Key takeaways

  • The best balance transfer cards typically require good to excellent credit.
  • If you have bad credit, you might want to consider alternatives like debt consolidation loans, finding a co-signer or taking the time to improve your credit.
  • Although you might be able to qualify for a secured card that allows balance transfers, it might be better to put the money you'd use for a security deposit toward paying off your debt instead.

A balance transfer credit card can be a great tool for consolidating debt. A lengthy 0 percent introductory APR offer can help you save money and pay down debt more quickly, but before looking at transferring a balance, you should check your credit score. Unfortunately, balance transfer credit cards for bad credit aren’t easy to come by.

Even if you can qualify for a balance transfer card with poor credit, it’s important to set realistic expectations before applying for one. Consumers with poor credit — a credit score of 579 or below — can’t often qualify for the best 0 percent APR cards. With this score, you probably won’t receive an interest-free window, but you might gain access to a lower APR than you’re currently paying. Ultimately, a balance transfer can still help you save money on interest if you don’t have great credit. You may just have to do so at a slower rate. You should also consider whether another form of debt consolidation might be a better option for you.

Should you do a balance transfer with bad credit?

You might find a balance transfer credit card to approve you even if your credit score is poor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your best option.

Often, people with poor credit find most of their credit card options are secured credit cards, but these cards aren’t ideal for balance transfers — and many don’t even allow balance transfers. Secured credit cards require a cash deposit, or security deposit, as collateral and your credit limit is usually equal or close to your deposit amount. That means the credit limits, and therefore the amount you could even transfer to the card, are typically quite low. Furthermore, if you have the cash to use as collateral for a secured credit card, you’d likely be better off putting it toward the debt you’re trying to consolidate instead. This means that having a low credit score can sometimes make a balance transfer a bad idea.

There are some unsecured credit cards for bad credit that offer balance transfer options, but you’ll still want to carefully read the terms to understand whether it’s the right move for you.

Pros and cons of a balance transfer card when you have bad credit

Most credit cards for bad credit don’t offer preferential interest rates on new purchases, so you’ll want to avoid putting new purchases on your card if you open one for the balance transfer offer.

Another downside is that you’ll likely also have to pay balance transfer fees that will add to your debt amount right away, though you may still save money in the long run by paying lower interest.

It’s also important to remember that you should have a solid repayment plan in place. Unless you’re serious about debt repayment, transferring balances may not help you accomplish anything other than moving debt from one place to another. If you’re opening new cards that give you more available credit and you keep spending as usual, transferring balances could even leave you with more debt to deal with in the end.

On the other hand, if you do succeed in getting a card that offers a lower interest rate than you currently pay, it may position you better to pay down your debt, even after paying a balance transfer fee. That’s provided you are disciplined in your payoff plans.

Alternatives to a balance transfer if you have bad credit

If you can’t find a balance transfer card for bad credit, or if your balance transfer application is denied, there are some alternatives worth considering. These options might not be perfect, but they can help you to pay off debt more quickly.

Debt consolidation loans

A personal loan can help you consolidate high-interest debt with a fixed interest rate, a fixed monthly payment and a fixed repayment period. Having a set payment each month can make your debt repayment plan easier, and even though you will still pay interest, personal loans for bad credit often come with much lower rates than credit cards for bad credit.

Get a co-signer

If you can’t qualify for a personal loan on your own, you can also consider applying with a co-signer. When you have a co-signer, a family member or friend lends you their good credit to help you qualify. There is risk involved with this option since co-signers are jointly responsible for repaying the amount owed. If you default on the loan, they will be on the hook for making payments or risk damaging their credit score.

Improve your credit score

Don’t lose sight of working to improve your credit score even as you focus on paying down your debt. Improving your credit score should help you qualify for better credit cards with lower rates in the future, even setting you up to qualify for one of the best 0 percent APR credit cards.

Keep chipping away at your debt balance in the meantime, but continue to pay bills on time, live within your means and otherwise do your best to make responsible financial decisions.

Best balance transfer credit cards for bad credit

Balance transfer credit cards for bad credit might help you save money. Before applying, check out Bankrate’s balance transfer calculator to see how much you can actually save with this option. Carefully check the APRs on balance transfers for the card you’re considering — there’s no reason to make a transfer unless you stand to save money over the time you need to pay off your debt.

Each card has its pros and cons, and choosing the right balance transfer card can sometimes be difficult. Below are a couple of options for balance transfer cards for bad credit, but offerings from your local credit union are also worth looking into. They often feature lower rates than big national banks, especially if you already have a relationship there.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card lets you transfer balances and pay an intro APR of 10.99 percent for six months (on transfers made within a set timeframe, see terms), followed by a variable APR of 28.24 percent. You won’t pay an annual fee, but there is a balance transfer fee to factor in: 3 percent introductory balance transfer fee and up to a 5 percent fee for future balance transfers (see terms).

A security deposit is required, but it’s refundable provided you close your account in good standing. The amount of your deposit will be the credit line you’re approved for; you can deposit a minimum of $200 and a maximum of $2,500. This is one of those instances where if you have the cash for a security deposit, you’re likely better served by applying those funds to your existing balance rather than funding a security deposit on a new card. Carefully consider your choices here.

As previously mentioned, you should not use a balance transfer card for purchases — focus on paying down your debt instead. However, once you pay off your balance transfer, this card could be a good everyday card as you work to improve your credit. It offers rewards in the form of 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1 percent back) and 1 percent back on everything else.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card

The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is one option to consider if you have poor credit, but the APR is quite high at a variable 30.74 percent. Make sure you’re paying quite a lot more than that on your existing card if you intend to use this as a money-saving opportunity. With rates like that, you’re likely better off with one of the alternative options above than using this card for a balance transfer.

This is an unsecured card so there’s no need to come up with a security deposit. Additionally, this card doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee if you make your transfer at the regular APR rate. If, down the road, Capital One offers you a promotional balance transfer APR, a balance transfer fee will apply.

This card is worth considering since you can see if you’re pre-approved online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. There’s also no annual fee.

The bottom line

Qualifying for a balance transfer card for bad credit can be challenging. There’s a good chance you’ll only be eligible for secured credit cards, which require a cash deposit, so you may be better off simply putting that cash toward paying off your debt.

If it seems like that would barely make a dent, consider other ways to consolidate. Focus on managing your debt with on-time monthly payments and work on improving your credit so you can qualify for an unsecured balance transfer card with superior rates and terms.