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A guide to balance transfer credit cards
If you feel like you are in a never-ending cycle of credit card debt, a balance transfer card just might be the solution. Here, we share how these credit cards work, when they are a good or a bad idea, and we offer examples of great balance transfer cards to choose from.
Best balance transfer credit cards compared
|Credit card||Best for||Balance transfer intro APR offer||Regular APR|
|Discover it® Balance Transfer||Rotating bonus categories||0% intro APR for 18 months||11.99%-22.99% variable|
|Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card||Best for longest intro APR||0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers made within 120 days of account opening if you make on-time monthly minimum payments for the full length of the offer||12.99% to 24.99% variable|
|U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||Large purchases||0% intro APR for the first 20 billing cycles||14.49%-24.49% variable|
|BankAmericard® credit card||Low interest||0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles, for transfers made in first 60 days||12.99%-22.99% variable|
|Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card||2% cash rewards||0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers made in first 120 days||14.99% to 24.99% variable|
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card||Balance transfers||0% intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers made within the first 4 months of account opening||13.74%-23.74% variable|
|Citi Simplicity® Card||0% intro APR + low fees||0% intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers completed within the first four months of account opening||14.74%-24.74% variable|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||Cash rewards||0% intro APR for 18 months||13.99%-23.99% variable|
|Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card||Everyday spending||0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles, for transfers made within first 60 days||13.99%-23.99% variable|
|Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card||Unlimited cash back for Preferred Rewards members||0% intro APR on transfers made within the first 60 days for 15 billing cycles||13.99% – 23.99% variable|
|Citi Custom Cash℠ Card||Automatically maximizing rewards||0% intro APR for 15 months||13.99% to 23.99% variable|
Editor’s picks: Balance transfer credit card details
Discover it® Balance Transfer: Best for rotating bonus categories
Why we picked it: This card offers the best of both worlds, giving you an impressive 18 months to pay off a transferred balance without accruing any interest (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR after that), and a generous cash back program and unique first-year promotion that matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
Pros: You’ll be hard-pressed to find another rewards card that gives you a full year and six additional months to pay off your transferred balance at a 0% intro APR.
Cons: While this card does not carry an annual fee, you’ll want to keep in mind the intro balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 (whichever is higher) and up to 5% for future transfers.
Who should apply? Those looking for a long runway for paying down credit card debt will see long-term value from this card’s rewards program, especially if you’re willing to keep track of its bonus categories.
Who should skip? Individuals looking for a lengthier period to finance new purchases or a flat-rate cash back credit card will want to look elsewhere.
Read the full Discover it® Balance Transfer review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card: Best for longest intro APR
Why we picked it: The latest addition to Wells Fargo’s line-up features one of the longest intro APR offers on the market: Cardholders enjoy 18-months from account opening of introductory 0% interest on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then variable 12.99% to 24.99% APR) with the option for a three-month extension if they make monthly minimum payments on-time for the full length of the intro offer.
Pros: The lack of traditional rewards could be a boon for people who want to remain laser-focused on paying off debt for good. Plus, there are a few ancillary benefits that give the card some value after the intro offer expires; namely, access to My Wells Fargo Deals and up to $600 in cell phone protection (with a $25 deductible).
Cons: You’ll have to transfer a balance within 120 days of account opening to qualify for the intro offer and a 3% balance transfer fee. After that, the balance transfer fee goes up to 5% or $5, whichever is greater. While the ancillary benefits are a bonus, the lack of a traditional rewards program does dampen the card’s long-term value.
Who should apply? If you need an uber-lengthy window of time to pay off existing high-interest debt or a forthcoming large purchase (and you can commit to making on-time monthly minimum payments), this card can’t really be beat.
Read our Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best for large purchases
Why we picked it: If you’re looking to finance a major purchase, this card is one of the best options on the market for buying time until you can pay it off with its long 0% introductory interest rate on purchases, as well as a good interest-free period on balance transfers.
Pros: Cardholders get a full 20 billing cycles before they start accruing interest on new purchases (14.49% to 24.49% variable APR thereafter). Plus this card offers cellphone protection (coverage of up to $600, $25 deductible) in the case of covered damage or theft (when you pay your cell phone bill with this card) and does not carry an annual fee.
Cons: This card has limited long-term value as it has no rewards program to speak of. Plus, the card also charges a fee of up to $40 for late payments and 2% to 3% on each foreign transaction you make (2% if the transaction is in U.S. dollars, 3% if in a foreign currency).
Who should apply? The US Bank Platinum card offers a generous amount of time to pay down new purchases. And while it does not carry an annual fee, you’ll likely see more long-term value from a card with a dedicated rewards program.
Who should skip? Anyone who wants to reap the long-term benefits of a dedicated rewards program.
Read the full U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
BankAmericard® credit card: Best for low interest
Why we picked it: The BankAmericard allows you 18 billing cycles to work on paying off a balance transfer (made within the first 60 days) without accruing interest. After that, your interest rate could still be quite low. The regular APR is 12.99% to 22.99% variable, which is good, especially if you can secure an interest rate at the low end of that spectrum.
Pros: The 18-month 0% introductory rate also extends to purchases (12.99% to 22.99% variable after that). There is no rewards program, but you still have access to money-saving perks with BankAmeriDeals, Bank of America’s card-linked cash back offers. You won’t pay an annual fee.
Cons: Again, you’ll need to act fast to capitalize on the balance transfer offer, given it applies only to balances transferred in your first 60 days. You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of 3% or $10 (whichever is greater).
Who should apply? Cardholders with big balances can take advantage of the low APR intro rate but only if they’re nimble enough to get it done within the first 60 days of opening the account. For larger debts, the balance transfer fee may sting a bit at 3% (or $10, whichever is greater.)
Who should skip? This card has no rewards program so if that’s high on your priorities, look elsewhere.
Read the full BankAmericard credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card: Best for 2% cash rewards
Why we picked it: This straightforward rewards card offers an unlimited 2% cash rewards on eligible purchases. And unlike the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers 1% cash back on eligible purchases and another 1% when you pay your bill, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card comes with an introductory bonus of $200 cash rewards after spending $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. Members enjoy a 0% introductory APR on purchases as well as qualifying balance transfers for 15 months from account opening, then 14.99% to 24.99% variable APR.
Pros: The card carries no annual fee. Cash rewards never expire so long as your account remains in good standing. Besides cellphone insurance, card perks also include Visa Signature Concierge benefits at select hotel properties around the world.
Cons: While the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card beats out the Citi Double Cash card in terms of an introductory bonus, the Citi Double Cash has the longer APR intro period for balance transfers.
The intro APR on qualifying balance transfers must be made within the first 120 days as a cardholder to receive the special intro rate. There’s also a balance transfer fee of 3% if you transfer the balance within 120 days; 5% if you don’t (with a $5 minimum).
Who should apply? If you’re on the hunt for a simple flat rate unlimited rewards card to earn cash rewards on day-to-day purchases that just so happens to have favorable balance transfer terms, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card should be at the top of your list.
Who should skip? This card is a great choice for day-to-day spending, but you could be missing out on potential rewards in your top spending categories.
Read the full Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for balance transfers
Why we picked it: This card pairs one of the longest balance transfer offers currently on the market with a potentially low go-to interest rate: Cardholders receive a 0% introductory APR for 21 months on balance transfers made in the first four months (the APR is 13.74%-23.74% variable after that).
Pros: The 0% introductory APR extends to purchases too, for 12 months (13.74% to 23.74% variable after that). Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Cons: You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of 5% (or $5, whichever is higher). Plus, the fact that there’s no base rewards program may limit its long-term value, though there are a few ancillary perks to enjoy, like access to Citi Entertainment®, Citi Flex Plan and the Citi Easy Deals program.
Who should apply? So long as you’ve done the math on that 5% balance transfer fee (or $5, whichever is higher), the Citi Diamond Preferred is an attractive option for anyone hoping to pay down debt or finance a big purchase.
Who should skip? While this card does come with excellent perks, its lack of rewards may be a dealbreaker for some.
Read our full Citi Diamond Preferred Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Citi Simplicity® Card: Best for 0% intro APR + low fees
Why we picked it: The Citi Simplicity® Card is a solid choice for people who want to pay down some debt without mastering a complex rewards program or confusing fee structure.
Pros: You’ll enjoy a lengthy 21-month 0% introductory APR on balance transfers conducted within the first four months of account opening and on purchases for 12 months (then variable 14.74% to 24.74% APR). You also won’t pay an annual fee, or incur late fees or a penalty APR for missed payments. (Note: Late payments will still hurt your credit score and are best avoided.)
Cons: The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card does offer a longer 0% introductory APR on purchases (20 billing cycles, then variable 14.49% to 24.49% APR). There are also a few cards, mostly from credit unions, that let you skip a balance transfer fee, though their intro APRs are usually higher or the time period is shorter.
Who should apply? If you’re wary of rewards and worried about incurring late fees or penalties while you learn the ropes of responsible use, the Citi Simplicity is the card for you.
Who should skip? This is a solid balance transfer credit card, but your specific choice will ultimately come down to how long you need to pay off a balance transfer and/or if you’re looking to avoid a balance transfer fee.
Read our full Citi Simplicity® Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for cash rewards
Why we picked it: While some cards may require you to sacrifice long-term value for a great balance transfer offer, the Citi Double Cash does not. In addition to an introductory 18-month zero interest offer on balance transfers (then a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% after that), you’ll earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% as you pay your balance, or 2% total.
Pros: The base rewards, paired with that lengthy balance transfer offer, are the real highlight here. The potential to earn 2% cash back (1% when you buy and 1% as you pay), after all, is competitive among the best rewards credit cards. Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Cons: You’ll need good-to-excellent credit to qualify for the card, so people with bad, fair or thin credit might need to look elsewhere. (See the best credit cards for fair credit.) There’s no 0% introductory APR offer for purchases. You’ll pay an intro balance transfer fee of $5 or 3%, whichever is higher, for balance transfers completed within the first 4 months of account opening.
Who should apply? For those with good-to-excellent credit, the Citi Double Cash Card gives you the versatility of a flat-rate cash back card coupled with one of the longest no interest balance transfer deals available. Existing Citi customers already earning ThankYou points could earn even more by pairing with this card.
Who should skip? You’ll need good-to-excellent credit to qualify for the card, so people with bad, fair or thin credit might need to look elsewhere. (See the best credit cards for fair credit.)
Read the full Citi Double Cash review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Best for everyday spending
Why we picked it: The card pairs a competitive balance transfer offer (0% intro APR for the first 15 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then 13.99% to 23.99% variable) with solid rewards for everyday spending. Plus, this card offers a generous introductory APR on new purchases as well (0% for the first 15 billing cycles, 13.99% to 23.99% variable thereafter).
Pros: The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card offers a solid 3% cash back on a category of your choice and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%). There’s no annual fee for the card.
Cons: The 0% introductory APR period for balance transfers is good, though certainly not the longest one out there. Plus, you’ll have to act fast to capitalize on that intro APR. (As we mentioned earlier, only balance transfers made within the first 60 days of opening an account qualify.) A 3% fee (minimum $10) applies to all balance transfers.
Who should apply? The ability to choose your own monthly bonus category is a definite plus for anyone seeking flexibility in a cash back card, but be mindful of those spending caps. This card is best suited for earning rewards for everyday moderate spending.
Who should skip? Big spenders hoping to earn outsized rewards should keep looking.
Read the full Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card: Best unlimited cash back for Preferred Rewards members
Why we picked it: Not only does this card feature an attractive 0% intro APR on purchases as well as balance transfers made within the first 60 days for 15 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR), it also offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases. Existing Bank of America customers can earn an additional 25% to 75% boost to rewards earnings provided they have a savings account with $20,000 or more through the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program. The reward increase will vary based on your Preferred Rewards account balance. Cardmembers can also earn a $200 online cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.
Pros: Your cash rewards never expire as long as your account remains active. Cash rewards can be redeemed for statement credits, deposits made directly to your eligible Bank of America checking or savings account or as a credit to an eligible Merrill account.
Cons: If you carry a balance past the introductory 15 billing cycles, the amount of interest you owe could be high, particularly if the higher APR applies. Depending on your spending habits, a card that offers a high rewards rate on specific bonus categories may be a better option.
Who should apply? Anyone hoping to tackle an existing card debt or make a large purchase will benefit from this card’s competitive intro APR offer, and the unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards certainly sweeten the deal.
Read the full Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Best for automatically maximizing rewards
Why we picked it: This new cash back from Citi comes with a lengthy 0% introductory APR on balance transfers (0% for 15 months, then variable 13.99% to 23.99%).
Pros: That 15-month 0% introductory APR also extends to purchases (then variable 13.99% to 23.99%). Cardholders also earn rewards: 5% cash back on up to $500 in purchases in your top spending category each billing cycle, then 1%, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s a sign-up bonus offering cardholders $200 if they spend $750 in the first three months of account opening (fulfilled as ThankYou points that can be redeemed as cash back).
Cons: The big drawback here is the balance transfer fee, which is 5% of the transferred balance (or $5, whichever is greater). That’s on the higher side for a balance transfer. Many cards charge 3% of the transferred balance and a few, like the Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum card, waive the charge entirely.
Who should apply? This card is an option if you’re looking for a balance transfer, but want to earn rewards once you’re finished paying down your debt.
Who should skip? Anyone transferring a particularly high balance may want to steer clear of this card’s 5% balance transfer fee.
Read our Citi Custom Cash Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.
Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum card: Best for no balance transfer fee
Why we picked it: The Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum card is one of the fews cards currently on the market that skips a balance transfer fee. Plus, it comes with a 12-month 0% introductory APR on balance transfers requested within 30 days of account opening. After that, the APR will be a relatively low 5.99% to 18% variable. The 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers expires June 30, 2021.
Pros: The regular APR on purchases (variable 5.99% to 18%) is low, relative to the current industry average. There’s no annual fee.
Cons: There’s no rewards, which, again, can eat into the long-term value of the card. There’s also no 0% introductory APR on purchases. You have to join the Navy Federal Credit Union to apply for the card. To do so, you must be a veteran, have current ties to the armed forces, Department of Defense, or National Guard, or have an immediate family member with a Navy Federal membership.
Who should apply? If you meet the credit union’s eligibility requirements, this card can save you a chunk of change on a balance transfer given it doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee. (Most issuers charge between 3% and 5% of the transferred balance, so if you were transferring a $5,000 balance to this card, you could potentially save yourself between $150 and $250 in fees.)
Who should skip? Reward-seekers, this card can offer you a lot of things but a rewards program isn’t one of them.
Read our Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum card review.
What is a balance transfer credit card?
According to CreditCards.com statistics, as more Americans get vaccinated and more states open, credit card debt is ticking back up a bit. Credit card balances often end up costing consumers who are already experiencing financial hardship hundreds of dollars or more in interest charges, making it even more difficult to pay off debt. That’s where a balance transfer card comes in.
A balance transfer allows you to move your credit card debt from older cards to a new card, often with a lower interest rate. The main benefits of a balance transfer credit card include:
- Avoiding interest. This is a great tool for temporarily avoiding interest charges since many offer a 0% intro offer of six to 18 months. By paying no interest for a period of time, you’ll save money on interest expenses, potentially pay your balance off over a shorter period of time and pay less interest overall.
- Consolidating debt. If you are looking to simplify payments by combining them into one bill, a balance transfer card is an option. This can help make it easier for you to pay on time because you only have one bill to worry about.
How does a balance transfer work?
When performing a balance transfer, you will be moving debt from one credit account to a different account, typically by using a balance transfer credit card that carries a lower interest rate than the original account. This can help you pay off debt by transferring your existing balance to a new credit card with a 0% intro APR period. During this period, you have the ability to pay off the principal without having to pay interest.
Although balance transfers are primarily used for credit card debt, each issuer has its own rules for what types of debt you can transfer. Depending on the issuer, your balance transfer options could include credit card balances, auto loans, personal loans, and student loans.
One thing to consider is that most issuers will not let you transfer a balance from an existing account with that same issuer. Plus, some issuers allow you to transfer multiple debts to one balance transfer card, as a form of debt consolidation.
What is a 0% balance transfer?
If you’re ready to break out of credit card debt, there are several different strategies to get you there, and one of the most effective methods is to move an existing balance to another credit card with a balance transfer. Some credit card issuers offer special promotional interest rates on balance transfer to entice new customers.
The 0% introductory APR balance transfer is the most effective of all balance transfer promotions because it means you won’t pay any interest on the transferred amount until after the promotional APR period, which can range from 6 to 21 months. Balance transfer offers usually require good to excellent credit, so you must take your credit score and approval odds into account.
Pros and cons of balance transfer credit cards
- Avoid paying high interest. If you want to avoid interest rates for a period of time, a balance transfer credit card is a great way to achieve that, because many of these cards offer a 0% intro APR. Keep in mind that you will pay interest on any balance you have after the offer ends (typically 6-18 months), but if you can pay off all or most of the debt before that, you can save hundreds of dollars.
- Consolidate debt. With a balance transfer card, you can consolidate debt from multiple cards, then pay a single bill each month. You might do this for convenience or for budgeting purposes. Your minimum monthly payment may also be lower for one consolidated debt than your total payments for multiple accounts.
- Improve your credit score. Once you’ve paid off your balance, you might have improved your credit score, notably by lowering your credit utilization ratio. You will also have a higher overall credit limit if you keep your original accounts open. By expanding available credit and paying down debt, you can improve your score.
- You can lose your low or zero-interest rate if you make late payments. It’s a good idea to set up an automatic payment through your bank and schedule it a few days before your due date to be on the safe side.
- More available credit can make it easy to keep incurring debt. To avoid racking up more debt, track your spending for a month, forgetting nothing. Then make a budget that includes room for fun and room for emergencies. Do the same with your credit card spending, and check your spending every week to make sure you are on track.
- When the offer ends, your interest rate goes up. If you might not be able to pay your balance off before a card’s introductory period ends, look for cards with longer offers, which can be up to 18 months. That gives you a little more time to tackle that balance before the interest charges begin. You’ll likely have to forgo the shiny object of rewards – you need to choose your priorities, and paying down debt should be your first consideration.
- Balance transfer fees can be steep. Most balance transfer cards have a balance transfer fee of up to 3% to 5% of the transfer. If you can opt out of a balance transfer card and just pay down the debt quickly, you may be better off.
How to choose a balance transfer credit card
Who should get a balance transfer credit card
- The debt manager. If you’re currently carrying high-interest credit card debt on one (or more) credit cards, you’re a prime candidate for a balance transfer credit card. A top-notch offer can save you money on interest and help you pay down existing balances faster, given they won’t accrue interest during the introductory period.
- The credit-builder. Paying off existing debt can improve your credit utilization rate, a core component of credit scores. Your credit utilization rate is how much debt you’re carrying vs. how much credit has been extended to you. Best practice is to keep this rate below 30%.
Who should skip a balance transfer credit card
- The rewards seeker. While some balance transfer credit cards do offer rewards, you can generally find more lucrative programs attached to traditional or premium rewards credit cards.
- The luxury traveler. Balance transfer credit cards rarely, if ever, offer ancillary travel perks, like complimentary lounge access, a free checked bag or travel insurance. If you’re in the market for those perks, consider a travel, airline or hotel credit card.
- The frequent revolver. If you tend to consistently carry at least some purchases over from month to month, you might be best-served by a low-interest credit card, which offers a competitive APR for the long term vs. simply during an introductory period.
How much money can you save with a balance transfer?
Moving an existing debt from one credit card to another can potentially save you a lot of money. Just how much money you’ll save depends on a number of factors, including your original APR, the introductory APR of your new balance transfer card, the duration of that introductory APR, as well as any fees associated with transferring that debt.
For example, let’s say you currently owe $3,800 on your current card. Your APR is currently 24% and your monthly payment is $250, which means you’d spend $775.74 in interest before finally paying off the card in 19 months. However, if you were to transfer that $3,800 to a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory APR offer for 18 months and a 3% fee on balance transfers, you would spend only $114 in fees and be able to pay the balance off in 16 months. That saves you $661.74 and three months!
To see how much a balance transfer could save you, use our handy balance transfer calculator.
How to make the most of your balance transfer credit card
- Look into high-limit credit cards. It’s possible to get approved for a card, but at a lower credit limit than the balance you’re looking to transfer. To increase the odds of qualifying for a credit limit that covers the full amount you’re trying to pay off, consider applying for these balance transfer cards that could offer you a high limit based on your creditworthiness.
- Avoid new, unplanned charges. While you might have a balance transfer credit card that offers rewards on spending or a 0% intro APR on new purchases for a limited time, make sure you have a plan before making new charges. That way, you don’t go into further debt. Focus instead on paying the transferred balance off before the card’s regular APR applies.
- Set up auto-payments to ensure you don’t miss a monthly bill. This step is particularly important with balance transfer credit cards, given some issuers stipulate that their promotional terms are contingent on an account being in good standing (meaning a late payment can cost you that 0% introductory APR even if the promotional period hasn’t ended). Plus, late fees and penalty APRs will only add to your debt load.
- Pay off your balance before the promotional APR period ends. Many balance transfer credit cards charge average-to-high go-to interest rates, depending on your credit, so if you don’t pay balances back by the time the 0% introductory APR expires, you’ll risk foregoing any savings and getting caught in a cycle of debt. Draft a payment plan and consider redoing your budget to ensure you’re out of the red by the deadline.
- Look into low interest offers. If you anticipate that you might still have a balance after the 0% intro APR offer ends, take a look at balance transfer cards with low interest rates. Keep in mind that the better your credit, the lower your regular APR will likely be on a card. Here are a couple we like: Alliant Visa® Platinum Credit Card (regular APR is 10.24% to 22.24% variable) and BankAmericard® credit card (regular APR is 12.99% to 22.99% variable).
How to do a balance transfer
If you’re considering a balance transfer card, you may be wondering how much work goes into moving the balance from one card to another. Overall, the balance transfer process is relatively simple on the end of the cardholder. Here are the steps you should follow:
- Check the rules. Pay attention to the rules, because some cards require the transfer to be made within 60 days of approval. Many issuers include this information in their marketing materials, but you can verify the details by referencing a card’s Schumer Box, a standardized disclosure form that helps people compare card offers easily, or in a card’s full terms and conditions. Other important information to note includes the balance transfer fee you’ll be paying (usually 3% or 5% of the transferred balance) and how long you have to pay the transferred debt back before the regular APR kicks in.
- Collect your information. Next, gather the account details for the card that has the debt – referred to as the “transfer from” card – including the account number and card balance. You’ll need to provide this information to the issuer of your new balance transfer credit card.
- Contact customer service. After receiving your balance transfer card, call customer service and inform them that you want to transfer a balance onto your new card. Some issuers will give you a balance transfer check but most issuers allow you to request a balance transfer online. You can alternately try logging into your new account to get the process started. Once you provide the new issuer with the necessary information, they will reach out to the old card company and move the requested amount onto your new card. (Technically, the new issuer pays off the balance on your old card and charges that amount, plus any applicable balance transfer fee, to your new card.)
- Keep paying the minimum. We recommend that you pay the minimum amount on your old card until the transfer closes to avoid late fees and other penalties. Balance transfers typically take between five days to six weeks to complete.
- Monitor your accounts. That way, you’ll know that the balance transfer has officially completed. (The balance will show up as paid on your old card and appear as an outstanding balance on your new card.)
- Carefully consider if (and when) you should close your old card. Doing so before you have a chance to pay down the balance on the new card could negatively affect your credit utilization rate and, subsequently, your credit score. In fact, closing the card in general might ding your credit, given scoring models look favorably on people who are using less than 20% of their available credit (in total and on individual cards.) Having said that, if that available credit is going to entice you to overspend, you may, in fact, be best-served by canceling the old account.
Note: The balance transfer completion process varies slightly from issuer to issuer. We’ve put together the resources below to provide more details on how each major credit card company conducts them.
How long do balance transfers take?
The time it takes to complete a balance transfer will vary by card issuer, but generally you should expect the process to run anywhere from a few days to several weeks. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s a good idea to contact the issuer before initiating the transfer and confirm exactly how long the process will take to complete. If you’ve only recently opened the account, that could have an impact on your wait time.
On the lower end of the waiting scale, Capital One balance transfers can take as little as three business days, while Citi can take up to 21 days. See our comprehensive guide to balance transfer processing times by issuer.
How we picked the best credit cards for balance transfers
Research methodology: We analyzed 1,002 credit cards to identify the top balance transfer credit cards on the market. While a large number of factors contribute to the quality of a credit card, the following were our most important criteria in evaluating and choosing the best balance transfer cards:
- Length of 0% intro APR period: The longest balance transfer offers on the market currently offer 0% intro APR periods on balance transfers that last between 15 to 18 months. Historically, there have been offers that tout a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for close to two years.
- Balance transfer fee: Most credit cards charge a balance transfer fee between 3% to 5% of the transferred balance (minimums apply). A few cards have historically skipped the charge or waived the charge if a balance is transferred within a certain time period.
- Regular APR after the intro period: There’s always a chance that cardholders won’t pay their balance off by the time the 0% introductory APR expires. As such, we considered whether the go-to APR on that balance was reasonable, compared to the current industry average. (See the current average credit card interest rates.)
- Annual fee: The best balance transfer credit cards minimize the cost of a credit card so cardholders have more money to put toward their balance. As such, we more heavily weighted credit cards with no annual fee.
Our full criteria include: 0% intro APR period for balance transfers, balance transfer fees, regular APR, savings period, current APR assumption, monthly payment assumption, other rates and fees, customer service, credit needed, security, ease of application, potential rewards and miscellaneous benefits.
More information on balance transfer credit cards
For more information on all things balance transfer cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts: