It’s common to carry a balance on your credit cards. We don’t recommend it, but we’re not here to lecture you. We just want to give you the facts about balance transfer credit cards so you can choose the right one for your personal finance needs.
We’ve spent hours collecting common questions about balance transfer credit cards to help you use your cards responsibly. Keep reading for detailed info on everything from the application process to rates and fees for balance transfer credit cards.
General Questions About Balance Transfer Credit Cards
What is a balance transfer credit card
A balance transfer credit card is a line of credit issued in the form of a plastic card. Any qualifying individual over the age of 18 can apply, but keep in mind perks are geared toward current credit card users with balances. We recommend that you skip this type of card if you’re a new credit card user or if you’re someone who pays off your balance in full each month.
Who is a good candidate for a balance transfer credit card?
A balance transfer credit card is designed for credit card users who carry balances. You might be a good candidate for a balance transfer credit card if you meet the following qualifications:
- You have credit cards with balances that aren’t excessively high (if you have a maxed-out card with a $50,000 limit, that’s too high)
- You are more interested in paying off existing debt than using a new credit card for everyday essentials
- You want a lower APR for your debt than what you currently have
- You are at least 18 years old
- You have a stable source of income
- You are not dealing with an undischarged bankruptcy or planning to file bankruptcy in the near future
How is a balance transfer credit card different than a regular credit card?
A balance transfer credit card is a regular credit card. It’s just referred to as a balance transfer credit card because it targets current cardholders that carry balances on other cards. When these cardholders transfer their balances to a balance transfer card, it can help them save big bucks on interest. We’ll talk more about that later.
Can I earn cash back with a balance transfer credit card?
Yes, if you choose a balance transfer credit card that offers cash-back rewards. The Barclay CashForward World MasterCard offers unlimited cash back for qualifying purchases. The card also has a 0% APR for 15 billing cycles, which gives you more than a year to make interest-free payments on your transferred balance.
What is the best balance transfer credit card?
The balance transfer card that’s best for you might not be best for someone else, like your neighbor or your BFF. However, we’ve rounded up 6 of our favorite cards to help you narrow down your quest for the perfect card.
Here are 6 of the best balance transfer credit cards:
- Discover It Credit Card
- Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
- Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard
- Citi Simplicity Credit Card
- U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card
- Chase Slate Credit Card
Our personal favorite is the Chase Slate credit card. That’s because it doesn’t require excellent credit, and there’s no annual fee. There’s a 0% APR for the first 15 months, making it possible for you to take your time paying off debt.
Applying for Balance Transfer Credit Cards
How do I apply for a balance transfer credit card?
Visit the website for the card you want, then fill out an online application. For your convenience, we’ve provided links to the websites of our favorite balance transfer cards in the review above these FAQs.
When available, you can also apply over the phone or fill out a paper application.
Will I get approved for a balance transfer credit card?
Yes, if you meet the card’s requirements for approval. Each card has its own unique set of guidelines applicants must meet for approval.
Credit cards generally don’t publish a detailed list of approval requirements, but here are some factors that may help you score a balance transfer credit card:
- Low debt utilization for existing accounts
- Steady income from a job or another source, such as alimony or pension
- No recent or current bankruptcy status
- Good or excellent credit (depending on the card, sometimes fair credit is okay)
- At least 1 or 2 years at your current address
Basically, credit card companies want to know that you are a responsible applicant who is probably going to pay your bill on time. If there’s any doubt, they might not approve your application.
When will I receive my balance transfer credit card?
Probably in a couple weeks, but it may take more or less time. Some credit cards provide immediate access via an app, so ask if that’s an option if you need access to your line of credit ASAP.
Why didn’t I get an instant approval for the card I want?
When you apply online for a credit card, the credit card company evaluates your app with an automated system. Sometimes red flags keep the automated system from approving your application, so it gets sent to the underwriting department (AKA a human being) for another look.
It can take 7 to 10 days for a human being to evaluate your application, so try to be patient. If you think you know why your app got flagged, call the credit card company and explain what happened. Your input may help speed up the approval process.
Can I apply for multiple balance transfer credit cards?
Yes, but it might not be a good decision. Do you really want to transfer debt from multiple cards to a bunch of different cards?
We recommend choosing one balance transfer credit card that fits your needs. You can do this by evaluating APR (promotional as well as regular), plus comparing rewards and cash-back options. We’ve done the hard work for you in our review above, so scroll up and save yourself some time.
Should I apply for a different card if I get rejected for the balance transfer credit card I want?
Eventually, yes. Tomorrow? No.
Applying for credit isn’t like buying a lottery ticket - you can’t just buy another one if you aren’t a winner. Take some time to address the issues that caused your rejection, and then apply for other credit cards. You should receive a denial letter that details the reasons for your rejection so you know exactly which issues to tackle.
Rates and Fees for Balance Transfer Credit Cards
What factors determine my APR?
Skim the Terms and Conditions booklet (every credit card gets some version of this) and you’ll probably notice your APR is determined by your creditworthiness. What does that actually mean? It means people with good credit generally get lower APRs than people with bad credit.
Unfair? Not to the credit card company. They know that history often repeats itself in the financial world, so someone who pays other credit cards late probably won’t rush to pay the bills for a new card on time.
Do I have the same APR for transferred debt and new purchases?
Possibly, but it depends on the card.
Many credit cards offer a promotional rate for balance transfers. During this time, you’ll pay a low APR - possibly even 0% - for transferred debt and new purchases. This promotional period typically lasts between 6 months and 15 months, but we’ve seen a handful of cards with promotional APRs that last nearly 2 years.
After that, you might have the same APR for all debt, old and new. If your credit card lets you transfer in debt after you’ve had the card for a while (as opposed to when you open the account), you might have different rates. Talk to your credit card company to get the scoop on your APR for balances and new purchases.
Is the APR for my balance transfer card always the same?
No, not if you have a promotional APR (we discuss that above) when you get your card. After your promotional period ends, you can expect your APR to increase significantly.
You might also have an increased APR if you miss a payment for your monthly statement or if you withdraw cash from an APR.
Will I have an annual fee for my balance transfer credit card?
You might, but there are lots of balance transfer credit cards that don’t have annual fees. We recommend the Chase Simplicity credit card, the Discover It credit card, and the Chase Slate credit card if you’re looking for cards with no annual fee.
How is my annual fee determined?
The credit card company determines the annual fee before you apply, so you don’t have to worry about any unpleasant surprises. Your credit history typically doesn’t affect your annual fee when you get a balance transfer credit card. Cardholders generally pay the same predetermined fee.
What if I can’t afford to pay my annual fee?
That’s a bummer, but you can’t escape the fee. The credit card company puts it on your statement rather than sending you a separate bill. There’s a good chance you’ll end up maxing out your card or having your balance go over your approved limit if you can't afford the annual fee.
You can potentially prevent this issue by paying more than the minimum amount due on your statement each month. Another option is to request a credit limit increase before your annual fee hits.
What are some common fees for balance transfer credit cards?
Some balance transfer credit cards charge a percentage of each balance transfer, such as 3% or $10. You may also end up with standard fees found on regular credit cards, including:
- Late payment fees
- Bounced check or reversed ACH fees
- Cash advance fees
- Over-the-limit fees
- Foreign transaction fees
Sometimes you can get fees waived if you contact your credit card company.
Common Concerns Regarding Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Why wasn’t my balance transfer approved?
Occasionally a balance transfer doesn’t go through. This might be a simple issue on your credit card’s end that can be fixed, or there might be another reason for the rejection. Here are some reasons your balance transfer might not go through:
- You requested a balance transfer that’s higher than your available credit limit or too close to your credit limit
- Your previous credit card does not allow balance transfers (this might be the case if you are attempting to transfer the balance from a retail credit card to a new card)
- You are currently in a payment agreement for a past-due balance
- Your balance has been sent to a collection agency
- You have a co-applicant on the card with the balance
In a situation like this, it’s best to contact both credit card companies and ask what’s happening. Make sure you talk to both of them, and don’t let them blame each other.
How do I know when my balance transfer is complete?
You might receive a notification if you’ve signed up for account alerts. If not, you can contact your new credit card company or your previous credit card company for the status of your transfer.
Before you transfer your balance, you can ask if there’s an estimated timeline for transfer completion
Will I get 2 bills for 2 separate cards if I transfer balances?
You might, but you shouldn’t get charged for the same debt twice. However, you’ll get 2 bills if you only transfer part of your debt or if there’s a debt-transfer fee on your first card.
If you do end up with 2 bills for the same debt, contact your first credit card company. They may have issued the statement right before you transferred your debt.
What if I only want to transfer part of my existing balance to my new card?
That’s probably okay! You don’t always have to transfer your entire balance to a new credit card.
Just make sure it’s worth it to keep a balance on your first credit card. Your new credit card might have a promotional APR that’s much lower than your existing card’s APR.
What if I can’t afford my credit card bill?
Pick up your phone and call the credit card company right now. Don’t send a letter via postal mail, and don’t email the company. It’s important to let a credit card company know what’s going on right away so you don’t get hit with late fees or negative marks on your credit report.
Will transferring a balance to a new card hurt my credit?
It might, but it’s hard to determine how it will impact your credit without seeing your current credit report. On a positive note, there’s also a chance that transferring a balance to a new card might help your credit.
If your new credit card has a higher credit limit than your existing credit card, it might help your credit if you transfer debt. That’s because your debt utilization ratio for the new card will be lower than it was for the old card. Your overall debt-utilization ration may also decrease because you're adding a new line of credit.