balance transfer credit cards
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You don’t have to be obsessed with travel rewards to benefit from understanding how all the credit cards out there differ from each other. Some credit cards, such as balance transfer credit cards or secured credit cards, are designed not just to lend you money but to help you achieve a specific goal. Here’s what that means for balance transfer credit cards.

What Are Balance Transfer Credit Cards?

Balance transfer credit cards are designed to help you pay off debt. Aside from that, they look and feel just like other credit cards. Here’s how they work.

How Do Balance Transfer Credit Cards Work?

If you’ve decided a balance transfer credit card is the way to go for you, here’s what to do next:

1. Choose a Card

Balance transfer credit cards typically come with an introductory APR designed to make it easier to pay off debt. This can come in the form of no interest for six months to one year and even longer, for example. The better your credit, the better the card you might be approved for.

It’s important not just to be mindful of the length of the introductory APR, but also the balance transfer fee. Although these fees aren’t necessarily egregious, they can add up if you’re transferring a large balance or if you’re transferring multiple balances (since they’ll charge a percentage of each one).

Once you choose the card you want, you can apply for it like any other credit card.

2. Transfer Your Debt

If you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, you would then want to go through the process of transferring the debt. This can often be done in person if you’ve applied for the card at a bank, or over the phone or online.

You’ll be prompted to fill out the information for the debt or debts you want the card to pay off. If the credit limit you’re given can’t cover all of it, then you’ll have to pick and choose which debt to include.

The account or accounts being paid off or paid down by the balance transfer treat this like other payments, meaning they’ll stay open. That means it’s up to you to remember to stop using these cards so as not to build up more debt while you’re paying the balance transfer card off.

3. Make Your Payments

Like all credit cards, you’ll be assigned a minimum payment on your balance transfer credit card. Also like all credit cards, paying that alone won’t help you get out of debt in a hurry.

If you want to make a plan to pay the card off before the introductory period expires, one way to do so would be to divide your balance by the number of months in the introductory period. That number would then be what you want to pay each month to be debt-free by the time the introductory period expires and the interest rate goes up.

3 Things to Remember About Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Balance transfer credit cards are a useful tool for paying off debt, but it’s important to understand how they work or else you could inadvertently end up in more debt. Consider the following:

1. You Can Make Purchases, Too — But Should You?

Balance transfer credit cards allow you to make purchases as well. However, making purchases on these cards (especially during the introductory period) can make the debt payoff process more confusing unless purchases are included in the 0% introductory offer.

If they’re not included in that offer, then your payments will go to the purchases and their higher interest rate before going to your balance transfer balance. This could delay your debt payoff and make it harder to calculate what you need to pay each month if you don’t want a remaining balance when the introductory offer expires.

2. Remaining Debt Can Be Expensive

Once the introductory period on your balance transfer credit card is over, your remaining balance will be charged at the new, higher APR. This can get expensive fast.

If you want to avoid this and can’t pay the card off in time, there are other options. One option would be applying for another balance transfer on a new card. However, it’s important to note that this can lead to a cycle of balance transfers over time if you don’t create a plan to pay off the card before the next introductory rate is up.

If you prefer to move on to a fixed repayment plan, then another option is to consolidate your remaining balance with a personal loan.

Looking to consolidate debt with a personal loan? Make sure your credit is in good shape and fix errors before you apply with Upturn Credit’s FREE tool!

3. You Might Have a Limited Amount of Time to Complete Your Balance Transfer

Once you’ve selected your balance transfer credit card, take a look at the amount of time given to complete the transfer in order to be eligible for the card’s introductory offer. Many cards restrict the amount of time to several months or less, so it might be important for you to move on the transfer quickly after getting the card in order to make sure you get the introductory offer you were counting on.

Some of The Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards¹

Now that you know how to use a balance transfer credit card to pay off debt, the next step is to choose one. Below is a list of some of the balance transfer credit cards out there offering the best introductory offers and lowest balance transfer fees, helping you to get as much time as you can to pay off your debt and for the lowest cost. The details on each card are current as of June 2019.

Keep in mind as you review the APRs for each credit card that the interest rate you are ultimately given will be based on your creditworthiness. That’s why credit card issuers typically advertise cards with a range of potential APRs. Also, APRs can sometimes change when there’s a late payment — something called a “penalty APR,” which is in addition to any late fee that might be assessed. It’s important to note overall that rates are subject to change.

Citi Simplicity® Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: 5% of each transfer, with a minimum fee of $5
  • Introductory Offer: 0% for 21 months on balance transfers and 12 months on purchases
  • Standard Purchase APR: 16.99% – 29.99%
  • Late Payment Fee: None (and no penalty APR)
  • Rewards: None

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3% of each transfer, with a minimum fee of $5
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for 20 billing cycles
  • Standard Purchase APR: 14.74% – 25.74%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $39; no penalty APR
  • Rewards: None

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: For the first 120 days after account opening, the fee is $5 or 3% of each transfer (whichever is more) — after that, the fee is $5 or up to 5% of each transfer (whichever is more)
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for the first 18 months
  • Standard Purchase APR: 13.74% – 27.24%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $37
  • Rewards: None

HSBC Gold Mastercard® Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: The greater of $10 or 4% of each transfer
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for the first 18 months
  • Standard Purchase APR: 13.24%, 17.24%, or 21.24% 
  • Late Payment Fee: None for the first one in a calendar year, then up to $37
  • Rewards: None

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3% of each transfer, with a minimum of $5
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers for 18 months
  • Standard Purchase APR: 15.74% – 25.74%
  • Late Payment Fee: No fee the first time, then up to $39; penalty APR up to 29.99%
  • Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on eligible purchases and 1% cash back on payments — balance transfers not included

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: None
  • Introductory Offer: 0% for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases
  • Standard Purchase APR: 15.24% – 26.24%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $38; penalty APR of 29.99%
  • Rewards: 10,000 Membership Rewards® Points if you make $1,000 in purchases for the first three months; 20% extra Membership Rewards® points if you make at least 20 purchases in a billing period; one Membership Rewards® point for every dollar spent on an eligible purchase in one billing period and an additional point on your first $6,000 in supermarket purchases in the U.S per year; one extra Membership Rewards® point for each eligible dollar spent on amextravel.com if the card is enrolled in the Membership Rewards Program

Bank Americard® Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: None if you transfer within the first 60 days — after that, the fee is 3% of each transfer, with a minimum of $10
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 billing cycles
  • Standard Purchase APR: 15.24% – 25.24%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $39; no penalty APR
  • Rewards: None

Chase® Slate Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: No fee if you transfer your balance (or balances) within 60 days of opening your account — after that, there’s a fee of $5 or 5% of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Introductory Offer: 0% for balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months
  • Standard Purchase APR: 17.24% – 25.99%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $39
  • Rewards: None

Chase Freedom Unlimited® Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: The greater of $5 or 3% of each transfer
  • Introductory Offer: 0% on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months
  • Standard Purchase APR: 17.24% – 25.99%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $39
  • Rewards: You can earn 3% cash back on all the purchases you make in the first year for up to $20,000 in spending, after which you can earn 1.5% cash back on the rest of your purchases

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card

  • Balance Transfer Fee: No fee for balances transferred within 60 days of opening the account — after that, there’s a fee of 3% of each transfer, with a minimum of $10
  • Introductory Offer: Prime rate for balance transfers for the first three years (which is currently a variable rate of 5.50%)
  • Standard Purchase APR: 13.49% – 23.49%
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $39
  • Rewards: You can earn 1% cash back unlimited on all purchases that qualify (balance transfers are not included in qualifying purchases)
¹This list of cards is provided for informational purposes only. Upturn Credit does not endorse any particular card or have any relationship with the card issuers. You should review all product information carefully before applying for any card.

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