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Comparing Balance Transfer Credit Card Offers
Updated: August 22, 2019
In a recent poll, we found that almost half of American adults wrongly thought that you could not transfer a balance to a new card and pay 0% interest for more than a year. In fact, there are numerous credit cards that offer balance transfers with 0% APR for a year or longer.
Balance transfer credit cards are a good option if you are trying to consolidate debt, make lower interest payments, or find time to pay off an old purchase. Nonetheless, a balance transfer can be a confusing process for those who have not gone through it before (and even for those who have). That's why we've compiled this guide to walk you through how balance transfers work, whether they're right for you, and which credit cards are best for balance transfers if you choose to pursue one. Here, we look at:
Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Discover it® Balance Transfer
Not only does the Discover it Balance Transfer let you enjoy a robust balance transfer 18 month 0% intro APR offer, but you can get the same great rewards as the Discover it® Cash Back. Add to that, the low end of the variable APR is lower than its competitors.
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 14.24%-25.24% variable after that), so it may not be worthwhile for anything other than a moderately priced purchase.
Bottom line: With a generous balance transfer offer and rewards, this card can be a great addition to your wallet.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
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.
This card doesn't have the high cash back offer for rotating categories of the Chase Freedom, but its BT offer compares well.
Bottom line: While it doesn't have the 5% back of the Chase Freedom or the 3% back on up to $20,000 in spend during the first year of the Freedom Unlimited, this card has the advantage of offering no foreign transaction fees, making it right for international travel.
BankAmericard® credit card
Not only does the BankAmericard offer 18 billing cycles with 0% intro APR (then 15.24%-25.24% variable) on balance transfers made within the first 60 days, but it offers the same on purchases. That means you can save on interest charges into 2021.
Unlike the Chase Freedom, this card has no sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards, although the BT offer is better than the Freedom.
Bottom line: If you need a balance transfer card that gets the job done and you don't mind the lack of bells and whistles, the BankAmericard is a good choice.
In addition to a competitive 0% intro APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months, the Chase Freedom offers a sign-up bonus, unlike the Discover it Balance Transfer, as well as 5% cash back on rotating categories.
While this card has an impressive lineup of rewards, its balance transfer is best for more moderate balances. Also, the variable APR starts high at 17.24%-25.99%. Finally, the balance transfer fee is higher than others at 5% or $5, whichever is greater, if the balance is not transferred within the first 60 days.
Bottom line: While this card may not be the best option for international travel due to the foreign transaction fees, the 0% intro offer and the rewards make this a strong card for a domestic lifestyle.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Like the Quicksilver, the Freedom Unlimited offers a moderately strong 0% intro APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months (it's 17.24%-25.99% variable after that), and the first-year rewards offer is unparalleled.
You'll need to choose between the long balance transfer offer of the Simplicity and the generous rewards of the Chase Freedom Unlimited if you have a large balance and not much ready cash. Also, like the Chase Freedom, there are foreign transaction fees on this card.
Bottom line: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a decent balance transfer card with a heavy focus on earning cash back. For balance transfers, there are credit cards with more favorable rates.
Citi® Double Cash Card
The Double Cash Card's 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers is higher 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 15.99%-25.99% variable is one of the higher rates. There's also no sign-up bonus offer.
Bottom line: Even though there is no 0% intro APR offer for purchases, the balance transfer is better than most others and the ongoing rewards counterbalance the lack of a sign-up bonus.
HSBC Gold Mastercard® credit card
This no-annual-fee card is packed with advantages, starting with a strong balance transfer offer. Also, you'll pay no foreign transaction fees and you'll get the same great 0% offer on purchases as well. The regular APR also starts super low, at 13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% applied after the intro offer.
Unfortunately, the HSBC Gold Mastercard doesn't offer a sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards, which limits its long-term opportunities.
Bottom line: If you want a great 0% offer and you don't mind having a no-rewards card, the HSBC Gold Mastercard has the options you are looking for.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
Bank of America recently increased the 0% intro APR from 12 billing cycles to 15 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (it's 16.24%-26.24% variable after that) without scaling back on rewards. This card offers 2% cash back at grocery stores and 3% on a category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined spend quarterly, then 1%).
If you are transferring a large balance and need more than 15 billing cycles to pay it off, other cards offer a longer 0 interest period.
Bottom line: The card offers a great balance between a lengthy 0 interest period and cash rewards. It also offers a $200 signup bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of your account opening.
Wells Fargo Platinum card
This card has a similar offer to the BankAmericard by offering 0% APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 18 months (17.49% - 26.99% after). However, this card also offers cellphone coverage for qualified users, as well as free FICO scores.
The Wells Fargo Platinum card doesn't have a sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards, which could be factor when you're looking at a card for the long haul.
Bottom line: This card has an unusually long 0% intro APR offer; just make sure you are aware of the caveats and pay off your balance before the regular APR kicks in.
CITI SIMPLICITY® CARD – NO LATE FEES EVER
Pay 0% on balance transfers well into 2021 with this card – it's 0% APR for 21 months on balance transfers, then it's 16.74%-26.74% variable.
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, albeit 6 months more than the Discover it Balance Transfer.
Bottom line: If you're looking for the best 0% BT offer on the market, you've come to the right place. For rewards, look elsewhere.
Compare the best balance transfer cards of 2019
The best balance transfer credit card is the Citi Simplicity Card with its unrivaled 0% intro APR offer of 21 month on balance transfers (then 16.74% - 26.74% 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 14.24% - 25.24% variable.
How we picked the best BT 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: A good balance transfer card should have an introductory 0% APR period of at least 15 months. In a few cases, a card with a shorter intro offer may be worth it for its other benefits but if balance transfers are your primary intended use, then the longer the better.
- Balance transfer fee: If you have a large balance to transfer, this fee can become quite costly. We only considered credit cards with balance transfer fees of no more than 5%.
- Regular APR after intro period: Ideally, you want to pay off your balance before the 0% intro APR period is over. However, if this is not possible then you should keep an eye out for cards with reasonable regular interest rates.
- Annual fee: The entire point of a balance transfer credit card is to avoid paying more than you have to; paying an annual fee would run counter to that goal. The best balance transfer credit cards have no annual fee – you'll notice that we've eschewed cards that charge such a fee in compiling our list.
Here is our breakdown of the top balance transfer credit cards that can help you save on interest.
What are balance transfer credit cards and how do they work?
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 with your new card. If you don't, 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.
Paying interest can be slippery slope because you aren't paying it yearly, meaning 15% on $1,000 doesn't come to a flat $150 in interest. Instead, interest on credit cards is calculated and compounded daily. So 15%, divided by 365 (days in the year) or .041096%, becomes 41 cents the first day. So, your balance the second day is $1,000.41, which is then used to calculate the interest for the second day. That means your debt comes to $1,013 at the end of your first month.
Card debt for the American consumer can be crushing – it averaged $8,022 per bank card (including retail cards) in our recent survey on credit card debt by state, up from $6,354 in 2017 (according to Experian).
What we found with our study was that the states topping the list of the greatest debt burden were weighed down by not only hefty debt, but also low household incomes:
3 states with most card debt burden…
|2018 rank||State||Total card balance||Monthly payments with 15% interest||Months to pay off||Total interest paid|
|1||New Mexico||$8,323||$584.30||17 months||$1,319.59|
|3||West Virginia||$7,563||$543.36||17 months||$1,167.14|
Source: CreditCards.com Card Debt Burden Study
Meanwhile, we found that the states with the least debt burden had a higher median household income: Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Massachusetts having the least debt burden.
If you find yourself strapped with interest charges and a cycle of never-ending debt, there is a way to pull yourself up and out, and that is with balance transfer cards.
How do balance transfer credit cards work?
Balance transfer cards are credit cards that allow you to move debt from one card to another – essentially paying off credit card “A” with new credit card “B.” Typically, a person will transfer his or her balance to a card with a lower interest rate, allowing them to save money on monthly payments or pay off the balance more quickly. For example, if you're paying 12 percent interest on a $3,000 debt, you will have to pay $560 per month for six months to pay off the balance. If you transfer that $3,000 balance to a card that doesn't charge interest for the first six months, your payments will be $500 – for a savings of $60 each month.
Common strategies to manage debt
Given the benefits of balance transfer cards, it was a bit of a shocker for us to find out in our December 2018 debt poll that only 15% of those with a plan for their card debt would consider using a balance transfer card to address the problem. Yet, used correctly, they are an excellent tool for recovering from card debt. Here's more on what our study found:
Ways consumers who have a plan would deal with card debt...
- Paying substantially more than the minimum monthly payment
- Paying a little more than the minimum monthly payment
- Transferring my balance to a different credit card with a lower rate
- Asking my credit card issuer for a lower interest rate
- Taking out a personal loan to reduce/eliminate/consolidate my credit card debt
CreditCards.com December 2018 credit card debt poll
As CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman points out, "Balance transfer credit cards are an excellent tool for getting out of debt at the lowest possible cost. At present, the best offers are 0% interest for 21 months (with a 5% transfer fee) or 0% interest for 15 months (with no transfer fee). Take advantage of these promotions and be careful to avoid running up more debt once you've worked so hard to get out of it."
How do balance transfers 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 usually carry higher-than-average APRs, and if you can't repay the balance before the introductory period, 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.
You should try to pay off your balance before the regular APR kicks in. However, you should also take into account balances on other cards. You may want to focus on paying down accounts with higher interest rates first, and then make larger payments toward your 0-percent card once you've paid off your other accounts.
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.
As you know now, 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.
When is a balance transfer fee worth it?
But the next question is this: 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.
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.
Balances can take up to 6 weeks to transfer, so 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 7 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.
- A balance transfer with Capital One can take 3 to 14 days.
- 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
When is a balance transfer card a good choice?
There are times when a balance transfer card is a good choice, but sometimes not so much. Here, we look at ways to use a BT card and times when they might not be right for you.
Ways to use a balance transfer card
The cost of moving from one state to another this summer – 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 a balance transfer card is not a good 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.
How to compare two balance transfer cards
When comparing balance transfer cards, your gut may tell you to choose the card with the longest introductory period. You're not entirely wrong, but there's another very important consideration: The balance transfer fee. Most balance transfer cards charge a 3% to 5% fee to transfer a balance, which can add up to $100 or more in fees if you have a large balance to transfer.
There are a few cards – such as the Amex EveryDay®* Credit Card – that don't charge a fee for your initial balance transfer within 60 days of account opening. 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:
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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.
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|
0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then 14.24% - 25.24% Variable), 3% intro balance transfer fee (then up to 5%, see rates and fees)
|Amex EveryDay* card|
0% intro APR on balance transfer for 15 months (then 15.24% - 26.24% Variable), $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
Step 4: 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.
What to do if your balance transfer is rejected
Sometimes, you are approved for a balance transfer card but when it comes time to make the actual transfer, it is rejected. What to do?
Here's what you can do if this happens to you:
- If the balance transfer is denied – Simply ask the card issuer to reconsider. The reason why you were denied can be the deciding factor.
- If your credit is poor – If your credit score was too low or you don't have high enough income, you may be denied. Sometimes you can get approval if there are extenuating circumstances.
- If it's due to lack of available credit – Try resubmitting with a lower amount. If your first problem hasn't been solved (transferring the old balance), you might consider another card. Just make sure you have sufficient income and credit score for that card. Keep in mind that each hard inquiry impacts your score by about 5 points.
* 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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