A balance transfer credit card is one of the best ways to get rid of your credit card debt. If you follow each step carefully, you can save a lot of money.
You’ll save money because many balance transfer credit cards come with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate for a period of time, usually from 12 to 21 months. If you still have a good credit score, you might qualify for one of these 0% cards.
But even if you have only a fair credit score, it’s worth looking at the options. You won’t get a 0% intro APR, but it’s possible that you’ll find a card that offers a lower APR than the rate you’re currently paying on your credit card.
If learning how to transfer a credit card balance sounds complicated, you can relax. I’ll take you through this step-by-step guide to balance transfers, and you’ll know exactly what to do.
Step 1: Make a List of Your Debts
If you have debt on more than one card, note the APR and the balance for each credit card. Add up the balances, and you’ll know how much you need to transfer from credit cards.
Take note that this might not be the actual amount you have to pay back. If there’s a transfer fee, that must be added to the total amount transferred. More about this in the next section.
Step 2: Choose the Right Credit Card
It’s fairly easy to compare balance transfer credit cards online. The tricky part is picking the one that you can qualify for and that also meets your needs.
First, make sure you have a credit score high enough to get approved for your target card. Free credit scores are common now, and you can often get one from your credit card issuer, a credit score app or from a website that offers free scores.
Next, focus on the details of each card you’re considering. Unless you’re sure you can pay the balance off quickly, find a card with a long intro period.
Once you’re fairly confident you can get approved for your target credit cards, read the terms and fees for each card. Here’s a checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything:
- Introductory period. Note how long the period lasts before you get charged the go-to APR, which is the purchase APR you’ll get when the intro period ends.
- Deadlines for balance transfers. Some offers have expiration dates. For example, the issuer might require that your transfer begin within 60 days.
- Transfer fee. If there’s an offer to waive or reduce the fee, there’s usually a time limit. For instance, you could be required to begin the transfer before a specific date. If you don’t do the transfer before that date, a 3% transfer fee might become a 5% fee.
- Purchase APR. This is the rate you’ll get on any remaining balance you have after the 0% introductory APR period ends.
If your chosen credit card has a balance transfer fee, you’ll need to add that to the total amount you want to transfer.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to transfer $5,000 to a new card. If the fee is 3%, you’ll pay an additional $150 to transfer your debt (5,000 x .03). So, the amount you now owe is $5,150. If the issuer charges a 5% fee, you’ll pay an additional $250 (5,000 x .05). This is just one example that shows why understanding the details is so important with balance transfers.
Once you’ve selected the balance transfer credit card you want to apply for, you’re ready for the next step.
Step 3: Apply for a Balance Transfer Credit Card
With a balance transfer, you’re using one card to pay off the balances of other cards. Your new issuer will need information about your current balances, such as the account numbers and the amount you want to transfer.
Fill out the card application, and if you’re approved, you’re ready to move forward.
Step 4: Request the Transfer
There are a number of ways to request a transfer. Choose the method that’s available or that you feel most comfortable with.
- Balance transfer checks: It’s possible that your new issuer might provide you with checks for a balance transfer. You’d make the check payable to the credit card company you want to pay. Note: Don’t confuse balance transfer checks with convenience checks. Convenience checks often count as a cash advance, which means there’s no grace period and possibly a higher interest rate.
- Online transfer: You can also request a transfer online. Log on to your new account, and you’ll probably see a form for requesting the transfer. You’ll need to provide the details, such as the account number and balance. With some issuers, you can even begin your balance transfer during the card application process.
- Phone transfer: If you’d prefer to make contact directly with your new credit card company, you can call it. Be sure you have all the transfer details handy before you make the call.
The transfer isn’t complete until you get a confirmation from the issuer that your account balance is paid. Keep making payments on your old card until you’ve confirmed that the transfer has completed. Otherwise, you’ll be hit with a late payment fee.
Also keep in mind that your transfer amount must not exceed the credit limit assigned to you on your balance transfer card. If this happens, you can call the issuer and request a limit that allows you to transfer the entire amount. But I don’t recommend negotiating unless you have a stellar payment history.
Step 5: Pay Off Debt
If you’re worried about the math involved, you can stop worrying. It’s pretty straightforward.
Here’s an example: Let’s say your balance transfer card has an 18-month 0% APR introductory rate and a 3% transfer fee. You transfer $5,150, which includes the 3% transfer fee.
Your intro rate lasts for 18 months, so you must determine how much you need to pay each month to make sure your balance is zero by the end of 18 months.
Your monthly payment: $5,150 ÷ 18 = $286.11.
It’s essential that you make your payments on time. This isn’t an offer to wait 18 months to pay it off in a lump sum. You’ll have a minimum payment due each month, but you’ll be paying the monthly amount that you calculated.
Many balance transfer cards have rules about timely payments. For instance, some issuers will end your 0% rate if you make late payments. Do whatever it takes, such as setting up an automatic withdrawal, to make sure you make your monthly payment by the due date.