How to find the right balance transfer credit card
Updated: January 17, 2020
Credit card debt for the American consumer can be crushing – it averaged $5,700 per credit card at the end of 2018, its highest level since mid-2009, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2019 report on the consumer credit card market.
Owing thousands of dollars on your credit cards can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Consolidate debt, make lower interest payments, or pay off an old purchase and save money to boot with a balance transfer credit card.
But BT cards can confuse the newcomer, which is where we come in. We’ve compiled this guide to walk you through how balance transfers work, when they are a good idea, and which balance transfer credit card is best for your needs. Here, we look at:
Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Discover it® Balance Transfer
Best balance transfer credit card for long balance transfer offer with rewards
The 5% back on select categories (up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate, then 1%) then a dollar for dollar cash back match at the end of your first year makes the Discover it Balance Transfer a rewards winner among balance transfer cards.
Not only does the Discover it Balance Transfer let you enjoy a robust balance transfer 18-month zero interest offer (it’s 13.49% – 24.49% variable APR after that), but you can get the same great rewards as the Discover it Cash Back.
As great as this card is for balance transfers, the 0% intro APR offer for purchases isn’t amazing. It’s the rock bottom minimum of 6 months (it’s 13.49% – 24.49% variable after that), so it may not be worthwhile for anything other than a moderately priced purchase.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
Best balance transfer credit card for excellent credit
The Diamond Preferred’s superior 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers makes it the top balance transfer card that accepts excellent credit.
If you’re on the hunt for a balance transfer card that will take you well into 2021, the Diamond Preferred is a fine choice. Pay zero interest for 21 months on balance transfers, then 15.24% – 25.24% variable APR after that.
The Citi Diamond Preferred has no sign-up bonus and no ongoing rewards, which you might want to consider when choosing a balance transfer card for the long haul.
BankAmericard® credit card
Best balance transfer credit card for 0% intro APR
Not only does the BankAmericard® offer 18 billing cycles with 0 interest (then 14.49%-24.49% variable APR) on purchases, but also on balance transfers made within the first 60 days. That means you can save on interest charges into 2021.
In addition to a stellar 0% intro APR offer, this card gives you regular access to your FICO Score for free, giving the BankAmericard longevity.
Unlike the Chase Freedom, this card has no sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best balance transfer credit card for no annual fee
This card offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases and a nice sign-up bonus – all for no annual fee.
This card’s ongoing rewards are strong, and the zero interest offer for balance transfers and purchases for 15 months (then 16.49% – 25.24% variable APR) compares well with its competitors.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited’s foreign transaction fees can put a damper on international travel, even though it is widely accepted internationally because it is in the Visa network.
Citi Simplicity® card – No late fees ever
Best balance transfer credit card for the longest intro balance transfer offer
Few other cards come close to the Citi Simplicity Card in the way of balance transfers – get zero intro APR for 21 months, then it’s 16.24%-26.24% variable APR.
In addition to the impressive balance transfer offer this card offers a lot of great “no’s” – no penalty rate, no late fees and no annual fee.
Unlike the Discover it Balance Transfer, the Citi Simplicity Card offers no rewards. Also, the purchase offer on this card is only 12 months for 0% intro APR (then 16.24% – 26.24% variable after that), albeit 6 months more than the Discover it Balance Transfer.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best balance transfer credit card for low balance transfer fee
The Capital One Quicksilver’s balance transfer fee is only 3% and, unlike other cards in this category, the balance transfer fee does not increase after an introductory period.
The Quicksilver is pretty good for balance transfers – thanks to its reasonable introductory offer – and comes with a nifty sign-up bonus. Also, there’s a flat rate of 1.5%, so you don’t have to think about what types of purchases you are making. Also, this card has the advantage of offering no foreign transaction fees, making it right for international travel.
This card doesn’t have the high cash back offer for rotating categories of the Chase Freedom, but its BT offer compares well.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
Best balance transfer credit card for choice of cash back category
There’s so much to treasure with this cash back card’s ongoing rewards: Earn 3% on a category of your choice, as well as 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 on combined purchases each quarter).
The sign-up bonus on this card is competitive and the 0% intro APR offers on purchases and balance transfers are competitive: 15 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days (it’s 15.49% – 25.49% variable after that).
Sadly, the regular APR could be lower. If you think you will have a balance after the 0% intro offer ends, look at other cards such as the Discover it Balance Transfer (13.49% – 24.49% variable APR) or the BankAmericard (14.49% – 24.49% variable APR).
Citi® Double Cash Card
Best balance transfer credit card for cash rewards
The Citi Double Cash Card beats all the competition with its flat-rate cash back offer of 1% back when you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay for the purchase. Other flat-rate cards typically pay 1.5% back.
The Double Cash Card’s 18-month zero interest offer on balance transfers (then a variable APR of 15.49% – 25.49% after that) is longer than other cash back cards, while the ongoing rewards are also better than most.
There’s no 0% intro APR offer on purchases with this card, and the ongoing APR of 15.49% – 25.49% variable is one of the higher rates. There’s also no sign-up bonus offer.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Best balance transfer credit card for tiered cash back
You’ll be hard-pressed to find the tiered rewards of this card with no annual fee. The cash back offers at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations make it a keeper for growing families. Earn 3% back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), as well as 2% back at U.S. gas stations.
Still not convinced? There’s also a nice ongoing rewards offer for purchases made at select U.S. department stores (it’s 2% cash back), as well as a competitive welcome offer.
Although the 0% intro APR on balance transfers is for a competitive 15 months (it’s 14.49%-25.49% variable after that), you can easily find a better offer provided you’re willing to forego the rewards.
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best balance transfer credit card for good credit
The card’s 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months (15.49%-25.49% variable after that) will help you save money and shore up the good credit you’ve earned, giving you room to breathe while you pay down debt.
In addition to the unlimited cash back you’ll earn (3% back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on all other purchases), you can pocket a sweet $150 sign-up bonus after just $500 in spending within the first 3 months.
The card’s high-end APR is much higher than that of the average credit card. This could come back to bite you if you can’t pay off your transferred balance or new purchases at the end of the intro APR period.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card*
Best balance transfer credit card for no balance transfer fee
This card is a solid choice if you are looking to avoid a balance transfer fee, provided you make the transfer within the first 60 days of card membership^. That way, you can save on a fee that can range from 3%-5%.
Not only does this card offer no balance transfer fee, but it features a welcome offer and ongoing rewards such as 2X points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 spend a year). Also, if you use your card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period, you can get 20% more points on those purchases less returns and credits.
This card’s welcome offer is not the most robust, even for a BT card – it offers 10,000 points after a $1,000 spend in qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of card membership. Also, the ongoing rewards for U.S. supermarkets are not as generous as that of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express.
Compare the best balance transfer cards of 2020
The best balance transfer credit card is the Citi Simplicity Card with its 0% intro APR offer of 21 month on balance transfers (then 16.24% – 26.24% variable). The Discover it Balance Transfer is another great credit card with an interest-free period of 18 months, on-going rewards program and low regular APR of 13.49% – 24.49% variable. All of the cards in the following table have no annual fee.
Understanding the table:
- ^ – Whichever is greater.
- † – On qualifying transfers for the first 120 days, then 5%.
- ** – Intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms).
- ‡ – On transfers made in the first 60 days.
- *** – Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
- + – Of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
How we picked the best balance transfer credit cards
Number of cards analyzed: 1,002
Criteria used: 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, miscellaneous benefits
Ranking methodology: 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; balance transfer fee; regular APR after intro period; annual fee.
What is a balance transfer credit card?
A balance transfer card is a product that allows you to transfer balances on older cards to the new card, often with a temporary 0% rate. This can easily save you thousands of dollars, provided you pay the debt in full before the 0% APR offer ends.
In the case of our favorite balance transfer cards, you can get a 0% intro APR for anywhere from 6 months to 21 months, then the regular APR for that card kicks in. The trick is to map out how much you need to pay each month toward the balance to make sure you pay off the charges before the offer ends.
That’s because even with the Fed dropping interest rates three times in 2019, when the 0% offer ends, the interest will spike at as much as 25% and even more, depending on your payment history and credit score.
What should I look for in a balance transfer credit card?
- Lengthy 0% interest offer – Make sure you know how long of an offer you need to pay off the balance before the 0% intro APR offer ends.
- No balance transfer fee – A few credit cards offer no balance transfer fee. Do the math to decide if it’s worth your while to get one of those cards, because there may be disadvantages, such as no rewards.
- No annual fee – Most balance transfer cards have no annual fee, but a few do, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
- Rewards – You’ll need to weigh whether you want a super-lengthy intro APR offer such as the Citi Simplicity or rewards for the long term such as the Capital One Quicksilver.
- Low regular APR – A number of card issuers, such as Discover, offer a low regular APR after their balance transfer offers end.
How do balance transfer fees work?
Most balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee that is typically 3%-5% or $5-$10, whichever is greater. When you request a transfer, you will likely be allowed to transfer up to 100% of your credit limit, minus the fee.
There are some cards that offer no fee, however. We found in our January 2019 balance transfer survey that there was actually an increase in no-fee balance transfer cards – of 100 cards, 15 balance transfer cards offer no-fee transfers, up from 9 in our December 2017 survey. In the 2019 survey, 8 others offer either an introductory lower fee or waive the fee entirely if you make the transfer in a set amount of time. Sometimes the waived fee comes after the introductory offer ends.
Usually it makes sense to transfer as much of your debt as possible onto a 0% card to minimize your interest payments – but not always. Balance transfer cards sometimes carry higher-than-average APRs, and if you can’t repay the balance before the introductory period ends, it could potentially cost you more in interest rates and fees than if you leave the balance where it is. If your current account has a lower interest rate, you should do some math to figure out whether transferring all of your balance or just a portion of it will cost less.
How much does a balance transfer cost?
Here, we do the math to help you understand your break-even point on the cost of a balance transfer.
Most of the dominant cards charge a balance transfer fee of 3% or $5, whichever is greater. That means that the 3% doesn’t kick in until your transfer is at $167. Let’s take a more likely transfer amount of $1,000: In that case, the 3% balance transfer fee is $30.
Here’s the next question: Is it worthwhile to transfer a balance as small as $167? In a word: No. Here’s why. If you pay $57 a month (at 17% interest), you will pay it off in 3 months and your interest will be $4.75. That means if you can pay your debt off in 3 months or less, it’s not worth making the transfer.
Is a balance transfer worth your while when the balance is $1,000? Well, if you can pay $343 in 3 months (at 17% interest), your interest charges will be $28, making it less than the balance transfer fee for the same amount. So in that case, you shouldn’t make the transfer.
Credit cards with no balance transfer fees
There are a few balance transfers cards out there with no balance transfer fee, but not many. Here are 3 that are standouts.
- Amex EveryDay* – It’s 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases, then 14.49%-25.49% variable.
- Chase Slate – The BT fee is $0 for first 60 days of opening account; then $5 or 5%, whichever is greater.
- Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Card – This card has a low starting regular APR of 7.49%-18% variable.
How to compare two balance transfer card offers
As we’ve seen, there are a few cards that don’t charge a fee for your initial balance transfer. So, which is a better way to go? A no-fee balance transfer offer, or a card with an especially long introductory period? Most of the time, the no-fee card wins out. Here’s the math to help you decide:
- Figure out your payment terms – Before you start comparing balance transfer cards, you need to figure out the following:
- What size balance do you want to transfer? Keep in mind that your new card will come with a credit limit that may restrict the amount that you’re able to transfer.
- How much can you afford to pay each month? While it’s a good idea to pay down your debt as quickly as possible, you should come up with a manageable amount.
- Calculate fees and interest – Once you know the size of the balance transfer and the installment amount, you need to calculate the fees and interest for each card. Basically, you need to calculate how much of a balance remains for each card once the introductory period expires (don’t forget to add the card’s balance transfer fee to the initial balance), and then calculate the interest that you will owe each month until the balance is paid off.
- Compare fees and interest on each card – Using the same balance transfer amount and installment payment, calculate the fees and interest for both cards, then compare the amounts side by side.
- Compare the cards’ remaining features – Finding the card that will cost you the least to pay down your balance should be your first priority. However, if all else is equal between the cards, you should look at remaining features on the cards to see if either is worth holding onto in the long run. For instance, the Discover it Balance Transfer card from our example has a very valuable cash back program. You can enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year.
For example, in the table below, we compare the costs of transferring a $5,000 balance to the Discover it Balance Transfer card and the Amex EveryDay* cards with a repayment period of 21 months. Even though the introductory period on the EveryDay is shorter, you would save more than $100 with it in this scenario, due to its waived balance transfer fee.
Cost of a $5,000 balance transfer over 21 months
Discover it Balance Transfer card
Amex EveryDay card*
- 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers
- 13.49% – 24.49% Variable APR
- 3% intro balance transfer fee (then up to 5%, see rates and fees)
- 0% intro APR on balance transfer for 15 months
- 14.49% – 25.49% Variable APR
- $0 intro balance transfer fee if made within 60 days of account opening
- Monthly payment = $250
- 3 months interest (18.74% APR) = $19.14
- Balance transfer fee = $150
Total paid = $5,169.14
- Monthly payment = $250
- 6 months interest (18.74% APR) = $61.93
- Balance transfer fee = $0
Total paid = $5,061.93
Who can qualify for a balance transfer credit card?
The great bulk of cards that feature introductory APR offers require good or excellent credit, but there are some exceptions. For example, here are some credit cards with balance transfer and purchase promotions that require little or no credit:
- Discover it® Student Cash Back – Get 0% APR for 6 months on purchases or 10.99% APR for 6 months on balance transfers. It’s 19.49% variable after that. No credit history is required.
- Discover it® Student chrome – Get 0% APR for 6 months on purchases or 10.99% APR for 6 months on balance transfers. It’s 19.49% variable after that. No credit history is required.
- Discover it® Secured – Get 10.99% APR for 6 months on balance transfers. It’s 24.49% variable after that. No credit history is required.
Do business credit cards offer balance transfers?
It’s rare to find a business credit card with an intro balance transfer offer, although a few have intro APR offers on purchases. Here are some business cards with intro APRs on balance transfers:
- American Express® Blue Business Cash Card – Get 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then it’s 14.74%-20.74% variable.
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express – Get 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then it’s 14.74%-20.74% variable.
- U.S. Bank Business Platinum – Get 0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers, then it’s 11.74%-19.74% variable after that.
How to perform 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 process is relatively simple on the end of the cardholder. Here are the steps you should follow:
- Apply for a balance transfer card – Before choosing a card, check out our balance transfer calculator, which factors in fees and interest rates to determine how much you’ll save by transferring your existing balance to a different card. Once you find the balance transfer card that best suits you, complete the card application.
- 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.
- 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. Once you provide them with the necessary information, they will reach out to the old card company and move the requested amount onto your new card. Many cards also allow you to make balance transfers through your online account, but we advise that you wait until you receive the physical card to initiate a balance transfer. That way, once you receive the card, you can ask for a higher line of credit if the approved amount is below the old balance.
We recommend that you pay the minimum amount on your old card until the transfer closes to avoid late fees and other penalties. Also, be sure to transfer your balance before the card’s introductory offer ends.
Details on performing a balance transfer with 6 major card issuers:
- You are not allowed to make a balance transfer from one American Express card to another.
- You can only qualify for a zero-percent balance transfer offer if you transfer your debt within 60 days of opening your new Bank of America credit card account.
- Customers can’t transfer more than $15,000 in credit card debt within any 30-day period with a Chase account.
- Citi requires that you transfer any balances during the first 4 months of opening your new account.
- If you try to transfer an amount greater than your credit limit, Discover will process a transfer for less than what you requested.
- Other credit card providers will charge 3% of the amount you transfer. HSBC charges 4% on most of its cards.
How long does a balance transfer take?
As you might expect, your process doesn’t end with getting your new balance transfer card. Now, you’ll need to transfer the balance from the old card, and the amount of time it takes can vary widely, depending on the card issuer and whether your balance transfer card is a new or old account.
American Express has one of the longest transfer periods – 6 weeks – while it can take as little as 3 days with a Capital One card. Here is the expected wait time for 5 major card issuers.
Source: CreditCards.com research
How to use a balance transfer credit card
- Make sure the card suits your needs – Choose a card with the right regular APR, intro APR length, annual fee and rewards for your needs.
- Plan when you’ll pay off the balance – Make sure you are clear about how much you need to pay each month to pay off the balance in time.
- Pay on time – If you don’t pay on time, you run the risk of losing the intro offer.
- Don’t go over your credit limit – In the same way, if you exceed your credit limit, you run the risk of losing the intro offer.
Ways to use a balance transfer card
The cost of moving from one state to another – or even across state – can be prohibitive, what with the costs of transporting a car, hiring a moving company and even hotel costs. A BT card with a 0% intro APR offer can smooth out those rough edges.
Once you’ve moved, you’ll likely look around you and start considering what new furniture to buy to fill out your new home. Heads up that some furniture stores offer 0% offers, but they may offer deferred interest, which means that you aren’t avoiding the interest by paying before the offer ends, just postponing it. A BT card with a major bank can help you avoid that trap.
Did you find that your dream home actually needs some work? Rather than pay interest on those renovation expenses, choose a BT card with an offer that gives you time to pay it off while avoiding interest, provided you pay before the interest ends.
When you get back from vacation, you don’t want to come home to credit card bills you can’t pay off quickly. A balance transfer card can help you with that as well.
When is a balance transfer credit card a bad choice?
You keeping making late payments
If you occasionally pay late on your bills, a balance transfer is not a good choice because one late payment on your card and you could lose the BT offer, and then high interest charges kick in. And that’s even if you have the score to get a BT card, since on-time payments are the top factor in your credit score.
Pro tip: Set up an automatic payment through your bank and schedule it a few days before your due date to be on the safe side.
You keep incurring debt
Have you gotten into this mess without understanding how you got there? You may have fallen into the trap of spending on a credit card because you don’t “see” the money change hands.
Pro tip: Track your spending for a month, forgetting nothing. Then make a budget that includes room for fun and room for emergencies. Why? Because if your budget is too austere, you are more likely to break the bank. Do the same with your credit card spending, and check your spending every week to make sure you are on track.
You would not pay off before the offer ends
If you can’t figure out how to pay off your debt by the time the 0% APR offer ends, you may be looking at a card with an offer that’s too short for your purposes or you may not be putting enough into your monthly payments. Ask yourself: Is it because you are hankering for a rewards card?
Pro tip: Instead, look at cards with longer offers, which can be up to 21 months. That will allow you to pay a little less each month, and at the same time avoid interest. You’ll likely have to forego the shiny object of rewards – you need to choose your priorities, and paying down debt should be your first consideration.
You owe a small amount
If you can potentially pay off your debt within 6 months, a balance transfer card may not be the right choice for you.
Pro tip: Because most BT cards have a balance transfer fee of up to 5% of the transfer, you may want to opt out of a balance transfer card and pay down the debt quickly. Check with your card issuer to see if they will lower your interest rate. We’ve found that chances are, they will.
You have options
There are times when another option is best for your circumstances, perhaps because you can’t pay off the debt before the offer ends or because the balance transfer fee isn’t something you want to deal with.
Pro tip: Depending on your situation and the offers available to you, it might make more sense to consolidate your debt with a personal loan.
CreditCards.com Poll: NM leads in credit card debt burden, MA has least
New Mexico tops the states and Washington, D.C., in credit card debt burden, while Massachusetts has the least, according to our recent CreditCards.com study of credit card debt by state.
But most interesting is that states with the highest amount of debt are not necessarily the ones with the greatest burden simply because their residents generally have higher incomes and can therefore pay their debt off more quickly.
“This study illustrates how your income has a huge effect on your ability to pay off your credit card debt,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “Lower incomes play a larger role in the ease or difficulty of paying off one’s credit card debt than factors such as cost of living. While it’s more expensive to live in Massachusetts than New Mexico, the median income in Massachusetts is almost 70% higher. That makes it a lot easier to pay off a similarly sized debt. There are only so many dollars to go around.”
Notably, we found that Southern states are heavily impacted by card debt burden, while states in the North dominate the slots for least debt burden. Here are the top 5 states in credit card debt burden, as well as the 5 bottom states:
Top and bottom ranked states in debt burden…
|Greatest debt burden
||Total credit card balance
||Median annual household income
||Months to pay off
|Least debt burden
||Total credit card balance
||Median annual household income
||Months to pay off
Source: Experian, U.S. Census, CreditCards.com research
Note that no matter the amount of debt, the states with the least debt burden can pay off the debt more quickly. There is one thing to glean from this data – a balance transfer credit card is a good way to pay down debt without paying interest. Just make sure you pay it off before the offer ends. Rossman suggests some ways to accomplish this.
“If you’re in debt, regardless of where you live, I recommend balance transfer cards and seeking opportunities to raise your income and lower your expenses. Taking on a side hustle can dramatically reduce your debt payoff time and total interest expense,” says Rossman.
The debt burden was calculated by assuming that 15% of a consumer’s income will go toward paying down the card debt. The state-by-state incomes were gleaned from the U.S. Census, while the state-by-state debt was gathered from credit bureau Experian. Click here to see the full survey results.
*All information about The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available through CreditCards.com.
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura’s work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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