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What is balance transfer intro APR?

A key balance transfer credit card benefit explained.

Updated

Fact checked

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 extremely useful during times of financial crisis. 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 6 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.

Our pick for a balance transfer intro APR

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
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Compare balance transfer credit cards with intro APRS

%
Name Product Amount saved Balance transfer APR Balance transfer fee Recommended minimum credit score Filter values
Citi® Double Cash Card
0% intro for the first 18 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$5 or 3% of the transaction, whichever is greater
740
This one of the most valuable flat cashback cards. It comes with 2% cash back (1% when you buy plus 1% when you pay) and 18 months months to pay off transfers.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
0% intro for the first 21 months (then 13.74% to 23.74% variable)
$5 or 5% of the transaction, whichever is greater
740
A market-leading balance transfer intro APR of 21 months and 12 months on purchases. Plus Citi Entertainment℠ for deals on dining and going out.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
0% intro for the first 15 billing cycles (then 14.99% variable)
$5 or 3% of the transaction, whichever is greater
700
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
TD Cash Credit Card
0% intro for the first 15 billing cycles (then 12.99%, 17.99% or 22.99% variable)
$5 or 3% of the transaction, whichever is greater
680
3% on dining and 2% on groceries make this a valuable card for food purchases. Use it while traveling, too, with no foreign transaction fees. Available in: CT, DC, DE, FL, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT
CardMatch™ from creditcards.com
See issuer's website
300
Use the CardMatch tool to find cards you're likely to qualify for with your credit score, without a hard pull on your credit.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Is an intro APR a good deal?

Whether an intro APR is worth it for you depends on your financial situation. Here are a few 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. It’s important to 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, there will be a higher APR applied to any remaining balance. 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 associated. These fees can range from 2% to 5% of the amount being transferred.
  • Rewards program.
    To earn rewards for any additional purchases on your new card, you’ll want to check out the various reward programs offered by different lenders.

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 just as it would with any other credit card. Some lenders treat balance transfers as cash advances, which may have a higher APR.
  • Missing payments can cause your intro APR to end early.
    The lender may cancel the intro APR when minimum payments aren’t made, 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, you can apply in just a few 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.

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