If you’re struggling with debt or high interest charges, maybe you could benefit from a balance transfer. Balance transfers move balances from one credit card to another, typically to avoid or reduce expensive finance charges, which make it harder to dig out of debt.
Some of these transactions require a fee, but that fee usually pales in comparison to what you’d have to pay in interest as you pay the debt down. Like most things in the financial world, it’s good to know all you can about a tool before you use it. Because while most of the effects are positive, there are some potential downsides as well.
Our most recent survey revolves around balance transfers, and the results could help shed some light on the process for those wondering how they work, how effective they are, and why you might want to use one.
Here are some of our top takeaways:
- 59% of respondents are carrying credit card debt, with 84% of those saying their debt is accumulating interest.
- 78% of respondents who performed a balance transfer thought it was an effective tool to pay off debt or reduce interest.
- 52% of respondents who have transferred a balance on a credit card paid a fee when doing so.
- 55% of respondents who know what a balance transfer is do not plan to use a balance transfer in 2021 despite carrying credit card debt.
- Over half of the respondents (52%) that transferred a balance ended up closing the card they moved the balance from.
Many People Are Paying Interest on Credit Card Debt
84% of those with credit card debt are paying interest on it. But that doesn’t necessarily need to happen.
A balance transfer could help you avoid interest charges and pay down the debt faster. It’s much easier to pay down a balance that won’t continue to grow.
If you transfer a balance from a credit card to another card that features an introductory 0% APR offer, you’ll have a set amount of time to pay it off while it accrues no interest. But that’s not the only thing you can do to avoid paying interest on credit cards.
Most credit cards provide a grace period for purchases you make. As long as you’re paying your statement balance in full each month, you won’t accrue any interest on purchases you’ve made during the previous billing cycle.
And while most people are aware of both their debt and the interest charges they’re responsible for, according to our survey, there’s a small percentage of people who aren’t.
That’s an easy problem to fix. Just check your monthly credit card statements for your balances, the interest rates of your balances, and the interest charges you’ve been paying. You can see your statements online via your credit card issuer’s website, or have them mailed to you.
22% of Respondents Don’t Know What a Balance Transfer Is
Simply put, balance transfers let you move a balance from one credit card to another. Typically, you’d move a balance that’s on a card with a high interest rate to a card with a lower interest rate. The main purpose of this is to avoid interest charges and to help get you out of debt faster.
Now, 83% of people who know what a balance transfer is indicated that they think opening a new balance transfer card will have an effect on their credit scores. And they’d be correct. However, it doesn’t have to be a negative effect.
Yes, opening a new credit card of any kind will usually result in an initial hard inquiry on your credit reports. It’ll also reduce your average age of accounts. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from taking advantage of a balance transfer.
The potential positive impact on your credit scores of opening a balance transfer card and transferring a balance will likely outweigh these initial downsides. Not only will you save money on interest, but having another card would increase your overall available credit — thus reducing your credit utilization. This can help improve your credit scores.
Once you’ve transferred your balance over, you might be wondering what to do with that old card.
52% of people who transferred a balance indicated they closed the source credit card following the transfer. This, too, will impact your credit scores. Closing credit cards can hurt your credit scores. You’ll mostly want to keep unused cards open because of this. There are a few exceptions, however, like if you want to avoid an annual fee from a card you’re not using.
Closing a credit card will decrease your total available credit, and therefore may increase your credit utilization, which in turn can reflect negatively on your credit scores. And after 10 years a closed card will drop off your credit reports and potentially lower the average age of your accounts, which isn’t as big of a deal, but can still affect your scores.
Respondents Agree, Balance Transfers Were Helpful
Our survey showed that most people found balance transfers to be an effective tool against debt and interest charges. Yet that said, 55% of respondents who know what a balance transfer is indicated they have no intention of using one in 2021, even though they have outstanding credit card debt.
In most cases, the advantages of using a balance transfer outweigh the potential disadvantages. If you’re struggling with paying down a balance because it keeps growing from high interest rates, a balance transfer could save you time and money.
Once you transfer a balance away from a card, you’ll need to make sure you pay it off aggressively instead of just paying the minimum to get by. If you keep that debt around and build up more debt on the card you transferred away from, you could find yourself much deeper in debt than you were before.
And while 52% of people who performed a balance transfer indicated they paid a fee for the service, that shouldn’t necessarily scare you off either. Not only are there credit cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee, but in some cases, the fee might be more affordable than paying the balance down at your current APR.
A typical balance transfer fee is 3% of the balance transferred. If you have a debt of, say, $2,000, that means you’d need to pay $60 to move that balance to the other card. $60 might be a small amount compared to what you’d pay in interest charges on the first card. Your wallet, and your credit scores, will likely be much happier given some time.
As long as you’re using them responsibly, balance transfers can be very useful tools against interest charges and debt. They can lead to healthier credit scores, but could lower them if you’re not informed or using transfers irresponsibly.
Just be sure you’re making all of your required payments on time and paying as much as you’re able to get that debt down, and you should be okay. And, if you do transfer a balance, don’t fill up your free credit line with more debt.
If you’re suffering from credit card debt and high interest charges, a balance transfer could provide some much-needed relief.
Below you’ll find a table of cards with 0% APR balance transfer offers.
|Card||0% APR Balance Transfer Period||Fee||Regular Balance Transfer APR|
|U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||20 billing cycles on balance transfers*||Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater||13.99% – 23.99%* Variable|
|Wells Fargo Platinum card (Review)||18 months on qualifying balance transfers||3% intro for 120 days, then 5%||16.49%-24.49% Variable|
|Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card (Review)||18 months||3%, $5 minimum||14.74% – 24.74% (Variable)|
|Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer (Review)||18 months on Balance Transfers||Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum||13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)|
|Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever (Review)||18 months||3%, $5 minimum||14.74% – 24.74% (Variable)|
|HSBC Gold Mastercard® Credit Card (Review)||18 months||Either $10 or 4%, whichever is greater, will apply on each balance transfer and credit card check.||12.99–20.99% Variable|
|Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Union Strong Card||18 months||3%, $5 minimum||9.25% Variable|
|U.S. Bank Business Platinum||15 billing cycles on balance transfers*||3%||9.99%-17.99%* Variable|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card (Review)||15 months on qualifying balance transfers||3% intro for 120 days, then 5%||14.49%-24.99% Variable|
|Citi Rewards+℠ Card (Review)||15 months||3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum||13.49% – 23.49% (Variable)|
|Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card||15 months||3%, $5 minimum for 120 days then up to 5%, $5 minimum||13.49%–26.49% Variable|
|Wells Fargo Rewards Card||15 months||3%, $5 minimum||17.49%–26.49% Variable|
|Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students (Review)||12 months||3%, $10 minimum||16.24%–26.24% Variable|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card (Review)||12 months on qualifying balance transfers||3% intro for 120 days, then 5%||14.49%-24.99% Variable|
|U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card||12 billing cycles on Balance Transfers*||3%||13.99% – 23.99%* Variable|
|PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card (Review)||12 months||3% per transaction||11.74% to 17.99% Variable|
|HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card (Review)||12 months||Either $10 or 4%, whichever is greater, will apply on each balance transfer and credit card check.||14.99–24.99% Variable|
|JetBlue Card||12 billing cycles (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening)||3%, $5 minimum||15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% Variable|
|JetBlue Plus Card||12 months (for balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening)||3%, $5 minimum||18.24%, 22.24%, or 27.24% Variable|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card (Review)||12 billing cycles||3%, $10 minimum||13.99%–23.99% Variable|
|Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card||6 months, for transfers made within 120 days||3%, $5 minimum for transfers made within 120 days; 5%, $5 minimum after that||12.15%–22.15% Variable|
|Aspire Platinum Rewards Mastercard||6 billing cycles||2%, $5 minimum||10.90%–18.00% Variable|
There are also a number of Discover cards that feature balance transfers, but we can’t display their terms. You’ll have to check with Discover for that information, for the time being.
Here you’ll find the rest of the results of our survey:
- Yes – 59%
- No – 38%
- I don’t know – 3%
- Less than $1,000 – 20%
- $1,000 to $4,999 – 37%
- $5,000 to $9,999 – 20%
- $10,000 to $20,000 – 14%
- Over $20,000 – 7%
- I don’t know – 2%
- Yes – 83%
- No – 17%
- Yes – 50%
- No – 50%
- Yes – 52%
- No – 32%
- I don’t remember – 16%
- Yes – 52%
- No – 48%
- Yes – 45%
- No – 55%
Credit Card Insider commissioned SurveyMonkey to conduct this online survey of 2,618 adults over the age of 18 in the United States. All fieldwork was completed from December 23–24, 2020. This survey employed a non-probability-based sample during collection to provide nationally representative results.