A key balance transfer credit card benefit explained
What are balance transfer cards?
The struggle to get out of debt can feel insurmountable when there are balances in different places with rates and payment styles that vary by lender. A balance transfer card allows the cardholder to take some or all of their debt and consolidate it into one place. The amount that an individual can transfer is usually determined by their creditworthiness and the transferable amount allowed by any given lender. When you’re looking to pay down debt a balance transfer card can also help if it offers a window of time with a reduced APR, known as an introductory APR.
How does an intro APR work?
When paying down debt one of the biggest hindrances can be high APRs that entail so much in interest charges that your balance never seems to move. With an intro APR you get a set window of time – usually between 6 and 15 months, and sometimes as long as 21 months – where your APR for the balance(s) that you transfer will be low or 0%. You will need to make at least your minimum payments on your balance each month, but your debt won’t accrue new interest during this temporary period.
Let’s use an example of a $5,000 credit balance. If you qualify for a 0% interest 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 (no cap) your fee is 5,000 x .03 = $150.
- Next, calculate the monthly payments. With a $5,150 balance (your balance transfer + the fee), you’ll need to pay $430 per month in order to pay off your balance within the intro period.
- Calculate your savings. If your APR on your previous balance was 15%, you would pay $452 per month to pay off your debt in 12 months – that is, if you don’t make any new purchases. This is a savings of $264 in interest over the same 12 month period.
Is this intro APR a good deal?
Here are a few key points to look for when choosing a balance transfer card with an intro APR:
- Length of introductory period. Introductory windows will vary based on lender and 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, the same period may not be as beneficial if you have a larger balance that you need to pay off in smaller amounts.
- Intro APR. This APR will be different from lender to lender. Some cards offer as low as 0%, but they can go up to 3-4% based on creditworthiness.
- Full APR. After the introductory period is over there will be a higher APR applied to any remaining balance. If you know you will still have a large balance remaining it may be beneficial to seek a card with a lower full APR.
- Balance transfer fees. When transferring a balance there may be a fee associated that is charged by the lender you are moving to. These fees can range from 2-5% of the amount being transferred.
- Rewards program. If you’re looking to get rewarded for any further purchases on your new card it may be important to check out the various reward programs with different lenders.
What to look 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 you revert to the lender’s full APR for your creditworthiness and card-type. Any balance that you have not yet paid off begins earning interest just as it would with any other credit card.
- Missing payments can cause your intro APR to end early. If you are unable to make minimum payments there is a chance that the lender will cancel the intro APR, and your balance will again start earning interest at the full APR.
- Intro APR may not cover new purchases. It is possible that the card you transfer your balance to will not apply the intro APR to new purchases or cash advances. Make sure to fully read and understand the terms of the offer before selecting a card.
- Fees are not part of the balance. If there is 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?
So you’ve figured out the card that’s right for you and what you want to transfer, here’s what you’ll want to do next:
- Gather account information for all debts that you are going to transfer.
- Determine the amount that you want to transfer.
- Obtain any documents needed to verify your identity.
- Click on the link for the card of your choosing.
- Click on Apply.
- Enter in the requested information.
- Wait. After you submit your application it may take up to 10 business days for review and approval.