Balance transfer cards that offer 0% for a limited time can be valuable tools for consumers struggling with debt. Once a person is approved for one of these cards, they can usually transfer all their high-interest debts over and avoid paying interest for up to 21 months.
While balance transfer cards can be a huge help in getting out of debt, you should never choose a balance transfer card blindly since each offer comes with a unique 0% promotional period and its own set of fees and terms. There are also rules that can impact which card issuer you can seek out a balance transfer with, which you should know about ahead of time.
5 things to look for in a balance transfer card
Before you choose a balance transfer card, you’ll want to compare offers to see which one might be ideal for your needs. Here’s what you should look for:
- Promotional offer: The promo period your card offers, also known as its introductory offer, dictates how long you have to pay your debts down at the lower interest rate. Most balance transfer cards offer 0% APR for 9 months or longer, and some offer no interest for up to 21 months.
- Balance transfer fee: Many balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee of 3 percent to 5 percent of your balance upfront. This means that for every $10,000 transferred to your balance transfer card, you’ll owe an additional fee of $300 to $500. Keep in mind, however, that not all cards charge this fee.
- Timeline requirements: Many card issuers only offer 0% APR on balances transferred within 45 or 60 days of account opening. Make sure to check your card’s rules so you can follow them.
- Interest rate: Since the introductory offer on your card won’t last forever, you need to know how much interest you’ll pay once your offer ends. Read your card’s terms and conditions to find out what interest rate you’ll have to pay if you can’t fully pay off your debt within the introductory offer period.
- Card issuer: Most people don’t realize that you typically cannot transfer debt to a balance transfer card offered by the same issuer you have debt with. If you have a rewards card with Chase, for example, you can’t transfer it to the Chase Slate to get 0 percent APR for 15 months; you’ll have to choose a balance transfer card with another issuer.
4 tips to save money with a balance transfer
- Think long-term. Look for a balance transfer offer with the longest 0 percent APR term you can find. Remember that more time at 0 percent APR means more time to pay down debt with no interest.
- Avoid fees. Make sure to compare balance transfer fees. Also consider cards with no balance transfer fee if you think you can qualify.
- Compare cards from all issuers. If all your debt is with the bank you feel comfortable with, don’t let that stop you from getting a balance transfer card. Since you’ll likely need to work with a new bank to transfer a balance anyway, now is a good time to consider different issuers and what they have to offer.
- Commit to becoming debt-free. Finally, remember that balance transfers only work if you do. To pay off as much debt as possible, you need to commit to paying as much as you can every month — even when you don’t feel like it. If you don’t take advantage of your 0 percent offer while you have it, you may not be any better off once your offer ends and your interest rate resets.