Updated on Sep 22, 2017

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards for 2017

0% interest gives you more time to pay off your outstanding balance.
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In a recent piece put out by Forbes, it was found that the amounts Americans owe on their credit cards came to just over $1 trillion. It’s a daunting figure but not very surprising when you think about it. Part of the ease of use when it comes to credit cards is how you can charge things without feeling the immediate, out-of-pocket impact. The problem, however, comes when cardholders fail to pay that amount back on time or, worse, lock themselves into a habit of only paying the monthly minimums. The outstanding balances accrue interest, more charges are made, and the ongoing cycle of debt continues.

It might surprise you to know that you can pay off a credit card with another; specifically a balance transfer card. The way these cards work is simple. You transfer an outstanding credit card balance to a balance transfer card and pay it off. How this differs is that most balance transfer cards come with a nice, long window of interest-free bliss. This gives you ample time to pay off the outstanding balance without it getting out of control.

We’ve put together a rundown of the best balance transfer cards of 2017. Take a look and if you see something you like, apply online 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! Free Social Security Number alerts, we’ll monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.*
  • 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

For anyone who likes a nice, long window of 0% interest as well earning rewards, the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card might just be what you’re looking for. As you have probably already guessed, this card’s big feature is the year-and-a-half period of 0% interest. That’s longer than most cards on this list, especially for one that also doesn’t come with any annual fees. Want more? There’s more. With the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card, you can also earn 5% cash back on rotating, quarterly categories. Obviously, that’s not incentive to dig yourself deeper into debt, but it is a nice feature to consider. Still, it’s hard to argue against when you also factor in the automatic dollar-for-dollar match of all your cash back for the end of the first year.

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

If you like the rewards that you can earn with the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer and you think it’s worth the 3% balance transfer fee, then this is the card for you. If, however, you aren’t as interested in earning rewards and would rather waive the transfer fee, then the Chase Slate® has a $0 intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open. Consider what you’ll save with each of these cards in the long run in order to make the best possible decision.

Why you'll love it

The Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card lives up to its name with a generous 18-month intro APR period. Access to a rewards program is just the cherry on the sundae with 5% cash back on rotating categories and 1% cash back on all other purchases made with this card. Once you accrue enough rewards, you can treat yourself to something nice or apply those rewards to 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 15 months
Ongoing APR 13.99% - 24.99% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee $5 or 3%, whichever is greater
Annual Fee $0
Signup Bonus Earn $150 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
  • $150 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 15 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: $0 See Details
  • Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 15 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 15 months
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99% - 24.99% Variable
  • Penalty APR: 29.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is ideal for anyone looking for 15 months of 0% intro APR coupled with a reasonable balance transfer fee. With this card, your balance transfer fee could be 3% or $5 depending on whichever is higher. Cardholders who like cash back rewards will also find plenty to love about the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. Using this card at a U.S. supermarket could earn you 3% cash back for up to $6,000 in purchases each year (beyond $6,000, it drops to 1%). Making purchases at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores can also earn 2% cash back (all other purchases are 1%). If you like to earn rewards without worrying about accruing any interest on balance transfers or purchases for 15 months, this is the card for you.

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

It’s very important to remember that the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express comes with a balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 (whichever is greater). For some people, how much they’ll end up saving on interest more than justifies this fee. For anyone else in search of an alternative, the Chase Slate® offers a $0 introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made during the first 60 days of account opening. The only trade-off there is that you won’t have access to a rewards program. And, for anyone who doesn’t mind the balance transfer fee and would enjoy a large signup bonus, there’s the Chase Freedom® card.

Why you'll love it

If you love earning rewards on everyday purchases, then you’ll love the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. It may not have the longest introductory APR of any other card on this list, but it does offer 15 months. For some cardholders, that’s more than enough time to chip away at any outstanding credit card balance. This is especially true when you consider all the rewards you’ll earn on purchases made at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, and more.

Start your application now

Low upfront costs

BankAmericard® Credit Card
Balance Transfer Intro APR 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days for 15 billing cycles
Ongoing APR 12.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Balance Transfer Fee $0 Intro balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open.  After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 3% (min. $10).
Annual Fee $0.00
Highlights Provided by Bank of America Show Highlights
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then 12.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
  • $0 Intro balance transfer fee during first 60 days of account opening. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 3% (min. $10).
  • No annual fee
  • No penalty APR. Paying late won't automatically raise your interest rate (APR). Other account pricing and terms apply.
  • Access your FICO® Score for free within Online Banking or your Mobile Banking app
  • Issuer: Bank of America
  • Rewards Details: N/A
  • Annual Fee: $0.00
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $0 Intro balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open.  After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 3% (min. $10).
  • Cash Advance APR: See Terms
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%
  • Introductory APR: 0% Introductory APR on purchases
  • Introductory APR Period: 15 billing cycles
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 15 billing cycles
  • Ongoing APR: 12.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Penalty APR: none

Our two cents

Who should get it

Anyone interested in a balance transfer card and doesn’t want to deal with upfront costs should consider the BankAmericard® Credit Card. The card offers a $0 intro balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 3% (min. $10). This makes it a great option for anyone with large or multiple balances they’d like to transfer. Additionally, you’ll enjoy 0% balance transfer intro APR for 15 billing cycles, no annual fee, and no penalty APR in the event of a late payment.

How to use it
  • Benefit from the $0 introductory balance transfer fee by transferring one or multiple balances within 60 days.

  • Take advantage of 0% introductory APR by paying off your balance within 15 billing cycles.

  • Keep an eye on your credit score with FICO® credit score reporting (free of charge) through online banking or your mobile banking app.
Consider this

While the BankAmericard® Credit Card is great for decreasing upfront costs, especially when transferring large or multiple balances, it doesn’t offer a rewards program. If you’re interested in an option that offers lower fees with rewards, consider the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer.

Why you'll love it

The BankAmericard® Credit Card is a useful tool for paying down debt. You’ll have peace of mind while paying off your debt thanks to introductory $0 balance transfer fee for 60 days, introductory 0% APR for 15 billing cycles, no penalty APR, no annual fee, and free credit score reporting. All of these features make the BankAmericard® Credit Card a great choice for transferring balances and keeping your credit on track.

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
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • 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

Looking for the balance transfer credit card with the best signup bonus on this list? Might we recommend the Chase Freedom® card. Use this card and spend $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening the account and receive a nice $150 bonus. On top of that, this card also comes with 15 months of 0% interest on balance transfers. That’s over a year to pay off as much as you can on that outstanding debt without having to worry about it growing out of control with interest. If you like to earn rewards, the Chase Freedom® card has you covered in that area, as well. Using this card can earn you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories (all other purchases earn 1% unlimited cash back).

Why you'll love it

With the Chase Freedom® card, you can enjoy freedom from annual fees and narrow introductory APR periods. In fact, when you sign up for this card, you’ll receive a sizable signup bonus plus 15 months of 0% introductory APR. You also have the freedom to use those cash back rewards whenever you want as they will never expire so long as your account remains active.

Start your application now

$0 intro balance transfer fee

Chase Slate®
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
  • $0 Introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made during the first 60 days of account opening
  • Chase Slate named "Best Credit Card for Balance Transfers" four years in a row by Money Magazine
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • Monthly FICO® Score and Credit Dashboard for free
  • No Penalty APR – Paying late won't raise your interest rate (APR). All other account pricing and terms apply
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Issuer: Chase
  • Rewards Details: Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee and get 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your monthly FICO Score for free.
  • 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: See Terms

Our two cents

Who should get it

One of the biggest fears of using a balance transfer credit card is the balance transfer fee that can sometimes accompany it. For that reason, the Chase Slate® card is highly recommended. Within the first 60 days of becoming a cardmember, you won’t have to worry about balance transfer fees. That’s a pretty good deal when you consider the fact that most balance transfer cards tend to charge 3-5%. What the Chase Slate® card offers that these cards don’t is significant upfront savings you can put toward paying off that outstanding balance.

How to use it
  • Make your balance transfer or transfers within 60 days of opening your account to qualify for the $0 intro balance transfer fee.
  • Pay off as much of the balance as possible during the intro APR period to take full advantage of the 0% intro APR.
  • Focus on using the Chase Slate® to pay off your transferred balance instead of using it for new purchases. Once you’ve taken care of the balance, consider graduating to a card with a rewards program.
Consider this

Unfortunately, you will not be able to transfer a balance to the Chase Slate® from another Chase account. If you would like to transfer a balance from an existing Chase account, we recommend the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer. (The Chase Slate® also doesn’t include access to a rewards program — but the Discover does.)

Why you'll love it

For consumers carrying a large balance or multiple balances on their credit cards, the Chase Slate® offers a break from high APR and balance transfer fees so you can pay off your transferred balance quickly — and become debt-free sooner.

Start your application now

Our favorite balance transfer credit cards: summed up

Getting even more out of your balance transfer credit cards

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of each of these balance transfer credit cards, it’s time to talk about how you can maximize your rewards. We’ve put together some helpful tips you can use to really get the most out of these cards.

Access to Discover Deals

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 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 Chase Slate® 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

Developing responsible credit card use is imperative to having a good credit score and avoiding the pitfalls of card debt. However, there are lots of contributing factors that prevent cardholders from getting out from under debt and having a decent score. The two most common problems are compounding interest and high credit utilization. Luckily, there is a solution to answer both of these problems. First, let’s explore these problems in greater detail in order to gain a better understanding in how one might avoid them in the future.

Problem: Compounding interest

One of the biggest contributing factors to credit card debt is compounding interest. That’s when you carry over a balance from month to month, all the while paying the monthly minimum while interest rates either match or exceed what you pay back. This is why many financial experts will tell you to only charge something you’re capable of paying off (in full) at the end of the month. Otherwise, that initial balance of $500, could look like $600 within a couple of months. Then you’re stuck with a balance significantly higher than the cost of your initial purchase … and you still have to pay it off.

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

In order to even come up with this list, we had to cross-reference information from the most popular balance transfer credit cards. This also allowed us to put together this comprehensive directory of the most popular balance transfer credit cards available today.

Our balance transfer credit cards directory was designed to highlight only the most important features. Those are the ones that would best help the cardholder get out from under credit card debt. As such, one of the biggest highlights you’ll find these cards have in common is that they all have 0% intro APR on balance transfers. There are other key factors we consider, as well, including rates, introductory APR, and more.

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
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%
* (?)
15 months
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
15.99% - 24.74%Variable
$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

Rating methodology

Some of the terminology and rating methods used in this directory might be unfamiliar to first-time cardholders. That’s why we put together this list of terms and features along with a clearer explanation of what’s involved. The features listed below are the same ones we referenced with each balance transfer credit card in order to determine how they stacked up.

Balance transfer fee

Some credit card companies will charge a fee when you transfer a balance to a new card. This is known as a balance transfer fee and they can sometimes be up to 3% or even higher. Let’s say you’re going to transfer a balance of $20,000 with a credit card that comes with a 3% balance transfer fee. Well, now you’ll have to pay an extra $600 on top of the $20,000 you’ll have to pay back.

As a result, balance transfer fees are important deciding factors in choosing the best balance transfer credit card for you. However, not all cards that come with a balance transfer fee are bad and some may be worth it. They might offer a few extra months of zero interest, for example.

Balance transfer intro APR

Balance transfer intro APR is the promotional interest rate you incur whenever you make new purchases or transfer a balance. For our purposes and our list of 2017’s best, the intro APR is 0%. Generally, you should consider nothing higher unless you are having trouble getting approved.

The beauty of a balance transfer credit card is how it can provide an alternative to incurring steep interest rates on your outstanding balances. Because of this, balance transfer intro APR is extremely important to be on the lookout for when shopping for a balance transfer credit card.

Balance transfer intro period

The period of time your intro APR and/or other promotion are valid is known as the balance transfer intro period. Say you opted for a balance transfer credit card that sported a 0% intro APR on both balance transfers and new purchases for no less than 12 months. That means that, for 12 months, you can enjoy that 0% intro APR before it moves up.

When it comes to balance transfer intro periods, you want the longest you can find. This is the window of time you can make the most out of trimming down that debt without accruing interest on your outstanding balance.

Ongoing APR

Once the window on your intro APR has closed, you move onto Ongoing APR. One important thing to remember right off the bat is that there is no limit on the interest rate credit card companies can charge you. What usually determines your ongoing APR is your credit score and history; another great reason to stay on top of those payments.

Some balance transfer credit cards will have ongoing APRs as low as 10.99% while others can go even higher than 20%. Having a decent credit score will likely put you on the lower part of that spectrum and, unlike intro APR, this is a permanent rate. Just as you should always look for a card with the longest intro APR, you should also shop for the lowest ongoing APRs, as well. Depending on the card and the carrier, you could have your cake and eat it too.

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

Paying off your credit cards on time and avoiding late payments are all great ways to cultivate a healthy credit card score. And, in keeping a good credit score, it often makes getting approved for a credit card even easier. If you’ve had trouble keeping track of your score, you should consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These services help you track your score and note important changes to your credit report.

In terms of applying for balance transfer credit cards, having a good credit score gives you more options. If your credit score is too low, you might not have access to certain balance transfer cards and their particular offers.

Select the best balance transfer card for you

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.

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. 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

Sometimes the circumstances can differ among cardholders. As a result, there can be exceptions to the rules we outline for controlling your credit card debt. Here are some examples.

Exception to rule #1: Stop digging

Sometimes there’s just no getting around high-credit-card-spending. You might lose your job or there might be an unforeseen medical cost to cover. In extreme circumstances like these, it’s absolutely OK to rely on a credit card. Especially when all other options have been thoroughly 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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