Home > Credit Cards > 4 Balance Transfer Credit Card Mistakes

Comments 0 Comments

Opening a credit card with a 0% financing offer or low fees when you transfer the balance from a different card can help you save money when working to pay down credit card debt, particularly if you have a lot of it. Getting a balance transfer card and using it wisely requires careful thought, and if you don’t exercise discipline, you may end up hurting your finances instead of helping them.

Here are some common mistakes you want to avoid when using a balance transfer credit card:

1. Mixing Balances

You may have received offers from your credit card issuer about transferring a balance from another card to the one you have with them. If you use the card that’s offering the balance transfer, keep in mind that the promotional financing will only apply to the transferred balance — the interest rate on your existing balance still applies.

“Now you have balances at two different interest rates, which can get confusing fast,” said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education, in an email.

If you pay more than the minimum payment, credit card issuers are required to apply the excess payment to the balance with the higher interest rate, meaning you may not be paying off that transferred balance. There’s an exception: If you made a purchase under promotional financing, you can ask the issuer to apply payment to that balance before applying money to a balance with a higher interest rate. Keep in mind that if you don’t pay off the balance with promotional financing — whether it was a transferred balance or a new purchase — within the timeframe of the promotion, you’ll end up paying interest on it.

Like Detweiler said, it can be very confusing.

“It’s best to use a card exclusively for a balance transfer if possible,” she said.

2. Overlooking the Cost

Transferring a balance from one card to another usually carries a 2% to 4% transfer fee, Detweiler said, so you have to do some math before committing to the transfer.

“It may still be a better deal than the interest you were paying, but you have to take it into account,” she said.

Jason Steele, an expert on credit cards and frequent contributor to Credit.com on the topic, said a common mistake people make is transferring a balance they could pay off in the next billing cycle. Part of the problem there is that people aren’t paying close enough attention to the terms of the card, but these cards aren’t always easy to understand.

“There’s not much information that the card issuers give on these subjects,” he said. “They’re just marketed as a 0% balance transfer.” You have to understand exactly what that means and how much it might cost you.

3. Failing to Plan

Steele said another common mistake he sees is people failing to use the card as an instrument for repaying debt. That’s the point of a balance transfer in the first place: Put the balance on a card with a lower interest rate so you can save money while paying it down. Because the interest rate will expire, you have incentive to pay the balance off faster. If you’re not doing that, what was the point of paying a fee to transfer that balance to the card in the first place?

Additionally, Steele said a lot of people think they can just get another balance transfer card if they don’t pay off the first one in time, but that’s not necessarily a reliable (or affordable) strategy. Getting a new credit card requires a credit check, and if you’ve opened a lot of credit cards recently or carry high balances, your credit may not be in good enough shape for another card approval.

Perhaps you’re sensing a theme: It’s really important to pay attention to the details with these products. You also need to watch the transition very closely, because it can get confusing to have been paying one issuer and now have to pay another, and you definitely don’t want to miss a payment during the switch. Late payments can knock a lot of points off your credit score and can hurt your credit for years. (You can see how your credit history affects your credit scores by checking them regularly — which you can do for free through numerous sources, including Credit.com.)

4. Procrastinating

Both Detweiler and Steele stressed the importance of the financing timeline.

“Either [they] don’t keep track of when the transfer period ends or they are overly optimistic that they can pay it back before it does. Then they can’t, and the real interest rate — which is much higher — kicks in,” Detweiler said.

Getting a balance transfer is just the first step of a months-long process of paying down debt and, ultimately, improving your credit. (This calculator can show you how long it will take to pay off your credit card debt.) As long as you don’t continue to rack up charges, are realistic about what you can accomplish and commit to your plan, you could see a drastic improvement in your debt and credit situation after using a balance transfer.

More on Credit Cards:

Image: Big Cheese Photo

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team