The Military Wallet has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. The Military Wallet and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
Would you believe me if I told you one of the easiest ways to eliminate your credit card debt is to open a new credit card account? It sounds a little crazy, but it’s true! Some companies offer a special incentive called a 0% balance transfer credit card offer. This allows new credit cardholders to transfer their current credit card balance to their new account at a 0% interest rate for a set period of time (usually around 15-21 months).
Transferring your balance eliminates your current interest rate and can save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in interest payments over the duration of the zero percent balance transfer offer.
But there is a catch – you must stop using your old credit card and commit to paying off your balance. Do this, and you can cut months off your journey to eliminating your credit card debt.
Let’s take a look at some of the balance transfer credit card options available on the market, who should apply for a balance transfer credit card, how to choose the best card for your needs, some pitfalls to avoid and how to maximize your value from your new card.
Featured 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards
The following list represents some of the best consumer offers for transferring your credit card balance to a 0 percent credit card. You can click on each respective card or the link for more details.
Be sure to compare terms, including the length of the balance transfer offer, balance transfer fees, credit card rewards (if any), annual fees (if any), and any other applicable features or terms.
Which is better – No fee, or longer balance transfer term? The answer completely depends on how long it will take you to pay off your current credit card debt.
If you can pay off your balance before the end of the 0% interest rate term ends, then go with the fee-free balance transfer offer. Otherwise, you may find it better to go for the longest term. We show you how to run the numbers and compare these and other credit card offers later in this overview.
Be sure to click through and visit the credit card issuer’s site for more details and current terms and conditions.
Who Should Apply for Zero Percent Offers?
You should only apply for a 0% balance transfer credit card offer if you are a responsible credit card user – meaning you pay your credit card bills on time. Remember, the 0% interest rate isn’t an excuse to stop making payments – you still have to continue making at least the minimum payment or your rates will increase (but you should pay more than the minimums if possible). You should use this as an opportunity to consolidate your credit card debt and eliminate it more quickly.
In addition, you should commit to adding no new credit card debt. The only way to get out of debt is to stop adding new debt, and to start aggressively paying off your current loans.
How to Determine if You’re Ready for a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Transferring a balance to a 0% APR credit card might be an extremely smart move, but it may not improve your finances if you don’t use this opportunity to your advantage. Simply put, transferring balances from one card to another won’t help you in the long run if you don’t attack your debt with fury. Worse, a balance transfer can even be detrimental to your finances if you use your new lower credit payment as an excuse to spend even more.
So, how do you know when you’re ready? For the most part, we suggest you meet these minimum requirements before you consider a balance transfer:
You’re serious about paying down debt.
The first step in balance transfer success is getting serious about your finances and becoming debt-free – once and for all. If you’re not ready to take your situation seriously, a balance transfer might only serve as a temporary band-aid for your problem with debt.
Before you sign up for a balance transfer card, you need to commit to keeping your living expenses low and throwing all your extra money towards your debts. A lower payment can make it tempting to spend more money elsewhere, but you have to commit to staying on track.
Always remember that transferring a balance isn’t the same thing as paying off debt. You might transfer to a new card, but you still owe the same as you did before. With that in mind, you should only pursue a balance transfer when you’re ready to make a change.
You’re living with a monthly budget.
One strategy that can help you stay on track is creating a monthly budget. With a written budget that includes all of your monthly expenses, you can plot out a plan to pay down your debts alongside your other monthly obligations and bills. Don’t see your budget as restrictive; instead, see it as a plan for your money.
Also remember, the lower your living expenses, the more extra cash you’ll have to throw at your debts. If you’re able to cut your spending while you focus on debt repayment, you’ll have a much better shot at getting out of debt quickly – and staying out of debt for good.
You have a repayment timeline and a strategy.
One extremely important step you should take when comparing balance transfer offers is figuring out how much time you need to pay down your debt. Let’s say you owe $10,000 across several cards and plan to consolidate them with a single credit card that offers 0% APR for 15 months but doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee.
If you took that $10,000 balance and divided it by 15 months, you would see you need to pay around $667 per month for all 15 months to become debt-free. By figuring this out ahead of time, you can choose a balance transfer card with a timeline that works for your debts.
You’re determined to stop using your credit cards during the process.
Transferring high-interest credit card debt to a balance transfer credit card is a smart way to pay down debt quickly, but only if you stop using your credit cards! If you keep using your cards and adding to your balance, you may never get out of debt at all.
Commit to stop using your cards altogether, even if that means cutting them up or sticking them in a drawer for safekeeping. If you want to get out of debt, the first thing to do is to stop digging.
You have good credit.
To qualify for the best 0% APR balance transfer credit cards, you usually need good or excellent credit. For most people, that means a score of 680 or more, with higher scores leading to better results.
If your credit score isn’t quite there yet, you may be better off paying off delinquent debts and trying to improve your credit score before you apply. Applying for a credit card will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report – and that can ding your score in the short-term. Before you apply, make sure you have a reasonable expectation of getting approval for one of these cards.
5 Steps to Choose the Best Balance Transfer Credit Card for Your needs
With so many good 0% balance transfer credit cards on the market, it can be hard to find the best offer for your needs. Here are five steps to help you find the perfect card for your needs and goals:
Step #1: Figure out how much debt you have to transfer.
When you’re trying to pay down debt, the first thing you should do is figure out how much debt you have. Add up all of your balances across each credit card or debt you have, noting the bank or credit card’s name, your account number, how much you owe, and the interest rate on each. Keep that list so it’s handy when you’re ready.
Also, keep in mind that you’re not limited to transferring other credit card balances to your new 0% APR card. If you have other loans with a high interest rate like car loans, furniture loans, or personal loans, you can likely transfer them to your new 0% APR card as well.
Step #2: Figure out how much you can afford to pay back each month.
Now that you know how much debt you’re in, you need to figure out how much you can reasonably pay each month. This is where a monthly budget can come in extremely handy. Get out your monthly budget and find out how much income you can set aside specifically for debt repayment. Since you were already paying the minimum balances on your cards, you should be able to set a hefty chunk aside to throw at your new 0% APR balance every month.
Step #3: Look for balance transfer credit cards with a 0% APR timeline that makes sense for your needs.
Once you know your total debt and have an idea of how much you can pay each month, you need to look at cards that might be a good fit. Let’s say you owe $5,000 on your cards and plan to transfer that balance, yet you can only pay $300 per month towards your debts.
You’ll want to take $5,000 and divide it by $300 to see how many months it might take to repay your loans. In this case, it’s almost 17 months. With that in mind, you’ll want to search for a balance transfer card that extends 0% APR for at least that long.
Always remember that the 0% APR introductory offer will eventually expire. And if you don’t pay off your debt in the meantime, you’ll be forced to start paying interest on your balance again. That’s never a good place to be in.
Step #4: Compare fees.
Another factor to take into account is any fees you might be charged. Most balance transfer credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, but the majority do charge a balance transfer fee. This fee can be equal to 3-5% of your balance and is generally added to the amount you owe when you open a new balance transfer card.
Obviously, this fee can make a huge difference in how your debt repayment plays out, so it’s important to assess these fees wisely. Keep in mind that fees vary. Most credit card issuers charge a minimum balance transfer fee, while some card issuers place a cap on the transfer fee. There is also at least one balance transfer credit card that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee for transfers made in the first 60 days.
Step #5: Choose the card with the best 0% APR offer for your needs and the most reasonable fees.
Once you know how much you want to transfer and how long it might take you to pay your debts off for good, it’s time to select a credit card that makes sense for your situation. Most of the time, the balance transfer card with the longest 0% APR introductory period and the lowest balance transfer fee is the best option. When choosing a balance transfer credit card, make sure to pick one that will set you up for success!
Other Balance Transfer Card Features to Consider
The previous five steps are the most important when choosing a zero percent balance transfer credit card, but there are some other features you will want to consider when evaluating these credit card offers. Some important factors to consider include:
- Interest rate after the introductory 0% offer ends. This only comes into play in two situations: if you can’t pay off your balance before the introductory period ends, or if you miss a minimum payment. The goal is to always pay your balance off in full before the intro period ends, but that doesn’t always happen. If in doubt, consider the zero percent balance transfer card with the lower APR after the introductory 0% interest offer expires.
- Rewards and cash back. Depending on your needs, you may want to consider credit cards with sign up bonuses, rewards bonuses, cash back credit cards, points cards, or special features, such as travel rewards credit cards or gas rebates. Rewards and cash back shouldn’t be the prime consideration for your selection, because the focus should be on paying off the balance. But these can be valuable features if you want to use the credit card for new purchases after you pay off the debt.
Compare all features before applying. A longer balance transfer duration doesn’t automatically make it the best card. You should first evaluate how much debt you have, the interest rate, how much it will cost for you to transfer your balance, how much you will save with a particular card (including balance transfer fees), and an estimate of how much you will save over the duration of the balance transfer offer.
Then consider additional benefits of the card, such as cash back, sign up bonuses, rewards programs, etc. As you can see, most of these cards offer some form of cash back or rewards, which makes them a nice option to use after you pay off your transferred balance.
Understanding the Transfer Offer Details
Balance transfer credit cards can save you a lot of money. But you need to make sure you play by their rules if you are going to use them. These tips will help you save money on 0% balance transfer credit card offers:
- Most balance transfer cards have transfer fees. Many 0% balance transfer credit cards charge customers a fee to transfer a balance to their new card, usually around 0-5% of the balance. Some may charge a fixed amount, usually around $50-$75. But many people save more on their first few month’s interest than the transfer fee, so you may come out ahead very quickly.
- Understand the terms of the balance transfer. Know when the dates start and stop, how much you can transfer, when the transfers have to be initiated and completed to be valid, etc. Most 0% balance transfer offers are only available for a short time. The most common time frame is 60 days, but some cards only offer the 0% transfer rate for the first 30 days, while some go out as long as 90 days. Read the fine print before applying!
- Always make on-time payments. Even one late payment can increase your interest rate the regular APR. In some cases, that may be over 20%.
- Don’t make new charges on that card. Payments only go toward the 0% interest rate and your new charges will accrue interest until the remainder of your balance is paid off (this can cost you a lot of money!).
- Set up automatic payments for your bills to prevent missing payments. This will also prevent your interest rate from spiking if you miss a payment.
- Wait until approved before transferring money. Don’t transfer money to your new credit card until you get approved for a balance transfer and understand the terms.
- Pay attention to balance transfer limits. Don’t transfer more money than your limits allow.
Final note: if you don’t have the discipline to manage your credit cards, then please stay away. This is a great tool, but it’s not a silver bullet for eliminating credit card debt!
Maximizing the Value from Your New Card
Congratulations – you now have an incredible opportunity to get out of debt more quickly. Take advantage of it, because the intro period will end before you know it!
To get the best bang for your buck, you should consider moving as much high-interest credit card debt to your new card as you can. Many card issuers will allow you to transfer balances from more than one card—or even from non-credit card loans—as long as you don’t exceed your available credit limit. If you have multiple credit card balances, try to transfer as much of those as you can to your new card, starting with the highest interest debt first. This ensures you reduce your interest rates and payments as much as possible.
Commit to getting out of debt. Once you get your balances transferred to your new card, you need to cut up your old cards and stop using them. Don’t cancel them, however, because that can negatively affect your credit score. Just put them somewhere safe, and no longer use them.
Keep your payments the same, or increase them. Whatever you do, try to pay more than the minimum payment each month, or you will be stuck in debt for a long time. Review your previous credit card statements and look at the payments you were making on your previous cards. Try to continue making at least that payment, even if your new minimum payment is lower. And increase that payment if at all possible.
Why is this so important? Because the clock is ticking. You only have a limited amount of time with no interest running on your outstanding balance, so you want to eliminate as much of your debt as possible while you aren’t paying interest.
A balance transfer credit card won’t magically eliminate your credit card debt. But when used properly it can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes you to get out of debt, and it will save you a ton of money in the process.
5 Things You Should Know About Credit Card Balance Transfers
Many people start a balance transfer card without knowing exactly how it works or how it can benefit you. These five steps can help you get the most from your credit cards.
1. Credit Issuers Have to Wait 10 Days to Process Your Request
You might be annoyed at the slow progress made by your new credit issuer when it comes to balance transfers, but there’s a reason for it: The law. One of the results of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is that credit issuers need to provide consumers time to reconsider the account terms and cancel the balance transfer request. This means that the issuer must wait 10 days after approving your credit card account to actually go through the balance transfer.
2. Some Credit Issuers Process Partial Balance Transfers
What happens if your balance transfer request exceeds your new credit limit? It depends on the credit issuer. According to the report, some credit issuers will reject the balance transfer request altogether, while Barclaycard, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo will process the transfer up to your credit limit. So you at least get some of your high rate balance moved over.
If you are concerned about this issue, check with the credit card issuer to find out what the procedure is. You don’t want to miss out on a partial balance transfer that might help you.
3. You Might Be Able to Transfer All Sorts of Debt
In many cases, we think of balance transfers as being limited to credit card balances. However, the reality is that some issuers will actually let you transfer other types of debt to your 0% APR card, allowing you to save money by moving some of it around. Find out what types of debt you can move using your new credit card. You might be able to transfer payday loans, auto loans, student loans, medical debt/expenses, small business loans, and even mortgages.
However, you need to be careful. Some of this debt is rather large, and if you are still paying on it when the 0% APR runs out, it could be more expensive in the long run — especially if you factor in balance transfer fee that most credit card issuers charge.
4. You Can’t Always Hop from 0% Card to 0% Card
One of the ways that some consumers stave off the inevitable rate increase at the end of the introductory period is to move to another card, transferring the balance. However, that might not be an option. In some cases, you might start being denied if issuers run your credit report and see a pattern.
Another issue is that you might not always qualify for 0% APR offers. Plus, as the report points out, following the financial crisis these offers all but disappeared. That could happen in the future as well. Plan out how you will repay your balance transfer before pulling the trigger.
5. Don’t Expect Rewards on Your Balance Transfer
While some credit card issuers will give rewards on balance transfers, many of them don’t. The report from Card Hub indicates that only three major credit card issues occasionally offer rewards on balances. So, if you transfer, you can’t expect your transfer to be treated as a purchase for rewards purposes or cash bonus purchases.
The Ultimate Guide to Paying Off Debt with a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Now that you know all about the various balance transfer credit cards available, it’s time to formulate a plan that will help you get out of debt – and stay out. Digging your way out may not be easy, but with a balance transfer credit card, you’ll be able to get out of debt faster and save money along the way.
Here are the steps you need to take right now:
Figure out exactly how much debt you owe – and to whom.
When you’re trying to get out of debt – and especially credit card debt – you should start by figuring out “where you’re at.” The first step you should take involves getting out all of your credit card statements and bills out and tallying them up.
This is also a good time to figure out what your interest rates look like with your current credit cards and loans. How much interest are you paying already? And how much might you save when you transfer those balances to a balance transfer credit card? You’ll never know until you break out all of your financial statements and figure it out for yourself.
Find out your credit score.
If you’re deep in debt, your credit score may not look that great. However, you’ll never know where you stand unless you check your credit score. If you’re interested in seeing your credit report, you can get a free copy from each of the credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax – once per year on AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to see an estimate of your credit score, you can do so by signing up for a free account on CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com.
Some balance transfer credit cards also offer a free FICO score on your monthly statement. While this may not seem important when you apply, being able to track your progress for free is a huge boon if your credit score needs some help. We suggest getting a free credit score on Credit Karma or Credit Sesame to get a general idea of your credit health, then considering a balance transfer credit card that offers your actual FICO score for free every month.
Look for the best card for your needs.
We have already shared plenty of details on how to find the right card for your situation, but now is the time to execute those ideas. As you browse balance transfer cards, you should look for an option that offers 0% APR for as long as you can get away with while charging minimal fees.
Once you find a card that might work, sign up through the company’s secure online interface. After a few weeks, you’ll get your card in the mail.
Consolidate loans and credit card balances onto one card.
When you apply for your balance transfer credit card, you may be asked to offer details on which balances you plan to transfer right away. This is another reason it’s helpful to compile your credit card balances in one place before you begin this process.
Most of the time, it makes sense to transfer all of your credit card balances and loans to a 0% card. If you can’t transfer them all, transfer as many as you can. The money you save on interest during your card’s 0% APR introductory period can help you pay off debt much faster, and the more debt you can transfer over, the better off you’ll be.
Switch to a cash-only budget.
Once you have all of your old credit and loan balances transferred to your new balance transfer credit card, it is imperative that you stop using credit cards altogether. If you keep using credit, you are setting yourself up for more debt and even bigger problems down the line. If you want to get out of debt, you have to stop digging!
Switching to a cash-only budget is one way to stop the bleeding when it comes to your budget. With this strategy, you’ll withdraw only the amount of cash you need to cover your expenses each month. Then you will pay your bills as normal. When you run out of cash, you are out of money until you get paid again.
Cut your expenses while you get out of debt.
If you are struggling with debt, it’s safe to say you are likely spending more money than you can truly afford. If that’s the case, you’ll need to take a closer look at your spending priorities if you truly want to get out of debt. Most of the time, you’ll find some low-hanging fruit to cut that can minimize your monthly bills without reducing your quality of life.
If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at your grocery and entertainment spending first. If you’re eating at restaurants often or spending a lot of money on cable television or entertainment, those are easy places to cut that can make a big impact. And if you get depressed at the thought of toning down your lifestyle, try to remember these changes may only be temporary. If you want, you can add these “splurges” back into your budget once you’re out of debt.
Throw all of your extra cash at your debts.
Once you have transferred your balances to a 0% APR card and cut your expenses, you should have a lot more money left over each month. Not only are you avoiding interest payments on your transferred debts for the time being, but you have hopefully freed up some cash from cutting your expenses, too.
If you truly want to get out of debt, you’ll use your new balance transfer credit card’s 0% APR introductory offer to the fullest. Take all of your extra cash and throw it at your new card’s balance each month, and try not to justify spending it elsewhere.
Depending on the length of your card’s 0% APR introductory offer, you may have plenty of time to get out of debt completely without paying interest. Obviously, the more money you pay towards your debts at 0% APR, the faster you can put it all behind you.
If you’re in debt and struggling to get out, a balance transfer card might be the answer you’re looking for. Since many offer 0% APR – as in, no interest – for anywhere from 12 – 21 months, you can use the card to pay down debt much faster than you might otherwise.
Then again, using a balance transfer to get out of debt may not help that much if you don’t change your spending habits. Before you transfer a balance, ask yourself how you got in debt in the first place, and what you can do to make sure you never repeat the same mistake.
A 0% APR balance transfer card can help you save tons of money on interest and even help you get out of debt faster, but only if you change your spending habits and learn to stop using credit as an extension of your budget. Only buy what you can truly afford, and never charge a purchase unless you have the money to pay it off right away.
Glossary of Terms
- 0% APR – A credit card that charges 0% APR won’t charge any interest on your revolving balance.
- Annual Fee – An annual fee is a fee assessed by certain credit cards who make their users pay for membership privileges. Most balance transfer credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, but it’s still worth watching out for them.
- Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – Your annual percentage rate is the interest rate charged on your credit card balance every year.
- Balance Transfer – A balance transfer is the act of transferring a debt or debts to a new loan in order to secure a lower interest rate or better terms.
- Balance Transfer Fee – A balance transfer fee is a fee assessed on your balance when you transfer it from one card to another. Most balance transfer fees fall somewhere between 3 – 5 percent, although some cards don’t charge a balance transfer fee at all.
- Credit Score – Your credit score is the three-digit manifestation of your credit health. Using the FICO scoring method, your credit score will fall between 300 and 850, with a higher score showing better credit.
- Due Date –Your due date is the calendar date the minimum payment on your credit card must be received by. If you don’t pay your bill on time, you will likely be charged a late payment fee.
- Grace period – Grace period is a term used to describe the time you have to pay your bill after your statement closes. Due to changes in the Credit CARD Act of 2009, card issuers who offer a grace period must make them at least 21 days long.
- Introductory Offer – An introductory offer is generally only extended for a limited time. With a balance transfer, for example, the introductory offer usually comes with 0% APR for somewhere between 12 and 21 months.
- Late Payment – A late payment is a credit card payment that your card issuer receives after your due date.
- Late Payment Fee – A late payment fee is generally assessed when you do not pay your credit card bill on time. Late payment fees generally fall between $20 and $40.
- Minimum Payment – The minimum payment on your credit card is the least amount you can pay each month while keeping your account in good standing.
- Terms and Conditions –The terms and conditions shared by your card issuer include an array of details pertaining to your balance transfer card. Most terms and conditions include details like your annual percentage rate, fees associated with your card, and balance transfer details.
The Military Wallet has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. The Military Wallet and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.