Compare Balance Transfer Credit Card Offers
Updated: December 7, 2017
Our Top Balance Transfer Credit Cards for December 2017
Balance transfer credit cards work by transferring debt from one card to another for a lower interest rate. A great balance transfer credit card deal is the Citi Simplicity Card, which offers 0% APR for 21 months on balance transfers for an estimated $512 in savings.
- Citi® Double Cash Card - $435.72 in estimated savings
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Citi Simplicity® Card - $512.31 in estimated savings
- Chase Slate® - $420.22 in estimated savings
- Discover it® - $447.28 in estimated savings
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card - $515.76 in estimated savings
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card - $248.33 in estimated savings
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® - $420.22 in estimated savings
- U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card - $238.73 in estimated savings
- Chase Freedom® - $420.22 in estimated savings
A balance transfer can be a great way to consolidate payments and avoid interest if you're carrying a balance. With the right card, you can even reap rewards and benefits after you pay off the transferred balance. If you know how these offers work, and you know what other perks to look for, you can find the best balance transfer card to minimize your interest and maximize your rewards.
If you're not familiar with balance transfers, our balance transfer card reviews will help you discover what the details of each card are, and show you what rewards are worth.
What is the meaning of balance transfer?
A balance transfer means you transfer the balance from one credit card to a card typically with a lower interest rate. Let's say you have $3,000 on Card A with a 17% APR. That means if you pay the minimum amount, it will take you 126 months and you will pay $2,241 in interest. If you transfer that $3,000 to Card B, with an introductory 0% APR for 18 months, that means you have 18 months to pay off the balance without paying interest fees, thereby potentially avoiding the cost of $2,241. Balance transfers are also an option if you want to streamline your payments. Simply transfer your balances to a single card and make one payment a month.
What is a balance transfer card?
A balance transfer card is a credit card that consumers typically use to avoid paying a higher interest fee. The balance on Card A is transferred to Card B, which may have a low or 0% introductory APR. Credit card companies will sometimes attract new customers with little to no interest for a set period, sometimes as long as 21 months, such as the Citi Simplicity. Balance transfer cards may also have a 0% introductory APR for purchases. For example, the Simplicity has an introductory 0% APR of 21 months for purchases. Each credit card specifies which balances will be paid first typically starting with the lowest–rate balances. Some balance transfer card rules specify that only transferred balances qualify for the lower rate, while new purchases collect interest at the regular, higher APR.
What is a balance transfer fee?
A balance transfer fee is the charge for transferring a balance from one credit card to another. The more you transfer, the larger the fee. A typical fee is 3%–5%, with a minimum of $5 or $10. For example, if you transfer a $10,000 debt from another card, you might pay a $300 fee right away. While that expense may seem hefty, assess whether you will actually save by transferring to a 0% introductory APR card to avoid interest fees, because you can easily spend thousands on interest fees. However, make sure you will be able to pay off the debt by the time the introductory offer ends, because the new card will likely revert to a go–to APR that can be 15% or more. See if it makes sense for you by using our balance transfer calculator.
Keep in mind that some balance transfer cards don't have balance transfer fees, such as the Barclaycard Ring Mastercard.
What is a balance transfer intro period?
A balance transfer introductory period refers to a low or 0% APR offer a credit card issuer provides for a limited period of time as an incentive to become a cardholder. A cardholder can pay down debt transferred from another card while not paying interest for the debt for an introductory period of time. A balance transfer intro period can last up to 21 months. After the set period, the interest rate can increase to a “go–to rate” of 15% or more. You should make sure you evaluate the balance transfer interest rate during the promotional period, the length of the promotional period, and the balance transfer fee when deciding which balance transfer offer is best for you.
What is balance transfer intro APR?
An introductory APR period is the amount of time you have to pay off the amount you've transferred without paying interest. A 0% APR period can last up to 21 months. Most balance transfer cards, with a few exceptions, charge you to move your balance. Generally, this fee is a percent of the balance you're transferring ranging from 3% to 5% depending on the card or $5–$10, whichever is greater. Since most cards' default rate can be higher than the rate you had on your old card, paying off your debt within the 0% period is crucial. Read the fine print, as some cards will void the 0% deal if you miss a payment.
How balance transfer credit cards work
Transferring the balance from one credit card to a card with a lower APR is referred to as a balance transfer. Note that transferring isn't the same as repaying. When you use a balance transfer card, you are transferring the debt from Card A to Card B. Then, if Card B has an introductory offer, you typically have a set amount of time, up to 21 months, to pay off the debt without paying any interest fees, although there is usually a balance transfer fee. Once the offer ends, the APR reverts to a higher rate – the average APR for balance transfer cards is just over 15%. That’s why it’s important to pay off the balance before the offer ends. Otherwise, you can pay hundreds of dollars in interest.
Are credit card balance transfers a good idea?
Transferring a credit card balance can be a good idea if you've incurred card debt and you are paying the minimum monthly amount. That can translate to high monthly APR fees that can be avoided if you transfer your debt to a card with a 0% introductory APR. However, make sure you have a plan to pay off the debt before the introductory offer ends, because balance transfer cards typically have a “go–to” rate that can be 15% or more once the offer ends.
Another good reason for transferring a card balance is consolidation. If you have debt on multiple cards, and you want to avoid the hassle of multiple payments, taking out a good balance transfer card can be wise. However, get to the root of the problem. Why do you have debt on multiple cards? If you are using your credit cards to buy items not in your budget, the problem may not be the cards. It may be your spending habits.
Also, taking out a new credit card to transfer a balance can be a bad idea if you are planning to take out an installment loan (a car loan or a mortgage) in the coming months, because lenders look for “hard pulls” or evidence of recent requests for credit. If you plan to buy a car or house soon, weigh whether any card debt you have could impact your application with whether lenders would be concerned about new cards. When in doubt, check with your lender before making any financial move.
Pros and cons of balance transfer credit cards
- Want to consolidate? Balance transfer cards are great for putting card balances on one account so you can make one easy payment.
- Paying hundreds in interest charges? With a balance transfer card – and a plan – you can save hundreds of dollars by paying 0% for a promotional period of time. Just make sure you pay off the debt before the offer ends.
- Want a better credit score? As with most credit cards, a balance transfer card is a good way to build credit. Every month you pay down the debt on time, you are helping your credit score. Just check with the bank and make sure your account is being reported to the 3 major credit bureaus.
- Don’t have a budget? Create one before you get a balance transfer card. Otherwise, you might end up still owing money after the 0% offer ends.
- Have trouble tracking card charges? A balance transfer card may only be a Band-Aid. You’ll need to change some habits. First, keep your old card for credit purposes, put a small charge on it each month to keep it active and pay in full each month. Then, refrain from putting charges on the new card. And in future, remember that if you don’t have the money to repay in full, don’t make the charge.
- Taking out a loan soon? Taking out a new credit card to transfer a balance can be a bad idea if you are planning to take out an installment loan (a car loan or a mortgage) in the coming months, because lenders look for “hard pulls” or evidence of recent requests for credit. It can be seen as a sign that you are desperate for cash. When in doubt, check with your lender before making any financial move.
Things to consider before applying for a balance transfer card
Balance transfer credit cards are a great way to improve your credit, used correctly. Used incorrectly, these cards can wreak havoc on your credit.
There are 5 things to consider before applying for a balance transfer card.
Can I withstand the credit score effects?
Applying for a new card requires a hard inquiry, which will temporarily drop your credit score. This can be recovered rather quickly and is generally not cause for worry. However, if you plan to take out an installment loan in the next few months, such as a car loan or a mortgage, these slight dings impact the interest rates or even whether you can land the loan of your choice. If your new card is the only credit you have on the horizon, then the drop in points will be temporary and relatively harmless, provided you continue to pay on time and keep your debt down.
What is the available credit limit?
The credit limit should be sufficient to cover the desired transfer amount without maxing out the new account. This way, you can take maximum advantage of the lower interest rates and improve your credit utilization ratio simultaneously. This ratio looms large for the FICO scoring model, the model most used by lenders. It is the amount of available credit you have compared to the amount of debt you have. The lower the percentage of debt, the better. That means the higher the new card's limit, the better, because any credit you aren't using counterbalances your debt.
How much is the transfer fee?
Low interest or 0% intro APR transfer cards usually require a transfer fee that typically ranges between 3% and 5% of the balance or $5–$10, whichever is greater. In most cases, this fee is minuscule in comparison to the interest charges you would otherwise pay and is therefore a good tradeoff. However, if the balance is low enough, it may not be worth paying the transfer fee in the first place. It's also worth noting that some card issuers waive the balance transfer fee, such as the Barclaycard Ring Mastercard.
How long is the introductory APR period?
The appeal of a balance transfer card comes in the form of a low or 0% intro APR, but these rates don't last forever. These teaser rates can be for up to 21 months, such as the Citi Simplicity. Look at all the card's benefits, though, because some cards have a shorter intro APR, such as the Blue Cash Everyday, yet they offer an introductory cashback offer and cash back for such purchases as groceries and gas. (Terms apply.) Think about how you'll use your card in the long haul. That said, make sure you only use such a card for purchases you can afford to pay off and after the balance transfer is paid so that you don't return to the cycle of debt you're trying to escape. Some cards, such as the Blue Cash Everyday, have a 0% intro APR for purchases as well.
Can I stay disciplined throughout the process?
Be true to yourself. If not, you could only worsen your existing situation. If you struggle with making monthly payments on time or don't trust your ability to cease acquiring debt, having another card at your disposal is probably not the best option. In fact, you may have difficulty even getting a new card if you have a history of late payments. Conversely, if you feel you are responsible enough to stick to the plan you have set for yourself, a balance transfer can bring you budgetary glory. If you think you can keep the old card active without incurring new debt, and you can pay down your new card without buying new items, a balance transfer card could be right for you.
How to compare two balance transfer cards
- Required score: As much as you love the idea of a certain card, you need to be reasonably sure you’ll get it before you apply. How? By checking your credit score at CreditCards.com. You’ll want at least a 700 for “good” credit and 750 for “excellent.”
- Introductory offer: Balance transfer offers give you a reduced or 0% intro APR for up to 21 months. Find an offer that will allow you to pay off the debt before the offer ends.
- Rewards features: Some balance transfer cards offer 2%, 3% and even 5% cash back on select categories and even signup bonuses of $150 and more. So, don’t just look at the introductory offer – also look at any rewards features that the cards offer.
- Annual fee: There are plenty of balance transfer cards without an annual fee, but if you really want a card and it has a fee, make sure there are rewards that you’ll use once the balance is paid off to counterbalance the fee, and that you will actually use the card.
- Balance transfer fee: Most balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee of 3%-5% or $5-$10, whichever is greater. However, some cards have no balance transfer fee, so shop around.
- Go-to APR rate: Ideally, you’ll want to plan on paying off the balance before the 0% offer ends, but check the go-to rate just in case. The go-to-rate is what you will pay once the offer ends. The average APR for balance transfer cards is currently just over 15%.
How to perform a balance transfer
- Make the transfer immediately. Be sure to make the transfer as soon as your new account opens, so you don’t lose the special offer.
- Make a minimum payment. Go ahead and make a minimum payment on the old card, even though you’re paying in full with the new card, because the transfer can take several weeks, and you don’t want a late payment on your credit report.
- Have the old card’s account information handy. This includes the balance.
- Make a call to the new bank. Simply place a call to the new card issuer’s customer service line. Communicate that you would like to transfer a balance onto your new card.
- Expect security checks. A call representative will guide you through the security checks, ask for the old account number and ask for the amount you want to transfer.
- Go online. You can also make a balance transfer online. First, create an account online for the new card. Select the correct offer, making sure the terms of the offer online match the offer you signed up for. Follow the prompts for the old card’s information, as well as the amount you want to transfer. All done? You should get a confirmation page.
- Remember the balance transfer fee. Heads up that the amount you transfer, including the balance transfer fee, can’t go over the offer amount.
- Pay on time each month. If you don’t, you can lose the 0% offer.
How long does it take to transfer a balance from one credit card to another?
Generally, a balance transfer can be expected to clear within 7 days of the request being placed. However, the exact amount of time it will take varies and is dependent on a number of issues. Many people report that their balance transfers have been accomplished in under 48 hours while others have complained of a transfer taking upwards of two weeks to complete. Unfortunately, there's no clear–cut timeline.
In order to better gauge how long a transfer will take, consider the following factors:
- Account Age
If your account with the receiving creditor has been active prior to the transfer request, it will likely complete more quickly than with a newly opened account.
- Transfer Process
If the money can be transferred electronically to the creditor, it will often take less time than payment via physical check.
- Balance Amount
Large balances may take longer to complete, whereas balances of less than a specified amount could be fast–tracked in accordance with issuer policy.
Simply, some banks just have a better reputation when it comes to completing balance transfers. Chase and Citi are two that come to mind.
- Application Method
If possible, submit your application online to ensure quality control; information relayed over the phone is subject to being misunderstood or incorrectly entered.
- Time of Request
Is it close to the weekend? Are there any major holidays coming up? If so, the process might be delayed until normal business resumes.
Can you transfer a balance from one card to another from the same bank?
Typically, a bank does not allow a balance transfer between two cards it has issued. That's because it doesn't make good business sense for the financial institution. After all, banks and card issuers operate to make money on the debt you owe and a balance transfer represents a means of saving the cardholder money on that debt.
That said, the structure of a balance transfer exists as a win–win for all parties involved when the debt is being transferred from one creditor to another, as it is almost always done. This way, both parties are satisfied for the following reasons:
- The new creditor takes on an existing debt but, more importantly, gains a new customer.
- The customer pays a relatively modest transfer fee (typically 3% to 5% of the balance) but saves money in the long run by taking advantage of the 0% intro APR period and lower interest rates.
How to properly use a balance transfer card
Here are tips to properly use a balance transfer card:
- Cease applying for new cards
Once you get a balance transfer card, don't take out any more cards. Every time a card issuer checks your credit, which is done when you apply for a card, that dings your credit rating. A cluster of inquiries may paint you as being financially unstable. Also, additional cards only increase the temptation to spend.
- Keep existing accounts open
The average age of your accounts is taken into consideration when determining your creditworthiness. Therefore, keeping older, established lines of credit active following a transfer only helps your credit rating. It will also help you obtain a more admirable credit utilization ratio, which is the second most important factor taken into account by lenders. The ratio compares the available credit to the amount owed. The closer to 0% the better. Finally, charge a small amount on your old card that you would spend anyway, and pay in full and on time each month. That keeps your account active, and it will actually help build your credit in no time.
- Stick to your payment plan
By now you should have planned out a strategy that will allow you to pay off the full balance before the introductory period runs out. This includes budgeting for any necessary fees, determining how much you will need to pay each month and identifying all stipulations that must be observed as part of the balance transfer agreement.
- Stop incurring additional debt
Quit adding to the problem. After all, there's a reason you sought a balance transfer in the first place. Halting charges on both the old and new accounts will save you from paying on the interest rates you fled and will make it much easier to abide by your payment schedule if the remaining balance isn't in constant fluctuation. Also, when you make new purchases, you run the risk of incurring interest fees, even while you are trying to pay off your old debt.
Recap: Our Top Balance Transfer Credit Cards of December 2017
|Card||0% Intro BT APR Period||Balance Transfer Fee||Our Savings Estimate||Regular APR|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||18 months||3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.||$435.72||14.49% - 24.49% Variable|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||15 months||3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.||N/A||13.99% - 24.99% Variable|
|Citi Simplicity® Card||21 months||3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.||$512.31||14.99% - 24.99% Variable|
|Chase Slate®||15 months||5.00%||$420.22||15.99% - 24.74% Variable|
|Discover it®||18 months||3.00%||$447.28||11.99% - 23.99% Variable|
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card||21 months||3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.||$515.76||13.99% - 23.99% Variable|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card||12 billing cycles||3.00%||$248.33||13.99% - 23.99% Variable|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||15 months||5.00%||$420.22||15.99% - 24.74% Variable|
|U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card||12 billing cycles||3.00%||$238.73||14.99% - 23.99%|
|Chase Freedom®||15 months||5.00%||$420.22||15.99% - 24.74% Variable|