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I’m still a fairly fresh college grad, and I continue to plod my way through the early post-grad journey. I applied for my first credit card (reluctantly) when I was a sophomore in college, and it was the Discover It® Chrome student credit card. I didn’t know much about the card and I was leery of it, to say the least. As the child of a first-generation credit user, I didn’t trust credit cards in general, and quickly relegated this student card to a “use mostly never” category.
However, as I got older and began my career in personal finance (covering credit cards, no less), I learned important information that completely transformed my perspective on credit cards. The more knowledge I gained, the more prepared and excited I was to start searching for the next card I’d apply for. The second card application would be the first card I’d fully, comprehensively understand. Instantly, I set my sights on travel credit cards.
My first travel credit card
For me, the best thing about graduating college was the newfound freedom. As my friends and I spread to various parts of the country to start jobs, grad school and more, the opportunity to see so many new places seemed endless. So, why not earn travel rewards on all these trips and more? Armed with fresh knowledge on credit cards in general, but most specifically how travel credit cards work, I began shopping around for my first travel credit card.
There were a few things I kept in mind when I was choosing my travel card. I knew I didn’t have any brand loyalty to a specific airline, so a co-branded credit card wasn’t at the top of my list. I also knew that though I had plans in the near future, realistically, my travels would get less frequent over time. I was aiming for a card that has some decent short-term value (an easy sign-up bonus), travel rewards I’d rack up on everyday purchases and no annual fee. At the end of my search, I checked off all of these boxes with the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card.
I was approved quickly and earned the sign-up bonus with ease, thanks to a quick trip home for the holidays. Over the first few months with the card, I went back to my alma mater a couple of times, visited friends in California and New York City in back-to-back weekends, went to a college friend’s wedding in their hometown and traveled to my own family home more than once.
Needless to say, I racked up a balance of a few thousand dollars rapidly, and I’m among the at least 60 percent of people who’ve held credit card debt for at least 12 months. Now that my travel frequency has leveled off as expected, I’m trying to pay off this balance as quickly as possible for more than a few reasons.
How I’m planning to pay off my travel card debt
As the odds of a recession increase and interest rates continue to rise, now is the best time to focus on paying down high-interest credit card debt. Also, as a recent graduate who has benefited significantly from the student loan repayment pause, the looming end of that program has me taking a hard look at my budget. One tool helping consumers pay down high-interest credit card debt is a balance transfer credit card.
This type of credit card allows consumers to transfer a credit card balance from one account to another with zero percent interest for a set period. You’ll also pay a fee for completing a balance transfer (usually 3 or 5 percent of the transferred balance). The biggest advantage of a balance transfer card is that it can save you a bit on interest by buying you some time to create a plan to eliminate as much debt as possible during the intro APR period. These are a few steps I’m taking as I prepare to do a balance transfer.
1. Pay down as much of the balance on the current card as possible
When I do get around to completing my balance transfer, I want to transfer as little of a balance as possible. The lower the transferred balance, the lower the added balance transfer fee. Also, by transferring less I’d be able to feasibly pay down the balance more quickly and could get a boost to my credit score by lowering my credit utilization ratio. I plan to pay down as much as possible before making my transfer by paying well above the minimum payment on my travel credit card as often as I can.
2. Establish a repayment game plan
It’s best to go into getting a balance transfer card knowing a few key details, like how much time you’ll need to get the balance to zero before the card’s intro APR period ends. Budget how much you want to pay each month toward your debt and start setting some of that money aside before starting the transfer. Also, don’t forget to factor in the card’s balance transfer fee and set aside funds to pay that added cost down as well.
3. Compare balance transfer cards
Once you make your pay off plan, shop around for the best balance transfer card to meet your goals. Some cards will have different intro APR period lengths, balance transfer fees and ongoing APRs that you’ll want to be aware of if you end up with a balance after the introductory period ends. Pick a card that fits best with your personal repayment timeline to maximize its value.
The best balance transfer cards I’m considering
While I’m not quite ready to transfer my balance yet, there are a few balance transfer cards that I’m highly considering for when the time comes. There are three primary characteristics that make up the best balance transfer card for me: the longest available intro APR period, an intro APR period on purchases and no ongoing rewards program.
Citi Diamond Preferred Card: Best for excellent credit
The Citi® Diamond Preferred® card boasts one of the longest intro APR offers on balance transfers, with zero percent APR for 21 months (then 15.99 percent to 26.74 percent variable). You can feasibly be approved with good to excellent credit (a FICO score of 670 and above) and you’ll be able to focus on repayment without the distraction of trying to earn rewards since there’s no rewards program. The ongoing APR is also on the lower end compared to the current average credit card interest rate, which could be a plus if you carry a balance.
BankAmericard credit card: Best for no penalty APR
In addition to hitting all of my preferred card traits (a long intro APR on balance transfers, an equally long intro APR on purchases and no rewards structure), the BankAmericard® credit card also adds the extra perk of not charging a penalty APR if you miss a payment. Beware that missed payments will still have a negative impact on your credit. This card will get you a zero percent intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 21 billing cycles (then 14.99 percent to 24.99 percent variable.)
Citi Simplicity Card: Best for no late fee
Like the BankAmericard, the Citi Simplicity® card checks the boxes while also offering an extra perk. This card won’t charge a late fee if you happen to make a late payment, though you may still be affected by a penalty APR and a ding to your credit score. The card has a zero percent intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months (then 16.99 percent to 27.74 percent variable).
The bottom line
In my time navigating post-grad life, I’ve learned a lot about my financial goals and the best ways to achieve them. I’m glad I took the leap and applied for my first travel credit card and I’m glad I used it, too. I’m confident knowing that there are tools designed to help me manage my debt effectively, so I can still live my life the way I want to. The same can be said for you, as long as you play your cards right.