How to do a balance transfer with bad credit

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A balance transfer credit card can help you consolidate debt, and many even come with a 0 percent introductory APR. Unfortunately, consumers with poor credit—those with a credit score of 579 or below—can’t always qualify for the best 0 percent APR credit cards, which creates quite the quandary.

Before you move forward with a balance transfer for bad credit, you should know about the potential downsides, as well as alternatives to consider. This guide goes over balance transfer options for people with poor credit, including some card recommendations.

Can you get a balance transfer card with bad credit?

You may be able to qualify for a balance transfer card if you have poor credit, although you need to adjust your expectations. You won’t receive an interest-free window, but you might get access to a lower APR than you’re paying now. Ultimately, this can still help you save money on interest, albeit at a slower rate.

Regardless, you should really know where you stand before you move forward and start comparing card options. Before you apply for a balance transfer credit card, it can help to check your credit score to see where it falls on the spectrum. FICO scores of 579 or below are considered poor, in which case you will need to look for a credit card for bad credit. But if your credit score is in the fair range (580 to 679) or the good range (670 to 739) or higher, you can check out the best 0 percent APR credit cards instead.

Should you do a balance transfer with bad credit?

It may be possible to get approved for a balance transfer credit card if your credit score is poor. However, that doesn’t mean this option is a good one.

First off, it’s crucial to point out there’s a good chance you’ll only be able to qualify for a secured credit card if your credit score is truly poor. Since secured credit cards require a cash deposit as collateral, and since your credit limit is typically equal or close to your deposit amount, secured credit cards aren’t exactly ideal for balance transfers. If you have the cash to use as collateral for a secured credit card, then you would be better off using it to pay off the debt you’re trying to consolidate instead.

And, even if you can get approved for an unsecured credit card for bad credit that offers balance transfer terms, this doesn’t mean moving forward makes any sense. Most credit cards for bad credit don’t offer preferential interest rates on new purchases, let alone debt transferred from another card. Not only that, but you’ll have to pay balance transfer fees that will add to your debt amount right away.

Finally, balance transfers don’t really help you pay down debt on their own. 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 are opening new cards that give you more available credit and you keep spending as normal, transferring balances could even leave you with more debt to deal with in the end.

Best balance transfer credit cards for bad credit

Balance transfer credit cards for bad credit can help you save money, but not all cards are created equal. Bankrate compared all the top cards that offer balance transfers to consumers with imperfect credit, and here are the ones we consider the best:

Aspire Platinum Mastercard

If you have “fair” credit or a FICO score of 580 to 669, then you might want to start your search with the Aspire Platinum Mastercard. This card is offered by Aspire Federal Credit Union, and you do have to be a member and be part of a participating organization (or a family member) to qualify.

If you are eligible, you’ll be happy to know this card offers 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 6 months (followed by a variable APR of 9.65 percent to 18 percent). There’s no annual fee, and you may be able to qualify for a generous credit limit. Just keep in mind that a 2 percent (minimum $5) balance transfer fee will apply.

This card is also unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put down a cash deposit as collateral like you would with a secured credit card.

The information about the Aspire Platinum Mastercard has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

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 (followed by a variable APR of 22.99 percent). You won’t pay an annual fee, and you’ll even earn rewards on your purchases. Specifically, you’ll rack up 2 percent cash back on up to $1,000 in combined spending at gas stations and restaurants each quarter (then 1 percent) and 1 percent on everything else. Discover will also match the cash back rewards you earn at the end of the first year.

A security deposit is required to receive the card (with the amount of your deposit equal to the credit line you’re approved for, up to $2,500), but it’s refundable provided you close your account in good standing. Also, note that you’ll pay a 3 percent introductory balance transfer fee and up to 5 percent fee for future balance transfers (see terms).

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One

The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One is another option to consider if you have poor credit but need a way to transfer balances. Just remember that you’ll have to put down a cash deposit as collateral, so you may be better off using that cash to pay down your debt instead. Either way, this card is worth considering since you can see if you’re prequalified online and without a hard inquiry on your credit report. There’s no annual fee, and you can get started with a security deposit of just $49, $99 or $200.

While the variable APR of 26.99 percent applies to balance transfers, there’s no balance transfer fee. That makes this card an option to consider for transfers if you have some available credit and you’re currently paying interest rates higher than that.

Alternatives to a balance transfer if you have bad credit

If you are less than thrilled with the credit card options available to you, you have some alternatives to consider as well. These options may not be perfect either, but the ultimate goal should be figuring out a way to pay off debt faster so you can move on with your life.

In lieu of moving forward with a balance transfer with bad credit, consider the following options:

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 personal loans for bad credit often come with much lower rates than credit cards.

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. In this case, a family member or friend would lend you their good credit to help you qualify, although there is risk involved with this option since co-signers are jointly responsible for repaying the debts they sign for.

Improve your credit score

If you’re willing to wait for a while, it may be in your best interest to try and improve your credit score as quickly as you can. Improving your credit score until it’s in an acceptable range could help you qualify for better credit cards with lower rates and potentially even one of the best 0 percent APR credit cards.

The bottom line

When it comes to balance transfers for bad credit, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. A balance transfer can be a good tool to get out of debt, but this move works best when you have a good credit score and can qualify for a balance transfer card with superior rates and terms.

With poor credit, balance transfers may only be a band-aid for an underlying issue. At the end of the day, you’re probably better off asking why you’re in debt with poor credit in the first place and which changes you could make to improve your financial situation for years to come.

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."