FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS:
BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARDS
Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
Our pick for: Longest 0% period for transfers and purchases
The Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card has one of the longest 0% intro APR periods on the market — potentially approaching almost two years, if you meet on-time minimum payment requirements. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a longer interest-free promotion, and it applies to both purchases and balance transfers. Read our review.
Our pick for: Longer 0% period for transfers and purchases
A lengthy 0% introductory APR period for both purchases and balance transfers has made the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card a IHowBlog favorite. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period for transfers and purchases
The BankAmericard® credit card isn’t flashy, nor does it aim to be. You get a decent 0% introductory APR period to whittle down debt or finance a large purchase. And that’s about it. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period for transfers and purchases
The $0-annual-fee Chase Slate Edge℠ is light on flash but features an excellent 0% intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers, plus some other potential incentives for paying on time. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period on transfers + no late fees
The Citi Simplicity® Card has an excellent 0% intro APR period on balance transfers, and an OK one on purchases. It doesn’t charge an annual fee, late fees or penalty APRs either. Its balance transfer fee is on the high side, though. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period for transfers
The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card offers a super-lengthy 0% intro APR period on balance transfers, and there’s also a decent offer on purchases. But the balance transfer fee is pricey. It doesn’t have the late-fee forgiveness of Citi’s other balance-transfer card, but it’s still a great option. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period for transfers + bonus cash back
What makes the Discover it® Balance Transfer stand out from other balance-transfer cards is its ongoing cash-back rewards, which give you a great reason to keep using the card regularly even after its introductory 0% APR period ends. Read our review.
Our pick for: Long 0% period for transfers + flat-rate cash back
Year after year, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer has been our choice for the best flat-rate cash-back card. You earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy something and 1% when you pay it off. There’s no 0% intro period for purchases and no sign-up bonus, but the high rewards rate more than makes up for the lack of bells and whistles. Read our review.
Our pick for: 0% period for transfers and purchases + flat-rate cash back
Among flat-rate cash-back cards, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. It earns an unlimited 2% back on all purchases, which is excellent. But in addition, the card offers a rich sign-up bonus and a generous 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers. That’s an impressive, hard-to-find combination of features on a card with a $0 annual fee. Read our review.
Our pick for: 0% period for transfers and purchases + bonus cash back
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® was already a fine card when it offered 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Now it’s even better, with bonus rewards on travel booked through Chase, as well as at restaurants and drugstores. On top of all that, new cardholders get a 0% introductory APR period and the opportunity to earn a sweet cash bonus. Read our review.
Our pick for: 0% period for transfers and purchases + bonus cash back
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, as well as on travel booked through Chase, at restaurants and at drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There’s a fantastic bonus offer for new cardholders and a 0% intro APR period, too. Read our review.
Our pick for: 0% period for transfers and purchases + travel rewards
The Discover it® Miles is the rare travel credit card that lets you redeem your rewards for travel or for cash back at the same rate. (Also rare among travel cards is its intro APR period for balance transfers.) You earn unlimited 1.5 miles per dollar spent on purchases, and the miles are generally worth 1 cent apiece — that’s a solid rate for a card with no annual fee. As with other Discover cards, this one matches the rewards you earn in your first year. Read our review.
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What is a 0% balance transfer?
A balance transfer involves moving debt from a high-interest credit card to a new card with a lower interest rate, ideally one with an introductory 0% period. Essentially, you’re using one card to pay off another, but because you aren’t paying as much in interest, you have more money available to pay down your debt more quickly.
How much can I save with a 0% balance transfer?
A balance transfer makes financial sense only if the money you save on interest is more than any fee you’ll pay to carry out the transfer.
Moving debt to a card with an introductory 0% APR period for balance transfers will obviously save you money in interest. Those savings can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on how much you owe.
According to IHowBlog’s American Household Credit Card Debt Study, the average household with revolving credit card debt — that is, debt that was carried from one month to the next — had a total of $6,741 in such debt in March 2019. Let’s say you had that much debt on a card with an APR of 17%, and you wanted to pay off the debt in equal amounts over 18 months:
If you left the debt on the 17% card, you’d pay more than $900 in interest over the course of those 18 months.
If you transferred the debt to a card with a 0% intro APR for 18 months, you’d pay no interest at all. Further, if you used the money you would have paid in interest and applied it to paying down the balance, you’d be out of debt a couple of months earlier.
Mind the balance transfer fee
A balance transfer isn’t always a slam-dunk solution to high-interest debt. Most cards with promotional 0% APR periods charge balance transfer fees, which typically range from 3% to 5% of the amount being transferred. Some cards don’t charge these fees, or waive them for a period of time when you first open your account.
Before pulling the trigger on a transfer, consider whether the amount you’ll save on interest will be enough to make up for any transfer fee. In the above example, a 3% fee on a $6,741 transfer comes out to a little over $200, while a 5% fee would be about $340. If you’re saving $900 in interest, then the fee is worth paying.
However, if you’d been planning to pay off the debt in six months rather than 18, then the transfer would have saved you only about $330 in interest — so a 3% fee would have eaten up most of your savings while a 5% fee would have ended up costing you money.
Estimate your savings with our calculator
Whether a balance transfer will save you money depends mostly on four factors:
The current interest rate on that debt.
The balance transfer fee.
How long the 0% period on the new card lasts.
How to do a 0% balance transfer
If the math on a balance transfer works in your favor, here’s what to do next.
1. Apply for a 0% balance transfer card
In many cases, cards with an introductory 0% APR offer for transfers give you only a short period of time after opening your account to take advantage of the offer — say, 60 days. So even if you already have a card with a 0% period in effect, it might be too late to use it for a transfer.
In general, you’ll need good credit to qualify for a balance transfer card.
Most issuers won’t let you transfer debt from one of their cards to another. For example, you can’t transfer a balance from one Chase card to another. So make sure you aren’t applying for a card from the same bank that holds the debt you need to transfer.
2. Tell the new card’s issuer you want to do a transfer
With some cards, you can do this from your online account dashboard or even the issuer’s mobile app. With others, you’ll need to call the customer service number on the back of the card.
3. Provide information requested by your issuer
You’ll need to know the account number of the debt you want to transfer and how much you want to move. Depending on the credit limit on your new card and the card issuer’s policies (which may limit the amount of a transfer), you may get approved to transfer the entire amount or just a part of it.
4. Continue making payments on the old card
This is critical. The transfer doesn’t happen as soon as you ask for it. It can take days or even a couple of weeks. Pay at least the minimum until your old card account shows that the debt has been moved. The last thing you want is to incur an expensive late fee (and possibly damage your credit scores).
5. Watch your accounts
You’ll see the debt paid off on the old card and show up on the new one. Now it’s time to pay it down.
6. Stash the old card, but keep it open
It may be tempting to cut up the old card and cancel the account for the sake of catharsis, but closing a paid-off credit card account can damage your credit scores. If the card doesn’t charge an annual fee, keep it open.
Should you get a 0% balance transfer card? Pros and cons
Pros: Why it’s worth getting a balance transfer card
You can pay off your debt faster. This should be the point of the balance transfer. Apply the money you save in interest to your balance to get you out of debt faster. Don’t just move debt from one card to another to avoid paying it off.
It simplifies your finances. If you’re juggling multiple payments and due dates, you may find it easier to consolidate into one monthly lower-interest payment.
Cons: Why a balance transfer card might not be for you
If you don’t pay off your debt within the 0% period, you could be worse off. Without a solid plan in place to pay off the balance you’ve transferred, you could end up paying interest at even higher rate than on your previous card when the 0% period expires.
There’s typically a fee involved. Most cards have a balance transfer fee, and depending on how much you owe and the terms you’re looking for, it may not be worth it to shift your debt.
You need good to excellent credit to qualify. If your credit standing is just OK, you may not get approved for another card. And every time you apply for a new card, your score takes a hit, so it’s best not to apply if you think approval is a long shot.
You may get approved for an amount less than you want to transfer. The new card’s issuer might let you transfer only a portion of what you owe. For example, it might set a limit of $5,000 on balance transfers. You can try asking for a higher amount. If that fails, consider other steps to pay down your debt.
How to compare 0% balance transfer cards
1. Determine whether you qualify
In most cases, 0% balance transfer credit cards require good or excellent credit. Generally, that means a credit score of about 690 or better. (You can get your credit score for free on IHowBlog.)
2. Look at the issuer that holds your current debt
In most cases, you can’t transfer balances among cards from the same bank — from one Chase card to another Chase card, for example. This is important to know because it will save you from getting a card you can’t use. Be especially careful with store-branded credit cards, which often do not clearly identify the issuing bank. (Stores don’t typically issue and manage their own credit cards; they partner with a bank to do it.)
3. Compare 0% APR periods for balance transfers
The longer the 0% period, the better, since you’ll have more time to pay down your debt without interest. But know that longer periods might mean higher transfer fees
4. Compare balance transfer fees
Transfer fees on most credit cards range from 3% to 5%. That’s equivalent to $30 to $50 for each $1,000 you transfer. A handful of cards do not charge transfer fees or waive them for an introductory period. But those cards are few and far between, and most of them require excellent credit. Also, cards that don’t charge a transfer fee generally have shorter 0% APR periods than balance transfer cards that do.
5. Say no to annual fees
A good balance transfer card will not charge an annual fee. Some rewards cards with annual fees do offer 0% introductory periods, but they’re a bad choice for getting out of debt. (The rewards and sign-up bonuses on such cards encourage spending, and the annual fee eats up money that could be going to pay down debt.)
Making the most of your 0% balance transfer credit card
Use your balance transfer credit card only for debt. The cards that save you the most while paying off debt generally don’t offer the best rewards. That’s why it’s better to use two cards: One for paying off debt over time, and one for making (and immediately paying off) new purchases.
Know when promotional periods end. Your card’s introductory 0% APR period doesn’t last forever, and in most cases a $0 transfer fee is available only for a limited time. Transfer debt and pay it off within those time periods to avoid interest and fees. Read your credit card statements carefully — or just call your issuer and ask if you’re not sure when the clock will run out.
Pay on time. If you’re late with a payment, your card’s 0% balance transfer APR will probably disappear. That’s because promotional terms often get voided if your account isn’t in good standing. Aside from losing the card’s most valuable feature, you might also have to pay a late fee (close to $40, typically) and a penalty interest rate (often about 30%). Avoid this basket of bad news by setting up automatic payments, if you’re confident you’ll have enough money in your account to cover at least the minimum. Make extra payments throughout the month, as your budget allows.
Make a plan. Take stock of your debt and figure out what you’ll have to do to become debt-free. Calculate how much extra money you can put toward your credit card debt each month, and track your progress as you chip away at the balance .
Alternatives to a 0% balance transfer
Maybe a balance transfer card isn’t right for you. There are other ways to get a handle on your debt.
1. Pay more than the minimum due
Your minimum monthly payment due is the absolute least you can pay without incurring a penalty. It won’t get you very far toward paying off your debt. To see real interest savings, you need to pay interest on less money, and that means reducing the principal by paying more than the minimum.
2. Use a debt payment calculator
Debt payment calculators show you how much you could save in interest by paying down your credit card balance without a transfer. Enter your balance and choose an interest rate, then see your savings if you reduced the balance by 5% to 50%. See the calculator here.
3. Ask if you qualify for a lower rate
If your credit score has improved since you opened the account, it could pay off to ask your issuer to lower your interest rate. You might get some points knocked off your rate, or possibly get your account moved to a card with a lower rate. You may also be told it’s not possible, but it’s worth a phone call to ask.
5. Consider a personal loan
A personal loan can be a solid option to get a handle on your high-interest debt. Personal loans can be issued by banks, credit unions and online lenders. Some loans designed for debt consolidation can even be paid directly to your creditors, streamlining the process.
Keep in mind that a personal loan makes sense only if the interest rate on the loan is the less than the interest rate you were paying on your credit card debt. Shop around to find the most favorable terms and know that credit unions typically offer some of the best rates but you typically have to become a member to apply. Some online lenders charge origination fees, similar to when a balance transfer card charges a balance transfer fee. Be sure to do the math before committing to a card’s terms.