Balance transfer credit cards can be a valuable tool if you need to pay off high-interest debt. Most balance transfer cards allow you to avoid paying interest for more than a year.
Every penny you pay toward your debts goes directly toward the amount you owe instead of interest during that period. However, one minor detail often throws consumers off when researching the best balance transfer credit cards — balance transfer fees.
What is a balance transfer fee?
A balance transfer fee is a fee charged by a credit card issuer when you transfer a balance from another credit card to your new balance transfer card. These fees are not optional; they are required to take advantage of balance transfer offers, most of which let you enjoy 0 percent APR for a limited period of time.
How much do balance transfer fees cost?
Balance transfer fees typically add up to 3 percent or 5 percent of the total balance you transfer to your new card. This means that for every $10,000 in debt you move to a balance transfer credit card, you’ll owe $300 or $500.
Most balance transfer fees also have a minimum charge in place, usually $5 or $10. With these minimums in place, you may wind up paying more than 3 percent or 5 percent in balance transfer fees if you’re only transferring a small amount of debt, such as $50 or $100.
How do balance transfer fees work?
When you initiate a balance transfer to your new card, balance transfer fees are added to your transferred debt amount.
Let’s say you transfer $5,000 in high-interest credit card debt to a new balance transfer card that charges a balance transfer fee of 3 percent. In this case, you would begin repayment on your new card with an updated balance of $5,150. This amount includes the debt you transferred ($5,000) plus the 3 percent balance transfer fee ($150).
Best credit cards with no balance transfer fee
There are normally quite a few balance transfer credit cards without a balance transfer fee on the market, but the coronavirus pandemic led many card issuers to alter their debt consolidation offerings. As of today, there are only a few balance transfer credit cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee, including the following:
Wings Visa Platinum Credit Card
The Wings Visa Platinum Credit Card is a basic product without any major perks. This card does give you 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for a full 12 months, however, followed by a variable APR of 8.15 percent to 18 percent. There’s no annual fee and you won’t pay any fees to transfer a balance.
You can qualify for a minimum credit line of $500, but you have to be a Wings Financial Credit Union member to apply. Membership is available to consumers who work in the aviation industry or live in select metro areas surrounding cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Orlando, Florida, Seattle, and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Wings Member Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card
The Wings Member Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card also requires membership with Wings Financial Credit Union. If you’re eligible, you’ll get 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.20 percent to 18 percent.
You can also earn 1.5 percent cash back on all your spending and a $100 bonus after you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days of opening your account. You won’t pay an annual fee or any balance transfer fees with this card.
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card
The SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card doesn’t offer 0 percent APR, but you can qualify for a three-year introductory interest offer at the prime rate (currently 3.25 percent variable APR) on balances transferred during the first 60 days of account opening. After that, you’ll pay a variable APR rate of 11.24 percent to 21.24 percent.
You won’t pay any balance transfer fees for balances transferred during the first 60 days after you open your account, but the balance transfer fee goes up to 3 percent (minimum $10) after that.
This card also gives you an unlimited 1 percent cash back on each dollar you spend and you’ll get a $100 statement credit when you spend $500 on your card within three months of account opening. No annual fee applies.
How to choose a balance transfer card
There aren’t many balance transfer credit cards that let you avoid a balance transfer fee right now, so you may want to broaden your search to include balance transfer cards with a fee. The key to selecting a balance transfer card that charges a fee is making sure your introductory APR offer lasts long enough to let you enjoy considerable interest savings that outweigh any fee.
Here are some of the main factors to consider as you compare credit cards with balance transfer offers:
- Compare 0 percent APR offers: When you compare the top balance transfer credit cards, you’ll find that many offer 0 percent APR for well over a year. Longer offers can help you buy time to pay off your debt without any interest, which can make up for any balance transfer fees you have to pay.
- Do the math on balance transfer fees: Paying a balance transfer fee is generally worth it, as fees cost 3 percent or 5 percent of your balance at most. You only pay the fee once, whereas the average credit card interest rate is around 16 percent. You can use a balance transfer fee calculator to determine how much you could save, even after paying a balance transfer fee.
- Consider the ongoing variable rates: Remember that the introductory rate doesn’t last forever, so make sure you know how the variable rates on cards you’re considering stack up. If you don’t pay off your debt during your card’s introductory period, you’ll be stuck paying the variable interest rate after that.
- Look for cards that offer perks you’ll use: You should also consider whether the cards you’re researching offer any benefits you might enjoy long term. For example, if you love to travel, a credit card with great airline mile rewards or travel insurance benefits might suit your needs for many years.
The bottom line
Many people struggle with debt. Fortunately, there are many options to consider, such as balance transfer credit cards and debt consolidation. Make sure you spend some time researching all your options to know which one will work best for your needs. Paying a balance transfer fee to use one of the best balance transfer credit cards is often a good choice, but you should run the numbers to find out for sure.
The information about the Wings Visa Platinum Card, Wings Member Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card and SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuers.