Grab a balance transfer credit card now, while they’re cheap

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Editor’s note: The offers on this page have expired.

In 2017, the Federal Reserve could have a positively Grinchian effect on balance transfer credit card offers.

“If the Fed raises rates as much as they say they will, we will see a decline in the availability and generosity of 0 percent offers,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.

So why are the Whos of Whoville (read: savvy credit card users) still smiling?

The Federal Reserve predicts it could raise short-term interest rates three times in 2017. But wise cardholders know the Fed has forecast multiple rate increases (in 2016 no less) that never materialized.

They also know one other thing that can make all cardholders’ holidays brighter: “There are still plenty of 0 percent and other low-rate balance transfer offers out there,” McBride says. “Grab one now and use that as a window of opportunity to pay off the balance once and for all.”

CARD SEARCH: Choose among dozens of balance transfer offers from our partners now.

What you need to know before you apply

  • You have to have good credit: “Anybody with a credit score of 700 or better is in a position to qualify either for 0 percent or other similarly attractive offers,” McBride says.
  • Not all balance transfer offers are equal: “The very best are 0 percent. Some last as long as 21 months,” he says.
  • A card with no balance transfer fee might not be the best deal: “You may find a card that you can avoid a balance transfer fee, but the APR may be higher than another card that you could have gotten at a lower rate, or for a longer period of time,” McBride says.

How to know you have a good deal

When you transfer a balance from one credit card to another, you’ll typically be charged a fee of 3 to 5 percent of your balance.

“I think the thing to weigh is, what’s the cost of the balance transfer fee versus the potential interest savings on the balance?” McBride says.

To gauge this, you’ll need to do a bit of math. A credit card debt calculator can help. Let’s walk through two examples in which you plan to pay off your credit card debt in one year:

Example 1

  • Card balance: $5,000.
  • Current APR: 9 percent.
  • Interest cost to pay off over 12 months: $245.70.
  • Balance transfer offer: 12 months, no interest, 5 percent transfer fee.
  • Balance transfer cost: $250.
  • Verdict: Pay off your current card.

Example 2

  • Card balance: $5,000.
  • Current APR: 9 percent.
  • Interest cost to pay off over 12 months: $245.70.
  • Balance transfer offer: 12 months, no interest, 3 percent transfer fee.
  • Balance transfer cost: $150.
  • Verdict: Take the balance transfer offer.

CARD SEARCH: Finished your holiday shopping? Transfer your card balance today.

If you determine that a balance transfer credit card makes sense financially, you’ll also need to consider whether it’s worth any damage to your credit score. Getting a new credit card could knock a few points off your score. You’ll also have to keep in mind your utilization — how much credit you have available versus how much you use — also could impact your score.

Once you’ve decided you want to move forward with a balance transfer card application, you need to pick a card. Use that card for the transfer only. Don’t put any other charges on the card.

Here are a few good offers I’ve seen.

Citi Simplicity card

You’ll have nearly two years to pay off your credit card debt interest-free with this card. That’s the longest introductory period I’ve been able to find. At least one other Citi card — the Citi Diamond Preferred card — offers an extended introductory period, as well.

What you’ll get: 21 months to pay off your credit card debt interest-free. After the introductory period expires, your APR will be between 13.24 percent and 23.24 percent based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee and no late fees.

What you’ll pay: Fee is equal to 3 percent of the balance you transfer.

BankAmericard credit card

What you’ll get: 18 months to pay off your credit card debt interest-free. After the introductory period expires, your APR will be between 11.24 percent and 21.24 percent based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee.

What you’ll pay: Fee is equal to 3 percent of the balance you transfer.

Citi Double Cash

What you’ll get: 18 months to pay off your credit card debt interest-free. After the introductory period expires, your APR will be between 13.24 percent and 24.24 percent based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee. You’ll also earn rewards with this card, 1 percent cash back on purchases and an additional 1 percent when you pay on time.

What you’ll pay: Fee is equal to 3 percent of the balance you transfer. You’ll need to be careful not to trigger interest charges on new purchases. All monthly payments up to the minimum payment will go toward paying down the transferred balance. Payments above the minimum balance will go toward new charges if any are made.

Discover It

What you’ll get: 18 months to pay off your credit card debt interest-free. After the introductory period expires, your APR will be between 11.24 percent and 23.24 percent based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee. You’ll also earn rewards with this card, 5 percent cash back on select spending categories and 1 percent on other purchases.

What you’ll pay: Fee is equal to 3 percent of the balance you transfer. You’ll need to be careful not to trigger interest charges on new purchases. Although there is a 0 percent introductory APR for six months on all new purchases, you still could get hit with interest charges down the road. Here’s what Discover says in its terms and conditions: “We apply payments and credits at our discretion, including in a manner most favorable or convenient for us. Each billing period, we will generally apply amounts you pay that exceed the minimum payment due to balances with higher APRs before balances with lower APRs as of the date we credit your payment.”

Chase Slate

What you’ll get: 15 months to pay off your credit card debt interest-free. That’s shorter than the other offers on this list, but the fee deal (see below) may make this offer worth it. After the introductory period expires, your APR will be between 13.24 percent and 23.24 percent based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee.

What you’ll pay: There is no balance transfer fee if you make the transfer within 60 days of account opening. Thereafter, the fee is 5 percent of the balance.

CARD SEARCH: Act now before the best balance transfer offers expire.

Mike Cetera

A savvy borrower always pays his debts. I'm a reporter at Bankrate, and I'll show you how.