Updated on Aug 17, 2017

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards for 2017

0% interest gives you more time to pay off your outstanding balance.
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Credit experts will often tell you to never make a purchase you can’t pay off at the end of the month. It’s one of the surest ways to avoid falling into credit card debt. However, sometimes we charge things with the intention of paying them off over time, and then that becomes impossible for reasons unforeseen. When that happens, high interest rates can turn that manageable credit card debt into a much bigger burden.

If that happens to you, look into a 0% interest balance transfer card. These cards are perfect for buying you just enough time of interest-free bliss to free yourself from a continuing cycle of debt. Here’s a rundown on the best balance transfer cards of 2017. Find which one works best for you and apply for one today.

Summary

The best balance transfer credit cards for 2017

Best overall

Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% for 18 months
Ongoing APR 11.99% – 23.99% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee 3%
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Overview

5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Signup Bonus Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • New! We’ll monitor your Social Security Number. Get an alert if we find your Social Security Number on any of thousands of risky websites.* Activate for FREE.
  • You could turn $150 into $300 with Cashback Match™. Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 6 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 18 months
  • Ongoing APR: 11.99% – 23.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

True to its name, the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card offers 18 months of 0% interest on balance transfers – longer than most other cards on this list. That’s plenty of time to diminish your credit card debt without having to incur steep interest on your outstanding balance. Furthermore, you can earn cash back rewards when you use the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card. Earn 5% cash back on rotating, quarterly categories. Plus, there’s even an automatic dollar-for-dollar match of all your cash back for the end of the first year. This is a great card for those who want to spend some time chipping away at their debt while earning some nice rewards. Did we mention there’s no annual fee?

How to use it
  • Transfer balances that are subject to high APRs, and pay off as much as you can during the intro period.
  • Pay attention to rotating cash back categories to maximize rewards, even after your transferred balance is paid off.
  • Keep the account open to monitor your FICO® Credit Score.
Consider this

The Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card comes with a balance transfer fee of 3%. If you find that the fee is justified with what you’ll save over the 18 months, then this might be the card for you. If you would rather waive the transfer fee, consider the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®. However, keep in mind won’t be able to earn rewards with this alternative.

Why you'll love it

The only thing better than a generous 18-month intro period is the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card’s capacity for earning rewards. In addition to the 5% cash back on rotating categories, you can also earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. You can then use these rewards to treat yourself or put them toward your outstanding credit balance.

Start your application now

0% interest and great rewards

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
See Rates & Fees
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% for 12 months
Ongoing APR 13.99% - 24.99% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee $5 or 3%, whichever is greater
Annual Fee $0
Signup Bonus Earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms apply.
Highlights Provided by American Express Show Highlights
  • $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • No annual fee.
  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, 1% back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 13.99% to 24.99%.
  • Expanding merchant acceptance: Over 1 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in the last year.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
  • Issuer: American Express
  • Rewards Details: 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • Annual Fee: See Details
  • Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24%
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 12 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 12 months
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99% - 24.99% Variable
  • Penalty APR: 29.99%

Our two cents

Who should get it

Anyone looking for a year of 0% intro APR and a reasonable balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 (whichever is higher), the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is the one for you. There’s also a decent cash back rewards program that complements your everyday purchases. With the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, you’ll be eligible for 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets for up to $6,000 in purchases each year. You can also earn 2% at U.S. gas stations and 1% on all other purchases, and you get all of these features without having to worry about any interest on your outstanding credit balance for a year.

How to use it
  • Transfer balances that are subject to high interest rates; budget to pay them off during the intro APR period.
  • Keep this card after you pay off your balance to earn extra cash back at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations.
Consider this

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has a balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 depending on which is greater. Take the time to compare this fee with your average monthly interest to see if this trade-off is worth it. If you want to forego the balance transfer fee entirely, then the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® might be a fit. Just keep in mind that card does not include a rewards program. And if you don’t care about transfer fees and would rather have a larger signup bonus, then the Chase Freedom® card might have what you’re looking for.

Why you'll love it

Rewards on everyday purchases make the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express worth carrying around in your wallet. And while it doesn’t boast the longest introductory APR period, a year is still plenty of time to chip away at your credit card debt. Especially when you consider all the rewards you’ll receive for purchases at the U.S. supermarket, U.S. gas station, and more.

Start your application now

Extra-long 0% interest period

HSBC Platinum MasterCard® credit card
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% for 18 months
Ongoing APR Variable APR of 13.99%, 17.99% or 23.99%

Balance Transfer Fee 4%
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by HSBC Show Highlights
  • 0% Introductory APR on credit card purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from Account opening. After that, a variable APR of 13.99%, 17.99% or 23.99%, will apply.
  • No annual fee.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Make purchases the way you want - mobile payment enabled supporting Android Pay™, Apple Pay™ and Samsung Pay™.
  • Shop with confidence knowing that your purchases are covered with our valuable protection programs.
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen.
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Terms
  • Issuer: HSBC
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 4%
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 18 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 18 months
  • Ongoing APR: Variable APR of 13.99%, 17.99% or 23.99%

Our two cents

Who should get it

If you’re space out your interest-free payments over the longest period possible, the HSBC Platinum MasterCard® credit card makes sense. With this card, you’ll get 18 months of 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. That means a year and a half to pay off both transferred balances and new purchases interest-free. Cardmember benefits like travel accident coverage, Extended Warranty, and Price Protection are the cherry on top.

How to use it
  • Transfer your balance(s) soon after opening your account to make the most of the 18 month intro APR period.
  • Take advantage of cardmember benefits like accident coverage, Extended Warranty, and Price Protection.
  • Pay off your balance and any new purchases within 18 months to avoid interest.
  • Traveling abroad? Bring this card — it has $0 foreign transaction fees.
Consider this

Note that each balance transfer is subject to a balance transfer fee of $10 or 4%, whichever is greater. Additionally, while it boasts an impressive array of cardmember benefits, this card doesn’t include access to a rewards program. For extra-long APR and 5% cash back in rotating categories, we recommend the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

Why you'll love it

The HSBC Platinum MasterCard® credit card has one of the longest 0% intro APR periods available today — on both balance transfers and new purchases. With no annual fee and valuable perks like travel accident coverage, Extended Warranty, and Price Protection, this card has plenty to offer, even after your balance is paid off.

Start your application now

Great signup bonus

Chase Freedom®
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% for 15 Months
Ongoing APR 15.99% - 24.74% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter like gas stations, restaurants and drugstores
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.99-24.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee
  • Issuer: Chase
  • Rewards Details: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Sign Up Bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 15 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 15 Months
  • Ongoing APR: 15.99% - 24.74% Variable
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

Of all the cards we’ve covered on this list, the Chase Freedom® card reigns supreme for having the best signup bonus. When you spend $500 in purchases with this card (within the first 3 months of opening the account) you’ll earn a substantial $150 bonus. If that sounds good to you, there’s more! The Chase Freedom® card also comes with 15 months of 0% interest on your balance transfer, which gives you over a year to trim away at that outstanding debt. On top of all that, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. You can also earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.

How to use it
  • Transfer your balances from cards with high APRs. Plan to pay them off within the 15- month intro APR period.
  • Keep this account open to continue earning cash back. (Watch the 5% bonus categories to maximize your rewards!)
Consider this

While the Chase Freedom® card boasts one of the highest signup bonuses on this list, it also has the distinction of having the most substantial balance transfer fee as well. The balance transfer fee ranges from 5% or $5 depending on which is greater, and that can be a major deterrent if you’re transferring a high balance. If you want a card with a lower balance transfer fee and a decent signup bonus, you want the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. That card offers a decent signup bonus, and the balance transfer fee is lower at 3% or $5 (whichever is greater).

Why you'll love it

Who doesn’t love a nice signup bonus and an even nicer cash back rewards program? With the Chase Freedom® card, you’ll get both, plus no annual fees and 15 months of 0% introductory APR. Furthermore, your cash back rewards will never expire so long as you keep an active account.

Start your application now

Honorable mention

Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% for 15 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening)
Ongoing APR 13.99% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee None
Annual Fee $0
Highlights Provided by Barclaycard Show Highlights
  • 0% Introductory APR for the first 15 months on purchases. Plus, you'll get a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 13.99%
  • No balance transfer fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Free online access to FICO® Credit Score
  • Issuer: Barclaycard
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: None
  • Cash Advance APR: 13.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 15 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 15 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening)
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

If you want a credit card that doesn’t include any kind of balance transfer fee, go with the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®. Out of all the other cards we’ve covered, this is the only one that omits the balance transfer fee. Additionally, you won’t have to worry about paying interest on your balance transfer for the first 15 months. The Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® offers no foreign transaction fees and you can find out how you’re doing credit-wise with a free online FICO® Credit Score. All in all, a great balance transfer credit card for those who want little to no upfront fees.

How to use it
  • Transfer your balance within 45 days of opening your account.
  • Pay off as much as possible during the 0% intro APR period.
  • Already have a card with a rewards program? Make new purchases on that card to earn points or cash back.
Consider this

There’s no balance transfer fee, but the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® also doesn’t offer a rewards program. If you already have a rewards card in your wallet, that might not be a big deal. However, if you are not concerned about a balance transfer fee and would prefer a card with cash back rewards, then consider the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card instead. It comes with an 18-month 0% interest period which is offered when you transfer your balance. Purchases made in rotating categories can also grant you 5% cash back when you use that card.

Why you'll love it

Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® is a simple and low-maintenance credit card with no foreign transaction or balance transfer fees. There is also no annual fee to worry about. Instead, you have 15 months of interest-free bliss to work on that outstanding credit balance without concerning yourself with any extra bells and whistles.

Start your application now

Our favorite travel credit cards: summed up

Getting even more out of your balance transfer credit cards

In addition to ways you can use your balance transfer credit cards effectively, we also have tips on ways you can maximize your rewards. Take some time to learn more about how you can get the most out of these credit cards.

Access to Discover Deals

Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer cardholders can take advantage of the Discover Deals online bonus mall. Discover Deals is home to more than 200 online retailers where cardholders can earn an extra 5% to 20% cash back. There are also in-store coupons you can access for even more bonuses. Discover’s dollar-for-dollar cash back bonus also applies to purchases made in the Discover Deals online mall making it very easy to rack up the rewards. Now it’s even easier to pay off your outstanding balance while earning some much-needed cash back rewards.

Power pairing

While the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express can earn you some great cash back rewards on U.S. supermarket and U.S. gas station purchases (in the United States), the specific rewards categories could be limiting. For that, we recommend pairing this card with a decent, flat-rate cash back credit card. That way you can continue to earn valuable rewards in the categories that are most relevant to your regular spending habits.

The same is also true for the HSBC Platinum MasterCard® credit card which, unfortunately, does not come with a rewards program. In this case, it might be worth your while to look in a rewards credit card to pair with this balance transfer card. By pairing these two, you will have the best of both worlds when it comes to having a year and a half of 0% APR along with the ability to earn some great rewards.

Shop through Chase

If you’re a Chase cardholder, then you should consider making your purchases via Shop through Chase. By utilizing Chase’s online shopping portal, you can earn up to 15% cash back on purchases with your Chase Freedom® card. That’s even more than the 5% cash back you can get through purchases made in activated categories.

Leverage access to free FICO® Score

If you have a Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® and you aren’t taking advantage of the free FICO® Credit Score service, then you’re wasting money! Believe it or not, having access to a free FICO® Credit Score and monitoring service is a great value. Not only does this help you better manage your expenses and effectively alter your spending, it’s a value of more than $300. To give you an idea of why that’s so important, services like myFICO can charge you more than $300 a year just to track and monitor your comprehensive credit history.

Two problems, one potential solution

Problem: Compounding interest

Carrying a balance from month to month can lead to compounding interest. By not paying the principal balance down to zero, you wind up paying interest on the interest. This effect is a great thing when the interest is compounding on an investment or savings, but it can be extremely costly when applied to debt.

Problem: High credit utilization

Carrying a balance also affects credit utilization, a measure of how much of your credit limit you’re using and one of the most influential factors in determining credit scores. Ideally, your credit utilization ratio should be low, an indication that you’re not stretching the bounds of your credit limit. High balances on credit cards and loans will increase your credit utilization and can have a negative effect on your credit score.

Solution: Zero-interest balance transfer

Fortunately, transferring your credit card balances to a zero-interest balance transfer card can address both of these pitfalls. A balance transfer to a card with introductory 0% intro APR means that interest stops piling up and compounding during that introductory period. If you gradually pay off your balance in this kind of interest-free environment, your credit utilization should go down as you retreat further from the edge of your credit limit.

The best way to use a balance transfer card

Balance transfer cards extend the 0% APR offer to balance transfers and purchases. These cards simply offer more flexibility to manage your cash flow and pay down debt without donating your money to high interest payments. So, you can use a balance transfer offer to make a large purchase at 0% APR, then use the promotional period to pay it off over time. The best 0% balance transfer cards will usually offer 0% on new purchases for at least 6 months.

This is obviously to incentivize people to keep spending on the cards, but if you’re not in debt, you can take advantage of it. Maybe you want to buy a couch, pay a medical bill, or tackle a home renovation project.

Other reasons to get a balance transfer card:

  • Consolidate your debts or get rid of cards with fees
  • Upgrade your credit card to earn more rewards
  • Add a card with great service and amenities

If your credit is good and you’re in this camp you should check out my reviews of the best rewards credit cards, best cash back credit cards, or best travel credit cards.

Research more balance transfer credit cards

Our team also created a directory of the most popular balance transfer credit cards available today. This directory was used as a starting point for my research and analysis. It is updated weekly to reflect any new changes to balance transfer offers, to add new cards, and to remove any expired deals.

The balance transfer credit cards directory is customized to highlight the most important features for balance transfer credit cards. It includes every credit card that has a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and rates each offer based on a number of key factors.

Balance transfer credit card directory

In order to value each of these cards, certain features were balanced accordingly based on overall importance to the prospective cardholder. The most relevant features for balance transfer credit cards are Balance Transfer Fee, Introductory Balance Transfer APR, Ongoing APR, and Annual Fee.

Obviously the biggest feature is having a 0% intro APR. You can also use the directory to filter by signup bonus or ongoing rewards if those are features that are more important to you.

Sort By
Card Name
Rewards Tier Level
Common Filters
Great Signup Bonus
Great Ongoing Rewards
Balance Transfer Fee 3% or lower
Intro Balance Transfer APR 0% 12+ Months
Only Fair Credit Score Needed
Search Do you know of a card that is not in our directory? Suggest a Card Here
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Introductory Balance Transfer APR
Introductory Balance Transfer Period
Balance Transfer Fee
Ongoing APR
Apply Online
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Introductory Balance Transfer APR
Introductory Balance Transfer Period
Balance Transfer Fee
Ongoing APR
Apply Online
$0
0%
* (?)
18 months
3%
11.99% – 23.99% Variable
$0
0%
* (?)
15 Months
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
15.99% - 24.74% Variable
$0
0% intro on balance transfers
For 9 Months
3%
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
11.24% - 18.24% Variable
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
11.24% - 18.24% Variable
$0
N/A
N/A
3% of the amount of each transfer (maximum fee per transfer $200).
11.90% to 29.90%
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
$10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater (maximum fee:$250).
13.24% - 20.24% Variable
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
9.24% - 12.24% Variable
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
11.24% - 18.24% Variable
$0
0%
* (?)
12 months
$10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater (maximum fee:$250).
13.24% - 20.24% Variable

Rating methodology

To come up with a list of top balance transfer credit cards, I used the information shown in the directory above in addition to other data gathered on each credit card. For a better explanation of what was analyzed, I’ve included additional details below. Sometimes the terminology in the credit card world can be a bit confusing, so take a look if you’re unsure of anything.

Balance transfer fee

Credit card companies usually charge a fee of up to 3% when you transfer a balance to a new card. This means that if you transfer a $10,000 balance, you will pay an extra $300 to the credit card company. Even some of the best balance transfer credit cards on this list charge this fee.

The balance transfer fee carries high importance because it can likely cost you a decent amount of money. However, depending on the card you choose, the fee may be worth it to get a few extra months of zero interest.

Balance transfer intro APR

The balance transfer intro APR refers to the promotional interest rate charged for transferring a balance or making new purchases. The Intro APR is 0% for the best balance transfer credit cards. Nothing higher should be considered unless you can’t get approved.

Intro APR holds a high importance level when ranking all the top balance transfer cards simply because the main reason to transfer a balance is to stop paying interest for a period of time by taking advantage of a 0% APR.

Many times, the intro APR is also extended to new purchases, not just balance transfers. This way, you can take advantage by purchasing items and paying them off over the introductory period without accruing interest.

Balance transfer intro period

The balance transfer intro period is the time frame for which the Intro APR or other promotion is valid. As I mentioned earlier, the best balance transfer credit cards will run a 0% Intro APR on a combination of balance transfers or new purchases for at least 12 months, with some offering up to 18 months.

The intro period is of high importance because it controls the amount of time you can start paying down a high balance without accruing interest.

Ongoing APR

Ongoing APR is the interest rate charged on your balance after the Intro Period. The key determinant of your ongoing APR is your credit score and history. Note that there is no limit on the interest rate that can be charged by credit card companies.

Balance transfer cards have ongoing APRs that range as low as 10.99% and go beyond 20%. If you have good credit, the APR rate for you will be on the lower end. APR differs from Intro APR because it is the permanent rate. Once you get beyond the designated time period for any introductory APR offers, the credit card will default to the ongoing APR rate.

As I mentioned many times, you shouldn’t get a credit card if you plan on carrying a balance. But, if you must carry a balance after the Intro Period, look for the lowest APR possible.

Rewards rate

Rewards rate refers to the actual rate at which you can earn rewards on a credit card. Several of the best balance transfer cards do offer rewards on new purchases and some do not. Rewards rate carries a low importance rating because the main purpose of a balance transfer card is to pay down debt and not earn rewards. Rewards rate is not included as a main feature in the balance transfer credit cards directory, but it does have a slight impact on some of the card ratings and you can filter by great ongoing rewards.

Top balance transfer cards, like the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer and Chase Freedom®, will offer rotating categories that enable you to earn 5% cash back on a variety of common purchases each quarter. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is also a solid card for balance transfers, as it offers 3% at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). Again, you should only be concerned with these rewards after you pay off your balance and start to consider using one of these cards long-term.

The truth about balance transfer credit cards

Key takeaways

  1. Look at the most important details to find the right card for your situation.
  2. Transfer a balance if you are facing late payment fees on a high balance.
  3. Consider the long-term features of the card after the balance transfer.
  4. Know your credit score to apply for the right card so your transfer is not delayed.

What To Do Before Getting a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Review the most important details of each card

Most cards offer a low introductory APR on balance transfers. However, it’s critical to look at the whole deal first to get an idea if the card fits your unique situation. Again, some of the most important factors to consider are:

  • Introductory Balance Transfer Rate
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Length
  • Balance Transfer Fee

Often, it’s the balance transfer fee that goes undetected until you’re already signed up and about to transfer your balance. You then see there are a few hundred dollars missing. This fee is charged as a percentage of the balance you are transferring over. Rates can vary by company, but they’re generally around 3%.

The introductory balance transfer rate should always be 0% on any balance transfer card you consider. Never transfer a balance to any card that does not have a 0% intro rate on balance transfers.

Depending on the card you get, the 0% intro balance transfer rate will vary. Remember, you want to get a card that has a 0% balance transfer intro period for at least 12 months or longer. This gives you ample time to pay off your balance.

Check your credit score

Getting a 0% balance transfer used to be a piece of cake. Since the financial crisis, the availability of this great offer has tightened up. The best terms are available to those who have good or excellent credit. It can pay to check your credit score ahead of time and make sure it aligns with the new card to qualify. If you don’t check and are denied, this could negatively impact your credit score.

You should also be mindful of credit score changes. Keep an eye on your old accounts and know how many credit cards you have open. I’ve heard stories of people going to buy a house and realizing an old credit card has dinged their credit report. You can check out our review of credit report sites for more info on how to get your score (for free).

There are various schools of thought but, generally speaking, making changes to your credit card accounts will impact your credit score. You do have some control over whether those changes are positive or negative. For some more insight into this topic, check out these tips for cancelling a credit card.

Consolidate multiple cards and other debt

In many circumstances, you can stay current on payments by taking several of your cards with high balances and consolidating them into one balance. You can avoid keeping up with multiple payments each month by tracking just one card.

Additionally, you may be able to move loans for cars, appliances, furniture, and other monthly installment payments to a low- or zero-interest balance transfer credit card. You can do this because credit card companies often issue paper checks drawn on your new credit card account. You can use these checks to pay off your installment loans (if they’re small enough) when you open a new credit card account.

Come up with a plan to pay off your debt

There’s no use in getting a balance transfer credit card under conditions of complete panic. Gather yourself and come up with a plan to use a balance transfer credit card as a tool to help your financial situation.

The worst thing you can do is repeat the same issue and end up not paying off your balance again on the new card you transferred your balance to. By having a plan in place on how to attack your debt, you’ll be ready to use a balance transfer credit card the right way.

The plan: How to gain control of your high-interest credit card debt

Without question, the number-one reason people seek out the best balance transfer credit cards is to help get a handle on their high-interest credit card debt. There are many reasons for accumulating credit card debt, and many of these situations involve some sort of emergency spending. Regardless of the reasons for accumulating credit card debt, getting control over your debt takes the right tools and a plan.

I’d recommend the following to get started:

  1. This guide (to find the best balance transfer card for your situation)
  2. A way to analyze your expenses
  3. Credit score & credit monitoring

Rule #1: Stop digging

The first rule for getting out of a hole is to stop digging. I first heard that saying as a high-school basketball player and it’s stuck with me ever since. Odds are, if you’re reading this guide you’ve somehow found yourself in the hole of credit card debt.

It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters are the next steps you take, and your first step is to stop adding to your credit card debt. Get it under control.

You don’t need to cut up your existing cards or put them in the freezer as some people say. Drastic measures may be needed in extreme cases, but most people who are serious about trimming their debt can continue using a credit card without getting behind. Treat it like cash!

Rule #2: Stop paying interest

To stop paying interest on your credit card debt, you need to do two things:

  1. Find a solid balance transfer card.
  2. Consolidate as much as you can onto that card.

Understand your credit score

You want to apply for a card that you can get approved for. While there is no way to know for sure without applying, knowing your credit score will give you a general idea of how likely it is you’ll be approved. If you’re in credit card trouble, is a good idea to sign up for a credit monitoring service so you can keep track of your score and other important changes to your credit report.

For the most part, balance transfer cards are good credit cards for people with decent credit who are trying to avoid damaging their credit and making high interest payments. If you have lower credit, there won’t be many great offers for you because most balance transfer cards won’t want to take on high risk consumers who already have a history of not paying off credit card debt.

Select the best balance transfer card for you

My recommendation for those who seriously need to pay down debt is to go with the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®. You won’t earn any rewards if you continue to use the card for new purchases, but this card offers the best combination of features to help you have more of your money go toward eliminating your debt.

The Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers. (Note: you’ll need to transfer your balance within the first 45 days of account opening to get the intro APR.) This feature alone can save you hundreds of dollars.

A good option for balance transfers while earning cash back on new purchases is Discover it® because it has a 0% intro period of 18 months and earns up to 5% cash back in rotating categories. Keep in mind, however, this card does have a balance transfer fee and isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or MasterCard.

Consolidate and transfer your credit card debt

Once you’ve selected the proper card, gather all of your credit card debt and transfer as much as possible to the new card, starting with the highest-rate balances first. This will help you take advantage of that 0% introductory period.

Then, divide your entire balance by the number of months on your introductory period. This gives you the monthly payment you need to pay off all of your debt by the end of the intro period.

Example: Balance transfer in action

You have three credit cards with a total combined balance of $7,000. You sign up for the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® and transfer all of the $7,000 to the new card. Your new balance is still $7,000 because Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® does not have a balance transfer fee.

In order to have the entire $7,000 paid off in 15 months, you’ll have to come up with an extra $466.67 per month. An insurmountable debt that was going to continue to grow sitting on your other cards is now somewhat manageable. The key is to find a feasible number that makes a huge dent in that debt while taking advantage of the 0% intro APR period.

Rule #3: Create the payoff plan

Now that you’ve selected the right tool to knock down your interest rate, it’s time to lock in a solid plan to pay off the balance.

Step 1: Understand your spending

Your first objective is to free up cash flow you can put toward paying down your debt. To do this you need to understand your spending. Most credit card companies have online monthly statements where you can go back and see every transaction you’ve made. You can begin to see patterns and hone in on areas where you spend more than you should.

Many credit cards also provide a year-end breakdown with your spending by categories. The best cards have great online analytics that help you visualize your spending in near real time.

If your card doesn’t have any of these options, another great option is to use a free web service like Mint.com. Mint helps you expand your spending analysis outside of credit cards by linking in your bank account debit transactions, checks, and other expenditures.

Step 2: Free up cash

Once you know how you spend, you can figure out where to pull back. This is, of course, easier said than done. If you’re looking for some creative ways to cut spending, spend some time in the archives of The Simple Dollar. Trent, the founder of this site, shares tons and tons of useful “frugality” tips he used to get himself out of debt and still applies today.

A particularly useful starting point is Rule 9: Do It Yourself. I also recommend Trent’s advice for things to do on a money-free weekend, which will keep you entertained while you save money at the same time.

The key is to be brutally honest about the money you spend and the true value of the services you use. Take cable TV for instance. With cheap streaming services, websites, and devices, cable TV is becoming less relevant. I would save at least $150 per month if I cut it out of my budget.

Younger generations are also getting rid of their cars and moving closer into central city districts. They prefer walking to work and not having to deal with high car payments, gas, and maintenance. Car sharing services like Zipcar make going carless a reality.

Consider a few of these changes to free up cash and pay down your debt more quickly. Some of them may fit your situation while others may not, but there are options out there.

Step 3: Create a systematic payment plan

Once you’ve made some changes to free up cash each month, you need to match the freed-up cash on a monthly basis to the intro period. As I did in the example above, you will take your new balance and divide it over the number of months in your introductory period, which is 15 months for the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®. This will give you a nice, smooth “payment” that you can make each month to lower your debt.

You will want to systematically siphon off that money for debt payments before it can go anywhere else. Set up automatic payments to your credit card if you can, or set up auto transfers to a different bank account you’ll use to pay your credit card bills each month. You can easily set up a free checking account or online savings account for these purposes.

Exceptions to the rules

Exception to rule #1: Stop digging

This rule is not meant for extreme circumstances. Sometimes, high credit-card spending is simply unavoidable. Job losses, medical bills, and other emergencies are examples of situations where reliance on credit cards may be warranted if all other options have been exhausted.

Exception to rule #2: Stop paying interest

This rule assumes you can take advantage of a 0% balance transfer credit card’s features. There are a few instances where you can’t completely stop paying interest:

  1. Some people may not be able to qualify for a balance transfer card.
  2. You may not qualify for high enough of a limit to consolidate all of your credit card debt.
  3. You cannot pay off all of your debt by the end of the intro period.

If you don’t qualify for a balance transfer card, creating a systematic payoff plan is even more crucial because you won’t have the safety net of 0% interest for a period of time. You will want to tweak the plan to be more aggressive in paying down your balances on the higher-interest rate cards first, then move on to lower-interest cards down the line.

If you can’t consolidate all your debt on a 0% card, you will end up paying some interest. I would transfer the highest-rate balances to the new card, then target your free cash at whatever balance could not be transferred over while maintaining your minimum payment on the new balance transfer card. Once this is paid down, you can shift the free cash to the new balance to get that under control.

If you can’t pay everything down by the end of the intro period, you will also pay some interest on the remaining balance. I recommend reviewing your spending plan at the end of the intro period to see if you can free up more cash to apply to the remaining balance. Continue your systematic payment plan as long as it takes.

Exception to rule #3: Create the payoff plan

There really are NO exceptions to this rule. You will never pay off your debt without a solid plan. The only caveat is in a situation where a person might have have large lump payments instead of creating smooth monthly payments. Salespeople often encounter this situation because their pay is highly variable. Inheritances also create a situation where someone would have a lump payment.

Regardless of how you pay, you must still have a plan and understand the costs and benefits of your approach.

For instance, the key is to make the payments as quickly as possible on interest-bearing debt. If you have interest-bearing credit card debt, you never want to “save” money in a bank account to make later payments unless you have to. This is because your interest rate is higher than anything you will earn in a bank account, so making frequent payments is more effective.

By following these rules, and understanding if any exceptions apply to your situation, you will be well on your way to tackling your credit card debt and liberating your financial future in 2017 and beyond.

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