According to the Federal Reserve, American household credit card debt sat at more than $1 trillion in the first quarter of 2019. If you’re one of the many Americans struggling to repay their credit card balance off every month, balance transfer credit cards may help ease this financial burden.
Whether you have high-interest debt or multiple credit card payments, balance transfer credit cards can help you save money and consolidate your payments. Balance transfer credit cards allow consumers to transfer their high-interest credit card debt to another credit card with better interest rates and terms. These lower interest rates typically last for a set number of months — after that time has expired, a higher rate will take effect.
Because users pay less in interest, these credit cards provide consumers the opportunity to put more money toward their debt repayment.
But with so many credit card options available, it’s a challenge to select the right card for you. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for in a balance transfer credit card and some of our top picks.
How to select the best balance transfer credit card
Before you research your credit card options, it’s important to know what to look for. Here are a few things to review before selecting a suitable card.
Start by looking for cards with an introductory period that will give you enough time to make a dent in your current revolving credit card debt. For example, a card with a three-month introductory period may not give you the time you need to help you get rid of all of your debt. But a card with a 12-month introductory period could give you an ample amount of time to reduce your debt load.
You want to look for a credit card with the lowest introductory APR (annual percentage rate) for the longest period of time. For example, if you’re comparing a 0% APR for six months and a 2% APR for 18 months, you may benefit more from the 2% APR. Review the numbers and see what works best for your situation.
Balance transfer fees
Most credit card companies apply a transfer fee based on the amount you transfer. Ideally, you can find a card with a 0% transfer fee. But if you can get similar benefits with a 3% transfer fee over a 5% transfer fee, it’s likely wise to go with the lower fee.
You’ll also want to review each card’s reward program and consider what’s best for your lifestyle. Does the card offer bonus points for categories you spend on often? Are the rewards simple and easy to understand, or will you need to dedicate time and effort to maximize earnings?
Review which card offers you the greatest opportunity for rewards — that way, you can earn cash back while saving money on interest.
Your current credit card providers
Keep in mind that credit card companies generally don’t allow cardholders to transfer balances between cards at the same institution. So, for example, if you’re looking to transfer a balance from a Chase credit card, you likely need to look for a card offered by a different issuer.
4 best balance transfer cards
|Card||Annual fee||Best for...|
|Chase Slate||$0||Repaying high-interest debt|
|Citi Simplicity||$0||Making large purchases and repaying other revolving credit balances|
|Discover it Cash Back||$0||Maximizing quarterly reward categories|
|U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card||$0
1. Chase Slate Card
With no rewards or welcome offer, the Chase Slate Card is designed simply for balance transfers.
Annual fee: $0
Balance transfer details: You’ll score a 0% APR for the first 15 months of your balance transfer. Transfer fees are $0 for transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that: $5 or 5%, whichever is greater.
Welcome offer: None
Reward rate: None
Additional benefits: The Chase Slate Card only offers fraud alerts and purchase protection.
Conclusion: Without a rewards program or welcome offer, the Chase Slate Card is really for consumers who want to capitalize on the 0% APR for the first 15 months.
2. Citi Simplicity Card
Whether you want to make a large purchase or transfer a previous balance, the Citi Simplicity Card offers competitive introductory APRs on balance transfers and purchases.
Annual fee: $0
Balance transfer details: Get a 0% APR for 18 months on all balance transfers; you must initiate the transfers within the first four months of membership. A transfer fee of $5 or 3%, whichever is greater, will apply.
Welcome offer: None
Rewards rate: None
Additional benefits: While the Citi Simplicity Card has minimal perks, it does offer fraud and purchase protection.
Conclusion: The Citi Simplicity cards give cardholders a long term to repay their debt, with a 0% transfer APR for a whopping 18 months. If you have a large balance and need extra time to repay it, this card may be right for you.
3. Discover it Cash Back Card
The Discover it Cash Back Card provides a good cashback rewards program with a decent 0% introductory APR period.
Annual fee: $0
Balance transfer details: The intro APR is 0% (for transfers that post to your account by by October 10, 2020). That APR is good for 14 months.
You’ll pay a 3% for balances transferred by October 10, 2020 and 5% after that.
Welcome offer: Automatically get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of any cash back you've earned at the end of your first year
Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories (including gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com), up to quarterly maximum; 1% cash back on all other purchases
Additional benefits: The Discover it Cash Back Card doesn't offer a lot of extra benefits. However, you’ll get both credit score and account monitoring. Also, this card offers a None foreign transaction fee.
Conclusion: If you want to opportunity to maximize your rewards with quarterly bonus categories, the Discover it Cash Back Card may be a good fit. However, other cards may offer a more attractive balance transfer offer.
4. U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card
The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card provides a competitive 0% introductory APR but doesn’t offer any rewards or welcome bonuses.
Annual fee: $0
Balance transfer details: The U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card offers a 0% introductory APR for 20 billing cycles for balances transferred within 60 days from account opening. However, you will be charged a transfer fee of $5 or 3%, whichever is greater.
Welcome offers: None
Reward rates: None
Additional benefits: Similar to other balance transfer credit cards, the U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card has very few extras. You’ll get cell phone protection, fraud protection, and free access to your TransUnion credit score.
Conclusion: While the U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card does have a competitive balance transfer offer, it still has a balance transfer fee. Other balance transfer credit cards may offer a similar introductory rates and additional rewards to make your money go further.
Frequently asked questions
Do balance transfers affect your credit score?
Opening a new credit card to complete a balance transfer will trigger a hard inquiry, which can negatively impact your credit for a brief period. However, that impact may be quickly offset if you end up with a higher total credit limit by opening the new card. That’s because you’ll be utilizing less of your available credit, and as long as you can maintain or pay down your total debt amount, your credit score will get an overall boost.
What happens if you don’t pay off a balance transfer?
If you don’t pay off the balance on your new credit card by the time the introductory period is over, your balance will become subject to the regular APR (or interest rate). Because you’ll be accruing interest, this will begin to increase the amount you owe. You won’t reduce your debt by completing a balance transfer unless you also budget to put money toward your debt each month to pay it off.
Should I close my credit card after a balance transfer?
Unless the card has a high annual fee that is interfering with your debt repayment, you should keep the old account open after completing a balance transfer. That’s because closing a credit card can hurt your credit score by reducing the average age of your accounts and decreasing your credit limit, which then increases your credit utilization rate. You should be especially wary of closing older accounts that you’ve kept in good standing or those with a high credit limit.
Does a balance transfer count as a monthly payment?
When you transfer your balance from one card to another, you are paying off the entire balance on the old card with the new card. So that transfer does count as a monthly payment on your old credit card. However, you’ll need to start making monthly payments on your new card as soon as they become due, to reduce the total amount you owe.
How long do balance transfers take?
The time a balance transfer takes is usually about 7 days, but some credit card issuers will request that you allow up to 21 days for the transaction to go through. There’s no guarantee your balance transfer will occur within the given timeframe, either. To avoid any late fees, you should make any monthly payments necessary until you see that the transfer has been completed.