Updated November 6th, 2017

Transferring high-cost credit card debt to one of our picks of the best balance-transfer credit cards can help chip away at debt with the power of a jackhammer. In fact 18 months of interest will cost a whopping $1,567 in interest charges on a $10,000 debt balance at a 20% APR. You may be able to pocket the savings instead with the best balance-transfer credit card offers. Which is why we've compiled this in-depth guide to help you get rid of debt by guiding your to our favorite offers and outlining some balance-transfer credit card essentials. Let's get started! Here are our picks of the best balance-transfer credit cards.

  • Balance transfers and cash back -- Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
  • Intro balance-transfer fee -- BankAmericard® Credit Card
  • 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases -- Chase Freedom® Unlimited
  • 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases -- Chase Freedom®
  • Long 0% intro APR -- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
  • Balance transfers and cash back -- Citi® Double Cash Card

Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
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Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

Best for: Balance transfers and cash back

Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer offers an unmatched combination of benefits for those looking to reduce their debt load without sacrificing valuable rewards. On one hand, cardholders can take advantage of a 0% intro APR for 18 months for balance transfers in addition to a 0% intro APR for 6 months for purchases. And on the other, new cardholders also enjoy best-in-class rewards, including Discover's Cashback Match for every dollar spent in their first year, up to 5% cash back ($1,500 quarterly spending cap) in bonus categories you activate, and 1% on all other purchases. Top it all off, cardholders rack up additional savings with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. This combination of perks simply isn't available among balance-transfer credit cards we know of. Read our full Discover it - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer review to learn more.

BankAmericard® Credit Card
Apply Now On Bank of America's Secure Website

BankAmericard® Credit Card

Best for: Balance transfers and intro balance transfer fee offer

BankAmericard® Credit Card stands out among the balance-transfer credit card pack with its $0 intro balance transfer fee for transfers made within 60 days of account opening (3%, $10 min. thereafter). This is a wallet-friendly move that helps cardholders get out of debt faster by avoiding common fees and we're huge fans of this card for that reason. Tack that on to the cards 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases and balance transfer made within 60 days, and you can start to see why we think it's one of the best credit cards of 2017. Read our full BankAmericard® Credit Card review to learn why its 0% intro APR offer is such a precise debt-cutting tool

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
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Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Best for: 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases

Chase Freedom Unlimited® is one of the best all-around cards we've come across with a 0% intro APR offer. Beyond its 0% intro APR for 15 months for balance transfers and purchases, the card includes unlimited 1.5% cash back and a $150 sign-up bonus after spending just $500 within three months. This slate of perks is rare to find in a single card. Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review to learn more.

Chase Freedom®
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Chase Freedom®

Best for: 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases

Chase Freedom® is practically the same card as its Unlimited cousin above when it comes to the 0% intro APR offer and other card benefits. What differs is the cash rewards program. Chase Freedom® earn 5% cash back (on up to $1,500 of bonus spending each quarter) in rotating bonus categories you activate and 1% on everything else. This structure favors cardholders who can make the most of bonus categories whereas cardholders with more varied budgets may earn more simply earning 1.5% cash back across the board, as is the case with Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Read our full Chase Freedom® review for more.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Best for: Long 0% intro APR

The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card punches above its weight, including both a low APR and a 0% intro APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 21 billing cycles, which is one of the longest offers we’ve come across. Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card also includes a $0 annual fee, making it a solid credit card for cardholders wanting to cut both interest charges and fees. Read our full Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card review to learn more.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for: Balance transfers and cash back

Citi® Double Cash Card is a versatile card that fits cardholders needs beyond the 0% intro APR. Transactor strategies (paying off balances each month to earn rewards and avoid interest) are powerful ways to make your money work better for you, but only once getting out of debt. Citi® Double Cash Card offers a long 0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles for qualifying balance transfers plus an innovative cash-back program that incentivizes paying off purchase balances. Cardholders earn a total of 2% cash back, 1% when making purchases and 1% when paying. Both perks are best-in-class in their own right, which highlights why we covet this card. Read our full Citi® Double Cash Card review to learn more.


Balance-transfer credit card pros

Good to get rid of debt -- These credit cards include 0% APR offers that can instantly halt costly interest charges and help you pay off debt faster.

No annual fee -- None of our picks of the best balance-transfer credit cards charge an annual fee.

Long 0% APR offer terms -- Pure balance-transfer credit cards include long 0% APR terms that range from 15 to 21 months for the best balance-transfer offers.

Balance-transfer credit card cons

Lacking cash rewards -- Not many balance-transfer credit cards include cash rewards programs to earn cash back on purchases.

Balance-transfer fees -- With the exception of a few popular balance-transfer offers, most charge a transaction fee for transferring balances.

High APR after the promo period expires -- Most charge a higher APR after the 0% APR period than another type of credit card would.

What is a balance transfer?

Credit card balance transfers are a strategy used to pay off high-interest credit card debt, by consolidating debt balances to a card with a promotional 0% APR offer. Payments can then be made interest-free over the length of the balance-transfer card’s 0% APR offer. Any balances left on the first card will continue to accrue interest at that card’s current rate.

How much can a balance transfer save?

Balance transfers are popular for good reason. We believe they should be even more ubiquitous, especially for credit card users making minimum payments. That’s because avoiding interest charges is a fast way to get rid of credit card debt, since all of your payment is applied to reduce the principal.

You could save $3,961 paying down a $10,000 balance with a 0% APR offer spanning 18 months. Let’s run through two debt-payment scenarios to learn more:

Scenario 1 (without a balance-transfer credit card) -- It takes 50 monthly payments of $300 to pay off the debt balance on a card with a 20% APR. During that time, you’d incur $4,718 in interest charges.

Scenario 2 (with a balance transfer credit card) -- It takes 36 monthly payments of $300 to pay off the debt balance on a card with a 20% APR after the 18-month promo expires. During that time, you’d incur $757 in interest charges.

Debt-Payoff Scenario Months to Pay Off Interest Charges
Without a balance-transfer credit card 50 $4,718
With a balance-transfer credit card 36 (14 months faster) $757 (saves $3,961!)

Not only can you save thousands of dollars with a balance-transfer card, but you could pay off credit card debt 14 months faster. Chalk it up to chipping away at principal faster during the 0% promo period. Powerful, right?

That’s why we Fools preach the value of balance-transfer credit cards. We’re investors at heart, and the best way to get started investing more is by cutting out high-interest debt. That way, you can start earning high rates of return on your money rather than paying high rates to fill up a bank’s coffers.

What does APR mean?

APR stands for “annual percentage rate”; it’s the interest rate charged to credit card balances after the grace period for new transactions expires.

New credit card purchases don’t incur interest charges when paid off routinely each month. That’s because credit cards offer a grace period. So long as you pay balances in full within your card’s grace period (typically 21-25 days), you can avoid interest charges.

This explains why “transactors” find credit card rewards so valuable: because they earn rewards on routine purchases without paying any interest since all purchases are paid off within the grace period.

Lastly, credit card APRs are variable rates, meaning they fluctuate with broader economic interest rates. Most credit card APRs are based on a U.S. index rate called the “prime rate.” Your APR is essentially composed of this index rate plus a margin, which depends on the card issuer and its analysis of your credit-worthiness and riskiness as a borrower.

What is a 0% APR?

A 0% APR offer is a valuable benefit that enables credit card users to avoid paying interest on purchases and/or balance transfers for a specified period of time, which can last as long as 21 months. After the intro period elapses, remaining debt balances begin incurring the card’s standard APR. Offers with 0% APRs come in two forms:

0% balance-transfer APR -- Otherwise known as a balance-transfer credit card, a card with a 0% balance-transfer APR is used to pay off debt balances faster by avoiding interest charges. Balances transferred to a card with a 0% balance-transfer APR offer will not incur interest charges until the promo period expires.

0% purchase APR -- Cardholders can float the cost of new purchases with a 0% purchase APR. During the promo period, you pay no interest and are only required to make minimum payments -- though we suggest making more than the minimum payment. It’s smart to limit purchases on the card to what you can pay in full during the intro APR period, before interest charges hit.

Determine how much you can afford by estimating the total balance you’ll be carrying and dividing that by the number of months in the 0% APR offer; the result is the monthly amount you’d need to pay to avoid interest charges. For example, if you placed $5,000 worth of purchases on a card with a 0% APR for 15 months, it would take $333 (5,000 ÷ 15) each month to pay off the entire balance before interest charges begin. If you can’t afford that monthly payment, we’d recommend seeking a longer 0% APR offer, or avoiding credit cards altogether. The below table helps to determine the payment you could afford to make each month when tallying up your purchases and accounting for the 0% purchase APR term.

0% Purchase APR Term Purchase Total Monthly Payment You Can Afford
15 months $2,500 $166
15 months $7,500 $500
15 months $15,000 $1,000
18 months $2,500 $138
18 months $7,500 $416
18 months $15,000 $833

How does credit card interest work?

For credit cards, APR and interest rate are used interchangeably: Both describe the rate your credit card charges you for carrying a balance. Credit card interest tends to be compounded daily. Dividing your card’s APR by 365 (some card issuers use 360 days) will tell you the daily interest rate applied to balances. For example, an 18.99% credit card APR would have a daily interest rate of 0.052%. That interest rate would be applied to balances on day one for that days interest charge. The new balance with interest  (plus any payments or purchases) would then be charged at the same daily rate. The below table demonstrates this process of compounding.

Day Beginning Balance Interest Charge Ending Balance
1 $5,000.00 $2.60 $5,002.60
2 $5,002.60 $2.602 $5,005.20
3 $5,005.20 $2.604 $5,007.80
... 30 $5,075.99 $2.641 $5,078.63

*Assumes 18.99% APR and 365 days for daily rate calculation.

This process of adding interest charges onto previous balances, and then charging interest on that new bigger balance, is what's called compounding. 

How to do a balance transfer

Completing a credit card balance transfer only takes a few steps and can be done in minutes, either during the application process or after you’re approved.

1. Get approved for a balance-transfer credit card. Applying for a credit card with a 0% balance-transfer APR is the first step, as this will be the credit card receiving the transferred funds.

2. Transfer credit card balances. You can request the transfer during the application process, or later, after card approval. Many major issuers even offer online transfer capabilities. Generally you’ll need to provide some basic card details for the balance to be transferred, including the card issuer, card number, and amount to transfer. Your card issuers will then work behind the scenes by paying off the balance on the old card and transferring the debt to the new card. Also, be sure the amount transferred and balance-transfer fee together are less than your available credit limit. 

3. Pay attention to small-font deadlines. Some balance-transfer offers require transfers to be made within a specified period after account opening to receive the 0% APR promo. (Not all cards include this limitation.) Transfer deadlines can typically be found on a card offer’s marketing page, in the application documents, or by calling a bank representative.

4. Confirm the transfer. Be sure to check the new balance-transfer credit card sometime after requesting the transfer, to make sure it’s completed. One errant or missing credit card number could result in an incomplete transfer, and leave a balance accruing interest charges on the old credit card.

5. What should you do with the old card? If a balance remains, prioritize funneling more cash into paying off that high-rate balance while making minimum payments to the interest-free card. If the old card was paid off entirely with the balance transfer, there’s no harm in keeping the account open to establish a longer average account history, which helps your FICO score. But this assumes there are no fees being charged; it may make sense to close out the old card if it continues to charge you fees.

Balance-transfer checks

Card issuers often use balance-transfer checks (rather than online or phone arrangements) for their 0% APR offers, as a way to arrange a balance transfer or a cash advance. You can use them to write yourself a check and get money in hand immediately, or pay off a higher-interest debt held by another bank or creditor.

How to get out of credit card debt

Getting rid of credit card debt is the primary goal with balance-transfer strategies, and paying off credit cards fast may require more than just making minimum payments on 0% APR balances. We suggest the following approach.

1. Estimate your expenses. This is essential in determining what comprises the majority of your spending. Review three months of bank statements to understand your monthly spending habits. Mobile apps such as Mint can even simplify the process and do the legwork for you -- not only to see where your money goes, but also to estimate future monthly expenses.

2. Estimate your income. Figure out your estimated earnings each month. 

3. Estimate your excess cash. Subtract your monthly expenses from your estimated monthly income to determine how much cash you have for paying off credit card debt. This is the bare minimum we’d suggest using to pay off balances.

4. Cut expenses in low-hanging-fruit categories. Getting serious about credit card debt requires lifestyle changes, so we suggest taking it a step further than just using excess cash to pay off credit card debt. With a deeper sense of your spending habits in mind, it’s now easier to identify some expenses as low-hanging fruit. It might mean nixing your daily latte or dining out less frequently, but removing the burden of credit card debt can outweigh the temporary pain of cutting indulgent spending.

5. Choose the right balance-transfer offer term -- The first steps nail down the monthly payment you can afford to make, which then determines the 0% APR offer term you’ll need. To find the right term, take your total debt and divide that by the amount you can afford to pay each month. If the numbers suggest you’ll still be carrying debt after the promo period expires, don’t fret. Picking the longest offer you can qualify for could help pay off balances faster than doing nothing at all, even if you have to pay a balance-transfer fee. Plus, there’s always an opportunity to open another balance-transfer card after the first 0% APR offer expires.

Balance-transfer fees

Transfers may incur a fee for each transaction; balance-transfer fees tend to follow a structure of 3% to 5% with a minimum dollar amount charged, which is added to the balance outstanding on the new card. For example, a cardholder transferring $2,000 on a card with a 3% ($10 minimum) structure would be charged a fee of $60. Not all cards follow this approach, so it’s important to review the balance-transfer fees for any offer you’re considering.

What to know about no-fee balance transfers

Fee-wary cardholders rejoice: Some popular balance-transfer credit cards both offer long 0% APR periods, and cut your out-of-pocket costs with no-fee balance transfers.

Credit cards with no balance-transfer fee often require that you request a transfer within a specified time from account opening (60 days, for example), and will charge a standard transaction fee outside of that window. Some balance-transfer offers amp up the value even more by not charging transfer fees at all, regardless of when you request the transfer.

It’s important to determine which balance-transfer credit card may be a fit for you: Paying a balance-transfer fee may sometimes make sense, if it secures you a longer 0% APR offer than a card with no balance-transfer fees but a shorter 0% APR offer.

Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer and BankAmericard® Credit Card are two popular balance-transfer credit cards that highlight when paying a fee does and doesn't make sense. Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer charges a 3% fee for each transfer whereas BankAmericard® Credit Card charge $0 for transfers made within 60 days. 

Balance-Transfer Card 0% APR Offer Term Debt Balance Transfer Fee Interest Charges Total Costs Months to Pay Off
Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer 18 months $10,000 $300 $757 $1,057 36
BankAmericard® Credit Card 15 billing cycles $10,000 $0 $1,118 $1,118 38
Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer 18 months $5,000 $150 $0 $150 17
BankAmericard® Credit Card 15 billing cycles $5,000 $0 $12 $12 17

*Assumes $300 monthly payment and 20% APR after the promo period. Approved APR may vary.

These two differing debt scenarios demonstrate how there may be lower out-of-pocket costs depending on the length of the 0% APR offer, your debt balance, and your monthly payment. Generally speaking, the more debt you have and the less you can afford to pay each month, then the longer the 0% APR offer you'll want. Paying a transfer fee to secure a longer offer can result in reduced out-of-pockdet costs. Cardholders with more manageable debt, who can afford to pay off balances over a short offer period, may be best off with a card with no balance-transfer fee.

Credit scores required for balance-transfer credit cards

The longest balance-transfer credit card offers generally require good credit (700+ FICO score) or excellent credit (750+ FICO score) for approval. That isn’t to say that people with FICO scores in the mid-600s and higher won’t qualify; in fact, applicants with credit scores in the mid-600s have been approved for leading balance-transfer credit cards. Cardholders with bad credit or who are rebuilding credit (<650 FICO score) may have more difficulty securing approval, and may need to settle for balance-transfer offers with shorter terms than 15 months, or none at all.

Your credit score is an essential data point used in an approval decision, but other factors also weigh in, including your current debt levels and reported income.


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