Best balance transfer credit cards
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Bank of America rates updated on January 2, 2018
If you’re struggling to tame your bloated credit card balances, the right balance transfer card could help you save money on interest and shed your debt more quickly.
The best balance transfer cards combine an affordable balance transfer fee with a lengthy 0 percent interest period on the amount transferred and new purchases. The most valuable balance transfer cards also offer a reasonable long-term APR that may make you want to keep using the card long after you pay off your transferred balance.
To help you pick the right balance transfer card, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cards in the balance transfer card category and asked a panel of judges to rate the CreditCards.com staff’s top three picks.
Judges for the Best Balance Transfer Cards of Winter 2017 were personal finance expert and blogger Ginger Dean, millennial personal finance author Stefanie O’Connell, Money magazine staff writer Taylor Tepper, CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz.
This year, two leading balance transfer cards tied for first place – the Citi Diamond Preferred and the Chase Slate.
First Place (Tie): Chase Slate card
Other features: Blueprint finance management, price protection, purchase protection, extended warranty
The Chase Slate card easily won a place at the top of the best balance transfer card rankings because of its unique fee-free balance transfer policy, saving cardholders $100 or more in fees.
“Compare that with most balance transfer cards that charge 3 percent to 5 percent of the amount transferred.” says personal finance author Stefanie O’Connell.
CreditCards.com’s Matt Schulz says the Slate card’s fee waiver “is a big deal and gives the Slate card a leg up on the other finalists.” He adds that the no balance transfer fee helps make up for the card’s mid-range introductory promotion (15 months) and higher standard APR (16.24 percent to 24.99 percent) to carry a balance.
If you transfer a $5,000 balance to a card that charges a standard 3 percent balance transfer fee, for example, you will have to pay an extra $150 in fees on top of your transferred balance, eating into your overall savings. Meanwhile, if you choose a card with a 4 percent to 5 percent balance transfer fee, you could get stuck paying several hundred dollars in fees.
The Slate card is a safer card for consumers who occasionally forget payments. For example, the Slate card doesn’t charge a penalty rate, and it limits late fees for small balances to $15 to $27.
“Paired with no annual fee, no penalty APR and a long 15-month 0 percent introductory APR for balance transfers and purchases, this balance transfer card has a strong competitive edge,” says Stefanie O’Connell.
Just be sure to factor into your budget how much you’ll need to pay each month to clear your balance before the promotional period expires, says Money Magazine’s Taylor Tepper. “Chase Slate is the gold standard for balance transfer cards. You’re not charged for moving your debt if you do so within two months of opening the card, and you have 15 months to pay it off interest free,” he says. But if you can’t afford a large enough monthly payment to clear your balance in 15 months, you may save more money overall with a card that offers a longer balance transfer period.
“You don’t want to get stuck carrying a balance that charges interest,” he says.
First Place (Tie): The Citi Diamond Preferred card
Other features: Choose your payment due date, worldwide car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranty, trip cancellation/interruption protection
The Citi Diamond Preferred card – with its industry-leading 21-month, 0 interest balance transfer period – tied for first place in our balance transfer card contest.
“For me, Citi’s Diamond Preferred takes the prize,” says CreditCards.com’s Daniel P. Ray. “Its 21-month balance transfer period is the most generous on the market.”
Most balance transfer cards, by contrast, offer just 12 to 15 months to pay off a balance interest-free.
Ray illustrated how the 21-months promotion helps cardholders, using CreditCards.com’s Balance Transfer Calculator: A cardholder with $10,000 in credit card debt and 15 months to pay off the transferred balance would need to pay at least $687 a month to clear their debt by the end of the card’s promotional period. With the Citi Diamond Preferred’s 21-month promotion, cardholders would need to pay only $490 a month to erase their balances interest-free.
“And for those who can’t quite pay off their card debt in 21 months, the Diamond Preferred ‘go-to rate’ starts at a low 12.49 percent,” Ray says. (Note: The APR has changed since this story was written. It currently starts at 14.24 percent.) “That’s a good rate, low enough to minimize consumers’ post-intro rate sticker shock.”
The Citi card does, however, charge higher penalties, such as a a 29.99 percent penalty rate that could hit cardholders who miss payments.
But “Hands down, the Citi Diamond Preferred card is the best of the cards presented.” Dean says.
Second Place: BankAmericard credit card
Other features: Private online shopping, overdraft protection
The BankAmericard credit card won second place in the balance transfer card contest because of its competitive APR for cardholders with excellent credit and solid 18-month interest-free promotion. (Note: The introductory period has dropped to 15 months since this story was published.)
While the plain vanilla BankAmericard isn’t as flashy as some of its competitors, Ray notes, “the BankAmericard Credit Card is also a good choice, with a long 18-month 0-percent intro period and the lowest post-intro rate among our nominees.”
Drawbacks: The BankAmericard card doesn’t offer a 0 percent APR on purchases, though, so cardholders may want to hold off on using the card until they pay off their transferred balance. The BankAmericard also charges cardholders with lower credit scores a relatively high 23.24 percent APR.
This is the first year that CreditCards.com has held a contest for best cards in their class. To help choose the best cards for each category, the CreditCards.com staff consulted credit card and personal finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. CreditCards.com staff also rated cards through its credit card reviews program.
A panel of five judges – including personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff – were asked to independently judge the three finalists and rank them in order of preference. The cards with the best average rank were chosen as the winners.
Looking for more balance transfer offers? Check out The Simple Dollar's list of the best credit cards for a balance transfer.
All best credit card stories are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the story is accurate as of the date of the story. Check the credit card terms and conditions link on the issuing bank’s website for the most current information.