Key takeaways

  • Transferring your credit card balance to a new card that offers a 0 percent introductory APR can help you to pay off your debt while reducing the interest you accrue.
  • However, introductory APRs are limited in length — typically to between 12 and 21 months — so you'll need to plan ahead to pay your balance off before the offer expires.
  • If you're still carrying a balance when your card reverts to its regular APR, you have several options and tools to consider, including lump sum payments, debt consolidation loans and new balance transfer cards.

A balance transfer credit card can offer you many months to pay off high-interest debt in the form of a 0 percent introductory APR. But when that balance transfer period ends, interest charges are added to the balance if it isn’t paid off.

To avoid paying interest on your transferred balance, aim to have it paid in full when the promotional period ends. But what if that’s not possible?

Nearly 50 percent of cardholders are carrying a balance from month to month instead of paying off their card in full, according to a November 2023 Bankrate survey. This percentage is a steady rise from the 39 percent of cardholders who were carrying balances in 2021, and it isn’t slowing.

If you’ve also found yourself in this position with your balance transfer credit card nearing the end of its introductory period, you’ll need to try to come up with a plan to wipe out the remaining balance before the interest charges pile up. This article can help you understand your options and figure out what plan works best for you.

What happens when the balance transfer offer expires?

Before diving into next steps, we’ll first go over what happens when your introductory balance transfer offer expires.

The APR — or annual percentage rate — on a credit card represents the interest you’re charged on your card’s balance over a 12-month period. Introductory offers are special offers for new cardholders from credit card issuers that last for a specified period of time. Once that time period ends for your balance transfer credit card, the card’s ongoing APR will apply to your remaining credit card balance.

The higher the credit card balance is when the 0 percent APR period ends, the more interest you will accrue. Let’s say you have $1,000 left on your credit card at the end of your introductory offer. If the regular APR is 24 percent and you decide to pay $100 per month until your balance is zero, it will take you twelve months to get there. That’s because in addition to the $1,000 you borrowed, you will pay $127 in interest.

If you’re nearing the end of your introductory period, take the time to plug your own numbers into Bankrate’s credit card payoff calculator to find out how long it would take you to pay off your remaining balance.

What to do if you still have debt after your balance period transfer ends

The best course of action when you have a balance on your credit card is to pay it in full at the end of your billing cycle. But if you’re approaching the end of your promotional 0 percent APR period and still have a balance, there are a number of moves you can make. You can:

Make a lump sum payment

Making a lump sum payment is your simplest and least expensive option if you have a balance remaining when your balance transfer period ends. You’ll avoid any interest charges by using any savings or extra cash you may have to pay off the balance transfer card. Consider how much — if any — cash on hand you’ll need in the near future and weigh that against your need to pay down your credit card balance. If possible, use your cash to wipe away the rest of your card’s debt.

Leave the balance on the current credit card and revamp your payment plan

If you’re unable to pay your card’s balance in full and don’t want to apply for another card, make a new plan to pay the current card balance. Address any budgeting issues that may be preventing you from tackling your credit card balance, and try to pay the balance off as quickly as you can.

If you find that you can only make minimum payments, however, then this option can get expensive pretty quickly. The average credit card interest rates on most balance transfer cards are relatively high, so don’t hesitate to tighten your budget quite a bit if necessary.

Consider a debt consolidation loan

To avoid your credit card’s high interest rate and get rid of your debt with one payment, you could take out a debt consolidation loan. This is a helpful tool for managing your debt because it allows you to use one loan to pay off multiple high-interest debts — typically credit cards — over a period of time, with fixed monthly payments. If the interest rate on the loan is less than the APR on your current balance transfer card, you’ll see some savings.

Transfer the balance to another 0% APR card

It might be possible to transfer your existing balance to another 0 percent APR balance transfer credit card when your current card’s balance transfer period ends. This gives you the opportunity to pay the balance off interest-free for a second time. There’s no official limit to how many balance transfer cards you can sign up for, but you typically won’t be able to transfer your balance to another card from the same issuer. Plus, individual credit card issuers have their own rules surrounding balance transfers, so you’ll have to be mindful of them as you apply for a new card.

Keep in mind that if you go with this route, you’ll need to pay another balance transfer fee, and your credit will be pulled each time you apply for a new card, which could lower your credit score. It also won’t lower the amount you owe or address any issues that might be causing you to carry credit card debt.

The bottom line

The best balance transfer credit cards can potentially save you hundreds in interest. Paying your balance in full before the introductory period is over should be your main goal when transferring a balance, but if that’s not possible, it’s critical to create a backup plan. If you didn’t have a plan for using your balance transfer credit card’s introductory period to its full potential the first time around, you can still successfully manage your credit card debt with the right strategy.

If you’re still not sure where to begin and are worried about the resulting interest from your credit card, consider reaching out to a credit counseling agency. A licensed counselor from an accredited non-profit can potentially help you come up with a plan to repay your debt.