The best credit card balance transfers can not only save you interest but can also help you pay off your debt faster. Although they aren’t the only solution to reduce balances, these balance transfers can make paying down debts a lot easier.
But if you’ve never done one before, how can you ensure that your balance transfer provides the greatest benefit?
How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work
Like other credit products, credit card balance transfers are offered as promotions on certain mid-tier cards. If you’re approved, you may be given the opportunity to move your debt from one card to another at a much lower annual percentage rate (APR).
As a result, the promotional period gives you the opportunity to pay down your debt at a lower interest rate than your previous credit card. To maximize this opportunity, it’s recommended you pay down the balance transfer debt before the promotional period ends.
6 Money Saving Credit Card Balance Transfer Tips
While credit card balance transfers may sound like the perfect solution to pay down debt quickly, they can also create many new problems if they aren’t managed correctly. Before you even start shopping for the best credit card balance transfer options, you need to know these six money saving tips.
1. You Need an Excellent Credit Score to Qualify
Before you apply for a balance transfer credit card, it's important to understand where your credit stands. You should never apply for a credit card before checking your credit and knowing your FICO credit score.
In order to get the best credit cards balance transfers, you’ll need to have an excellent credit score. When you apply, banks will look through your credit report and consider your credit score before making a decision. If you have less-than-perfect credit (or a credit score below 720), you may not necessarily qualify for a balance transfer credit card.
Under federal law, all Americans are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Everyone can access their credit report from annualcreditreport.com without a purchase, but the site will only grant you access to your credit history (not your credit score).
If you can’t access your credit score as a credit card benefit, you may be able to get your credit score from the credit bureaus. You can see your current score for free through Experian free credit score check, and TransUnion free credit score check.
2. Your 0% Interest Rate Is For a Limited Time
Once approved for a balance transfer credit card, you’ll likely be given the option to move your debt from one card to the new card (usually at 0% interest). However, that promotional rate will not last forever. If you don’t pay the balance off before the promotional period ends, the balance will revert to the card’s standard interest rate.
According to Experian, the average credit card interest rate is between 14% and 15%. Unless you want to be stuck with an interest rate of 15% or more, it’s best to pay off your balance before the promotional period ends (usually between six and 18 months).
3. You'll Probably Pay a Balance Transfer Fee
Although you can save a lot of money moving debt under a high APR to a balance transfer credit card, the act of transferring debt isn’t free. Experian reports that 61% of people who were approved for a balance transfer credit card paid a fee to move their debt, which added between 3% and 5% to their transferred balance.
Before you decide to move any debt to a balance transfer credit card, be sure to understand how much the balance transfer fee will add to your debt. If you’re concerned about paying a fee to move your balance to a lower interest rate, you may want to look for a balance transfer credit card with no fees.
4. You Might Have a Deadline on the Balance Transfer Offer
All good things must come to an end – this is especially true with balance transfer credit cards. In addition to a time limit on the interest rate, some offers also come with a limited window of opportunity. If you don’t move your balance before the offer expires, any future rollovers may be at the credit card’s regular rate.
5. You Can't Immediately Stop Making Payments on Your Old Card
Although balance transfer credit cards offer a reprieve on high interest rates, a transfer isn’t immediate. In fact, depending on the cards involved, a balance transfer can take up to 20 days to complete.
After you initiate the balance transfer, you’re responsible for paying the balance on your credit card until the debt moves from the old card to the new card. To make sure you’re maintaining your good credit, make at least the minimum payment on the balance until both banks confirm the balance is rolled over. Your old card will reflect a balance less the transferred amount, while your new balance transfer credit card will reflect the debt you moved over.
6. Your New Purchases Might be Subject to a Higher Interest Rate
Just because you have a new card doesn’t mean it’s time to start spending. In most situations, the balance transfer promotion only applies to the debt moved from one card to the balance transfer credit card. Any new spending will be charged at the regular interest rate.
In order to prevent paying on effectively two different credit card bills with a single payment, be sure you clearly understand all the terms of your balance transfer credit card. If you add new debt on top of your rolled over balance, you could quickly negate all the savings you would have from the balance transfer promotion.
How to Find the Best Credit Cards to Transfer Balance
Looking for the best card to transfer balances isn’t a hard task – if you know where to start. Our credit card finder tool can help you weigh all the options and find the right money saving credit card for a balance transfer.
As you look for the right card, be sure to keep these following points in mind:
Know the Promotional Period
Every balance transfer credit card has a different promotional period, usually lasting between six and 18 months. It’s important to understand the length of your promotional period before applying. This will help you budget to pay off your debt while it’s under low interest.
Maintain a Budget
The last thing you need to do is add debt on top of your debt. If using a balance transfer credit card to pay down a high balance is at the top of your to-do list, set a budget and don’t fall into the temptation of spending on your new card.
Keep Building Your Credit
The key to good credit is keeping credit card balances low and making all of your payments on time. Once you’ve paid off a high balance with the help of a balance transfer credit card, keep up the good work by paying off balances as part of your regular monthly spending.