If you’re currently paying high interest on credit card debt, a balance transfer credit card could allow you to pay less in interest and help you raze your debt faster than you otherwise could.
This is how it works: Balance transfer cards offer a 0% APR introductory period for a year or longer, and a good one can prevent high-interest credit card debt from rotting your bottom line. With a balance transfer card, you move your current IOU from one (or more) cards to a credit card with a lower APR.
Evaluating balance transfer offers is basically like working out a math problem: Which card offers you the best chance to pay off your debt for the least amount of money?
After analyzing more than 100 cards with a balance transfer offer and no annual fee, we settled on 10 cards worthy of your consideration.
- Three of these cards are best if you want to avoid a balance transfer fee altogether.
- Six of these cards are best if you want at least 18 months to pay off your debt before the interest kicks in.
- Plus, we have one wildcard selection that differs from any other offer available.
That’s a lot of picks, to be sure. But here are two main things that you should look at in any balance transfer offer:
- the balance transfer fee, which is the cost of doing the transfer (typically 0% to 5% of the amount that you transfer)
- how many months of 0% APR you receive after transferring the debt
All of our picks offer the best combination of those two factors. Some are better to keep for the long haul, whereas you may want to cut up others once you’ve paid off your transfer. You may have even cycled through a few of these cards already.
Two big things you should know before you even think about a balance transfer:
- Most issuers won’t allow you to transfer balances between cards from the same issuer. For example, you can’t transfer a balance from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to the Chase Slate. This factor can be a helpful immediate disqualifier if you’re choosing between cards.
- You may not be able to transfer all of your debt. The majority of balance transfers are for amounts up to $5,000, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How much you transfer is dependent on a number of things, including the credit limit the bank assigns to you and whether you can transfer up to the total credit limit or only a percentage of it.
[Need to get a handle on what’s in your wallet? Our Five-Day Credit Card Checkup will teach you how to cast out the dead weight and find the cards that are a better fit for you. Sign up now.]
- Who this guide is for
- Who this guide isn’t for
- Best balance transfer cards if you don’t want to pay a balance transfer fee
- Best balance transfer card if you need at least 18 months to pay off your debt
- The best balance transfer card if you want the most flexible payoff schedule
- You got a balance transfer card—now what?
- Why you should trust us
- How we landed on our picks
- Balance transfers: What’s in it for the banks?
- Frequently asked questions about balance transfer credit cards
- Balance transfer cards we analyzed
Who this guide is for
- You have high-interest credit card debt. You apply for a balance transfer card because you want to escape high interest costs, a worthwhile cause. “[C]ardholders that have held onto debt for longer are more likely to remain in debt,” states a recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report (PDF). Best, then, to nip it in the bud.
- You owe around $5,000 or less. Balances greater than that amount may still be appropriate for a transfer, depending on the credit line your new card extends. But in those cases you might also consider a personal loan, which we’ll cover in a future guide.
- You have a good credit history. Banks are more likely to approve your application, and extend a big credit limit, if you have good to excellent credit (a FICO score around 700-plus).
- You aren’t looking for the best rewards card. This card works better as a tool to pay down debt more than as a chance for you to earn cash back or travel rewards.
- You’re committed to a pay-down plan. Our hope is that you use one of these picks to completely pay off a debt hanging over your head. To be successful, you need a realistic repayment plan you can stick to. Consult your budget before you apply for a balance transfer card, and estimate a conservative monthly payment to throw at your debt (you can always contribute more).
Who this guide isn’t for
- You have a credit score around or below 660. Subprime borrowers (those with a FICO credit score lower than 660) will struggle to qualify for a balance transfer card—and even if you qualify, you likely won’t receive a high enough credit line to make much of a dent in your debt. You may be better off working down your debt as best you can, taking time to improve your credit score (by paying bills on time and not using more than 30% of your limit) and then applying for a card once you’re closer to 700.
- You have a really low or really high balance. If your balance is lower than, say, $1,000, you might be better off simply paying off your current card without taking on a fee, or the trouble, of a balance transfer. If your debt is really high, say, over $10,000, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be able to move the full total over to the new card; to consolidate, you may want to consider a personal loan instead.
- You’re a serial balance transferer. It’s tempting to simply move your IOU every 12 to 18 months, as we note in a Q&A for The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company). But we want you to pick a card that will lead you to finally retire the debt, even if you need to pay a little interest after the intro 0% period runs out.
Best balance transfer cards if you don’t want to pay a balance transfer fee
It’s rare, but some cards don’t charge a fee for transferring a balance, while providing a long intro period of 0% APR once you do move your debt. This combination can turn your balance transfer, for all intents and purposes, into a no-interest loan.
But there’s a trade-off with such an offer: Cards with no balance transfer fees tend to have shorter 0% APR financing periods than their rivals. In contrast, our three favorite cards with no balance transfer fees—the Amex EveryDay, the BankAmericard (the version that has no balance transfer fee), and the Chase Slate—all come with 15 billing cycles of 0% APR. All else being equal, we like that proposition. A typical balance transfer fee charges 3% (or $129, for example, if you move over $4,300 in debt). You can knock off a $4,300 debt with 15 payments of $287 and face no out-of-pocket costs.
Still, you may need a few extra months to whittle down your debt. If so, jump to our picks with at least 18 months of 0% interest.
What you get with the Amex EveryDay
The Amex EveryDay (not to be confused with its almost-identically named sibling card, the Amex EveryDay Preferred, which comes with higher rewards and an annual fee) makes sense if you want a balance transfer card that still has value after you retire your debt, as it’s the only one of our three picks in this category that offers rewards for your spending. It has no balance transfer fee (if you make the move within 60 days of opening your account), and it gives you a 15-billing-cycle 0% intro APR period for balance transfers and purchases, the same as the no-balance-transfer-fee version of the BankAmericard and the Chase Slate.
Unlike on the BankAmericard and the Slate, on the EveryDay you earn a spending bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points if you spend $1,000 on qualifying purchases in your first three months as a cardmember.
You also earn rewards on your spending: 2x points at US supermarkets up to the first $6,000 in spending, and then 1x point on everything else. Should you use your card 20 times during a billing cycle, you receive a 20% bonus on those purchases, not including credits or returns. You earn double (2x) MR points when you make travel purchases on the American Express Travel site, including airfare, prepaid hotels, and cruise reservations (although these purchases don’t count toward the 20% bonus). There are some exclusions to what earns these bonus points, including non-prepaid hotels and car reservations.
All those rewards and bonuses are a double-edged sword. Should you want a card that could potentially have a place in your wallet going forward, this card is a good option (although you can find better grocery cards).
Still, be wary of mixing balance transfers and spending. It’s easy to lose track of what you owe and when—plus, you’re likely getting this card to pay down debt, not to add to it.
What you get with the BankAmericard (no-balance-transfer-fee version) or the Chase Slate
The 15-billing-cycle BankAmericard offer and the Chase Slate offer involve very similar terms: no balance transfer fee when you move your IOU within 60 days of opening your account, and 15 billing cycles of 0% intro APR once you’ve transferred your balance over.
Neither card offers rewards, which means both will have diminishing returns after the 0% intro APR period runs dry. Both allow 15 billing cycles of 0% APR on purchases too, which means you could use either card in an emergency after you’ve transferred a balance and not face almost instant interest costs. And neither comes with a penalty APR. The BankAmericard edges ever so slightly ahead of its Chase rival because it charges the most creditworthy borrowers a lower APR.
If you’re having trouble deciding between the cards, ask yourself:
- Do you want to transfer a balance from an existing Bank of America or Chase card? If yes, consider the card from the other issuer, because you can’t transfer a balance between cards from the same issuer.
- Which bank has a branch that’s convenient for you? Bank branches are becoming less popular overall. If easy access to a real-life person is important to you, search for Bank of America and Chase branch locations near you, and make your card selection accordingly.
|0% period on|
|Amex EveryDay||$0||15 months||15 months|
12.99% – 23.99%
|Yes||Up to $40||29.99%|
|BankAmericard (15 billing cycles)||$0||15 billing cycles||15 billing cycles|
12.99% – 22.99%
|No||Up to $40||None|
|Chase Slate||$0||15 months||15 months|
14.99% – 23.74%
|No||Up to $39||None|
Best balance transfer card if you need at least 18 months to pay off your debt
In a perfect world you’d apply for one of the three no-balance-transfer-fee/15-billing-cycle 0% intro APR cards we recommend above and pay off your debt before interest kicked in, thus improvising a no-cost 15-month unsecured loan. Or maybe, in that perfect world, you wouldn’t have fallen into debt in the first place.
For this imperfect world, the following balance transfer cards charge you higher initial costs if you want more interest-free time to pay.
Of the six cards we recommend here, only the Citi Simplicity charges a balance transfer fee greater than 3%. Yet the Simplicity's 5% fee comes with 21 billing cycles of 0% intro APR, one of longest periods we found.
|Balance transfer fee||0% period on balance transfers||0% period on purchases||Regular variable APR on balance transfers||Spending rewards||Late-payment fee||Penalty APR|
|BankAmericard (18 billing cycles)||3%||18 billing cycles||18 billing cycles|
12.99% – 22.99%
|No||Up to $40||None|
|Citi Double Cash||3%||18 months||0 months|
13.99% – 23.99%
|Yes||$0 on first missed payment, then up to $40||Up to 29.99%|
|Citi Simplicity||5%||21 months||12 months|
14.74% – 24.74%
|Discover it Balance Transfer||Intro 3% of each transfer if transfer posts to your account by November 10, 2019 (then fee jumps to 5%)||18 months||6 months||11.99% – 22.99%||Yes||$0 on first missed payment, then up to $40||None|
|U.S. Bank Visa Platinum||3%||20 months||20 months|
13.99% – 23.99%
|No||Up to $40||None|
|Wells Fargo Platinum||$5 or 3% (whichever is greater) if transfer is made within 120 days of account opening; after that a minimum of 5% (with a $5 minimum)||18 months||18 months|
16.49% – 24.49%
|No||Up to $37||None|
What you get with the BankAmericard (18-billing-cycle version) balance transfer card
No card better illustrates the trade-off than the BankAmericard, which quite literally has two offers. We highlighted the 15-billing-cycle 0% intro APR version earlier, but the 18-billing-cycle rendition is worthy of consideration, too.
The terms are exactly the same, except you owe a 3% balance transfer fee in exchange for 18 billing cycles of 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases if you move the debt within 60 days of having your account approved. On a $4,300 balance transfer, for example, that’s an up-front cost of $129.
All else being equal, we recommend that you apply for the 15-billing-cycle version of the card. But your monthly budget may be tight, making a longer 0% intro APR period more appealing.
|BankAmericard, 15 billing cycles||BankAmericard, 18 billing cycles|
|Balance transfer fee total||$0||$129|
|Average monthly payment to avoid paying interest||$287||$239|
The 18-billing-cycle option would lower your average monthly payment by almost $50. Perhaps that means enough to your bottom line for you to take on the up-front charge.
We also have other picks that offer at least 18 billing cycles of 0% intro APR, a 3% balance transfer fee, and no rewards.
Not much distinguishes this BankAmericard offer from that of the Wells Fargo Platinum, except the ongoing variable APR once the intro period ends.
What you get with the Citi Double Cash
The Citi Double Cash is our favorite flat-rate cash-back card due to its simple and fulsome rewards. You earn 1% back when you buy something, and another 1% when you pay it off, all without an annual fee.
Few cards extend an offer so ample, which makes the Double Cash an ideal choice for someone looking for a card to hang onto for the long haul. No other cards we picked for this balance transfer guide give you as good a value on your spending after you’ve paid off your debt.
As far as its balance transfer terms go, the Double Cash offers 18 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers with a 3% balance transfer fee, similar to other recommendations we highlight here. Citi also waives your first late-payment fee, one of three of our picks to do so (but after that, it charges $40).
Unlike other cards, though, the Citi Double Cash doesn’t offer a 0% intro APR period for purchases. This limitation can cause a big headache if you’re not careful.
Let’s say you move a $4,300 balance onto the Citi Double Cash, and then you purchase a pair of $17 J+S Premium aviator sunglasses. You would have to pay $4,317 on your next billing cycle in order to avoid paying interest on the $17 sunglasses, in an example of the punishment far exceeding the crime.
That means you should not, unless absolutely necessary, use this card to buy anything while you’re still working down your transferred balance.
What you get with the Citi Simplicity
The Citi Simplicity extends the greatest number of 0% intro APR months (21) of any pick we recommend. You also get to enjoy 12 months of 0% intro APR on purchases, which means you can potentially finance a balance transfer and a big-ticket item (such as a new refrigerator) simultaneously without paying interest. (But we caution against using one card for both tasks, since you’re liable to confuse the issue.)
Still, the Simplicity’s main kicker is the balance transfer fee: 5%. No other card we recommend goes higher than 3%. On a $4,300 balance transfer, for example, the Simplicity charges you nearly $90 more up front than a card with a 3% balance transfer fee.
You may be willing to incur a larger immediate cost if you receive the longest possible financing period—which is fair, especially if you can’t rearrange your budget to accommodate a larger average monthly payment for a 3% card. If you do have more flexibility, consider one of our 18-month picks.
For instance, the average monthly payment you’d need in order to avoid paying interest on a $4,300 balance transfer is $205, or about $35 less than with an 18-billing-cycle offer.
|5% balance transfer fee on a $4,300 debt||$215|
|Average monthly payment to avoid paying interest||$205|
This card eschews spending rewards, late-payment fees, and a penalty APR, all of which can make sense for folks who don’t intend to let their Simplicity card see the light of day once their debt is repaid.
The ongoing APR of 14.74% – 24.74% is the highest among our picks for the most creditworthy, and the nine-month disparity between the 0% intro APR period for balance transfers and the period for purchases can get confusing to keep track of.
What you get with the Discover it Balance Transfer
The Discover it Balance Transfer is something of a mishmash of the Citi Double Cash and the BankAmericard.
You receive 18 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers, then 11.99% – 22.99% variable, if you make that transfer within 60 days after opening your account—but you owe a 3% balance transfer fee. The ongoing variable APR is among the lowest for the cards we recommend; in addition, should you miss a payment, you won’t be assessed a penalty APR, and the first late-payment fee is waived (though afterwards you’ll owe up to $40.)
The spending rewards aren’t as rich as with the Double Cash, but there’s enough for this card to provide value even after you’ve paid off your debt. You earn 5% cash back on up to the first $1,500 you spend on select categories every three months, and 1% back on all else. So far in 2019, those categories have included grocery stores, gas stations, popular ride-sharing apps, and restaurants. The last three months reward Amazon, Target, and Walmart shopping, just in time for the holiday season.
As a welcome bonus of sorts, Discover doubles whatever cash back you earn the first year. That means if you spend $1,000 on Amazon between October 2019 and December 2019, you’ll earn $100.
Unfortunately, you receive only six billing cycles of 0% intro APR for purchases. Although the Discover it Balance Transfer works as a complementary rewards card for another workhorse in your wallet, you should avoid spending freely on it while you’re working down your transferred balance, which would limit what you could earn as a first-year welcome bonus.
What you get with the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum
The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum offers a 20-billing-cycle offer of 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases. If you know you’ll need two to three years to pay down a debt, few cards offer as much in potential savings as this one.
Like its peers, it charges a 3% balance transfer fee. There’s no penalty APR, though, and the ongoing variable APR after the intro period ends is slightly better than that of the competition.
This isn’t a rewards card, however, so it’ll hold much less value once you pay off your loan. Still, this is one of the best “stick it in a drawer” balance transfer options.
What you get with the Wells Fargo Platinum
The Wells Fargo Platinum is just about identical to the 18-billing-cycle version of the BankAmericard. It has an intro offer of a 3% balance transfer fee if you make the transfer within 120 days of opening your account (after which it goes to 5% or a minimum of $5), no rewards, and no penalty APR.
You should work to pay off your debt within the 18-billing-cycle 0% intro APR period, and then reassess whether the card gives you long-term joy.
The best balance transfer card if you want the most flexible payoff schedule
Best if you want the most flexible payoff schedule
The SunTrust card has an unusual balance-transfer offer that’s most compelling if you think you’ll struggle to repay your debt within a couple of years.
What we love
No card we looked at would save you more money on fees and interest over a three-year period than the Prime Rewards.
- $0 balance transfer fee if you transfer your balance within your first 60 days after opening your account
- 36 months of variable 3.25% APR on balance transfers made within 60 days of opening your account (then 11.24% - 21.24% variable)
What we don’t love
No 0% APR period at all means other cards will save you more if you can pay off your debt sooner.
- There’s no intro 0% APR period for purchases, so you’ll owe interest on your total debt (transfers and spending) immediately
- Ongoing rewards are minimal
Regular APR11.24% - 21.24% variable
Recommended CreditGood to excellent
We researched and analyzed hundreds of cards and settled on 10 selections, nine of which have a similar combination of the size of the balance transfer fee and the length of the 0% intro APR period.
Only one card in this group of 10 is markedly different: the SunTrust Prime Rewards. Whereas our other recommendations are best if you need a few months, or a couple of years, to pay off a balance transfer, no card delivers as much savings as the Prime Rewards if you want up to three years to finance your debt.
|Balance transfer fee||0% period on balance transfers||0% period on purchases||Regular variable APR||Spending rewards||Late-payment fee||Penalty APR|
|SunTrust Prime Rewards||$0||0 months||0 months||36 months of variable 3.25% APR on balance transfers made within 60 days of opening your account then 11.24% – 21.24%||Yes||Up to $39||None|
Why you might get the SunTrust Prime Rewards
Most balance transfer cards offer 0% intro APR on your transferred balance for a limited period of time (between 15 and 21 billing cycles for our picks) before hiking the variable APR by several points.
This SunTrust card, in contrast, doesn’t offer 0% APR on your transferred balance at any point but instead offers a modest APR for a much longer time, namely three years.
If you get approved, you can transfer what you owe onto the Prime Rewards without paying a fee (if you do so within 60 days of opening the account) and then pay a variable 3.25% interest on the debt for the next three years. (After that, the APR rises to 11.24% – 21.24% depending on your creditworthiness.)
Its interest rate, like that of most cards, is tied to the prime rate, which tracks the short-term rate set by the Federal Reserve and published in The Wall Street Journal.
Most other cards add a cushion onto the prime rate to generate your APR (for instance, the prime rate plus 10 percentage points), but the SunTrust Prime Rewards doesn’t do that. It’s almost impossible to find a lower APR on balance transfers for this long a spell.
The Prime Rewards charges its normal interest rate on new purchases during that three-year intro period. So don’t fall for the bait: If you buy something on this card, you’ll be charged interest on your purchases unless you pay off both what you bought and your existing balance transfer by the next due date.
You receive only 1% cash back on all qualifying purchases, less than with the Citi Double Cash on a regular basis or the Discover it on bonus categories. That’s an even bigger incentive to use this card for a balance transfer only, and to use cash or a different credit card for purchases.
Worse still, you could lose the promo 3.25% APR if you make a late payment (your APR would jump to somewhere in the range of 11.24% – 21.24%), and it would cost you up to $39 in fees. (Three of our picks waive the first late-payment fee.)
If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, you might feel those hikes more quickly with the SunTrust Prime Rewards than with the other finalists. The reason: A Fed rate increase is unlikely to affect a 0% intro APR, but the SunTrust balance transfer APR is tied to the prime rate. If the Fed increases rates, that intro APR is likely to jump as well—which may lead to you paying more interest on your debt.
You got a balance transfer card—now what?
If you’re approved for a balance transfer card, you can do a few things to make the absolute most out of your situation.
- Transfer your balance quickly. Most benefits apply to quick transfers (usually within 60 days of account opening), and they’re usually “use it or lose it.” For example, if you miss this window for the Chase Slate credit card, you end up paying a fee to transfer your balance instead of being able to do it for $0.
- Don’t forget to stay current on your old card. Be sure to make at least minimum payments on your old account until your balance transfer is complete. It can take weeks for your new bank to process your transfer. And if you’re not able to transfer your entire balance to your new card, remember that you now have at least a couple of cards you need to make payments on.
- Once you’ve transferred your balance, hide your card in a drawer. Don’t use it for any purchases. Focus on repaying your debt.
- Make a plan. Focus on slow and steady progress. You can always overpay your monthly contribution if you receive a bonus or some unexpected cash. Don’t expect to make 15 consecutive $500 contributions if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
Why you should trust us
A plethora of sites review credit cards and other financial products, and many of those sites put their own financial interests first. We don’t do that. We exist to recommend the best things to help you live a better life.
In some cases, if you click on a card in one of our guides and you’re approved for the offer, we’ll make money—but those commissions never influence our reporting, our writers, or our editors. And we’ll never make a penny from some of our top picks (such as the SDFCU Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card, our pick for best secured card if you want to rebuild credit) because we independently found them to be the best regardless of any business relationships. Like all of Wirecutter, we maintain editorial independence from our business operations.
You may not know this, but many sites prominently feature only those credit cards that pay them a commission. We don’t. Our editorial team analyzes most major cards or products (and some not-so-major ones) in a category. (We researched more than 100 cards for this guide.)
When you go to competing sites, you’ll often see a never-ending scroll of “best picks.” Many of these publishers charge the banks more money to get those offers higher on the page. Banks have no influence on where we place a card in our guides. You won’t find a “best metal card” in any of our guides, or any such thing that doesn’t matter to you.
Sometimes, banks allow sites to make money off only one version of a card’s offer. For instance, a bank may pay sites a commission only if they highlight a 12-month balance transfer offer, while offering 15 months directly on its own website. The offers we review and recommend are the best in class, given our research and expertise, whether we get paid or not.
We don’t believe these principles are revolutionary, but they are necessary for us to be able to say that a particular credit card is “the best.”
How we landed on our picks
Our calculations are based on the assumption that you transfer a $4,300 debt, which is the average transferred balance according to the 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report (PDF). We then analyzed each credit card based on five different time frames that it might take for you to repay your debt.
Average balance transfer: $4,300
Repayment time frames: 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 30 months, and 36 months
We considered cards only if they had no annual fee and offered either an introductory 0% interest period or no balance transfer fee.
Balance transfers: What’s in it for the banks?
Why would giant banks spend the time and money to attract customers to these cards when they earn so little in fees and interest?
We put the question to Lauren E. Willis, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who has studied how normal people deal with financial products. “Credit card issuers offer balance transfer ‘deals’ because they make money,” Willis said.
That money may come from you in three ways.
- High balance transfer fees: Many cards charge a fee to transfer a balance (generally between 3% and 5% of the debt). Many also offer a long period of 0% interest. Willis pointed to two reports (PDF) conducted in the United Kingdom in recent years that show how common it is to misunderstand what you’re being offered. Perhaps most troubling is a finding from Which, a UK consumer research group, indicating that 68% of survey respondents thought there was no fee for their balance transfer because of the 0% interest period, even though there was a fee.
- You’re likely to pay interest at some point: A substantial number of people carry their debt past the 0% interest period. Combine those interest costs with a balance transfer fee, and the bank earns easy money. “Credit card issuers have access to data-driven calculators that predict the likelihood that a card user will pay off her debt before the ‘0%’ period ends,” Willis said. “Card users don’t have the data or the calculators necessary to do this, and many fail to accurately predict their own future payoff behavior.”
- You’re now a customer: Maybe you decide to apply for a different card from the same issuer. Perhaps you start using your balance transfer card for purchases once you’ve retired the debt. But a balance transfer may end up being only a temporary reprieve if you don’t address how you got into debt in the first place. “A balance transfer card doesn’t help consumers control their spending if they end up with yet another credit card on which they are charging purchases,” Willis said.
Frequently asked questions about balance transfer credit cards
What is a balance transfer / what is a balance transfer credit card?
A balance transfer is a process by which you move existing high-interest credit card debt (from one or more cards) to a new credit card with a lower interest rate. After a balance transfer is completed, you usually have a set period of time (think a year or more) to pay down your transferred balance either interest-free or at a very low interest rate (think 5%).
Some balance transfer cards charge a fee for you to transfer your balance(s); others may not charge a fee if you transfer your balance within a set period of time after opening your account.
A lot of credit cards have balance transfer offers (we analyzed balance transfer offers on hundreds of credit cards for this guide) but not all of those cards should be considered balance transfer cards. To arrive at our top picks, we considered only cards that offered at least 15 months of 0% APR on balance transfers.
What is a balance transfer fee?
When you transfer a balance (or multiple balances) to a balance transfer card, many banks will charge you a fee, typically 3% to 5% of the total amount you transfer.
The fee can be hefty, particularly for bigger balances. If you transfer $4,000 to a balance transfer card with a 3% balance transfer fee, you’d owe $120.
Some balance transfer offers don’t charge a fee (for example, if you transfer a balance to the Chase Slate credit card within the first 60 days of opening your account, you won’t pay a fee).
When you look at the crème de la crème of balance transfer cards, you start to see a pattern: With cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee, you’ll probably have a shorter period of time in which to pay off your transferred debt. If you want a longer period of 0% APR (say, 18 months), you’ll likely have to pay a balance transfer fee no matter what.
How to compare balance transfer credit card offers
When you’re shopping for a balance transfer offer, consider the following:
- What card (or cards) are you transferring balances from? You’re generally not allowed to transfer balances between cards issued by the same bank. So if you want to transfer a balance from an American Express card, you won’t be able to move it to the Amex EveryDay Credit Card.
- How much debt do you want to transfer? How much you can transfer will depend on the credit limit you’re assigned. In some cases, you can transfer up to the full amount of your credit limit. With some cards, like the Amex EveryDay, the amount you’re eligible to transfer will be less than your credit limit and is partly determined by your creditworthiness—and you won’t know what your limit will be until after your application is approved. In addition, don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach: According to the latest Consumer Credit Card Market Report (PDF) from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the average balance transfer in 2018 was around $5,000. However, you’ll typically have to have what the CFPB refers to as a “superprime” credit score, which means a score of 720 and above, to qualify for that amount.
- How long is the 0% APR offer? We like cards that offer at least 15 months of 0% APR. Although there are cards that offer longer no-interest periods in which to pay off your transferred debt, the typical trade-off is that you’ll have to pay a balance transfer fee.
- What credit score do you have? Unfortunately, banks generally reserve 0% balance transfer offers for people with the very best credit. According to the CFPB, a staggering 97% of all balance transfers in 2018 were made by people with prime and superprime credit (a score of 660 and above). If that’s not you, you may find it hard to qualify for a 0% balance transfer offer.
- Is there a balance transfer fee? Banks may charge a fee (typically 3% to 5% of the total amount) to transfer your balance to your new card. For a $5,000 balance, this would amount to at least $150, which isn’t small change—though it may be far less than what you’d pay in interest if you stuck with your higher-interest credit card.
What’s the APR after the 0% APR period is over?
This will depend on many factors, including the card’s regular balance transfer APR range and your creditworthiness. According to December 2019 data from CreditCards.com, the average APR on a balance transfer credit card hovers around 15.5%.
How to do a balance transfer
The process of transferring a balance from one credit card to another is generally the same with each issuer. Typically you can submit your request one of three ways:
- through your online account for the new card
- by calling the number on the back of your credit card
- via snail mail
If you’re trying to take advantage of a 0% APR offer and no balance transfer fee, you’ll likely have a time limit to transfer your balance (typically about 60 days). Don’t miss this deadline—you can save hundreds of dollars on the waived balance transfer fee alone.
If you request a balance transfer one of the above ways, you’ll need to provide the following information about the balance you want to transfer to your balance transfer card:
- the name of the bank
- the account number
- the amount to transfer
If your request is approved, the bank you’re transferring the balance to will contact the other bank and arrange the payment directly.
Some credit card issuers may also give you a balance transfer check, which works like a personal check and is tied to your balance transfer card’s line of credit. You can fill out and mail one of these checks to pay off the balance on one of your credit cards, or you can address it to yourself, deposit it into your checking account, and then make the payment from there.
You can also use the cash from a balance transfer check for other things—including depositing it into your bank account and using the cash however you’d like—and it won’t count as a cash advance.
However, the issuer will typically charge you a balance transfer fee based on the terms of the checks. Also, you’ll need to pay the money back before the promotional 0% APR ends, or you’ll owe interest on the remaining balance. We strongly recommend that you use the check only to pay down your high-interest credit card debt.
Before you request a balance transfer, make sure to read the fine print for quirks. For example, Chase limits transfers made online or through a bank representative to $15,000 within any 30-day period. For most people, though, that’s unlikely to cause a problem. According to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (PDF), the average balance transfer ranges from $2,845 to $5,453, depending on the person’s credit score.
Also, in general you can’t transfer a balance between cards from the same bank (for example, from one Bank of America card to another Bank of America card). Balance transfer promotions, which typically include an intro 0% APR offer, are generally intended to entice new customers.
How long does a balance transfer take?
Requesting a balance transfer should take only a few minutes. But once you’re approved, the time it takes to complete the process can vary by issuer. Here are some examples:
- American Express: Usually within five to seven days, but it can take up to six weeks in some cases.
- Barclays: It can take up to four weeks.
- Capital One: Generally takes between three and 14 days.
- Chase: Most requests are processed within a week, but it can take up to 21 days.
- Citi: It can take anywhere between two and 21 days.
Discover: Typically posts to your account within two weeks.
Because processing your request can take a while, it’s crucial that you keep making payments on the original balance until you get confirmation that it’s been transferred to the new card.
What is a balance transfer APR?
When you read the terms and conditions of a credit card, the balance transfer APR and the purchase APR are generally represented as two different APRs—but they’re often the same percentage.
Credit cards typically advertise a range of balance transfer APRs, and the one you get depends on your creditworthiness.
For example, the Chase Freedom® offers an introductory 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, both APRs jump to 14.99% – 23.74% based on your creditworthiness.
In some cases, credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR promotional rate on balance transfers for a set period. During this time, you can move your balance from a different card and pay it down interest-free on the new one.
If you don’t pay off your balance before the promotion ends, the regular balance transfer APR applies to what’s left.
How does a balance transfer affect your credit score?
Depending on how you handle it and the terms of the transfer, doing a balance transfer can affect your credit score in a few different ways:
- Payment history: We recommend making payments on the original account until you get confirmation that your balance has moved to the new card. If you miss a payment on the original card, it could hurt your credit once it’s 30 days late. Although most balance transfers are completed within that amount of time, you could get caught out. Even if you make the payment before the 30 days are up, you may still get slapped with interest charges and possibly even a late payment fee.
- Credit utilization: Your credit utilization rate—how much of your available credit you’re using at any given time—is an important factor in your FICO and VantageScore credit scores. FICO and VantageScore calculate the rate for each card individually and across all of your credit cards. For example, if you have one credit card with a $5,000 balance and a $10,000 limit, your utilization rate is 50%. If you then get approved for a new card with a $6,000 limit and move your balance to that new card, your single-card utilization rate jumps to 83%, and that increase can negatively affect your credit score.But it’s not all bad news. By adding the second card, your total available credit increases from $10,000 to $16,000, which reduces your total credit utilization rate from 50% to about 31%, which can have a positive influence on your credit score—assuming you don’t add more debt on other cards.
- Average age of accounts: The average age of your credit accounts is a very important part of your credit history. For example, if you’ve had one credit card for five years and a mortgage loan for 10 years, your average age of accounts is the average between the two, or 7.5 years. If you apply for a new balance transfer credit card, the age of the new account is zero years, which brings down your average age of accounts to five years. Depending on how much that figure changes, the result could hurt your credit score.
- Hard inquiry: When you apply for a balance transfer credit card, the card issuer will likely run a hard inquiry on your credit report. This credit check will remain on your credit reports for two years and will affect your FICO score for one year. Most experts agree that a hard inquiry can knock about 10 points off your credit score. But if you apply for multiple credit cards in a short period, the negative impact can be magnified.
The biggest credit-related concern is if a balance transfer leads to a really high (think 80%) credit utilization rate on your new card. But remember: You will be paying this balance down over time, which should lower the utilization rate.
Also, you’re likely applying for a balance transfer card to kick-start your efforts to repay high-interest credit card debt. If this is your focus, and you aren’t planning to apply for any other credit cards or loans, the temporary credit hit may very well be worth it.
What should you watch out for when it comes to balance transfers and balance transfer credit cards?
A balance transfer can help you save money as you pay off your debt. That said, there are also some potential pitfalls to consider:
- You may not be able to transfer all of your debt: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found that the average balance transfer amount (PDF) among consumers with the highest credit scores was $5,453. So although balance transfers can be very helpful tools, you should keep this possible limitation in mind.
- There’s no guarantee you’ll be approved: According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, 97% of balance transfers are made by people with prime and superprime credit—that means they have credit scores of 660 or higher. Even if you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, you may not get enough to cover the full balance you’re hoping to pay off.
- Purchases may lose their grace period: Credit cards typically offer a grace period between your monthly statement date and payment due date, during which you can pay your bill in full and avoid interest charges. Unless your card also has an intro 0% APR on new purchases, though, every charge you put on the card could start accruing interest immediately with no grace period at all (similar to a deferred interest card).
We recommend that you use your balance transfer card only to pay down debt.
- Most credit cards charge a balance transfer fee: To process balance transfers, credit cards typically charge a fee—usually 3% to 5% of the transfer amount—which is rolled into your new balance. Although this cost can pale in comparison with the potential interest savings, it’s still worth considering in your decision-making process. Also, note that some credit cards may waive the balance transfer fee (there may be conditions attached), which can provide more savings.
- Miss a payment, and you could lose your 0% APR promotion: If you’re taking advantage of an intro 0% APR promotion, it’s crucial that you make at least the minimum payment every month, which is typically about 1% or 2% of your balance. If you miss a payment, the card issuer may remove the promotional APR—which means you’ll start owing interest on your balance based on the card’s regular balance transfer APR. Ideally, you’ll make payments that will bring your balance down to zero at the end of the intro period. Otherwise, you may end up dealing with high interest on a large balance again when the 0% APR promotion ends.
- You still need a plan to pay off the debt: Transferring a balance from one credit card to another doesn’t change how much you owe. And whether or not you have an intro 0% APR promotion on your account, it’s best to have a plan to pay off the balance as quickly as possible. Before you apply for a balance transfer card or submit a balance transfer request, take some time to determine how you’re going to eliminate your balance and how long it will take. Then hold yourself accountable to that plan to maximize your savings.
Balance transfer cards we analyzed
- ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard
- Amex Cash Magnet Card
(Read our full Amex Cash Magnet Review.)
- Amex EveryDay Credit Card
(Read our full Amex Everyday Review.)
- Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
(Read our full Amex Blue Cash Everyday Review.)
- BankAmericard Credit Card from Bank of America
(Read our full Bankamericard Review.)
- Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card
(Read our full Bank of America Cash Rewards Review.)
- Bank of Louisiana Mastercard
- Barclaycard Ring Mastercard
- Baxter Credit Union Simply Visa
- Baxter Credit Union Travel Rewards Visa
- Baxter Credit Union Visa Platinum with Cash Back
- BB&T Bright Credit Card
- BB&T Spectrum Cash Rewards Credit Card
- BBVA Compass ClearPoints Credit Card
- BBVA Compass Rewards Credit Card
- BECU Cash Back Visa Credit Card
- BECU Visa
- BMO Harris Bank Cash Back Mastercard
- BMO Harris Bank Platinum Mastercard
- BMO Harris Bank Platinum Rewards Mastercard
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Platinum Credit Card from Capital One
- SavorOne Rewards from Capital One
- Charter Oak Visa Platinum Credit Card
- Chase Freedom
(Read our full Chase Freedom Review.)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
(Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited Review.)
- Chase Slate
(Read our full Chase Slate Review.)
- Citi Double Cash Card
(Read our full Citi Double Cash Review.)
- Citi Simplicity Card
(Read our full Citi Simplicity Review.)
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card
- Commerce Bank Special Connections Visa Signature
- Converse County Bank Visa Classic
- CorTrust Bank CorPlatinum Visa Credit Card
- Discover it Balance Transfer
- Discover it Cash Back
- Discover it Chrome
- Farm Bureau Member Rewards MasterCard
- Fifth Third Bank Trio Credit Card
- Fifth Third Bank Truly Simple Credit Card
- First Citizens Bank Rewards Visa Card
- First Citizens Bank Smart Option Visa Card
- First Tech Choice Rewards World Mastercard
- First Tech Platinum Rewards Mastercard
- Gesa Diamond Cash Back Credit Card
- Gesa Platinum Card
- Hawaii Central Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Cash Rewards
- Johnson Bank Visa Platinum Card
- Johnson Bank Visa Signature Real Rewards Card
- Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Rewards Platinum
- Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa Credit Card
- Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Cash Back Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card
- Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Platinum Visa Credit Cards
- Missoula Federal Credit Union Visa Credit Card
- Mountain America Credit Union Visa Cash Back Card
- Mountain America Credit Union Visa Platinum Credit Card
- Mountain America Credit Union Visa Rewards Credit Card
- Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards
- Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum
- Northwest Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum
- Oregon Community Credit Union NICE Platinum Visa Credit Card
- Oregon Community Credit Union NICE PERKS Platinum Visa Credit Card
- PenFed Gold Visa Card
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express Gold
- PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card
- PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card
- Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union Classic Card
- Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union Founder's Card
- PNC Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card
- PNC Core Visa Credit Card
- PNC points Visa Credit Card
- PNC Premier Traveler Credit Card
- RBC Bank Visa Signature Rewards
- RBC Bank Visa Signature Rewards Plus
- Redstone Visa Signature
- Redstone Visa Traditional
- Regions Bank Prestige Visa Signature
- Regions Life Visa
- SECU Starter Visa Credit Card
- SECU Cash Back Visa Credit Card
- SECU FirstRate Visa Credit Card
- SECU Rewards Visa Credit Card
- SECU Signature Visa Credit Card
- State Farm Good Neighbor Visa
- State Farm Rewards Visa
- Suncoast Credit Union Rewards Platinum
- SunTrust Cash Rewards Credit Card
- SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card
- Synovus Bank Cash Rewards Visa Credit Card
- Synovus Bank Classic Visa Credit Card
- Synovus Rewards Visa Credit Card
- TD Bank TD Cash
- TFCU Prime Plus
- TFCU Visa Classic
- TFCU Visa Gold
- TFCU Visa Platinum
- U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
(Read our full U.S. Bank Cash+ Review.)
- U.S. Bank Cash 365 American Express Card
- U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card
- Virginia Credit Union Cash Rewards Mastercard
- Virginia Credit Union Essential Mastercard
- Virginia Credit Union Flex Rewards Mastercard
- VyStar Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Back
- VyStar Credit Union Visa Signature Rewards
- Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card
- Wells Fargo Platinum Card
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card
- Wells Fargo Rewards Card
- Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card
- WSECU Cash Back Visa Signature
- WSECU Create Visa
- WSECU Low Rate Visa
- WSECU Platinum Rewards Visa
- Zions Bank AmaZing Cash Credit Card
- Zions Bank AmaZing Rate Low Rate Credit Card
- Zions Bank AmaZing Rewards Credit Card
The Consumer Credit Card Market (PDF), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, December 1, 2017
Lauren E. Willis, professor of law and William M. Rains Fellow at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, email interview, November 5, 2018
Leslie Ticku, Citibank spokesperson, email interview, November 12, 2018
George Caudill, vice president of media and public relations at Barclays Bank, email interview, November 7, 2018
Betty Riess, Bank of America spokesperson, email interview, November 5, 2018
About your guide
Taylor Tepper is a senior writer at Wirecutter Money. Prior to Wirecutter, Taylor was a staff writer at Money magazine, where he mainly covered investing and won a 2017 Loeb Award, among other prizes, for delving into the financial costs of mental illness. He has been published in Fortune, NPR, Bloomberg, Tampa Bay Times, and Bankrate. He earned his master’s at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY, and is currently taking CFP courses at the University of Texas. You can find him on LinkedIn.
Editorial note: The evaluations of financial products in this article are independently determined by Wirecutter and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any third party.