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A balance transfer can be a valuable tool if you’re struggling with high-interest debt. Many credit card issuers offer cards with low-0% introductory APR periods and these offers allow you to transfer various debts to a new credit card and use the 0% APR period to pay down what you owe.
Not paying interest on your credit card debts for 6 to 21 months can be advantageous in more than one way. Without any of your payment going toward interest, every dollar you pay toward your debts will go toward reducing your revolving balance. And since each dollar you throw toward your debt goes to pay it off, many consumers find that balance transfer offers help them get out of debt faster.
If you are tired of struggling with debt, a balance transfer could be exactly what you need.
Follow these 5 steps to do a balance transfer:
Take a close look at the debt you already have — and your credit score.
A balance transfer credit card will benefit you most if you have high-interest debt and need time to pay it off. Before you get started, however, it makes sense to take a close look at all your debts to see how much you owe.
Review your credit card balances as well as any other high-interest loans you have. From there, make a list of each debt you owe along with its respective interest rate (APR).
You’ll also want to get an estimate of your credit score to make sure you’ll qualify for a balance transfer card. This is because most of the best 0% APR credit cards are only available to consumers with good or excellent credit, or FICO scores of 720 or higher.
Check out and compare balance transfer offers.
Once you have a good idea of where you stand with your debts, you should start searching for balance transfer offers to see how they stack up. One big advantage that comes with looking for a balance transfer card is the fact that you can conduct your search for the year’s best balance transfer offers online.
Make sure to compare the following factors first and foremost:
- APR (annual percentage rate): Most balance transfer cards offer 0% for up to 21 months, but make sure to check and compare at least a few offers. Also, note each card’s ongoing APR since your interest rate will reset once your 0% APR offer ends.
- Balance transfer fee: Some balance transfer cards charge an upfront fee of 3% to 5% of your balance. This means that, if you transfer $10,000 in credit card debt to a balance transfer card, you’ll pay an extra $300 to $500 for the privilege.
- Length of 0% APR offer: Balance transfer offers don’t last forever. Make sure to find out how long each card you’re considering offers 0% APR.
- Annual fee: Most balance transfer cards don’t charge an annual fee, but make sure to check.
Ideally, you should look for a card that offers 0% APR for as long as you need to pay off your debt. Also, consider the fact that a handful of cards don’t charge any balance transfer fees, but they usually do so at the cost of a shorter introductory offer.
The Chase Slate®, for example, offers 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer fee for the first 60 days; then a variable APR of 16.74% – 25.49% will apply.
Choose your ideal card and apply.
Comparing balance transfer cards online is the best way to find the ideal offer for your needs, but you also need to apply. Fortunately, you can apply for a balance transfer card online just as easily as you searched for and compared offers.
Hover over the offer you want on the best balance transfer page and hit “apply now.” From there, you’ll need to provide some basic personal and financial data such as your name, your address, your Social Security number, and your income.
After you apply for your new balance transfer card, you can typically get an answer in minutes. If you aren’t notified of your approval right away, you may have to wait for an email from the credit card company.
Call the credit card company to transfer balances — or do it online.
Once your balance transfer credit card is approved, you can take steps to transfer your balance. While each credit card issuer offers a different process for this step, you will normally have the option to transfer your balances in one of two ways — either over the phone or online.
Make sure to gather all the information you’ll need to transfer your balances over before you start the process. Details to gather include your credit card account numbers, bank names and addresses, and your current balances.
Once your balances are transferred over to your new 0% APR credit card, make sure to follow up with your old cards and loans to make sure your balances successfully transferred over. And, make sure your old cards show a $0 balance before you stop making payments on them.
Create a debt payoff plan.
Now that you have your 0% APR period with your balance transfer card, it’s up to you to put that time to good use. Fortunately, having some time without any interest being charged puts you in a great position to destroy your debt at record speed.
Take some time to sit down with your monthly bills, your bank statements and credit card bills, and your pay stubs to create a simple, pen-and-paper monthly budget. Figure out if there are any areas in your spending you could cut, at least temporarily. Also, determine how much money you can throw at your debts each month.
Remember that each dollar you pay at 0% APR has a bigger impact since none of your money is going toward interest payments. The more you can pay now, the less debt you’ll have to repay later.
Old habits die hard and you will never get out of debt if you keep adding to the pile. For that reason, we recommend you stop using credit cards altogether while you focus on your debt repayment plan. Put your credit cards away in a sock drawer or another safe place for now. Once you’re debt-free, you can consider using them again.
Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.
Still have questions about consolidating your debt with a balance transfer card? Browse Bankrate’s complete balance transfer catalog for everything you need to know before applying for one of the year’s top balance transfer offers.