End-of-year shopping can be a lot of fun. Not only can the sights and sounds of the season put you in a cheerful mood, but who doesn’t love showering their loved ones with gifts? Unfortunately, the excitement of the holidays can wear off quickly once the bills come due. With the holidays behind you and a cold and dreary winter ahead, it’s easy to find yourself with more debt than you realized and no real plan to pay it off.

Of course, holiday debt can be especially troubling if you charge your holiday shopping list to your favorite credit card. Sure, you may have earned cash back or other rewards on your spending, but the average credit card APR is currently well over 19 percent. With that kind of interest rate, you could wind up paying off debt for years and paying more than your gifts were actually worth.

A holiday debt case study

How much damage can you do? That really depends on how much you spend, but consider this example. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s Winter Holidays Historical Highlights, individuals spent an average of $998 on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases in 2021. For 2022, total holiday spending is expected to increase by 6 to 8 percent — from $889.3 billion in 2021 to more than $942.6 billion in 2022.

Using Bankrate’s credit card payoff calculator, we can see that paying off $998 on a credit card with 19 percent APR over 12 months would require a monthly payment of $91 and set you back an additional $105 in interest payments. If you only paid $50 per month toward this debt, however, it would take you 25 months to pay off and you’d fork over $211 in interest along the way.

Best balance transfer credit cards for taming holiday debt

Some of the best balance transfer credit cards give you a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for up to 21 months. Here are some cards to consider if you’re planning on paying 2022 holiday bills well into 2023:

Card 0% intro APR offer Annual fee
Wells Fargo Reflect® Card 0% intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers made within the first 120 days (followed by a variable APR of 18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99%) $0
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card 0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles on purchases and on balance transfers made within the first 60 days (followed by a variable APR of 19.74% to 29.74%) $0
BankAmericard® credit card 0% intro APR for 21 billing cycles on purchases and on balance transfers made within the first 60 days (followed by a variable APR of 16.24% to 26.24%) $0
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card 0% intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers and a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases (followed by a variable APR of 18.24% to 28.99%) $0
Citi® Double Cash Card 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (followed by a variable APR of 19.24% to 29.24%) $0

*The BankAmericard® credit card information was last updated on August 3, 2023

How to save money on holiday debt with a balance transfer

If you’re wondering how to use one of these cards in your favor — and how much you could save if you transfer your holiday debt — you should know that your individual results can vary. With that in mind, let’s take a look at an example that can give you a better idea.

Let’s say you spent $1,000 on holiday shopping and bills, and you already had $3,000 in credit card debt at 19 percent APR. In this case, you now have approximately $4,000 in debt to pay down. According to Bankrate’s credit card payoff calculator, if you were paying $200 per month, it would take you 25 months to become debt-free. Plus, you would pay an additional $848 in credit card interest over that timeline.

Now, imagine you decided to transfer your $4,000 in debt to the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card, which gives you a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months, followed by a variable APR of 18.24 percent to 28.99 percent. This card charges a 5 percent (minimum $5) balance transfer fee, so transferring the balance would cost you $200. With a starting balance of $4,200, however, you could pay $200 per month and become debt-free within the 21-month introductory period and you’ll pay $0 in interest charges.

Tips for paying off holiday debt with a balance transfer card

Consolidating debt with a balance transfer credit card can help you save money, but there are details you should know and understand first. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Understand and compare balance transfer fees. Balance transfer credit cards charge fees between 3 percent and 5 percent for each balance you transfer. Make sure you compare cards based on the length of their 0 percent intro APR offers and their balance transfer fees, giving preference to longer offers with the lowest possible fees.
  • Have a plan to pay off your debt. While cards in this niche can help you avoid interest for up to 21 months, it’s crucial to have a plan to pay down your debt during that time — and to stick with it. If you don’t pay enough to eliminate your balances during your card’s introductory offer period, you’ll be stuck paying down debt at your card’s high variable APR once it ends.
  • Stop using credit cards for purchases. Finally, paying down debt is much harder if you’re still using your credit card for purchases. If you really want to get out of debt, stick to cash or debit while you’re paying off your balance transfer card.

The bottom line

Fortunately, you’ll have some options if you’re struggling to recover from holiday overspending. By transferring your holiday debt to a balance transfer credit card, you can work toward paying off your debt with a 0 percent intro APR for a limited time. Not only does this help you save money on interest, but you may be able to get out of debt faster, too.