Slash the interest on your credit card debt with a balance transfer and potentially save £1000's. We share our top picks and everything you need to know before taking the plunge.
Our top 10 balance transfer cards compared
Approval for any credit card depends 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.
Best long 0% balance transfer deal for Dec 2023
To access the longest possible 0% deals, you’ll need good credit and you’ll probably have to pay a small transfer fee – this can be added onto the balance you’re transferring. The absolute longest 0% deal currently available is 28 months, but it’s important to factor in the transfer fee and any ongoing fees when you’re picking the right deal for you.
Best no-fee balance transfer deals for Dec 2023
Although these offers won’t have the very longest 0% interest periods on the market, if the 0% periods that they do offer can give you long enough to clear your card debt, they’re likely to be the cheapest option.
An intro to balance transfers
Whether you’re looking to pay off your existing credit card debt or wanting to orgainise your debts into one place, with cards offering low or 0% interest for a specified period, a balance transfer card could help pay off your debt faster.
A balance transfer refers to the process of transferring your existing credit card debt to a new card issued by a different bank, in return for a lower interest rate during the introductory period. Most balance transfer credit cards have an introductory promotional rate which runs for a fixed number of months.
If used correctly, you could transfer your existing balance from a different bank and make use of a card with up to 12, 24, 30 months (or even longer!) 0% interest on your balance. This means that you could pay off your debt within this time period without any monthly interest being added on top, or pay off a considerable amount of debt before the monthly interest kicks in.
So, what’s the catch?
After your specified 0% balance transfer period ends the provider will begin to charge you monthly interest on your remaining balance, just like a usual credit card. There may also be a balance transfer fee to pay when you are moving existing debt to a balance transfer card. This fee, however, is usually low compared to the interest you may be paying on your current credit card balance. Even with this fee, a 0% interest rate usually means that you can clear your debt faster and more cheaply than you would if you remained with your current card.
How long will it take to clear my balance?
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How does it work?
Let’s assume that you already have existing card debt and you want to save on interest by moving it to another card issuer.
Once you’ve picked a balance transfer deal, you’ll usually be prompted to check your eligibility. Provided its good news, you can then go ahead and apply for the new card.
During the application process, you’ll be asked if you want to transfer a balance and prompted to provide details of how much it is, which bank it’s currently held with and the account number.
When you’ve received your shiny new card (which can take up to two weeks) and activated it, the card issuer will then request the transfer of all outstanding funds from your old bank. From this point, the transfer will typically take around 1-3 working days. If there’s a transfer fee involved then this can be added to your balance.
From then on it’s over to you. You can pay as much or as little as you like each month, subject to the new card’s minimum repayment requirement (typically 1% or 2% of your outstanding balance). Ideally, you should pay enough each month to ensure you’re debt-free before the introductory low-rate period expires.
What is a balance transfer fee?
Most – but not all – balance transfer cards (particularly those with the longest promotional periods) charge a balance transfer fee. This is a one-time fee that’s calculated as a percentage of the debt you wish to transfer to the new card. Typically the balance transfer fee is between 1.5% and 3.5%. A minimum is usually also specified, so a card issuer might describe its balance transfer fee as “3% (minimum £5). So if you had a £2,000 debt to transfer, the transfer fee would cost you £60. If you had just a £150 debt to transfer, the fee would cost you £5.The fee is usually added to the balance and so also benefits from the 0% promotional period.
Expert video: Choosing the right balance transfer card
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. Here’s an example:
Balance transfer illustration
Let’s say you have £3,000 debt on a card that’s currently charging 20% interest annually, but you’ve been offered a new card with 0% on balance transfers for 18 months, a 3% transfer fee and no annual fee.
Clearing your debt over 18 months would be around £407 cheaper using the new 0% card than it would on the old card. What’s more, you’d be debt-free three months sooner than if you’d made the same monthly repayments to your old card. All in all, a worthwhile exercise!
Remember that this isn’t based on simply paying the minimum monthly repayments, but on overpaying as much as is necessary to completely clear the debt before the revert rate kicks in. In this example you’d want to pay around £172 each month to clear the debt in time. To get that figure we divided £3,090 (the balance being transferred with the transfer fee on top) by 18 (the number of months in the introductory rate period).
The dos and don’ts of 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 become larger and last, well, indefinitely. Ensure you don’t get trapped in problem balance transfer debt with our dos and don’ts.
How to do balance transfers right
- DO: Compare the best deals and use eligibility checkers.
Your goals should be to get debt-free as cheaply as possible and in as little time as possible. To do this, you’ll want to pin down the best deal available to you.
- DO: Look at deals with no balance transfer fee first.
Many people don’t take the time to understand balance transfers and the potential costs involved and end up paying a balance transfer fee that they hadn’t been banking on. If you’re reading this, you’re already ahead of the curve.
- Do: Consider 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, but bear in mind it can be a mistake to dismiss cards purely based on fees.
- DO: Request the transfer at the earliest possible opportunity.
Most balance transfer deals only apply to balances transferred within the first x days of account opening, so it’s better not to hang around.
- DO: Keep making payments on your old card until you’re sure the transfer has gone through.
Balance transfers are still far from instant, frustratingly. In fact, they can take a couple of weeks. Don’t risk damaging your credit record by missing a repayment on your old card.
- DO: Set up a direct debit for repayments.
Ensure you’ll never miss a repayment and protect your credit score by setting up a direct debit for repayments. You can do this during the application when you accept the offer that the card issuer has made. You can set up a direct debit to pay the minimum monthly repayment, a fixed amount or a fixed percentage of the outstanding balance. Choosing a fixed amount of direct debit is likely to be the most straightforward option – simply divide your balance (plus the transfer fee, if applicable) by the number of months in the 0% deal to see what you need to pay each month to be debt free at the end of the promotional period.
Mistakes to avoid with balance transfers
- DON’T: Forget 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 in terms like “2.5% of your outstanding balance or £5 (whichever is greater)”.
- DON’T: Forget to check the standard purchases 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.
- DON’T: Use your card for further spending.
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 collects the standard interest rate, your repayments will go to the purchases rather than your balance transfer. It’s usually better to focus on clearing the debt you have, rather than adding to it. However, there are cards which offer 0% deals on both existing debt and additional purchases. Watch out for rewards programmes that incentivise additional spending – you could end up paying much more in interest than you earn in points.
- DON’T: Only pay the minimum repayment each month.
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.
- DON’T: Keep 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.
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.
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.
Your questions about balance transfers answered
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