Home > Credit Cards > What Is Credit Card Surfing?

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Twenty years ago, the phrase “surfing the web” became a popular way of describing how millions of Americans were starting to use the Internet by quickly browsing from one website to another. Today, this is pretty much how we all use our computers and even smartphones. Lately, the term “credit card surfing” is becoming a popular way to describe a different kind of behavior.

The Basics of Credit Card Surfing

It can be extremely difficult to pay off credit card debt, and as unsecured debt, your outstanding balances will likely incur a higher interest rate than mortgages, student loans or car loans. To avoid interest payments on their credit cards, some people turn to 0% annual percentage rate (APR) promotional financing offers from credit card issuers. These offers allow them to avoid interest charges by transferring a balance from one piece of plastic to another, typically for as little as six months and as long as 21 months.

With these promotional financing offers so commonly available, some cardholders attempt to take the next step towards avoiding interest charges by “surfing” from one offer to another. When an existing 0% APR balance transfer offer is about to expire, they will apply for a new credit card with another interest-free promotional balance transfer period. Furthermore, some credit card users hope to continue this practice indefinitely.

Reasons to Avoid Credit Card Surfing

Credit card surfing might seem like it could be a sustainable practice, but it has many potential problems. First, those who use 0% APR balance transfers will almost always have to pay a balance transfer fee equal to 3% to 5% of the amount transferred. And while this fee can be worth it to avoid paying a much higher amount in interest charges in the short-term, credit card surfers should never convince themselves that these promotional financing offers allow them to sustain their debts for free forever.

In addition, credit card surfers may be constantly utilizing a large percentage of their available credit limit as they continue to carry debt. Doing so will raise their debt-to-credit ratios, which could lower their credit score. Furthermore, their minimum payments will still be reported to the major credit bureaus, and that amount could impact the size of any new loans they might apply for, such as a mortgage. Each credit card application generally generates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can ding your credit score, so applying for too many new balance-transfer credit cards in a short-time frame can damage your credit in that way as well.  (To see where you currently stand, you can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

Credit card surfing is also a risky strategy because it presumes that interest-free balance transfer offers will continue to be available in the future, and that the applicant will qualify for them. These offers are common now, but could easily go out of style next year, or become more heavily restricted to those with the best credit scores.

Finally, procrastinating is a questionable idea when it comes to paying off your debt. While you might be able to qualify for a new credit card with a 0% APR offer now, there’s no telling whether circumstances outside of your control such as illness or job loss could hurt your credit in the future, and put these offers beyond your reach. And credit card debt adds up quickly. (You can calculate the lifetime cost of your current debts here.)

The Best Ways to Use Promotional Financing Offers

Credit cards that offer 0% APR financing on balance transfers are a great way to save money on interest charges, but only when used strategically. The best way to leverage these offers is to use them as an incentive to pay off your existing balances sooner, not later. Consider the end of your card’s promotional financing period to be the finish line in your race to eliminate debt. (Keep in mind, too, some cards have caveats that make you liable for retroactive interest if you don’t pay the balance you transferred off in full by the time the offer expires.)

Each payment you make during your promotional financing offer will go 100% towards paying off your principle balance, not interest payments. And if you succeed in paying off your debt before interest is incurred, you can avoid increasing your balance by another 3% to 5% when you transfer it to another credit card.

Surfing can be tremendously fun when it occurs on the Internet or the ocean, but credit card surfing is a risky proposition. By taking a look at the bigger picture when it comes to your credit card debt, you can use an interest-free promotional financing offer to retire your debt, rather than perpetuate it.

Image: Goodluz

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