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What is a balance transfer intro APR?

A key balance transfer credit card benefit explained.

A balance transfer intro APR is a period of time — often between 12 and 21 months — where you pay 0% interest on balances you transfer to a credit card.

Not all credit cards come with this feature, but those that do can be super-useful during tough financial times. Here’s why:

Suppose a financial crunch lasts for months. During this time you accrue credit card debt that you can’t pay off at once. If you move that debt to a balance transfer card, you can make smaller monthly payments without interest for as long as the intro APR period lasts.

Note that if you have an unpaid balance after the intro APR period ends, you’ll pay interest at the revert rate.

How does a balance transfer intro APR work?

An intro APR is a set window of time — usually between six and 15 months, and sometimes as long as 21 months — where your APR for the debt you transfer is low or 0%. You’ll need to make the minimum payments or more on your balance each month, but your existing debt won’t accrue new interest during this period.

Let’s use an example of a $5,000 credit card balance. If you qualify for a 0% introductory APR for 12 months, here’s how much you’ll save:

  • First, calculate the balance transfer fee. With a $5,000 balance and a 3% balance transfer fee, your fee is 5,000 x 0.03 = $150.
  • Next, calculate the monthly payments. You’ll need to pay $430 per month in order to pay off your $5,150 balance — your balance transfer + the fee — within the intro period.
  • Calculate your savings. If the APR on your previous balance was 15%, you would need to pay $452 per month to pay off your debt in 12 months. This makes for a savings of $264 in interest over the same 12-month period.

Is an intro APR a good deal?

Whether an intro APR is worth it for you depends on your financial situation. Here are several key factors to consider when choosing a balance transfer card with an intro APR:

  • Length of introductory period. Introductory windows will vary based on the lender and your creditworthiness. Shop around and find one that will best serve your needs. Perhaps a shorter window is all you need to pay off a smaller balance, but the same period may not be as beneficial if you have a larger balance you need to pay off in smaller amounts.
  • Intro APR. An intro APR depends on the lender. Some cards offer an intro APR as low as 0%, but they can go up to 3% to 6% based on your creditworthiness.
  • Full APR. After the introductory period is over, any remaining balance gets a higher APR. If you know you’ll still have a large balance remaining, it may be beneficial to seek a card with a lower standard APR.
  • Balance transfer fees. When transferring a balance, the new lender may charge an associated fee. These fees can range from 2% to 5% of the amount transferred.
  • Rewards program. To earn rewards for any additional purchases on your new card, you’ll want to check out the various reward programs various lenders offer.

4 factors to watch out for

An intro APR is only effective if you make full use of it and know any caveats that may apply.

  • Once your intro APR window closes, it reverts to the lender’s standard balance transfer APR. Any balance you don’t pay off begins earning interest the same as with any other credit card. Some lenders treat balance transfers as cash advances, which may have a higher APR.
  • Missing payments could end your intro APR early. The lender may cancel the intro APR if you don’t make the minimum payments, and your balance will start earning interest at the full APR. Depending on the lender, you may also face a penalty APR of up to 30%.
  • Intro APR may not cover new purchases. It’s possible the card you transfer your balance to won’t apply the intro APR to new purchases or cash advances.
  • Fees aren’t necessarily part of the balance. If there’s a balance transfer fee associated with the card, the fee may not fall under the terms of the intro APR.

How do I get a balance transfer card with an intro APR?

Once you’ve figured out the card that’s right for you and what you want to transfer, apply following these steps.

  1. Gather account information for all debts that you’re going to transfer.
  2. Obtain any documents needed to verify your identity.
  3. Go to the website for the card you want to apply for and select it.
  4. Enter the requested information.
  5. Wait. After you submit your application, it may take up to 10 business days for review and approval.

Bottom line

A balance transfer intro APR can help you pay down your debts faster and save money, especially if you’re currently stuck with one or more high interest rates. Before you commit to a balance transfer card, calculate how much it can save you and compare your balance transfer options to find the one that best fits your needs.

Frequently asked questions

How do I find the best balance transfer APR?

Use our guide listed in our bottom line to the best balance transfer rates to find the best offers available.

How do I transfer multiple debts to one card?

Typically, you can transfer as many different balances as you’d like, up to your limit.

How do I get an intro APR on balance transfers and purchases?

There are cards that provide both. But if you’re working on paying off a large debt, you may not want to add to it with more purchases.

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