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. But one type of credit card—a balance transfer credit card—is designed to help you pay down existing balances you have on other cards.

If you’re wondering why you would want to transfer debt from one card to another, it’s all about the APR. The best balance transfer credit cards offer a 0 percent intro APR on balances you transfer, which can lead to considerable savings. Compare that to the average credit card interest rate right now, which is above 16 percent.

Ideally, you get a balance transfer credit card to secure a 0 percent APR for a limited time, then quickly pay down as much debt as you can. However, there are situations where one balance transfer card might be considerably better for you than others, 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
  2. Compare introductory offers
  3. Choose a card with rewards and perks
  4. Know how much debt you have and consider alternatives

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?

Compare introductory offers

As you begin learning about balance transfer cards, you’ll probably notice that some offer 0 percent APR for longer than others. If you have a lot of debt to pay off, then it’s only natural to seek out a card with the longest introductory offer you can find. With a longer timeline at 0 percent APR, you’ll have more time to pay down balances without any interest payments.

But you should also keep balance transfer fees in mind. These fees are typically 3 percent to 5 percent of the original amount that you transfer.

In addition to the intro APR offer length and balance transfer fees, you should compare cards based on their annual fees and any other fees charged.

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.

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 credit 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.

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.

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 11.99 percent to 22.99 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 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent. A 3 percent balance transfer fee (minimum $5) applies.

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 13.74 percent to 23.74 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 10 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 APR for both purchases and balance transfers.

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 began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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