Manage debt with a balance transfer card

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What’s the best credit card to pay off debt? A balance transfer credit card. Using a balance transfer to pay off debt is a great way to consolidate your debts into a single monthly payment. And the best balance transfer credit cards offer 0 percent introductory APR periods that can last for more than a year, giving you time to pay off your transferred balances while avoiding interest charges.

Since credit card interest can be one of the biggest obstacles to paying off your debt, a balance transfer credit card with a lengthy 0 percent introductory APR period can make your debt more manageable and give you the breathing room you need to pay off your credit card debt in full. That’s why balance transfer credit cards are considered excellent debt reduction tools.

But how do balance transfer cards work? How do you transfer a balance to a credit card? Can you transfer multiple balances, and how do all of those transfers affect your credit score? Let’s take a look at how to use balance transfer credit cards to manage and pay off debt, along with Bankrate’s picks for the best credit cards to consolidate debt.

How to transfer a balance using a balance transfer card

Using a balance transfer to pay off debt can be a smart financial move, but how do you transfer a balance? Here’s a quick overview of how to transfer a balance to a balance transfer credit card:

  • Apply for a balance transfer credit card: Although you might be able to transfer a balance to one of your existing credit cards, applying for a new balance transfer credit card gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the card’s 0 percent introductory APR period—which will give you the opportunity to pay off your transferred balances without accruing interest.
  • Identify which balances you’d like to transfer to the card: When you apply for a balance transfer card, you’ll often be able to start the balance transfer process as you complete your application. Have your credit card numbers and the amounts you’d like to transfer close at hand to make this step as easy as possible. (If you want to make additional balance transfers later on, you can request these transfers online or over the phone.)
  • Wait for the balance transfers to complete: It can take between one week and one month for the balance transfer process to complete, so be patient. Remember that your balances will continue to accrue interest during the transfer process, so be prepared to make at least one more payment on each of your credit cards after the balances have been transferred. Don’t assume that your old credit cards will have a zero balance just because you’ve transferred those balances to another card; wait for the final interest charges to post, then pay them off in full.

If you want to learn more, read our complete guide to balance transfers. You’ll learn how to do a balance transfer with different credit card issuers, how to choose a balance transfer credit card and more. You might also want to check out our balance transfer resource center to learn about balance transfer fees and how to do a balance transfer with bad credit.

Balance transfer FAQ

How many balance transfers can you make to a single balance transfer card?

In most cases, there is no limit to the number of balance transfers you can make to a single balance transfer credit card—as long as you keep those balance transfers within the balance transfer card’s total credit limit. In other words, if your balance transfer credit card has a credit limit of $5,000, you can transfer as many balances as you like to the card as long as the transferred balances do not exceed $5,000. Keep in mind that you’ll typically pay a balance transfer fee of 3 percent to 5 percent for every balance you transfer.

As you pay off your transferred balances, you can begin transferring new balances to the card, but be aware that some balance transfer credit cards limit their 0 percent introductory APR period to balances transferred within a certain time period. The Citi® Double Cash Card, for example, offers a 0 percent introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months (13.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable APR after), but only for balances transferred during the first four months of card ownership.

What impact do multiple balance transfers have on your credit score?

Multiple balance transfers can either help or hurt your credit score, depending on what you do after you transfer the balances.

When using a balance transfer to pay off debt, your primary goal should be to pay off your old credit card balances without adding any new balances to your cards. If you successfully pay off your balances without creating new debt, your credit score should go up. That’s because 30 percent of your FICO credit score is based on your ratio of available credit to current debt. As you pay your balances down, you’ll owe less money and your credit score should improve.

If you transfer your balances to a balance transfer credit card and immediately begin adding new debt to your old credit cards, however, your credit score could drop. When you increase the amount of money you owe your credit card issuers, you run the risk of lowering your credit score.

Is transferring multiple debts to a balance transfer card a good debt reduction strategy?

If you want to pay off multiple debts while avoiding high interest charges, transferring those debts to a balance transfer card is an excellent debt reduction strategy. Make sure you choose a balance transfer credit card with a lengthy 0 percent introductory APR period, and make sure you have a plan to pay off your transferred balances before the 0 percent intro APR runs out.

Balance transfer credit cards to consider

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for people with excellent credit

If you have an excellent credit score, the Citi Diamond Preferred Card offers some excellent balance transfer perks. You’ll get a 0 percent introductory APR for 18 months on purchases, as well as any balance transfers made during the first four months of card ownership. After your intro APR period ends, expect a variable APR of 14.74 percent to 24.74 percent. Balance transfer fees are either $5 or 3 percent of each transfer, whichever is greater.

The Citi Diamond Preferred Card doesn’t offer any cash back options, which might not make it the best choice for someone who’s looking to earn cash back on purchases while paying off a transferred balance. On the other hand, people who are trying to get out of debt might not want to make a lot of new purchases on credit—so if that’s your debt repayment strategy, consider using the Citi Diamond Preferred’s low introductory APR period to focus on paying off your balances in full.

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back rewards

If you’re looking for a top cash back credit card that doubles as a balance transfer card, you’ll want to look at the Citi Double Cash Card. The Citi Double Cash Card offers an 18-month 0 percent introductory APR on balance transfers made during the first four months of card ownership, followed by a variable APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent. Balance transfer fees are either $5 or 3 percent of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Cardholders also have the opportunity to earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases, plus an additional 1 percent cash back as those purchases are paid off.

Discover it® Cash Back: Best for rotating bonus category rewards

If you prefer rotating category cash back rewards, the Discover it Cash Back has what you need—5 percent cash back on bonus categories that rotate every quarter (activation required), for up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1 percent. The Discover it Cashback calendar includes popular retailers like Amazon.com and Walmart.com, as well as everyday shopping categories like groceries stores and gas stations. Plus, Discover’s Cashback Match will match all of the cash back rewards you earn in your first year as a cardholder.

The Discover it Cash Back offers a 0 percent intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers for 14 months, followed by a variable APR of 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent.

Capital One Platinum Credit Card: Best for people with fair credit

If you’re hoping to use a balance transfer credit card to get out of debt and build your credit at the same time, the Capital One Platinum Credit Card might be a good choice. Designed for people with fair or average credit scores, this credit card gives you the opportunity to transfer your balances without paying a balance transfer fee—but there’s no 0 percent introductory APR period, so you’ll be paying a variable APR of 26.99 percent on your transferred balances until you pay them off in full.

The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is good for people who want to pay off a small balance while taking advantage of the card’s credit-building benefits: free credit monitoring, automatic credit line reviews and no security deposit required. Make sure to check the interest rates you’re currently paying on your balances before transferring them to the Capital One Platinum Credit Card—if you’re paying less than a 26.99 percent APR, it’s better to leave your balances where they are.

The bottom line

Using a balance transfer to pay off debt allows you to consolidate multiple credit card balances into a single monthly payment. If your balance transfer card has a 0 percent introductory APR offer, you could have a year or more in which to pay off your transferred balances without accruing interest.

Using a balance transfer credit card to consolidate and pay off your credit card debt can be a smart financial move. If you want to make your balance transfer as successful as possible, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt in full before the 0 percent intro APR offer expires (and try not to charge any new debt to your credit cards as you pay off your old balances).