Generally, banks won’t let you transfer a balance from one card to another from the same issuer. Here’s why and what alternatives you have to pay off card debt at a lower interest rate.
Taking advantage of a 0 percent APR promotional balance transfer offer can make your financial life easier if you’re able to consolidate credit card debt at a lower rate.
While transferring a balance might seem simple enough, you could hit a snag if you try to transfer amounts from one card to another at the same bank. Banks have rules for this process and these tips can shed some light on what you need to know when choosing your next balance transfer card.
Why banks don’t allow balance transfers at the same bank
When you transfer a balance, you’re moving the amount you owe on one card to another. The receiving card could be one you already have or a brand-new account that you open to take advantage of a low promotional rate.
Banks make money through a combination of interest and fees. For instance, you might pay a $95-plus annual fee for your card that the bank gets to collect each year. If you carry a balance at the regular APR, the bank also benefits from the interest you pay.
Which is why, in a nutshell, banks typically don’t allow you to transfer balances between cards at the same financial institution.
“There’s no law preventing it; it simply isn’t beneficial to banks,” said Carey Zielke, former personal finance expert at Realities and Dreams, in a previous interview.
“Zero interest balance transfer offers are used to attract new customers,” says Zielke. “You’re already their customer and they’re already making money off interest on your existing credit card.”
That leaves the bank with little incentive to allow you to shift that balance over to another card where you’ll pay no interest on the balance through the promotional period.
John Pham, founder of The Money Ninja, says the balance transfer fees banks charge, which can range from 3 percent to 5 percent, typically aren’t enough to offset any lost interest by allowing you to switch to a card with a lower rate.
“It’s not so much a risk to the bank, but in their eyes, you’re likely not a profitable customer for them,” says Pham.
Are there exceptions for business credit cards?
So, for example, if you have a balance on a Chase Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, you wouldn’t be able to transfer that amount to another Chase card. But you could still transfer a business credit card balance to another business card at a different bank. You could also opt to transfer the balance to a personal card at another bank.
The caveat with transferring business debt to personal cards is that carrying a balance can affect your personal credit score since it will change your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of credit you’re using divided by the total amount of your credit limit.
You could try working around the rules by transferring a balance to a card at a different bank, then transferring it back to your current bank. But the downside there is twofold: Your credit score gets dinged with each new inquiry and you’d likely have to pay double the balance transfer fees.
Shop for other balance transfer offers
It’s disappointing to come across a 0 percent balance transfer promotion that you can’t qualify for because it’s issued by your current bank. That’s when you have to look around to see what else is available.
Rick Orford, founder of finance blog Surplus Academy, says to consider the APR and fees first, then continue checking the fine print.
“The best balance transfer offer has no annual fee, a 0 percent APR and a 0 percent to 2 percent balance transfer fee,” says Orford.
Next, look at how long you’ll have to pay down your transferred balance with no interest. Zielke favors choosing the card with the longest promotional period.
“The longer you have with zero interest, the better to maximize your ability to pay it off before it ends,” he says.
When considering offers, look at how much you want to transfer. You need to be sure that the card you’re applying for can offer a high enough credit limit to accommodate the full transfer amount. Orford recommends trying to negotiate with the card issuer to get a higher credit limit if necessary.
Balance transfer card recommendations
If you’re looking for card recommendations, here a few to consider:
|Card name||Balance transfer offer||Fees||Other card perks|
|Wells Fargo Reflect® Card|
|BankAmericard® credit card|
|Citi® Double Cash Card|
Whichever balance transfer card you choose, have a plan for paying the balance off before the end of the agreement to avoid getting stuck with interest charges, says Orford.
And if, for some reason, you’re denied for a balance transfer, you could try a consolidation loan instead, says Zielke. The catch here is that you likely won’t find a 0 percent APR on a personal debt consolidation loan. Before you throw in the towel completely on getting a better deal on your card’s APR, contact your bank.
“If you don’t qualify for a balance transfer, one option you should consider is to call your current credit card company and ask for a lower interest rate,” says Pham.
Banks can sometimes do this as a goodwill gesture for customers with solid credit and a good account history. “It might not be as low as what you’re looking for, but it will reduce the total interest you’ll pay over time,” says Pham.