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2019 comparisons: Balance transfer credit cards

By , Site Editor

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credit cardsThe last of the pine needles have been swept from the carpet, you've put the holiday tunes away until next year and the last Christmas cookie has finally been eaten.

But still your holiday spending credit card debt remains. And with interest rates having done nothing but go up in 2018 (and likely continuing to do so in 2019), now is an excellent time to consider a balance transfer credit card that can save you a substantial amount of money while you work toward paying off that balance.

Balance transfer credit cards can mean the difference between paying hundreds of dollars in interest and paying nothing in interest; but as with any credit card, it's important to read the fine print and fully understand the card's terms before you apply. In particular, one thing to make sure you understand is the difference between the introductory APR period and the balance transfer window. Confuse these terms and you could miss out on a 0 percent offer altogether.

Balance transfer window vs. introductory APR period

If you're shopping for a balance transfer credit card, you're likely focusing on the length of time you'll have to take advantage of 0 percent interest while you work on paying off your balance. That means you're looking at the introductory APR period, and that's certainly important to do.

You also need to look at when you need to make your balance transfer in order to qualify for the 0 percent period at all. In some cases, you'll only have 45 days to make your transfer from the time you open the account. Miss that window, and you'll completely miss out on the 0 percent balance transfer offer. Other cards give you as long as 120 days to make your transfer and take advantage of the no-interest period. And still others allow you to make the transfer whenever you want within the introductory 0 percent period.

>Jump to our side-by-side comparison of 26 popular balance transfer credit cards

Let's look at a couple of examples: The HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card offers an attractive 0 percent period for 18 months on both purchases and balance transfers; however, you're only eligible for the balance transfer offer if you make your transfer within the first 60 days of account-opening.

On the other hand, Chase Freedom® offers a 0 percent period at 15 months no interest on purchases and balance transfers, but the balance transfer window for the card is also 15 months. That means you can transfer a balance months into your card membership and still reap some benefit from a 0 percent period.

The reality is that the sooner you transfer a balance to a card with a 0 percent introductory offer, the more value you're going to get from that transfer. After all, if you're paying high interest on an existing balance, why wait to make that transfer?

Consider a hypothetical situation: Let's say you owe $5,000 on a card that is charging you a 16.99 percent interest rate. If you wait just three months to transfer that balance, you'll pay more than $200 in interest. Wait six months and you're looking at more than $400 in interest. As you can see, even if the balance transfer window is lengthy, it pays to make your transfer as soon as you can.

>MORE: Explore how much a balance transfer could save you with our "Balance Transfer Calculator."

Other factors to consider with balance transfer cards

Of course, the introductory period and balance transfer window shouldn't be the only things you consider when making a decision about opening a new credit card.

As with any new card, you'll want to also take into account your credit history and credit score, whether you're willing to pay an annual fee and whether you want a card that offers rewards or other perks beyond that introductory 0 percent period.

There are cards out there, such as the Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard® (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) (See Rates and Fees) or BankAmericard® credit card, that are geared specifically toward balance transfers. They don't offer rewards, so probably aren't the best choice for someone who wants to pay off a balance interest-free and then start earning cash back or other rewards.

When you're researching balance transfer credit cards and browsing the table below, there are a number of things to consider, not the least of which is how long an introductory 0 percent period you'll need in order to pay off your balance interest-free. Be realistic about your spending and what you'll be able to pay each month as you attack your debt. Balance transfer credit cards are excellent tools, but they're at their best when you pay off the balance in full before that intro period ends – which brings us to our next point…

Make the most of your balance transfer credit card

Opening a balance transfer credit card and making your transfer within the transfer window are great first steps to helping you pay off existing credit card debt, but your work isn't done.

To truly maximize the benefits of the card, there are a few things you need to do beyond making that initial transfer. Here are a couple of steps we recommend.

  1. Make a plan. Figure out how much you'll need to pay monthly in order to pay off your debt before the introductory period comes to an end. Ideally, your plan will allow you to pay it off a month or two before the period ends just in case an unexpected expense one month forces you to pay less than your plan requires for that month.
  2. Never miss a payment. Do whatever you have to do to ensure you NEVER miss a payment. The fine print for many, if not most, balance transfer offers says that the credit card company can end your 0 percent period early if you miss a payment. Setting up automatic payments is an excellent way to ensure you pay your bill on time every month.
  3. Analyze your spending habits. Sometimes credit card debt arises out of emergencies or unforeseen circumstances and sometimes it simply comes for living beyond your means. If the debt you accumulated falls into that second category, spend some time during this 0 percent period assessing your spending and your budget. Commit to making changes that will help you avoid future credit card debt.

CardRatings has compiled the following chart comparing 27 popular balance transfer offers and showing, side-by-side, details such as their introductory periods, the balance transfer window and more.

Compare these popular balance transfer credit cards side-by-side

Card Balance transfer intro offer Length of BT intro period Balance transfer fee Balance transfer window Regular APR Purchase intro offer Length of purchase intro period Annual fee
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

See Rates and Fees

Terms apply

American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

Intro 0% on balance transfers 15 months Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Within 60 days from account-opening 15.24% - 26.24% Variable 0% on purchases 15 months $0
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card - $200 Cash Rewards Offer

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card - $200 Cash Rewards Offer

0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days 12 billing cycles Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. Within 60 days from account-opening 16.24% - 26.24% Variable APR on balance transfers 0% Introductory APR on purchases 12 billing cycles $0
BankAmericard® credit card

BankAmericard® credit card

0% Intro APR for 18 billing cycles for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. Within 60 days from account-opening 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR on balance transfers 0% Introductory APR on purchases 18 billing cycles $0
Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard®

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Barclaycard Ring® Mastercard®

0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable 14.24% APR will apply. Within 45 days of account opening Promotional Balance Transfers that post to your account within 45 days of account opening: Either $5 or 2% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. For Balance Transfers that post to your account at a non-promotional APR after 45 days of account opening: $0 Within 45 days of account-opening 14.24% Variable N/A N/A $0
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months 3% Within the first 15 months of account-opening 16.24% - 26.24% (Variable) 0% intro on purchases for 15 months $0
Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card

0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months 3% See Terms 16.24% - 26.24% (Variable) 0% intro on purchases for 15 months $0
Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months 3% intro when you transfer during the first 60 days of account opening, with a minimum of $5. Thereafter 5% of the amount of each transfer. Within 15 months of account-opening 17.24% - 25.99% Variable 0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months $0
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Within 15 months of account-opening 17.24% - 25.99% Variable 0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months $0
Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Citi<sup>®</sup> Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

0% 18 months 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Within 4 months of account-opening 15.74% - 25.74%* Variable N/A N/A $0*
Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Citi Simplicity<sup>®</sup> Card - No Late Fees Ever

0%* 21 months 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Within 4 months of account-opening 16.99% - 26.99%* Variable 0%* 12 months $0*
Commerce Bank® 1.5% Cash Back1 Rewards Card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Commerce Bank® 1.5% Cash Back<sup>1</sup> Rewards Card

0% 12 months Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each Balance Transfer, whichever is greater. See Terms 14.49%-27.49% Variable 0% 12 months $0
HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card

HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card

See Rates and Fees

0% 18 months 4% Within the first 60 days of account-opening Variable APR of 13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% will apply after the Introductory Period 0% 18 months $0
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card

HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card

See Rates and Fees

0% 12 months 4% Within the first 60 days of account-opening Variable APR of 15.24%, 19.24% or 25.24% will apply after the Introductory Period 0% 12 months $0
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

0% 12 months 3% balance transfer fee per transaction See Terms 11.99% to 17.99% when you open your account, based on your credit worthiness.* Your APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. N/A N/A $0
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

Intro 0% for 12 months 3% balance transfer fee now through September 30, 2019 See Terms 12.99% to 17.99% Subject to credit approval.* Your APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. N/A N/A $0
PenFed Gold Visa® Card

PenFed Gold Visa® Card

0% 12 months now through September 30, 2019 3% per transaction See Terms 9.24% to 17.99% when you open your account, based on your credit worthiness.* Your APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. N/A N/A $0
Simmons Visa®

Simmons Visa®

10.50% N/A None Unknown 10.50% variable N/A N/A None
Simmons Rewards Visa Signature®

Simmons Rewards Visa Signature®

12.50% N/A None Unknown 12.50% variable N/A N/A None
Chase Slate®

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Chase Slate®

0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Within 15 months of account-opening 16.49% - 25.24% Variable 0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months $0
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

0%* intro on BTs 12 billing cycles on Balance Transfers* 3% Within 60 days from account-opening 16.24% - 25.74%* Variable N/A N/A $0*
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

0%* intro on BTs 18 billing cycles on Balance Transfers* 3% Within 60 days from account-opening 14.74% - 25.74%* (Variable) 0%* 18 billing cycles on Balance Transfers* $0*
Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card

0% 18 months on qualifying balance transfers 3% for 120 days, then 5% Within 120 days of account-opening 13.74%-27.24% Variable 0% 18 months $0
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Intro 0% 12 months on qualifying balance transfers 3% for 120 days, then 5% Within 120 days of account-opening 16.24%-28.24% Variable 0% 12 months $0

To see the rates and fees for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please visit the following link: See Rates and Fees.

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