End-of-year shopping can be a lot of fun. Not only can the sights and sounds of the season put you in a cheerful mood, but who doesn’t love showering their loved ones with gifts?
Unfortunately, the excitement of the holidays can wear off quickly once the bills come due. With the holidays behind you and a cold and dreary winter ahead, it’s easy to find yourself with more debt than you realized and no real plan to pay it off.
Of course, holiday debt can be especially troubling if you charge your holiday shopping list to your favorite credit card. Sure, you may have earned cash back or other rewards on your spending, but the average credit card APR is currently well over 16 percent. With that kind of interest rate, you could wind up paying off debt for years and paying more than your gifts were actually worth.
A holiday debt case study
How much damage can you do? That really depends on how much you spend, but consider this example. According to estimates from the National Retail Federation (NRF), individuals are expected to spend an average of $998 on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases in 2021.
Using Bankrate’s credit card payoff calculator, we can see that paying off that amount on a credit card with 16 percent APR over 12 months would require a monthly payment of $90 and set you back an additional $88 in interest payments. If you only paid $50 per month toward this debt, however, you would spend 24 months paying it off and fork over $170 in interest along the way.
Using a balance transfer card to tackle holiday debt
Fortunately, you have some options if you’re struggling to recover from holiday overspending. By transferring your holiday debts to a balance transfer credit card, you can work toward paying off your debt with a 0 percent APR for a limited time. Not only does this help you save money on interest, but the fact your dollars are going directly to your credit card balance means you can get out of debt faster, too.
Some of the best balance transfer credit cards give you a zero interest rate on balance transfers for up to 21 months. Here are the main cards we can recommend if you’re stuck paying down 2021 holiday bills well into 2022:
Best balance transfer credit cards for taming holiday debt
|Balance transfer offer||Other perks|
|Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months from account opening, followed by a variable APR of 12.99% to 24.99%
Unlock three additional months of a 0% APR with on-time payments during the introductory offer and extension period
|No annual fee
Comes with cell phone protection and roadside dispatch
|U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles (must be made within the first 60 days), followed by a variable APR of 14.49% to 24.49%||No annual fee
Comes with cell phone protection and a free credit score
|BankAmericard® credit card||0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days, followed by a variable APR of 12.99% to 22.99%||No annual fee
$100 statement credit when you spend $1,000 on purchases within 90 days of account opening
Free FICO score
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card||0% intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months and purchases for 12 months, both followed by a variable APR of 13.74% to 23.74%||No annual fee|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%||No annual fee
Earn 2% cash back on everything—1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off
How to save money on holiday debt with a balance transfer
If you’re wondering how to use one of these cards in your favor—and how much you could save if you transfer your holiday debt—you should know that your individual results can vary.
With that in mind, here’s an example that can give you an idea:
Let’s say you spent $1,000 on holiday shopping and bills, and you already had $3,000 in credit card debt at 19 percent APR. In this case, you now have approximately $4,000 in debt to pay down. If you were paying $200 per month, it would take you 25 months to become debt-free. Plus, you would pay an additional $848 in credit card interest over that timeline.
Now imagine you decided to transfer your $4,000 in debt to the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which gives you an introductory 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles, followed by a variable APR of 14.49 percent to 24.49 percent. This card charges a 3 percent (minimum $5) balance transfer fee, so the transaction would cost you $120.
With a starting balance of $4,120, however, you could boost your monthly payment to $210 per month and become debt-free within the 20-month introductory period, meaning you’ll pay $0 in interest charges. Even though you paid $120 to transfer your balance, your final savings would work out to $728.
Holiday balance transfers: What you should know
Consolidating debt with a balance transfer credit card can help you save money, but there are details you should know and understand first. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Understand and compare balance transfer fees: Balance transfer credit cards charge fees between 3 percent and 5 percent for each balance you transfer. Make sure you compare cards based on the length of their 0 percent intro APR offers and their balance transfer fees, giving preference to longer offers with the lowest possible fees.
- Have a plan to pay off your debt: While cards in this niche can help you avoid interest for up to 21 months, it’s crucial to have a plan to pay down your debt during that time—and to stick with it. If you don’t pay enough to eliminate your balances during your card’s introductory offer period, you’ll be stuck paying down debt at your card’s high variable APR once it ends.
- Stop using plastic for purchases: Finally, paying down debt is much harder if you’re still using your credit card for purchases. If you really want to get out of debt, stick to cash or debit while you’re paying off your balance transfer card.