A balance transfer is a great way to get rid of high-interest debt by moving it to a loan or credit line with a lower interest rate. It can be a smart money-saving move.
Getting rid of high-interest credit card debt can be hard, especially if you have a lot of it. But if you move your existing debt to a balance transfer account, you can lower your interest rate and end up with a lower, more manageable monthly payments.
Take a few minutes to review your credit cards and see how much you have on them. Note the interest rate and how much you’re paying in interest charges each month. (If you can’t find your interest rate or monthly interest charges on your statement, call your card issuer. You’ll find their phone number on your card or on their website.)
Use your cards’ APRs and look for balance transfers with a lower rate.
Then apply that new rate to the balances you’ll transfer. You’ll see how much you’ll pay in interest charges and how much lower than they can get.
Some balance transfers are a loan or line of credit, which you’ll use to pay off high-interest cards. Others come with a credit card, which you can use for new purchases as well as for paying off the balances on higher interest cards.
Balance transfer credit cards with a low or 0% APR are widely promoted. But check the details and compare how different accounts work. Some cards apply the 0% APR to future purchases, while others only apply it to the balance you’re transferring.
Most cards also limit the length of time you can use the rate it’s promoting, usually referred to as promotional or introductory rate. That length of time can vary widely, from six months to almost two years.
If the low rate on your balance transfer only applies to a limited period, make sure it’s long enough to make a serious dent in your debt – long enough to make significant payments before the interest rate goes up.
Even if you find offers with comparable rates and introductory periods, pay attention to fees and deadlines.
Most charge a transfer fee between 3% to 5% of the amount you’re transferring. Make sure you include this fee in your comparisons.
You should also note the time that you’ll have to transfer. Different accounts have different windows of time for making a transfer, usually between 30 to 60 days. Choose the one that best suits you.
Make sure you can afford the payments you’re taking on with your new balance transfer. Ideally, you’ll pay off the full balance during a low or 0% APR period, so you may want to dedicate larger payments to maximize your savings. Adjust your monthly budget to accommodate your new payment schedule.
The process of applying for a balance transfer is similar to applying for a regular credit card. You’ll need to provide all the necessary information, with most requiring your Social Security number and other personal information like your date of birth and monthly income.
Before you apply, it’s important to have a good credit score. The best balance transfer offers are usually reserved for applicants with excellent credit, although some offer competitive rates even with lower credit scores.
It can take a while, from a couple of weeks to a month, to get your balances transferred to a new account or credit card. While the transfer is in process, continue to make payments on your old cards. If you skip those payments, you could get hit with late fees and interest charges.
A balance transfer can help you consolidate high-interest credit card debts and save you money. Take into account transfer fees and windows, and pay off as much as you can while low or 0% APRs apply.
The facts about balance transfers
With a postgraduate degree in commerce from The University of Sydney, Pranay has his finger on the pulse of the finance industry. Breaking down complex financial concepts is his forte.