If you’re looking for options to pay off card debt but you have poor credit, your options might include transferring the balance to a secured credit card. Here’s what you need to know about balance transfer cards for bad credit.
The Bank of America content was last updated on Nov. 16, 2022.
Balance transfer offers can make paying off credit card debt less expensive if you’re able to lock in a lower APR for an extended period of time.
There’s just one little wrinkle: The best balance transfer cards are often reserved for people with good to excellent credit. That doesn’t mean you’re shut out of transferring a balance if you have bad credit. But you may have to work a little harder to find the right card option. These tips can help you find the best terms for transferring a balance if you have less-than-perfect credit.
Can you get approved for a balance transfer with bad credit?
Credit card companies take a close look at credit scores for balance transfer approvals. There may be minimum score thresholds you need to meet to qualify for a transfer offer.
The bar may be raised even higher during periods of economic uncertainty. For example, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many banks took a more cautious approach toward issuing new credit.
These types of underwriting measures help credit card companies manage risk when lending. But you aren’t automatically counted out for a balance transfer if your score puts you in “fair” or “poor” credit territory.
“Getting a balance transfer with bad credit is difficult but not impossible,” said Leslie H. Tayne, a consumer debt attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group. “However, it will be incredibly difficult to qualify for the most competitive 0 percent APR options.”
If you’re interested in a balance transfer card for bad credit, know that you may not be approved for the typical promotional terms. Instead of a 0 percent APR, for instance, you may still pay interest on balance transfers. And the time period for paying balances off at the promotional rate may be shorter compared with balance transfer offers for good or excellent credit. You should also be prepared to have fewer card options to choose from.
“If you have bad credit, you likely won’t be approved for an unsecured credit card,” said Jared Weitz, CEO of United Capital Source.
That means turning your focus to secured cards instead, which typically require a cash security deposit.
Should you get a balance transfer card with bad credit?
Balance transfer offers can potentially save you money. But it’s important to understand how much you stand to benefit from one if you have bad credit.
First, consider checking your credit report and credit scores through a free credit monitoring service. This can give you an idea of which balance transfer offers you have the best chance of qualifying for. And as a guideline, poor credit is generally a score below 580, according to FICO.
Next, do the math on potential interest savings. That includes comparing balance transfer cards for bad credit to see how the APR adds up and how long you’ll have to enjoy that rate before the regular APR kicks in.
Even the very lowest rates for balance transfer cards, if you have bad credit, can still be around 10 percent. And again, you may have only six months versus 12, 15 or 18 months to pay the balance off at that rate. If you can’t pay off your balance within that time frame, you may end up with a higher rate than you had before the transfer.
Then there are the balance transfer fees to consider. These fees can run from 3 percent to 5 percent of the transfer amount, leaving you with more debt to pay back.
“Balance transfers may not be the best way to handle debt with a bad credit score, because you would have to pay a balance transfer fee and would be still paying interest on your debt,” said Tayne.
Transferring a balance to a secured credit card
Using secured credit cards to complete a balance transfer can add another wrinkle.
To transfer a balance to a secured credit card, you’ll need to offer a cash deposit to open the account. Both Weitz and Tayne agree that if you have the money for the deposit, it might make more sense to use it to pay down the debt and forgo a balance transfer.
There can also be a trade-off of sorts if you’re transferring debt from an unsecured card to a secured one, said Tyler Martin, a certified public accountant at Martin CPA Group. If you put up a large deposit to open a secured credit card for a balance transfer, then default on the account, you wouldn’t get that cash back.
And even if you’re able to find a balance transfer card for bad credit with a favorable rate, it’s possible that your new credit limit might be too low to transfer the full balance. In that case, you could ask for a higher credit limit, but you may need to shop around for a second card to cover the remaining amount you want to transfer.
Best balance transfer cards for bad credit
If you’ve looked at the pros and cons and decided that a balance transfer is still a good option for managing debt, it pays to choose the right card. That means considering the promotional balance transfer APR, the regular APR, the balance transfer fee and whether the card is unsecured or secured.
To make your search easier, here are some of the best balance transfer cards for bad credit.
Discover it Secured Credit Card
- Balance transfer offer: 10.99 percent intro APR for six months from date of first transfer (variable APR of 25.99 percent thereafter)
- Balance transfer fee: Intro fee of 3 percent of the amount of each transfer during the promotional period; after that, 5 percent of the amount of each transfer
You can open the Discover it® Secured Credit Card with a deposit ranging from $200 to $2,500. Your deposit serves as your credit limit. In addition to transferring balances, you can also use this card to earn rewards on purchases. You’ll earn 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in purchases each quarter and 1 percent back thereafter), plus unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
- Balance transfer offer: 28.49 percent variable APR applies to all balance transfers
- Balance transfer fee: $0 balance transfer fee at the transfer APR
The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card requires a minimum deposit of $49 to $200 — depending on your credit — to open. But it’s possible to get a credit limit as high as $1,000. This card doesn’t have a rewards program, and the balance transfer APR is on the higher side. Though you’ll still be charged interest, you can avoid paying a balance transfer fee and an annual fee.
BankAmericard Secured Credit Card
- Balance transfer offer: 24.99 percent variable APR applies to all balance transfers
- Balance transfer fee: $10 or 3 percent of the balance transfer amount, whichever is greater
The BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card* could be a good option if you need a higher balance transfer limit. The minimum deposit for the card is $200, while the maximum deposit is $5,000. If you practice good credit habits, the issuer may refund your deposit to you. There’s no rewards program, but you can use this card to build a positive credit history without paying an annual fee.
Alternatives to a balance transfer card
Balance transfer offers aren’t the only way to manage debt. If you have bad credit and can’t find a balance transfer card with attractive terms, here are a few options to consider instead:
Take out a personal loan
Weitz said balance transfer cards are really only advisable if the amount is low, and you can pay it off within three to six months. He suggests a debt consolidation loan as a way to streamline and pay off debt.
Personal loans for debt consolidation give you a lump sum of money to pay off credit cards. You’d then make one monthly payment to the loan going forward.
Ideally, you’ll get a loan with a lower APR than you’re currently paying without having to offer a deposit or collateral. Comparing personal loans for bad credit online can help you find the best loan offers.
Transfer your balance to your partner’s card
Consider asking your spouse, partner or a trusted friend or family member if you can transfer a balance to one of their cards. Note that some, but not all, credit card issuers allow balance transfers between two different account names.
The other person may qualify for more favorable balance transfer terms if they have a good or excellent credit rating. But it’s important to consider the effect of your debt on their credit profile, since the balance transfer shifts the debt to the other’s card, making them legally responsible for it.
Make extra money to pay off debt
Try to find creative ways to make extra money and pay off high-interest debt faster.
For example, you could start by selling things around the house you no longer need. From there, you can branch out to other types of side jobs, including ones you can do online or offline.
Even something like downloading a cash back app could help you make a dent in your debt. Apps like Rakuten and Ibotta pay you cash back when you shop, which you could apply to your credit card balances.
Work on improving your credit scores
If you can’t find a great balance transfer offer because of your credit, raising your credit score could open up more options. The best ways to improve credit are the tried-and-true methods like:
- Paying bills on time
- Keeping credit card balances low relative to your credit limits
- Keeping older credit accounts open
- Using a mix of different credit types
- Limiting how often you apply for new credit
It can take time to see results in your credit score. But it may be worth it to improve your score so you can qualify for the best offers.
If you have poor credit because of past mistakes, a balance transfer could give you a fresh start. But it’s important to keep your credit history in perspective.
“If someone hasn’t changed their money habits, usually they compound the problem,” said Martin.
So, don’t just focus on getting a better deal on your debt. Also, look at what led to bad credit issues to begin with. Addressing those issues as you restructure your debt can help you avoid repeating past credit mistakes, said Martin.
*All information about the BankAmericard Secured Credit Card Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.