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How to choose a balance transfer credit card

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There are many different types of credit cards to choose from, and some come with more rewards and perks than others. One type—a balance transfer credit card—is even designed to help you pay down existing balances you have on other cards.

Ideally, you get one of the best balance transfer credit cards to secure a 0 percent APR for a limited time, then quickly pay down as much debt as you can. Balance transfer cards come with different introductory periods and subsequent APRs as well as a variety of additional perks (or not), so you’ll want to take time to compare options before you apply.

If you’re wondering how to choose a balance transfer credit card, here are the most important considerations we’ll discuss below:

1. Check your credit score

The best balance transfer cards are typically available only to consumers with very good or excellent credit or those with a FICO score of 740 or above. However, you may also be able to be approved with a “good” FICO score in the 670 to 739 range.

Also, note that balance transfer credit cards for poor credit exist, though they come with less attractive terms and conditions for paying down debt.

Either way, it’s wise to see where you stand in terms of your credit score before you apply. Check your credit score for free and you’ll gain a better understanding of the cards you might qualify for.

Learn more: How does a balance transfer affect your credit score?

2. Compare card offer details

When it comes to transferring debt from one card to another, here are the most important factors to consider:

  • Length of intro period: The best balance transfer credit cards offer up to 21 months or more of 0 percent intro APR on transferred balances.
  • Regular APR: Be aware of the interest rate that will kick in at the end of your introductory period as this will impact any remaining balance and future balances. Compare it to the average credit card interest rate right now, which is above 16 percent.
  • Fees: Balance transfer fees are typically 3 percent to 5 percent of the transfer amount. You should also consider any other fees, including if the card comes with an annual fee.
  • Intro APR on purchases: Some balance transfer cards also offer a 0 percent intro APR on purchases, although this is likely less important when you’re focused on paying down existing debt.

3. Choose a card with rewards and perks

If you want a balance transfer card that’s worth keeping for the long haul, you can also compare cards based on the rewards and cardholder benefits they offer. Many top balance transfer credit cards offer cash back on your spending, and some feature insurance protections or purchase benefits that can make using them for everything you buy a much better deal.

Keep in mind that rewards on spending and balance transfers do not always mix well. If you use your card for purchases while you’re trying to pay off debt, you’ll slow your progress and potentially end up worse off in the end.

4. Know how much debt you have and consider alternatives

Take the time to figure out exactly how much debt you have, and remember that it’s possible to consolidate debt from several credit cards onto one new balance transfer card.

How much debt you have will also play a role in how long your debt repayment process will take. After all, it will take considerably less time to pay off $5,000 in credit card debt at 0 percent APR than it would to pay down $10,000 in debt, $25,000 in debt and so on.

While many people think of balance transfer cards as exclusively for credit card debt, you can actually transfer different kinds of debts in order to consolidate your payments and take advantage of 0 percent APR. It varies by card and issuer, but you may be able to transfer personal loans, student loans, auto loans and even home equity loans.

If you have a considerable amount of debt to pay down, then you should also consider whether a balance transfer card is the right tool. After all, personal loans can also be used to consolidate and pay down debt, and many let you secure a low fixed interest rate for five to seven years. Personal loans also come with fixed monthly payments and a repayment timeline, so they are easy to budget and plan for.

Unsure if a balance transfer credit card is right for you? Check out our Credit Card Spender Type Tool where you can get personalized credit card recommendations based on your credit score, spending habits and daily needs.

Best balance transfer credit cards

Some balance transfer card offers are considerably better than others. Here are some of the best available right now:

Discover it® Balance Transfer: Best for rotating rewards

The Discover it Balance Transfer lets cardholders earn rewards on spending while consolidating debt. This card lets you earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories (activation required) and then 1 percent back. You also earn a flat 1 percent back on all other spending. Discover will even match all the rewards you earn after the first year.

You can also qualify for 0 percent APR on purchases for six months and on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 12.24 percent to 23.24 percent. There’s a 3 percent intro balance transfer fee and up to 5 percent fee on future balance transfers (see terms).

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back

The Citi Double Cash Card lets cardholders earn 2 percent back on every purchase they make—1 percent when they make a purchase and another 1 percent when they pay it off. There’s no annual fee, and the card comes with 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.24 percent to 24.24 percent. A 3 percent intro balance transfer fee (minimum $5) applies on transfers completed within the first four months of account opening.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Longest 0% intro APR

The Citi Diamond Preferred Card doesn’t earn rewards, but you’ll get one of the longest balance transfer offers on the market: 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 21 billing cycles, after which you’ll be charged a variable APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent. There’s no annual fee, but you’ll have to pay a 5 percent balance transfer fee (minimum $5).

Keep in mind, however, that the 0 percent intro APR for purchases only lasts 12 months. If you’re looking to save on interest from purchases, too, the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card is a great choice, offering up to 21 months of 0 percent intro APR: 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. Intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro and extension periods. 13.74% to 25.74% variable APR thereafter.

Learn more: How to do a credit card balance transfer

The bottom line

A balance transfer can be a great step toward debt management. The best card for you depends on the amount of debt you have and how quickly you’re able to pay it off. You’ll also want to weigh any additional fees that come with the card and its rewards structure (if any).

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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Part of  Introduction to Balance Transfer Credit Cards