When you have ongoing credit card debt, the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) that determines how much interest you pay can seem downright huge. A lot of consumers in your position use a special type of credit card to dial that percentage down to zero.

A balance transfer credit card lets you transfer debt from one or more credit accounts to the new card. The best balance transfer cards offer a lengthy introductory period with 0% APR, providing a window to pay off the combined balances from the other cards interest-free.

When your APR suddenly goes from double digits to 0, debt consolidation can become a lot simpler. However, you should take the time to get informed about the drawbacks of balance transfer credit cards as well as the benefits.

Choosing a balance transfer card

Here’s a list of some things to consider as you compare balance transfer credit cards:

  • Length of the 0% APR introductory period
  • APR after the introductory period ends
  • Whether the card charges an annual fee
  • Balance transfer fees
  • Rewards programs and other perks

As with any credit card, be sure to read the terms and conditions before getting a balance transfer credit card.

Use your balance transfer card effectively

With a card offering an intro period of 0% interest, debt consolidation or debt reduction should be your primary concern. Be careful about using a balance transfer card to make purchases, as you would with a regular credit card.

You’ll want to avoid adding to the balance you’ve transferred. The idea is to use that introductory 0% APR to erase the debt you’ve built up on another card.

Pros and cons of 0% interest debt consolidation

PROS

The advantages of using a balance transfer credit card to consolidate debt include:

  • You have the potential to save money on APR and late fees from your current credit card balances.
  • You get the simplicity of making one monthly payment with the balance transfer card rather than multiple monthly payments for all your other cards.
  • Some balance transfer cards let you transfer other kinds of debt, including loans, in addition to outstanding credit card balances.
  • Certain cards include rewards programs such as cash-back points.

CONS

The disadvantages of balance transfer credit cards include:

  • The zero-percent APR offers are only temporary (typically lasting about a year but in some cases as long as 18 months or more).
  • Many charge a fee for every balance you transfer, either a percentage of the transfer or a flat fee.
  • You may need good or even excellent credit to qualify for a zero-percent offer.
  • Transferring a balance doesn’t eliminate your debt. You still have to pay off the outstanding balances you’ve transferred to the new card.

Taking control with 0% debt consolidation

Despite the benefits of temporary 0% interest, debt consolidation isn’t one-size-fits-all. If the debt you want to transfer exceeds your credit limit, a balance transfer card might not offer the best solution.

You could ask the card issuer to increase your credit limit, but for larger debts it could be simpler to try getting a personal loan or borrowing against your home equity.

Whichever financial tool you choose, the goal remains the same: to get your outstanding, high-interest debt down to 0. Debt consolidation has a number of possible solutions, but the only outcome you should accept is getting your debt under control. A balance transfer credit card could help you get there.

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