Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Elizabeth is a writer specializing in credit cards, student loans, debt repayment, and small business. Her work has also appeared on MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, and Business Insider.

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When you've got a pile of debt to pay off, it can be challenging to find a low-interest option for consolidation. Explore our top picks for balance transfer credit cards when you have bad credit, some of which are from our partners, to find the right card to help you rebuild your credit score and climb out of debt once and for all.

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On Discover's Secure Website.

Our Bottom Line

Not only do they offer an intro APR for balance transfers, but you can also earn cash back while rebuilding your credit.

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What we Like:
  • Low security deposit
  • No annual fee
  • FICO® score for free
  • Bonus cash back
Key Scores:
3.5 5 Perks
5.0 5 Fees
3.5 5 APR
Perks 3.5/5
Fees 5.0/5
APR 3.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months
Highlights
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: We automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
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Rates & Fees
Apply Now
Secure lock icon.

On Capital One's Secure Website.

Our Bottom Line

Although it lacks an intro APR offer, there is no balance transfer transaction fee. The low security deposit is another perk of this card.

Read Full Review
What we Like:
  • No annual fee
  • Security deposit starts at $49
Key Scores:
3.5 5 Perks
3.5 5 Fees
3.5 5 APR
Perks 3.5/5
Fees 3.5/5
APR 3.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 26.99% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
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Balance transfer credit cards for bad credit

If you have bad credit and are paying off credit card debt, it can feel like there’s no way out. Without excellent credit, it’s hard to negotiate lower interest rates. While balance transfer credit cards can be a very effective tool for paying off debt quickly and interest-free, many of the best balance transfer credit cards require a good credit score. However, there are still options if you have less-than-perfect credit. There are a few great options for people with bad credit who need a balance transfer credit card to help them pay off debt.

How we picked the winners

After compiling every major credit card offer and going over thousands of data points, we came up with the best balance transfer credit cards for bad credit by considering the following important factors:

  • Required credit score: If you have bad credit, we want to make sure we’re recommending credit cards you have a chance of being approved for.
  • Introductory APR offer: We focus on credit cards that have 0% APR balance transfer offers whenever possible.
  • Balance transfer fee: We look for cards with the lowest balance transfer fee possible.
  • Promotional period: The best balance transfer credit cards have long promotional periods that give you more time to pay off debt.
  • Credit-building potential: If you can’t currently get approved for a regular balance transfer credit card, we look to credit cards that help you build your credit score to the point where you can.

Why you can trust me

A few years ago, I paid off around $10,000 in credit card debt using balance transfers. I’ve taken advantage of a couple of the best balance transfer offers to pay off debt without paying a cent in interest, and without sacrificing my credit score. I’m also a personal finance writer specializing in credit cards, so my day job involves poring over the terms and conditions of every credit card offer so I can help you make the most of your money.

What is a balance transfer?

A balance transfer is when you transfer a balance from one account to another -- in this case, it usually involves transferring your credit card balance to a new credit card with a low, or 0%, interest rate. This means that your new balance transfer credit card will pay off your current credit card, and you’ll start paying off the new credit card instead.

A typical balance transfer offer will give you a certain amount of time -- called the “promotional period” or “introductory period” -- to pay off your balance at a “promotional” or ”introductory” rate. This rate will be lower than the regular APR, and with many balance transfer offers it’s 0%. Once the promotional period ends, the credit card’s regular APR will be applied to any remaining balance.

What you need to know about balance transfer fees

Credit cards don’t typically offer to pay off your existing balance on another card for free. Almost all balance transfer credit cards charge a balance transfer fee to move your balance over to your new account with them. Typical balance transfer fees range from 3% to 5% of the total balance transferred. That being said, there are a couple balance transfer credit cards that offer $0 balance transfer fee promotions.

If the balance transfer credit card you’re looking at charges a balance transfer fee, you’ll want to calculate what that fee will end up costing you and weigh it against the money you’ll save on interest. If you’re transferring a $10,000 balance, a 5% balance transfer fee will cost you $500, so keep in mind that these fees aren’t negligible. That being said, if you’re able to pay off your balance before the promotional period ends, the money you save on interest will usually be worth it.

How will a balance transfer affect my credit score?

It’s important to consider how a balance transfer will affect your credit score. Balance transfers can affect your credit negatively or positively depending on a number of factors.

They can decrease your credit score by increasing the number of recent inquiries on your credit report, especially if you apply for a lot of balance transfer credit cards in a short time period. However, this decrease will likely be quite small and is also temporary. If you do a balance transfer and then don’t pay it off, or rack up an even higher balance, you could also see your score go down.

However, balance transfers can increase your score by increasing the overall amount of credit you have available to you, which decreases your debt-to-credit ratio, as long as you don’t close your old credit card. Ultimately, the biggest increase in your credit score will come from making steady on-time payments and decreasing your overall balance. Once you’ve finally paid off all of your credit debt, you’re almost sure to see a significant improvement in your credit score that makes up for any initial drops.

Using balance transfers to pay off debt

Doing a balance transfer is easy once you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card. The best way to use balance transfer credit cards is to pay off your debt. By taking advantage of a promotional APR and transferring an existing balance to an account with a lower interest rate, you can pay off your debt sooner and save hundreds of dollars on interest fees.

Consider the table below, which shows how much you’d pay in interest and how long it would take you to pay off an $8,000 balance with a regular credit card versus a 0% APR balance transfer offer.

Monthly payment Interest rate Time to pay off balance Total interest paid Total amount saved
$150 0% APR for 15 months, then 18% 5.9 years $2,871 $5,344
18% APR 9.1 years $8,215
$300 0% APR for 15 months, then 18% 2.3 years $376 $1,917
18% APR 2.9 years $2,293
$600 0% APR for 15 months, then 18% 1.1 years $0 $993
18% APR 1.2 years $993

Is a balance transfer credit card for bad credit right for you?

Balance transfer credit cards can be a powerful tool for paying off debt, but they can also dig you into a deeper financial hole, so consider your options carefully. The most important thing to consider if you have bad credit is whether or not you can get approved for a balance transfer offer that’s worthwhile.

If not, you might want to focus on paying off your debt steadily and increasing your credit score. The best secured credit cards are great for building credit, and as long as you keep making on-time payments and your balance continues to decrease, you’re bound to improve your credit score, which will make it easier for you to lower your interest rate.

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