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Need to pay down some high-interest debt? Get a new credit card. Seriously. A good balance-transfer or 0% interest credit card can help you get out of the red. That’s because they buy you some time. Balance transfer credit cards let you — you guessed it — transfer a high-interest balance to a new piece of plastic offering 0% interest for a promotional period of time, typically for a 3% to 5% fee. The very best ones offer a nice long window (think 15 to 21 months) to pay that balance down sans interest and don’t charge an astronomical fee to make the move. Bonus: They don’t carry an annual fee either. What cards make the grade? We’ve got you covered.
Cut to the Cards:
Where we give it to you straight. (For the full print, see the card agreements.)
- Discover it Balance Transfer: A solid card that offers a nice-long window to pay down your debts — and the opportunity to earn rewards after
- Citi Simplicity: Because you’ll get a longer than average span of 21 months of interest-free financing
- Citi Double Cash: Because you’ll have 18 months to pay back your balances and earn up to 2% cash back – 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
- Chase Slate: Because it’s one of the few cards that let you skip a balance transfer fee
Discover it® Balance Transfer
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
- Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
- Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
- 100% U.S. based customer service.
- Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
- Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
- No annual fee.
Card Details +
Benefits: The Discover it Balance Transfer carries $0 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR and no late payment fee for your first late payment. The Discover it Balance Transfer also happens to be a rewards credit card. It offers 5% cashback on purchases in revolving quarterly categories up to $1,500 and 1% cashback on everything else. Keep in mind that you do have to activate these categories, or else you don’t earn the extra rewards. Plus, as a signup bonus, Discover is currently matching all the cash back you earn for your first year at the end of the year.
Drawbacks: That signup bonus and rewards program sound sweet, but they’ll only prove fruitful if they don’t deter you from paying down that balance you’re transferring. In fact, it can work against you if you rack up more debt trying to score rewards.
Benefits: In addition to that nice, window that can come in handy when trying to pay off your debts, this card has a annual fee, no late fee and no penalty interest rate.
Drawbacks: The card is pretty no-frills, so once you get your debts in a row, there’s no opportunity to earn any rewards — of course, for someone prone to overspending that can be a good thing.
Citi Double Cash Card
Benefits: The Citi Double Cash Card is also a rewards card — you Earn 2% cash back: 1% cashback on purchases and 1% cash back when you pay those purchases off. You won’t earn cash back when paying down the balance that you transferred, but given the card is designed to reward you for paying down debt, it’s an alternative for someone who ultimately wants a card with rewards, but is wary they’ll overspend.
Drawbacks: There’s a variable penalty APR of up to 29.99%, so this is not the card to opt for if you think there’s an outside chance you’ll miss a payment.
Benefits: The big draw here is obviously the ability to skip that balance transfer fee. On top of that, there’s no annual fee or penalty APR for this credit card. Slate cardholders can also use Chase’s Blueprint program, which allows you to avoid interest charges by paying off some purchases in full while carrying a balance on others.
Drawbacks: Remember, if you don’t transfer a balance within 60 days of opening the account, you’ll pay a $5 or 5% fee (whichever is higher) of future balance transfers — which is higher than the standard 3% most balance transfer cards charge.
How to Pick a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Remember, the two most important factors in a promotional balance transfer credit card offer are the length of the promotional financing, and any balance transfer fee. By law, these promotional financing offers must last at least six months, but the best offers currently last as long as 21 months. You can receive interest-free financing on your balance during this period, and the standard interest rate will only apply to the remaining balance after the promotional rate expires.
The next most important factor is the balance transfer fee. Nearly all credit cards with 0% APR promotional financing offers impose at least a 3% fee on the amount transferred, but there are currently a few exceptions, so it’s a good idea to read the fine print on any cards you’re considering.
Other factors to consider include the standard interest rate, which will ultimately apply to any remaining balance you haven’t paid during the promotional period, in addition to any new purchases. Many credit cards offer a range of standard interest rates, with the rate you receive being based on your creditworthiness at the time you applied. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)
You can also consider any rewards that the credit card offers, but just keep in mind that rewards credit cards will invariably have higher standard interest rates than similar cards that don’t offer rewards. Plus, it’s best to avoid rewards credit cards with balance-transfer offers if you think the ability to earn points, miles or cash back will ultimately cause you to overspend.
Finally, it’s always worth considering the various fees that can be imposed. You should be aware of a card’s annual fee, any foreign transaction fees or cash-advance fees.
How to Use a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Just transferring your balance won’t automatically lead to your debt being paid off. What’s important about a balance transfer is what you do after the transfer is complete. Cardholders should create a plan to pay their debt off before their promotional financing offer expires and the standard interest rate begins to apply. And when 100% of your payments goes to the principal, with no interest charges, the balance will fall quickly with each payment. You can use this nifty credit card payoff calculator to help you create a debt payoff plan and to see how much you’ll save in interest charges.
Got a question about balance transfers? Go ahead and ask away in the comments section and one of our experts will try to help!
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
Additional reporting was contributed by Jeanine Skowronski. This article last updated September 13th, 2017.