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Best balance transfer cards of October 2020

CardRatings editors reviewed the best balance transfer credit cards to find the best terms, rates and features to help you meet your debt consolidation goals. From rewards, to long intro periods to the best ongoing rates and even cards for people with fair credit, take a look at our picks for the best balance transfer cards.
Brooklyn Lowery, CardRatings Senior Manager Last Updated, October 20, 2020

Our credit card articles, reviews and ratings maintain strict editorial integrity; however we may be compensated when you click on or are approved for offers (terms apply) from our partners. How we make money.

best balance transfer cards 2020
LIST OF WINNERS

If you find yourself drowning in interest charges every month, or planning ahead and knowing there's a big expense on the horizon you'd like a little extra time to pay off, you could be a prime candidate for a balance transfer credit card. That is, a card that offers a low or even 0% APR for an introductory period of time on balances you transfer to that card from another credit card. The best balance transfer credit cards from our partners offer opportunities to pay lower or no interest over a period of time, allowing you to pay off your debt more quickly and for less. In some cases, they also offer rewards as well as other perks and features.

We understand how frustrating it is when you're staring down a credit card bill that you can't pay off in one month. Yet alone how it feels when you factor in the interest charges you'll be accruing. Not all balance transfer credit card offers are alike. Our editors have reviewed current offers and selected the best balance transfer credit card options available. Start with a clean slate by reviewing our choices below and selecting a card that best meets your needs:

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARDS WITH REWARDS

5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: This card offers an excellent introductory balance transfer offer, plus a simple and potentially lucrative cash-back rewards program. Plus, the way the rewards earning is structure encourages responsible credit card use and payment. There's a lot to like about this no-annual-fee card.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 18 months from account opening (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser)

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)

Rewards: Earn 1% back on every purchase and then earn another 1% back when you pay at least the minimum amount due on your bill each month, on time. That effectively means that you can earn 2% cash back on every purchase and this rewards-earning format encourages responsible credit card use as well, which we definitely like.

Balance transfer fees: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • This card offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months (then, 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)), which is one of the longest duration balance transfers offers available on a card that earns rewards.
  • In addition to 18 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers, this card offers 1% cash back on your purchases and another 1% when you pay for your purchases.
  • There are no specific spending categories for earning rewards with this card. The total 2% possible cash back you earn is one of the highest flat rates available.

CONS:

  • Although it offers one of the longest intro APRs for balance transfers, there is not a 0% intro APR offer for purchases. So, while you can save money on interest if you need to transfer a balance, you will not if you need to make a large purchase.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum, which is on par with or a little lower than other cards' balance transfer fees, but you will still need to add this cost to determine if the balance transfer is worth it.
  • Although there is no annual fee for this card, there is a foreign transaction fee which can cost you if you need to use the card for purchases outside of the U.S.

Read our full Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer review.

5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: Not only does this card offer a lengthy interest-free balance transfer period, but it also offers a unique rewards program which rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase, with no cap.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 15 months from account opening

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 15 months from account opening

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)

Rewards: Earn 2X ThankYou® points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X point thereafter, and 1X point on all other purchases. Points are rounded up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase, with no caps on the amount of points you can earn. Plus, new cardholders can earn 15,000 bonus points once spending $1,000 within three months of account opening, redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com.

Balance transfer fees: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • In addition to an interest-free balance transfer period, this card also offers a 0% intro APR period on new purchases, which is great for anyone with a large expense on the horizon.
  • New cardholders have an opportunity to earn a decent welcome bonus, which is rare for balance transfer cards.
  • Also rare for balance transfer cards is the ability to earn rewards. This card offers a unique rewards-earning program in addition to solid 0% APR offers.

CONS:

  • This card charges a 3% fee on foreign transactions, so it's not the best option to travel abroad with.
  • Balance transfer fees are normal with balance transfer cards, but still, it's something you'll want to keep in mind.

Read our full Citi Rewards+ Card review.

5
About Our Ratings

Why We Like It: This card rewards users in popular categories like grocery stores, dining out, and gas purchases, plus offers an intro 0% APR period on new purchases in addition to an interest-free balance transfer period.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers made within the first 60 days

Intro purchase APR: 0% APR for 12 billing cycles

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 14.99% - 23.99%* Variable

Rewards: Earn 4X points on takeout, food delivery and dining out; 2X points at grocery stores, on grocery delivery, at gas stations, and on streaming services; and 1X point per $1 on all other eligible purchases. Plus, earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. That's a $250 value redeemable towards merchandise, gift cards, cash back, travel and more.

Balance transfer fees: 3%

Annual Fee: $0*

Credit Needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • In addition to an interest-free balance transfer period, this card also offers intro 0% APR on new purchases for the first 12 billing cycles (then 14.99% - 23.99%* Variable).
  • The categories where you can earn rewards are practical. Dining out, food delivery, grocery stores, gas stations, and let's face it, streaming. These are areas many of us are spending money everyday.
  • It's not super common for a no-annual-fee cash-back credit card to offer no foreign transaction fees, but this card does just that! Feel free to pack it on your next trip abroad.

CONS:

  • If you want to reedem your rewards for cash back, your options are limited to a statement credit or a deposit to a U.S. Bank checking or savings account, which could be a downfall for some cardholders.
  • If you don't dine out often or order much takeout, you could miss out on the full potential this card has to offer.

Read our full U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card review.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
5
About Our Ratings

Why We Like It: This is another excellent opportunity to earn rewards and take advantage of a nice introductory 0% offer on balance transfers and purchases. This card also offers the added perk of cellular phone insurance when you pay your mobile bill with the card.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 15 months

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 13.99%-25.99% Variable

Rewards: For starters, new cardholders can earn an introductory cash-back bonus of $150 once spending $500 in the first three months of card membership. And this isn't the only bonus. New cardholders can also enjoy a rewards earning rate of 1.8% cash back for the first 12 months on qualifying digital wallet purchases such as those with Google Pay™ or Apple Pay®. Otherwise, the earning rate is 1.5% on all purchases (as well as when the introductory period is over). And finally, when using the card to pay a cellular bill, users can get up to $600 in cell phone protection (subject to a deductible) against covered damage and theft.

Balance transfer fees: 3% for 120 days, then 5%

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • If you need to transfer a balance from a card with a higher APR, this one offers an intro 0% APR for 15 months on qualifying balance transfers (then, 13.99%-25.99% Variable).
  • You also get an introductory 0% APR on purchases for 15 months if you need to make and then pay off a large purchase.
  • This card also offers a cash-back bonus of $150 after you spend $500 in the first three months. You can also earn 1.8% cash back on qualified Google Pay™ or Apple Pay® purchases for your first 12 months. Other purchases as well as digital wallet purchases made after the intro period earn 1.5% cash back.

CONS:

  • The balance transfer fee is 3% for 120 days, then 5%.
  • There is no annual fee but there are foreign transaction fees to consider.
  • You can earn 1.8% cash back on qualifying purchases made with a digital wallet, but only for your first 12 months. Otherwise, your purchases only earn 1.5% cash back. That's pretty standard for a flat-rate cash-back card, but you could earn more with some strategy and a tiered or rotating categories card.

Read our full Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card review.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: Options can be a credit cardholders best friend and this card has lots of them. From choosing the category in which you'll earn top rewards (from among a list of six possibilities) to deciding whether to take advantage of a lengthy introductory balance transfer or purchase 0% APR, cardholders have some great decisions to make.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 60 days

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: See Terms and balance transfers

Rewards: In addition to a 0% intro APR period, what's great about this card is that it allows you to earn bonus cash back in the category of your choice. Earn 3% cash back in one of the following six categories: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings. You choose which category depending on where you spend the most money. Additionally, earn 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs up to $2,500. You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then 1%, as well as 1% on all other purchases. What's more, there's a $200 online cash rewards bonus for new cardholders who spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of opening an account.

Balance transfer fees: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • The best category for many people with this card is going to be online shopping. That means you could earn 3% cash back on everything from medical bills you pay online to Amazon purchases to Paypal purchases (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases quarterly).
  • If you happen to be Preferred Rewards client with Bank of America, you'll earn 25%-75% more on every purchase depending on your Preferred Rewards tier (tiers are based on total account balances).
  • New cardholders can earn a $200 online cash rewards bonus after making at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days.

CONS:

  • You'll probably want to leave this card at home if you travel abroad as it does charge foreign transaction fees.
  • While the rewards earning potential is great, don't forget to keep an eye on your quarterly spending. Once you hit $2,500 combined spending in your choice category/grocery stores/wholesale clubs, your earning drops to 1% until the next quarter.
  • Choosing your 3% category is great, but you can only change it once a calendar month. You'll need to plan ahead a bit to maximize your earning.

Read our full Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card review.

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CARDS WITH A LONG INTRO PERIOD

5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: Having a year and a half to pay off a balance transfer without paying interest is an incredible offer, not to mention one that could save you BIG money.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 18 months from date of first transfer (all transfers must be completed within the first four months)

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 18 months

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 14.74% - 24.74% Variable

Rewards: While there aren't traditional rewards available with this card, cardholders do have special access to event tickets as well as additional perks, features and protections.

Balance transfer fees: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Annual fee: $0.

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • This card offers among the longest 0% intro APRs out there at 18 months from the date of the first transfer, with all transfers being completed within your first four months. After the intro, the APR goes to 14.74% - 24.74% Variable.
  • You can also get a 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases (then, 14.74% - 24.74% Variable), which gives plenty of time to pay off new purchases. 
  • You also get benefits like special access to events as well as other card features and protections.

CONS:

  • The balance transfer fee is 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
  • There is no annual fee, but there are foreign transaction fees to think about if you are looking for a card to use while traveling abroad.
  • This card does not offer any rewards or bonuses. If you can pay down your balance in less than 18 months, you might be able to save on interest and earn cash back or rewards with a different credit card that offers a shorter balance transfer period.

Read our full Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card review.

Wells Fargo Platinum card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: While the intro period is a bit shorter than others on this list, it's still quite generous and this card offers an unusual additional perk: cellular phone insurance.

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 18 months on qualifying transfers

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 18 months

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 15.49%-24.99% Variable

Rewards:  This card doesn't offer rewards unless you consider that solid introductory period to be a reward. What it does offer, however, is cellular phone protection when you pay your mobile bill with your card. That could save you some decent money each year.

Balance transfer fees: 3% for 120 days, then 5%

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • If you're looking to save on interest charges from an existing credit card balance, you'll appreciate this card's intro 18 no interest on qualifying balance transfers (the, 15.49%-24.99% Variable).
  • You can also take advantage of that same year-and-a-half (18 months) introductory 0% APR on purchases (then, 15.49%-24.99% Variable).
  • Pay your mobile bill with the card and you'll be protected against covered damage and theft thanks to included cellular phone protection (terms and deductibles apply).

CONS:

  • Don't forget to account for the balance transfer fee or 3% for 120 days, then 5%.
  • Be aware should you choose to take this card on an international trip that you will pay foreign transaction fees.
  • This isn't a rewards card – if you don't need the intro 0% offers, you might be better off with a card that earns rewards.

Read our full Wells Fargo Platinum card review.

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: Another excellent long-term introductory balance transfer option with a healthy 0% intro APR for purchases as well.

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Intro balance transfer APR: 0% for 21 months from date of first transfer (all transfers must be completed within the first four months)

Intro purchase APR: 0% for 12 months from date of account opening

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 14.74% - 24.74% (variable), based on creditworthiness

Rewards:  As with most cards focused on 0% intro APR periods, there aren't traditional rewards here. There is, however, that reward of extra money in your pocket since you're saving on interest charges while you get yourself out of debt. Plus, there are no late fees ever with this card. Curious how much money you could save? Check out our "How much can I save?" calculator to find out.

Balance transfer fees: 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • This card offers a 0% intro APR for 21 months from the date of the first transfer, with all transfers being completed within your first four months (then, 14.74% - 24.74% (variable), based on creditworthiness).
  • You also get a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases (then, 14.74% - 24.74% (variable), based on creditworthiness).
  • There are no late fees, though, of course, if you're looking to pay off debt, you absolutely want to make your payments on time, every time.

CONS:

  • There’s a balance transfer fee to consider of 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum..
  • There is no annual fee but there are foreign transaction fees.
  • There are no extra cash rewards or welcome bonuses offered with this card. It is primarily for transferring a balance and paying it off to save interest.

Read our full review of the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever.

BankAmericard® credit card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
EditorRating
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: A stellar intro 0% APR offer on both purchases and balance transfers makes this card a top pick for us.

Intro purchase and balance transfer APR: 0% APR for your first 18 billing cycles on purchases and for any balance transfers made within the first 60 days of opening an account

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: See Terms

Rewards: No penalty APR. Paying late won't automatically raise your APR, like with so many other credit cards.

Balance transfer fees: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Annual fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent/Good

PROS:

  • Take advantage of an introductory 18 billing cycles no interest on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days (then, See Terms).
  • This card doesn't charge a penalty APR, so paying late won't automatically raise your APR (terms apply).
  • Since this card doesn't charge an annual fee, it's a good one to keep around as a card to increase your available credit and the length of your credit history.

CONS:

  • This card is primarily about that intro 0% APR offer – you won't earn rewards or a welcome bonus.
  • Should you take advantage of the excellent balance transfer opportunity, be sure to account for the balance transfer fee of either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Read our full BankAmericard® credit card review.

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CARD WITH THE LOWEST ONGOING RATES

5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: A card that doesn't charge balance transfer fees is rare these days, which is why this one made our list. While it doesn't offer a introductory 0% period, it's ongoing APR is much lower than most other cards offer, so you could still stand to save some money if you're already paying high interest on an existing card balance.

Intro balance transfer APR: This card doesn't offer a 0% period for balance transfers, but it does offer a consistently low ongoing APR of 8.25% variable.

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 8.25% variable

Rewards:  With an APR this low, you would likely still be saving yourself a significant amount of money if you transferred a balance to this card. Plus, there are never balance transfer fees to worry about.

Balance transfer fees: None.

Annual fee: None

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • Balance transfer fees generally run in the neighborhood of 3% to as high as 5% of each transfer; you don't have to worry about that with this card, though, as it doesn't charge balance transfer fees.
  • The low ongoing APR of 8.25% variable means that you can take the time you need to pay off your balance and know you'll be paying much less in interest than you would with most any other card.
  • Using this card means you'll have access to behind-the-scenes perks like rental car insurance and travel accident insurance.

CONS:

  • Apart from the low ongoing APR, this card is pretty basic. You won't earn rewards or a welcome bonus.
  • While there isn't an annual fee with this card, it does charge foreign transaction fees.
  • In order to keep the interest rates so low, this bank is selective when it comes to credit card applicants. Only those with truly excellent credit should apply.

Read our full Simmons Visa® review.

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CARDS WITH NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES

5
About Our Ratings

Why we like it: In addition to no foreign transaction fees and a lengthy balance transfer intro period, this card is chock-full of luxury travel benefits.

Intro balance transfer APR: Enjoy 0% APR for the first 15 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 45 days after account opening.

Regular purchase and balance transfer APR: 14.99% Variable

Rewards: Earn one point for every dollar spent. Points are worth 2% when redeemed for airfare.

Balance transfer fees: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Annual fee: $195

Credit needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • Access to a 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge® available by phone, email, and live mobile chat.
  • Exclusive Luxury Card Travel® benefits such as room upgrades and complimentary food and beverages.
  • Cell phone protection, Lyft credits, Fandago perks, and more.

CONS:

  • The annual fee is a bit steep. Though this card is full of great benefits, if a balance transfer is truly your purpose, you might be better off with a card that has no annual fee, and less perks.
  • This card was designed with the luxury traveler in mind. If you don't travel often, you might be better off with a more general rewards card.

Read our full Mastercard® Titanium Card™ review.

WHAT IS A BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD?

In short, a balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer your debt (or balance) from one credit card to another. Usually, people transfer balances from a credit card with a higher APR to one with a lower APR and/or to a card with a 0% introductory APR offer. By making a balance transfer, you’re giving yourself more time to pay off the debt interest-free (if there’s an introductory 0% APR offer), or at a lower interest rate.

A balance transfer credit card is NOT a way to hide from debt you've run up on a card you already have. Your debt won't magically disappear if you transfer it to a new credit card.

The primary incentive of balance transfer cards that make people perk up is the 0% introductory interest rate common to balance transfer cards. Low introductory rates on balance transfers and purchases are typically reserved for credit card users who have excellent credit, but there are options for those with good or average credit as well, particularly if you have a good relationship with a local bank or credit union. Balance transfer cards can be a great way for cardholders to save money if the process is done strategically.

Balance transfer calculator

WHAT IS THE BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD?

Because it offers a lengthy intro 0% APR period on balance transfers, AND rewards (a rarity among balance transfer credit cards), the Citi® Double Cash Card regularly tops our list for the best balance transfer credit card. This card offers a generous 18-month balance transfer period before regular 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR applies, plus up to 2% cash back on purchases. Earn 1% when you make a purchase, and then another 1% when you pay at least the minimum amount due on your bill each month, on time.

Everyone's needs will differ though when it comes to shopping for a balance transfer credit card, so what might be best for you won't be best for everyone. Maybe you need the longest interest-free period available. In that case, you'd likely fare better with the Citi Simplicity® Card which offers an intro period of 21 months 0% APR on balance transfers (then 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)). Or maybe you're interested in an intro 0% APR period on both balance transfers as well as new purchases. If that's the case, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card might be your best pick as it offers intro 0% APR on both balance transfers AND new purchases for 18 months (then 14.74% - 24.74% Variable). Just remember to do your research and evaluate all the benefits offered with each card you're considering, instead of just going with the first card you see that you think might meet your needs.

WHEN YOU TRANSFER BALANCE ON CREDIT CARDS WHAT HAPPENS?

When you successfully obtain a balance transfer credit card, you are approved to pay off existing credit card debt using your new card, up to an approved limit. There may or may not be a balance transfer fee (commonly between 3-5% of the balance transferred – more on this below), and there is often an introductory period where low or 0% interest is charged on the balance you have transferred. After the introductory period expires, a higher interest rate applies to your balance. Using a balance transfer credit card successfully requires paying off as much debt as possible during the low introductory APR period.

HOW TO TRANSFER CREDIT CARD BALANCE

Card issuers usually provide multiple options for completing balance transfers. In some cases, you may be able to complete a transfer over the phone or online, following your bank’s instructions. In many cases you can start the process of a balance transfer as soon as you are approved for the card online and before you even receive your physical card in the mail. Alternatively, your balance transfer credit card may also come with "checks" that you can use to pay off your existing credit card debt. It is crucial to continue making the minimum payments on your original credit card(s) until your bank(s) report that your account(s) are paid off.

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT TRANSFERRING A BALANCE FROM ONE CREDIT CARD TO ANOTHER?

As mentioned earlier, transferring debt from one card to another doesn’t make your debt disappear. Still, balance transfers can be a useful tool if done wisely, but there are a few questions you should ask yourself before using a balance transfer card.

Will a balance transfer affect my credit score? This question doesn't have a black and white answer, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Applying for a new credit card will always affect your credit score. Each time you apply for a credit card, a hard inquiry is placed under your name, and inquiries to your credit history account for about 10% of your FICO® credit score.

On the flip side, opening a new account should help your credit utilization ratio and allow you to reduce the amount of credit you're using on each of your cards. Think of it this way: if you currently have one credit card with a $10,000 limit and a balance on $5,000, you're using 50% of your available credit. Most experts recommend keeping your utilization ratio to 30% or less, and credit utilization makes up about 30% of your credit score. If you then open a second credit card with a $10,000 limit, you've upped your available credit to $20,000 and reduced your utilization to 25% (plus, hopefully you opened that card to take advantage of lower APRs with a balance transfer). Credit utilization and credit history are reasons we don’t recommend closing the account you balance transfer from; it may have a negative impact on your overall credit score, especially if the account you aim to close has been open for a while. Credit history makes up about 15% of your FICO® credit score.

How frequently should I use my balance transfer card? Using a balance transfer card when there is no fee on the line is one thing, but be warned, balance transfer cards that tout an intro offer of 0% interest and $0 fees won’t last forever. After the intro period expires, APRs can (and often do) skyrocket. Furthermore, if you have the rare card that doesn't charge a balance transfer fee for a period, be aware that period is usually only 45 or 60 days from account opening. After that (and with the vast majority of balance transfer cards from the beginning) you'll pay a 3%-5% fee for each transfer. In other words, use your card responsibly and understand what the cost of your balance transfer transaction will be each time you intend to do one.

On the other hand, it's not uncommon for a balance transfer card to be a rewards card, too. While you won't earn rewards on the amount you transfer, on an ongoing basis you will earn rewards on any other purchases you put on the card, which is a nice incentive to use the card long term.

What happens if I make a late payment? If the glitz and glamour of the introductory offer is what drew you to the balance transfer credit card in your wallet, be sure to pay on time every billing cycle. If cardholders make late payments within the intro period, issuers may:

  • Assess a late fee
  • Cancel the intro offer
  • Switch to the normal APR

WHAT IS A BALANCE TRANSFER FEE?

In addition to interest, balance transfer credit cards often include balance transfer fees. These fees are generally a percentage of the balance being transferred and commonly range from 3-5% of the amount transferred, although there are some zero-fee balance transfer cards available for people with excellent credit.

Review each balance transfer credit card offer carefully to determine what, if any, balance transfer fee applies and whether paying that fee will save you money in the long run.

CardRatings.com has developed several calculators so you can see what your monthly payment would be if you want to pay off your existing credit card debt within a specified time frame or how much you could save in interest by taking advantage of a balance transfer credit card offer.

Enter your existing credit card balance (the amount you want to pay off in full), you current interest rate, the interest rate on the card to which you want to transfer the balance and then take a look at how much you could save. There are a number of variables you can play with available within the calculators, so take some time to crunch the numbers and determine the best debt-payoff option for you.

If you're really worried about paying a balance transfer fee, consider a balance transfer credit card that offers a welcome bonus to new cardholders (in addition to a 0% APR period). Take the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card for example. It charges a 3% balance transfer fee, but it also awards new cardholders with a $200 cash-back bonus once spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account. This bonus is a nice way to cover or offset any fee you'd pay on balance transfers. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card is another good example. It earns new cardholders who spend at least $1,000 in the first 90 days of opening an account a $200 online cash rewards bonus, which could go a long way towards offsetting its 3% balance transfer fee.

We don't recommend choosing a card specifically for its bonus, or taking this route if the spend threshold to receive the bonus is not achievable for you; however, considering all benefits of a card, not just the length of its 0% APR offer, is a smart way to ensure you're choosing the card that will best suit all of your needs.

DO I NEED A BALANCE TRANSFER CARD?

If you have excellent credit and are paying a credit card balance with interest, it would be a good idea to consider a balance-transfer credit card. Having excellent credit will likely earn you a lower introductory (or ongoing) rate on your balance transfer card which will help eliminate your debt faster.  For everyone else, balance transfer credit cards are a tempting option, especially if you have a higher-than-usual credit card balance, and an APR that makes the debt mount up faster than you’re able to pay it off. But, before you succumb to the temptation, take a moment to really assess what you're signing up for. If you have a "good" or "average" credit score (or lower) the APR and terms you are signing up for may not actually help your situation.

WHEN SHOULD I USE A BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD?

If you're searching out a balance transfer card, you're, we assume, going to be making a balance transfer. But when you do that and then what you do with your card after that are important factors to consider. Here are a couple of questions to ask:

Do I have to make the transfer within a certain time frame? Some credit cards offer a 0% balance transfer for an introductory period of, say, 15 months, BUT you have to make the transfer within the first 45 or 60 days in order to qualify for that 0% APR. Just because the introductory APR lasts for a year or more, don't assume that you can make your transfer at any point during that period and still qualify for the introductory APR. That said, many cards that offer balance transfer intro periods offer similar terms for purchases; in that case, your purchases will be interest free throughout that time.  Either way, the introductory period will be the lowest APR you can expect from a balance transfer card, so it’s wise to use your card during that specific timeframe. 

What are the fees I need to consider? Many balance transfer credit cards, regardless of the introductory 0% period, will assess a fee for all balance transfers made. Usually that fee is in the 3% to 5% range of each transfer made. Reading the fine print to see if the card of your choice charges this fee will help you decide if the balance transfer you’re aiming to make actually makes sense. Once again, being hyper-aware of the time frame here could save you some money. Among the handful of cards that offer fee-free balance transfers, most of them only waive that fee for transfer made within the first 45 or 60 days of you opening the account. Missing that window could cost you a bundle.

Is your credit card actually a balance transfer credit card? Balance transfers are available on just about every credit card, but without reading the fine print, you could be in for a surprise. Unless your card is offering a lengthy 0% period, low fees and more, you could cause yourself more trouble than if you'd just left your balance alone. Just because the option is available doesn't mean you should always take it.

Is a personal loan a better option for me? One of the most popular uses for personal loans these days is to consolidate credit card debt into a single loan with a fixed rate and terms. It's understandable why that would be the right choice for some people. Every situation is different, so talk with a financial adviser if you're considering your options for paying off debt and wondering whether a balance transfer credit card offer or personal loan would be a better fit.

In a very broad sense, a balance transfer credit card could be a better fit if you know you'll be able to pay off the balance within the 0% time frame since you'll be paying off debt without any interest charges. If, however, you'll need longer than a credit card balance transfer period to pay off your debt, the interest rate charged on a personal loan is likely much lower than what you'll pay in regular credit card interest. You can compare multiple personal loans side by side via CardRatings' partner site AmOne.

HOW DO I PICK THE BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD FOR ME?

Know your credit tier - Before you do anything else, get to know your credit score/history. If your credit has taken a hit in the past, getting a balance transfer card with a 0% APR offer may be a bit of a challenge. Applying for cards for which your credit score disqualifies you will only negatively impact your credit score with no purpose. There are balance transfer options available for cardholders with average or fair credit, but the terms may not be as desirable (as in, maybe they offer a lower APR but probably not a 0% APR period). Understanding what fee and rate you will be getting is a valuable first step to determining which card will be best for you. All in, you may still pay less with a balance transfer, but you'll need to crunch some numbers to know for sure (see our balance transfer calculator).

Read the fine print- We're probably starting to sound like a broken record with this point, but it's just so important. Often cardholders don’t look beyond the excitement of an initial 0% APR and that's a flashy feature, sure, but it can get you in trouble if it distracts you from the rest of terms. Ensuring that whatever APR your card transitions to (after the introductory offer) is just as important as looking into the intro offer. Ask yourself: What if your APR jumps from 0% to 20% – would the card still be worth it to you? Maybe it is if the rewards program is strong enough and you have a solid plan to pay off your balance during the initial 0% period. Also, as we mentioned above, some cards also charge fees for each transfer you make. Knowing the terms inside and out will be the best way to save yourself some money.

Compare your debt to your credit line- Many people have a one-track mind when it comes to balance transfer credit cards: Get the lowest interest rate possible for the longest period of time. This line of thinking isn’t wrong, but it’s important to expand your mindset, too. Remember that credit utilization makes up about 30% of your credit score. When you make your transfer, it's likely best to keep your old card open; closing it would reduce your available credit and your credit score could take a hit. Additionally, it's not a great idea to max out any credit card. In other words, if your new card has a $2,000 limit and you transfer $2,000, your credit score could still take a hit even if you keep that old card open.

Note the issuers of your existing card and the new card- How disappointing to go to the trouble of opening a new card only to find you can't use it for the thing you most wanted to use it for. If you aren't paying attention, it could happen. In most cases, a bank won't allow you to take advantage of a balance transfer offer if you're just moving a balance from one card the bank offers to another the bank offers. In other words, you won't be allowed to move a balance from your Chase Freedom Flex℠ card to a Chase Slate® card (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) and take advantage of the 0% period. You'll want to look outside you're current issuer if you need to make a balance transfer.

CASE STUDY

The best approach, of course, is to pay off your balances in full each and every month. That way you can enjoy all of your rewards without any of the heartburn that comes with hefty credit card balances. But, there are times when carrying a balance happens – even to the best of us. Here's what worked for one CardRatings editor:

"My 1930s house desperately needed a kitchen remodel, so my husband and I got to work (we're DIYers whenever possible). We had saved and planned and had every intention of paying cash for the full project. Everything (miraculously) went pretty much as planned, so we stayed largely on-budget. But then it occurred to me, 'Why would we empty our savings account to pay for this when we could open a balance transfer credit card and just pay this off slowly, interest-free, over the course of several months?'' So that's what we did. We opened a Chase Slate® card and transferred a balance to it.

"Doing this allowed us to keep our savings in our account just in case some other emergency happened, but we still didn't pay anything in interest; it was basically an interest-free loan. We set up two automatic payments each month so that we never missed a payment and we were certain to pay off the card well within the zero-interest period. Worked like a charm. We have a new kitchen, no debt and money in our savings account."

APPLYING FOR A BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD

After assessing which card fits within your spending wheelhouse, applying is an easy process. Let's say you've decided on a card. With most credit cards, there will be an opportunity to apply online. You will need to enter some personal information, so make sure to apply over a secure connection in a private area. You'll enter sensitive information like:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social Security number
  • Housing costs
  • Employment status
  • Annual income

Usually after you've entered in all of the requested data, the inquiry will automatically be submitted to the lender. Sometimes you'll see approval immediately and other times you'll receive a letter and/or a phone call to verify your approval or denial of credit card issuing. The process usually happens within a week at the latest (unless you're applying for a secured credit card or credit cards for bad credit in which cases the process can take up to four weeks).

TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD

In our opinion, the best credit cards for balance transfers often include:

Low introductory rates. Many cards offer a 0% intro APR on balance transfers, sometimes for a year or more, enabling the cardholder to make a serious dent in his/her balance without accruing additional interest.

Fixed interest rates or discounted APR ranges. Although fixed APRs are almost impossible to find on general purpose credit cards these days, a few credit unions and regional banks promise to lock an interest rate for the life of your balance transfer. Most other lenders offer no-frills cards that trade bonus features and perks for variable APRs a few percentage points lower than the market average.

Introductory or lowered balance transfer fees. While many banks charge processing fees that often range between 3-5%, certain offers can reduce or eliminate those fees, also cutting down the finance charges you'd pay over the life of your balance. The cards on our list of the market's best balance-transfer deals possess some, if not all, of the aforementioned attributes. Let us know what you think about these selections by leaving a comment below.

BALANCE TRANSFER PITFALLS TO AVOID

When you are working to pay off existing credit card debt, be careful to avoid making the following three mistakes:

Taking on more credit card debt. Except for dire emergencies, try not to make any new charges to your credit card. The beauty of balance transfer offer is that it can help you get rid of credit card debt more cheaply and quickly. Now is not the time to run out and add to your balance. This is especially true if your new card only features a 0% APR for balance transfers, but not on purchases (there's that pesky fine print again).

Letting the low introductory APR period slide. During the low or zero-introductory APR period, pay down as much debt as you possibly can so your balance is as low as possible when the higher interest rate period begins.

Missing a payment. Do not add to your credit difficulties by missing a payment, as you may become ineligible to continue your low introductory APR and your credit rating may suffer, making it increasingly difficult to obtain reasonable credit terms.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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