A balance transfer is a popular debt relief strategy that can help you get on top of outstanding balances. By moving your debts to a new credit card with a zero percent introductory APR period, you can give yourself the breathing room needed to pay off debt once and for all — or at least knock off a good chunk of it.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for certain the credit limit you’ll receive for a card until you get approved, meaning you could potentially apply and be approved for a balance transfer credit card that doesn’t accommodate the amount of debt you want to transfer.
If you’re in a cycle of transferring lingering balances to a new card every few years, know that you’re most likely dragging out your journey to becoming debt-free. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to set yourself up for a successful balance transfer and ensure you get just the right limit to manage your debt.
High limit balance transfer credit cards
For cases where you’re looking to move a large balance, look for a credit card with a high credit limit — though this aspect of cards isn’t always readily displayed by issuers — and an extended introductory zero percent APR period.
Anything between $5,000 and $10,000+ can be considered a high credit limit. Yet, these limits are most often seen from more premium cards like the Citi Prestige® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®. For your typical balance transfer credit card, you can expect minimum credit limits around $500.
Here are a couple of Bankrate’s top picks for high limit balance transfer cards:
The Discover it Cash Back not only provides a rewards structure of 5 percent cash back on rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent — activation required) but a balance transfer offer, as well.
There’s a 14-month zero percent introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers (11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR after) and a 3 percent introductory balance transfer fee. After the introductory period, the fee rises to 5 percent on future transfers (see terms).
One of the most premium features of the card is its Cashback Match™ welcome bonus; at the end of your first year, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned.
Though not explicitly stated by the issuer, rumored credit limits for the Discover it Cash Back sit above $10,000. According to Discover, if you’re not happy with the credit limit you receive, a few months of responsible card usage, followed by your own inquiry, may be enough to snag a higher limit.
The Wells Fargo Platinum card is first and foremost a balance transfer card, offering an 18-month zero percent introductory APR on qualifying balance transfers (16.49 percent to 24.49 percent variable APR thereafter) for no annual fee.
What more, the minimum credit limit for those approved for the Wells Fargo Platinum is said to be $1,000; that’s $500 more than the rumored minimum credit limit of the popular Chase Slate credit card. Keep in mind the credit limit you’re approved for could be much higher depending on your income, credit score and other factors.
While the Wells Fargo Platinum doesn’t have a rewards structure or welcome bonus, it does offer up to $600 in cell phone protection (subject to a $25 deductible) when you pay your monthly cellphone bill with the card.
The information related to the Wells Fargo Platinum card has been collected by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
How much debt can you transfer?
The exact amount you’re able to transfer depends on your card, but there are a couple of general rules of thumb to keep in mind.
Credit card providers typically determine the amount of debt you can move in relation to your credit limit. Many issuers are generous, giving cardholders the ability to transfer their full credit limit, but in some cases, your transfer limit may be capped at 75 percent of your overall credit limit.
Further, your monthly income, credit score and outstanding debt are weighed when deciding your credit limit. In order to get a top-end credit limit to increase your transfer capabilities, you’ll likely need a good or excellent credit score. Improving your credit score ahead of time may be in your best interest before applying.
It’s important to note that the balance transfer fee is often considered a part of your transferable balance, making your “true” limit slightly lower than you may have expected. Be sure to read through your credit card agreement or talk to your issuer to determine if and how the balance transfer fee affects your limit.
How many credit card accounts can you consolidate?
You may be able to transfer debt from two to three accounts over to your new balance transfer card. However, if you have widespread debt, don’t try to open up multiple balance transfer cards to circumvent this limit; doing so leads to multiple hard inquiries on your credit report and may hurt your credit score.
In most cases, you’ll only be able to transfer credit card debt when executing a balance transfer. Some options are more flexible, offering ways to consolidate auto loans and other categories of debt.
How banks can limit your balance transfer
One key limitation to note is, in most cases, you won’t be able to transfer your balance to a card issued by the same bank as the credit card you’ve accumulated debt on. Typically, your inability to do so is indicated by a denied credit card application or balance transfer request.
If you have $2,000 in debt on your Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, for example, and apply for the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card in hopes of utilizing its 12-billing cycle zero percent introductory APR on balance transfers made in the first 60 days (13.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable APR after, 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers), it’s likely your credit card application or balance transfer request will be denied.
To get around this, simply apply for a balance transfer card issued through a separate bank. Using the example above, the Discover it Cash Back would be a safe bet and offers a similar 14-month zero percent introductory APR on balance transfers (11.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR thereafter).
Is a balance transfer right for you?
To truly determine whether a balance transfer is right for you, you need to understand the fees and limits that go into moving the balance, prepare a budget to pay off your transferred amount and decide whether the cost of executing your plan is worth it in the end.
As is with all credit cards, routine, sufficient payments are fundamental to a well-executed balance transfer. If an attainable card offers a generous, interest-free welcome period and a credit limit that fits your transfer needs, a balance transfer may be your ticket to financial freedom.
In most cases, ideal balance transfer candidates have $1,000 to $10,000 in debt on one credit card. With these lesser amounts, you’re more likely to be able to move the entire balance and maintain simplicity on your repayment path. Executing a balance transfer for less than your full debt amount can be effective, but a proper budget to attack the outstanding balance on your previous card is a must.
Timing is key when deciding whether to do a balance transfer; consider whether you’re in a good place at your current job and have the opportunity to lower your debt in the near future. If your credit score isn’t in the good to excellent range, you may want to take time to improve it before applying for a card. Otherwise, there are secured credit cards that allow for balance transfers (but, in most cases, these cards don’t offer a zero percent introductory APR).
Alternatives to a balance transfer card
Before initiating a balance transfer, it’s vital to consider your other debt-relief options. If you’re looking to do away with a larger debt amount, a personal loan or another debt relief method may better suit your needs.
To avoid continuously transferring your debt and cycling through credit cards, consider seeking debt counseling or debt management services. If you pursue one of these routes, you’ll be coached and set up with a repayment plan to rid yourself of your outstanding balance.
In the most severe cases of financial distress, debt consolidation and bankruptcy are viable (though not always recommended) options.