Should you apply for a balance transfer credit card? If you're like many Americans, you may have struggled with credit card debt for years or perhaps you've found yourself on an endless treadmill of making a minimum payment each month and never reducing the balance on your credit card. If your goal is to reduce your credit card debt, a balance transfer credit card may be one way to increase the speed of your debt reduction plan.
The primary reason to choose a balance transfer offer is to give yourself time to pay off the debt while getting relief from ongoing interest charges that add to that debt. Balance transfer credit cards frequently offer side benefits such as cash back rewards, airline miles or low interest rates on new purchases.
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*Savings calculations are our estimates based on the applicable annual fees, balance transfer fees, and interest during the time to payoff.
A balance transfer card is very much like any other credit card: You make monthly payments on the debt, but the credit card company charges you a reduced (often zero) rate of interest for a set period of time. Once that time is up, you'll start paying interest on any remaining debt until the debt is fully paid.
The main feature of balance transfer cards is that the initial low interest rate is applied only to debt that is transferred from another credit card. You can use the balance transfer cards for future purchases; some cards offer reduced or zero introductory APR for a limited time for new purchases as well. While most cards charge a fee for a transfer, typically 3 to 5 percent of the balance transferred, a rare few cards either do not charge this fee or have introductory offers with no balance transfer fee or a reduced balance transfer fee for a specified period of time.
The most important part of choosing a balance transfer offer is figuring out how long it will take you to pay off your balance. A credit card payoff calculator can be a big help when you are comparing balance transfer offers.
Here's what you need to compare:
The longer you can keep a low or zero introductory APR, the better the card offer. First, you need to decide how much you can afford to pay toward your credit card each month. For example, if you know you can pay off your balance within 12 months, then you can want to make sure you are comparing balance transfer offers that have a promotional period of at least 12 months.
Check your free credit report before applying for a balance transfer credit card. Even though balance transfer offers seem like a great idea if you're struggling with debt, credit card issuers typically require you to have excellent to good credit when you apply.
If your credit history has a few spots on it, you may need to spend a few months improving your credit score by making on-time payments and reducing your credit card debt before you can qualify for a balance transfer card.
When you apply for a balance transfer, you should carefully calculate how much you will need to pay each month in order to eliminate the balance entirely before the promotional period ends.
For example, if you transfer $2,000 to a credit card with zero percent APR for 12 months and a balance transfer fee of 3 percent, you will need to pay $172 per month to pay off the balance (plus the $60 transfer fee) within 12 payments.
Be careful not to rack up more credit card debt on your old card after you transfer your balance. It can be tempting to spend more if you have a credit card with a few thousand dollars of available credit, but this will put you in a worse position because you will now have two credit cards to pay off instead of one.
To truly benefit from a low introductory rate balance transfer, you need to be disciplined enough to continue making regular payments that are large enough to pay off your credit card debt in full before the promotional period expires. You may be tempted to pay less when you see the minimum payment drop along with your balance, but don't let that temptation sway you from your goal of reducing or eliminating your credit card debt.