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My balance transfer period ended but I still have debt. What now?

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Credit card issuers offer credit cards with 0 percent interest balance transfer periods that customers can use to make interest-free payments on their card balances until it’s paid off. When that balance transfer period ends, interest charges are added to the balance if it isn’t paid off.

In order to avoid paying interest—which can be expensive depending on the card’s ongoing APR—cardholders should aim to have their balances paid in full when the balance transfer period ends. If that’s not possible, you’ll have to take some action to avoid spending heavily on interest charges.

What happens when the 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—as the name suggests—are special offers 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 be applied to your remaining credit card balance.

The higher the credit card balance is when the 0 percent APR period ends, the more interest is charged. What’s more, if you make minimum payments on that card, only a small percentage is applied to your principal balance, meaning you’ll pay even more over time. According to our credit card payoff calculator, a cardholder with a credit card balance of $1,000 and an ongoing APR of 24 percent will pay an extra $112 in interest if they carry that credit card balance for a year after the introductory APR period ends.

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. If you have a balance transfer card or a general 0 percent APR credit card, paying off the balance before the 0 percent APR period ends is best. If you’re approaching the end of your balance transfer period and still have a balance, there are a number of actions you should consider taking:

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. Addressing any budgeting issues that prevent you from tackling your credit card balance should be top of mind if you choose this route. Leaving your balance on your current credit card when the balance transfer period ends is one of the more expensive options as the ongoing interest rates on most balance transfer cards are relatively high.

Complete another balance transfer with a different credit card

It’s 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, so you should be as diligent as possible. Keep in mind you’ll need to pay another balance transfer fee, so this solution isn’t without costs.

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 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.

Consider a debt consolidation loan

If you’ve come to the end of your balance transfer period and still carry a balance on your credit card, a debt consolidation loan could be a helpful tool to help you manage your debt. A debt consolidation loan 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.

Can I keep transferring my credit card balances?

There’s no official limit to how many balance transfer cards you can sign up for—although individual credit card issuers may have their own rules. Moving credit card debt with a high-interest rate to a card with a 0 percent interest introductory period for balance transfers can offer a reprieve from interest charges, but applying for multiple credit cards for balance transfers can negatively impact your credit.

Transferring a balance to an existing card won’t technically hurt your credit, but it doesn’t get to the root issue of your debt, and a balance transfer won’t reduce the amount of credit card debt you owe. Multiple balance transfers also come at a cost in the form of balance transfer fees. You’re also limited on how much you can transfer based on the new card’s credit limit.

The bottom line

Balance transfers—when done correctly—can potentially save cardholders hundreds in interest. Paying your balance in full before the introductory period is over should be your main goal when opting for a card with an introductory 0 percent APR on balance transfers. If that’s not possible, having back-up plans is crucial. If you didn’t have a plan going into using your balance transfer credit card the first time around, you can still successfully manage your credit card debt with smart strategies.

Written by
Sarah Estime
Associate Writer
As a staff writer for Bankrate.com, Sarah offers sound advice that will improve your financial life and help simplify topics like travel hacking and credit card rewards.
Edited by
Editor
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Part of  Balance Transfer Basics