligently, a 0% balance transfer card will reduce your interest payments and get you out of credit card debt faster. Used the wrong way, your debts can actually become larger. Ensure you don’t get trapped in balance transfer debt by avoiding these mistakes:
MISTAKE: Forgetting you still have to make payments
Despite the promotional period with interest at 0%, you still have a debt, and you still have to make at least the minimum payment each month. You can’t simply transfer a balance and then stop making payments. The minimum repayment is usually stated as “3% of outstanding balance or £5, whichever is greater”.
MISTAKE: Not checking the standard rate
Once your balance transfer promotion finishes, you’ll be paying the standard rate on any remaining balance. Choose a card with a standard rate that’s lower than your current credit card rate if possible or make sure you repay the entire debt before the standard rate applies.
MISTAKE: Not making more than the minimum repayment
If you’re only paying the minimum repayment each month, you won’t be able to repay the entire balance by the time the 0% balance transfer offer ends. Then your debt will start to collect interest and it will grow again. Instead, you should calculate exactly how much you need to pay each month to repay the entire balance by the time the interest-free period ends. You can do this by dividing the size of your debt by the number of months in the balance transfer offer. This will give you a goal repayment to meet every statement period to clear the debt before the 0% promotion ends. So how much should you pay each month? The table below shows what percentage you should pay off each month to fully clear your debt during the interest-free balance transfer period. We’ve also shown how much this would be for a £10,000 debt. For this example, we’re assuming no new purchases are being made with the card.
|Duration||% of total to repay each month to clear debt||What that would equal per month on a £10,000 debt|
The key lesson? Budget as much as you can towards paying off your credit card debt while the promotional rate applies. If you haven’t paid everything off, it’s possible to apply for another balance transfer.
MISTAKE: Putting new purchases on your card
Adding new debt will slow down your ability to repay your card. Don’t buy anything new on your credit card that you can’t immediately pay off in full. Also, banks are required to allocate repayments to whichever debt is accruing the highest interest on your account. So, if your balance accrues 0% interest and your purchase collect the standard interest rate, your repayments will go to the purchases rather than your balance transfer. Even if your card has a 0% rate on new purchases, you should concentrate on repaying your debt rather than making more purchases.
MISTAKE: Not considering all applicable fees
While you won’t be charged interest with a 0% balance transfer, you may have to pay annual fees and a balance transfer fee. Make sure you consider these when choosing a balance transfer deal. Don’t dismiss cards purely on the basis of fees.
MISTAKE: Keeping your old card open
It’s tempting to hang on to your old card “for use in emergencies”. Realistically, if you’ve run up debt on it before, you’re likely to do so again. Cancel the card and concentrate on paying off your balance. Remember to transfer any regular payments, and ask your old bank for your final balance so you don’t have any leftover debt. Even after you’ve made a balance transfer you may still be liable for accrued interest from your final statement, or for missed payment charges. Make sure these are cleared – if you don’t take action they’ll continue to build up interest and penalties.
Answers to the most frequently asked questions about balance transfers
Applying for balance transfers
Using balance transfers