Balance transfer credit cards can be a valuable tool for families who hope to pay down debt. True to their name, these cards typically let consumers pay zero percent APR on balances they transfer over from another credit card with a much higher APR. Some even extend a lower interest rate or interest-free period to purchases made during the introductory offer.
The benefits of balance transfer cards are obvious if you’ve ever been in debt. With zero money going toward paying interest each month, it’s considerably easier to pay off debt at a much faster pace. And with the average credit card interest rate well over 17 percent right now, the savings can be astronomical.
Keep in mind, however, that a handful of balance transfer credit cards don’t let you avoid interest payments. Instead, they offer no-fee balance transfers with a typical variable APR. While these cards can be less than ideal, they can still help you save money on interest if the rate you’re being offered is lower than the rate you’re paying now, and saving on a 3 to 5 percent transfer fee helps, too. (See also: How to do a balance transfer in 5 easy steps)
What to look for in a balance transfer card
As you compare balance transfer credit cards on our list and elsewhere, make sure to check for the following features and benefits:
Length of interest-free introductory offer: Balance transfer cards usually offer zero percent APR for anywhere from six to 21 months. Make sure to compare offers to find one that is long enough for your debt repayment needs. The more debt you have, the more time you might need.
Ongoing APR: Even if you qualify for a card with an interest-free introductory period, make sure to compare interest rates and how they stack up, since your rate will eventually reset once your zero percent APR offer is over.
Balance transfer fee: Many balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee that is typically equal to 3 or 5 percent of your balance. Paying this fee may be well worth it in terms of interest savings, but you should try to avoid it if you can.
Time limits: Some zero percent APR credit cards only extend zero interest offers to balances transferred within a short amount of time, usually 60 days. Make sure to check for these limits before you apply.
Other limitations: Many cards in this category let you avoid interest on balance transfers and purchases, but not all do. Make sure you know your personal preference before you pick a card and apply.
Additional fees: Balance transfer credit cards rarely charge an annual fee, but you should still check. Also look up additional fees you may need to pay, such as late fees and over-the-limit fees.
Best balance transfer cards with no annual fee
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card — Best for rewards
- Chase Slate® — Best for balance transfers and purchases
- SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card — Best for low interest rate
- Platinum Credit Card from Capital One® — Best for bad credit
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card — Best for rewards
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card starts you off with zero percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.49 to 25.49 percent. You’ll also pay no balance transfer fee on balance transfer requests made within 60 days of account opening.
This card doesn’t charge an annual fee, and you’ll even earn rewards on purchases. Currently, you’ll earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 2x points on up to $6,000 per year spent at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1x) and 1x points on all other purchases. To top things off, you’ll earn 20 percent extra points when you use your card for at least 20 transactions per billing period.
Pros: No balance transfer fee if you transfer balance within 60 days, generous introductory zero percent APR period (14.49 to 25.49 percent variable thereafter), and ability to earn rewards
Cons: Only balances transferred within the first 60 days qualify for introductory APR period
The information about the Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
Chase Slate® — Best for balance transfers and purchases
The Chase Slate® is another balance transfer card that can help you save on interest without an annual fee. This card gives you 15 months with zero percent APR on purchases and balance transfers, followed by a variable APR of 16.49 to 25.24 percent. Note that balance transfers must be initiated within 60 days of account opening to qualify.
There’s no annual fee, nor is there a penalty fee if you pay your bill late. You’ll also get a free credit score on your monthly statement each month.
Pros: No balance transfer fee on balances transferred within the first 60 days
Cons: No rewards
The information about the Chase Slate credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card — Best for low interest rate
The SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card is set up differently than the other cards on this list since there is no introductory zero percent APR period. Instead, this card gives you a full three years at the Prime Rate for balances transferred within the first 60 days of account opening. The current Prime Rate is 4.75 percent, and you could qualify for this rate for a full 36 months (12.99 to 22.99 percent variable APR thereafter) .
This card doesn’t have an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, and you’ll earn a $100 statement credit when you spend $500 on your card within three months. You’ll also earn 1 percent in rewards for each dollar you spend on your card.
Pros: Earn rewards, plus enjoy a low APR for three full years when you transfer balances within 60 days
Cons: There is no introductory interest-free period
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card — Best for limited credit
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card isn’t the best credit card out there today, but it can help you get out of a bind if you’re carrying debt at an exorbitantly high interest rate. This card lets you transfer balances over at the variable APR, which is currently 26.99 percent. There is no time limit on how long you can repay your balances at this rate provided you’re paying the minimum monthly payment each month.
The Platinum Credit Card from Capital One doesn’t charge an annual fee, and you may be able to qualify with fair or limited credit. And even if your credit line is low at first, Capital One states that you may be able to qualify for a higher credit limit after five consecutive months of on-time payments.
Pros: No balance transfer fees, qualify with fair credit
Cons: High ongoing APR
How to calculate a balance transfer fee
While the credit cards we’ve profiled above don’t charge a balance transfer fee, many cards in this category do. Most balance transfer fees work out to 3 or 5 percent of balances you transfer over, although individual offers vary.
Keep in mind that when you transfer balances to a balance transfer card, this fee is charged to your balance upfront. If you were to transfer $10,000 in high interest credit card debt to a balance transfer card, for example, your fee could work out to 3 percent of your balance ($300) or 5 percent of your balance ($500) upfront depending on the credit card you sign up for.
Is paying a balance transfer fee worth it?
You may be wondering why anyone would pay a balance transfer fee when a handful of cards don’t charge this fee at all. The reality is, paying a balance transfer fee is often worth it if you’re able to save money on interest over a longer timeline.
Imagine that you have $9,000 in credit card debt at 19 percent APR. You’re considering the Chase Slate®, which gives you 15 months at zero percent APR on purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening (16.49 to 25.24 percent variable thereafter). You also won’t have any balance transfer fees for transfers during those 60 days. At that rate, you could avoid interest for a full 15 months with a minimum monthly payment of 2 percent of your balance, or $180. By the time 15 months were up, you would owe just $6,300 provided you made the same payment each month.
After 15 months were up, your interest rate would reset to the higher variable rate between 16.49 and 25.24 percent. For the sake of this example, let’s say your new rate is 19 percent. During the six months after your interest rate reset to 19 percent, if you made the same monthly payment of $180 you would pay $1,080 of your balance (more than half of that would go to interest). This means that, by the time 21 months total are up, you would still owe about $5,800 on your debt.
Now let’s imagine you opt for a card that offers a longer zero percent APR period in exchange for a balance transfer fee. With the Citi Simplicity® Card, you would get 21 months at zero percent APR on balance transfers, followed by a variable APR of 16.24 to 26.24 percent. But this card comes with a 5 percent balance transfer fee (minimum $5) on balances transferred in the first four months.
If you transferred your balance over to this card, you would be charged a 5 percent balance transfer fee of $450 upfront, bringing your initial balance up to $9,450. If you paid $180 per month for 21 months at zero percent APR, however, you would pay down $3,780 in debt during your card’s introductory offer. This means you would end the offer with $5,670 in remaining credit card debt by the time your interest rate is ready to reset. That’s $130 less than you would owe with the Chase Slate® after 21 months, even though you paid a balance transfer fee.
In simple terms, it can make sense to pay a balance transfer fee if you have a lot of debt at a high APR and you need as much time as possible to pay it off without interest. Make sure to run the numbers for your situation and use a credit card balance transfer calculator to determine which card works best for your needs.
Frequently asked questions
What is a balance transfer fee?
A balance transfer fee is a fee charged upfront by credit card issuers in order to be able to transfer balances over from another credit card or multiple cards.
What is the average balance transfer fee?
Most balance transfer cards with this fee charge either 3 percent or 5 percent of your balance upfront. Note, however, that not all credit cards charge a balance transfer fee.
When are balance transfer fees applied?
Balance transfer fees are charged upfront as soon as your balances are successfully transferred over to your new credit card account.
What is an introductory offer?
Some balance transfer credit cards come with an introductory offer that only lasts a limited time. So you may get a zero percent APR for a period, typically 15 to 21 months, and then the APR will revert to the card’s variable APR.