Best Balance Transfer and 0% APR Credit Cards for May 2022 – CNET

Balance transfer cards give you a powerful weapon for breaking free of credit card debt. They allow you to transfer an owed balance from one or more high-interest credit cards to a new credit card account with a low or 0% intro APR. That gives you some breathing room to avoid burdensome interest as you pay down your debt. 

Since intro APR periods usually last between 12 and 21 months, the goal for using balance transfer cards should be to chip away at what you owe as much as possible during that time. It’s possible to roll over your remaining balance to a brand-new card once the intro APR expires, but it will hurt your credit score and won’t work forever.

If you’re looking to transfer a credit card balance, review our partner offers below to find some of the best balance transfer cards and longest 0% introductory APR periods on the market. We’ll update this list periodically to make sure you’re getting the best deals available.

Intro OfferN/A

APR14.74% – 24.74% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Good/Excellent

Reward RatesN/A

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% for 20 billing cycles on purchases

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers

Balance Transfer Fee Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater

Balance Transfer APR14.74% – 24.74% (Variable)

Foreign Transaction Fees 2% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in U.S. Dollars. 3% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in a Foreign Currency

Our Take

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offers one of the longest 0% introductory APR periods, at 20 billing cycles for purchases and balance transfers (14.74% to 24.74% variable APR thereafter), combined with a relatively low 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum).

Longest intro APR with low variable APR after

Intro OfferEarn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward RatesN/A

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% for 12 months on Purchases

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers

Balance Transfer Fee Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Balance Transfer APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Penalty APR Up to 29.99% (Variable)

Our Take

The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card is available to those with good and excellent credit, and also offers one of the longest introductory 0% APR offers on balance transfers available at 21 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR thereafter). Plus, you can enjoy the introductory 0% APR on purchases for 12 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR thereafter). Keep in mind, Citi does not allow you to transfer balances from one Citi card to another, and balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening to take advantage of this introductory offer.

Longest intro APR with no late fee

Intro OfferN/A

APR14.99% – 24.99% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward RatesN/A

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% for 12 months on Purchases

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% for 21 months on Balance Transfers

Balance Transfer Fee Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Balance Transfer APR14.99% – 24.99% (Variable)

Late Payment Fee No Late Fees

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Our Take

The Citi Simplicity card is similar to the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card, but the Simplicity has no late fee or penalty APR, while the standard APR for the Diamond Preferred is 1% lower (13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). If there’s any chance that you could miss a payment at some point, the Simplicity could save you up to $40 and the loss of the introductory APR.

The 21-month 0% intro APR period on balance transfers and 12-month 0% intro APR period on purchases (14.99% to 24.99% variable APR thereafter) comes with a balance transfer fee of 5% ($5 minimum). The main advantage with the Citi card is the length of time you have to make a credit card balance transfer — four months.

Intro OfferN/A

APR13.24% – 25.24% Variable APR

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward RatesN/A

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro APR for up to 21 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers

Balance Transfer Fee up to 5%; min: $5

Balance Transfer APR13.24% – 25.24% Variable APR

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Penalty APR None

Our Take

The Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card offers 0% introductory APR for 18 months from the account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers alike. It also gives you the opportunity to qualify for up to a three-month extension if you make on-time minimum payments on your account during the introductory and extension period, with 13.24% to 25.24% variable APR thereafter. Note that you must transfer your balances to this card within 120 days of the account opening to take advantage of this offer. There is no annual fee for this card. 

Check out our full review of the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card.

Choosing the best balance transfer credit card depends largely on how much money you owe and how quickly you can pay it off. The best balance transfer cards will provide you with a good opportunity to pay off the credit card balance by the end of the introductory APR period, which can have a big impact on raising or maintaining a good credit score.

You’ll need to do some math to use a balance transfer credit card effectively. Paying close attention to the transfer fee, balance requirements, annual fee, intro APR period and the variable APR thereafter could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Some banks have recently shortened or eliminated their introductory low-APR periods for balance transfers due to economic uncertainty, but there are still plenty of good options. Each balance transfer offer is different — be sure to examine the terms of each potential card and card issuer carefully before applying for a new credit card.

When choosing the best balance transfer credit card, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Welcome bonuses or cash rewards are mostly a distraction from the cards’ primary purpose, which is giving you a low intro APR period to pay down your balance.
  • Some balance transfer cards may charge an annual fee, although none of our current best picks do.
  • You can’t transfer balances between different cards from the same credit card issuer (for example, you can’t transfer a Citi balance to another Citi card).
  • The maximum credit-card balance you can transfer to a new card will depend on several factors, including your credit utilization ratio, the qualifying balance transfer, your minimum payment and your credit rating. Each credit card and credit card issuer is different, and each factor will be determined by the card issuer after assessing your creditworthiness.

Glossary of terms

Introductory APR: The interest rate that’s applied toward your balance transfer amount and any purchases during an initial period of card ownership (usually 12 to 21 months).

Standard APR: The interest rate applied toward balances and purchases after the introductory period ends.

Introductory balance transfer fee: The fee charged on balance transfers during the initial period of card ownership.

Standard balance transfer fee: The fee charged on balance transfers after the introductory period ends.

Credit utilization ratio: The amount of your current credit card balance divided by your credit limit.

Qualifying balance transfer: The amount of credit card debt that an issuer will allow you to transfer to a new card

FAQs

How do balance transfer credit cards work?

Though balance transfer credit cards are technically credit cards, they’re more like a debt-financing tool. They’re better used to pay off existing credit card debt than as a payment method.

A balance transfer is when you take the debt, or balance, that you owe on one card account and transfer it to another credit card account. Usually this is done with the goal of saving money by transferring debt from a high-interest account to one with lower or no interest. 

While many credit cards allow balance transfers, those primarily designed for the purpose all share one main feature: an introductory 0% APR period on balances transferred to that account, typically applicable to transfers made within the first 60 to 120 days of card ownership. The introductory APR period generally lasts between 12 months and 21 months, giving you a significant period of time to pay off your balance interest-free. 

While a few credit cards offer no-fee transfers, most balance transfer cards charge a fee to transfer your debt, usually between 3% and 5%. Broadly speaking, the longer the introductory 0% APR period, the higher the fee, and vice versa. So the best cards without a balance transfer fee have a shorter introductory APR period, and those with the longest introductory APR period have a 3% to 5% transfer fee.

If I still have a balance after the introductory APR period is over, can I just keep transferring my debt to a new balance transfer card?

Technically, yes. In some cases, transferring your balance two or three times might even be what’s necessary to finally pay off your debt. But unless you have a firm understanding of how you got into debt in the first place and a plan for getting out of debt, you won’t be working toward a solution. 

While transferring your remaining debt to a second balance transfer card may allow you to pay off your balance without monthly interest or a fee, it’s important to note that there are too many variables for multiple balance transfers to be a failure-proof debt strategy. For example, your card application could be denied, your credit limit could be much lower than you anticipated or your transfer request could be denied. Credit card offers could also change, making it difficult to plan ahead. That’s why it’s recommended to select a card that allows you to pay off the full balance after one cycle if possible.

What’s the maximum balance I can transfer to a new credit card?

The balance transfer limit is determined by the card issuer on an individual basis. Some cards may take into account your creditworthiness and account history (if applicable) when determining this amount. 

The same goes for determining your credit limit. The card issuer will take into account factors like your credit score, credit utilization, income and housing payments when establishing your credit limit. Remember that the credit limit may be less than you expected and therefore less than your current outstanding balance. To successfully raise your limit, you usually need an adjustment in your financial situation, like increased income or lower housing payment, or an extended period of paying your bills on time, which obviously isn’t a great option if you’re qualifying for a balance transfer to take advantage of an introductory 0% APR period.

What is an introductory APR? And what is an introductory balance transfer fee?

The introductory APR is the APR applied toward your balance (including balance transfers and purchases in most cases) for the first 12 to 21 months of card ownership, depending on the card. The standard APR is the APR applied toward your balance after the introductory period ends. The penalty APR is applied toward your balance if you miss more than one payment in six months, usually, but depends on the individual card and your card issuer.

The introductory balance transfer fee is the fee charged for transfers made during the first 30 to 120 days of card ownership, depending on the card. The standard balance transfer fee is the fee charged for transfers made after the introductory period. Note that some cards only allow balance transfers for a certain period of time.

How long will it take to complete a balance transfer?

It may take anywhere between 10 days and six weeks to complete a balance transfer, after receiving your new card and cardholder agreement. It’s also important to note that some card issuers, such as Citi, make balance transfers available at their discretion, and could therefore decline a transfer request. And you should probably still pay the minimum on the old card’s balance until you’ve confirmed that the transfer was completed, so you don’t run the risk of fees or penalties.

Who can qualify for a balance transfer credit card?

In order to qualify for a top-rated balance transfer credit card, you’ll need good credit. All of the cards recommended above require good to excellent credit scores, meaning FICO scores of 670 to 850.

If your credit score is lower than 670, you might be able to qualify for another balance transfer credit card, but you’ll likely have to pay for it with higher balance transfer fees, lower transfer limits and/or a shorter intro APR period.

What do I do if I have subpar credit?

If your credit score is lower than 670 and you’ve been unsuccessful securing one of the cards above, consider alternative methods for refinancing your debt. You can call your current card issuer and try to negotiate a lower APR. You could also explore a debt consolidation loan, which would allow you to gather all of your debt under a new, lower APR.

Will using a balance transfer credit card affect my credit rating?

Applying for any new credit card will usually affect your credit rating a little. Each credit card application requires a hard inquiry (also called a “hard pull”) into your credit rating, which could lower your credit score a few points, though the damage usually disappears before the inquiry is removed from your credit report in two years.

You’ll want to avoid several hard inquiries within a short period, which could indicate to lenders that you are low on cash or a high-risk customer. Your best bet is to find the one credit card you want and determine if your credit rating is good enough for it. A soft inquiry (or “soft pull”) of your credit rating will not impact your score and will keep you informed of your rating and credit options. Most banks and credit cards will provide you with free monthly credit scores.

A new credit card will also shorten the average age of your accounts, which can negatively affect your credit score. Credit reporting company Experian recommends keeping older credit card accounts open to cushion the impact of a new card.

In good news, consolidating debt with a balance transfer credit card can reduce your credit utilization ratio — your debt divided by your credit limit — which will improve your credit score. Experts suggest keeping your ratio below 30%.

In the best news, using a balance transfer card to pay off credit card debt within the low APR period should have a significant positive impact on your credit score. Along with improving your credit utilization, you’ll also simply owe less money overall. The amount of money you owe accounts for 30% of your FICO score.

Overall, how a balance transfer credit card affects your credit rating will depend on what you do with it. If you’re shifting money from card to card repeatedly, your score will be hurt. If you’re paying off significant debt, that should improve your score much more than the small negative impacts of the hard pull and reduced average age of your accounts.

What are alternatives to balance transfer credit cards?

While balance transfer credit cards are a quick and easy way to consolidate debt, they’re not your only option. Personal loans or debt consolidation loans can combine debt from multiple sources and provide you with a single lender and one monthly payment.

Your choice will depend on how much you owe, how soon you can pay it back and what sort of payment plan you prefer. If you have reasonably low credit-card debt and expect to pay off your balance easily in the intro APR period, a balance transfer card with low or no transfer fees could be a good idea.

If you have larger credit-card debt or are less sure about your ability to repay it during the low intro APR period, a debt consolidation loan may make more sense. While such loans can include fees, they’ll generally let you transfer more debt, while providing a fixed rate that’s lower than credit card variable rates. You can also include other debt such as medical bills within the same loan. 

Debt consolidation loans can make it easier to budget by giving you a consistent monthly payment for the length of the loan, usually two to five years. Be sure that you can afford the monthly payment, however, as late fees will accrue and negatively affect your credit score.

The approval process for loans will be longer than credit cards, although they offer more options for borrowers with poor credit. All of the best balance transfer credit cards listed above require good or excellent credit. While not easy, it’s possible for borrowers with low credit scores to qualify for debt consolidation loans, though they’ll likely have to pay higher interest rates. 

What are the pros and cons of balance transfer credit cards?

Pros

  • Save money by temporarily reducing or eliminating credit card interest
  • Reduce your credit utilization ratio and the amount of money you owe
  • Consolidate debts from multiple credit cards into one account
  • Possibly lower monthly payments due to temporary break on interest

Cons

  • High credit score (good or excellent) needed to qualify
  • Potentially higher interest rates after the intro APR period expires
  • Limits on how much credit card debt you can transfer
  • Less attractive rewards and bonuses than other credit cards

Can I use a balance transfer credit card to buy things?

While a balance transfer credit card certainly works like a normal credit card, it’s generally not a good idea to use it to make new purchases. If you currently have credit card debt, your primary goal should be to get out of debt and avoid paying interest. When you purchase something and add new charges to your balance transfer account, you’re moving in the wrong direction, especially if you’re only able to make the minimum payment.

A debit card or cash is better for any new purchases while you pay off your debt, thus leaving your balance transfer account only for debt repayment. This will also help you track your progress more clearly. And keep in mind that some balance transfer credit cards still charge interest on new purchases until you pay off the entire balance (the new purchases plus whatever balance you transferred), which will only compound your debt problem.

Methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category of cards, including cash-back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We consider the typical spending behaviors of a range of consumer profiles with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — as are the designated functions of different credit cards. 

For balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while also considering factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account. The length of the intro APR period and the balance transfer fee are the two primary factors that have the biggest impact on the overall cost of paying off debt with a balance transfer credit card.

The average credit card debt for US households is about $6,200, so I used a $6,000 hypothetical balance to calculate which cards make sense in certain situations, depending on how much you can pay back each month.

List of cards researched

  • Amex EveryDay® Credit Card 
  • Chase Slate 
  • Citi Simplicity® Card 
  • Citi® Double Cash Card 
  • U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card 
  • Discover it® Balance Transfer
  • Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
  • BankAmericard® Credit Card for Students 
  • Citi Rewards+® Card
  • Chase Freedom Flex℠
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited® 
  • BankAmericard® credit card 
  • Simmons Visa®
  • SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card
  • Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
  • Milestone® Gold Mastercard®
  • Applied Bank Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Credit Card
  • Surge Mastercard® Credit Card
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card 
  • Green Dot Primor Secured
  • Fit Mastercard® Credit Card
  • Reflex Mastercard® Credit Card

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