How to Choose a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Updated: March 21, 2024

Updated: March 21, 2024

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When selecting a balance transfer credit card, choose one with a low or 0% introductory APR, a long introductory period and requirements matching your credit score to fully benefit from a balance transfer.

Be sure to read the card issuer’s terms and conditions for balance transfers. Some balance transfer cards limit the amount you can move no matter how high your credit limit is. Also, you cannot transfer balances within the same card issuer or affiliates. That will limit your selection of balance transfer cards.

  • Choose a credit card that offers a long introductory 0% APR period, a low balance transfer fee and a low variable APR.
  • It can be helpful if the card you choose also has a 0% introductory APR on new purchases.
  • Pick a card that is not issued by the same issuer as the card(s) you want to balance transfer.
  • The card and balance transfer offer you get depends on your credit history and credit score. In general, the better your credit score, the better the balance transfer offer.

1. Assess Your Needs

To find a great balance transfer credit card, you need to be clear about what you're looking for. Here are some scenarios to help you decide what kind of balance transfer offer you should get:

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    If you have a big balance and you need to be laser-focused on debt paydown:

    Look for cards with the longest possible 0% balance APR intro period. Try to get the lowest balance transfer fees possible, but the length of the 0% APR period is the most important.

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    If you need maximum financial flexibility:

    Look for cards that have long 0% APR intros on both balance transfers and new purchases.

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    If you’re consolidating to a new card to simplify your credit cards:

    Look for a reasonable 0% APR period, cash back rewards and no annual fees.

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    If you know you have several large purchases coming up and need a balance transfer:

    Look for a card with a balance transfer offer, rewards and a welcome offer. You can also look for cards with 0% intro APR offers on new purchases.

Unfortunately, when it comes to credit cards, you can’t have it all. Cards with the longest 0% APR offers don’t offer rewards or welcome offers.

2. Know Your Credit Score

Your credit score dictates what cards and features you’re most likely to get. If you have an excellent credit score, you’ll most likely qualify for a card with a longer introductory period and lower standard APR like the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card. Most credit cards with balance transfer offers require at least a good credit rating or a 670 credit score. But you may be eligible for a Chase Slate Edge Card if you have a credit score of at least 580.

There are many ways to check your credit score, one of the easiest is often through your current card issuer. Large credit card issuers like Chase, American Express and Discover all offer credit monitoring to their respective customers. You can also get your credit score from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

3. Compare Credit Cards for Balance Transfers

The next step involves comparing different balance transfer credit card options — an essential process to find the best balance transfer card for you. Here are the factors to examine when maximizing the balance transfer:

Look for a 0% introductory APR with a long introductory period

If your goal is to aggressively tackle your debt, a card that offers an 18- or 21-month 0% APR introductory period, might be suitable. This lengthy introductory period allows you to pay down your balance without the burden of accruing interest.

Research balance transfer fees

The best credit cards for balance transfers usually charge 3% to 5% in balance transfer fees. You should consider this amount since it would form part of the maximum amount you can balance transfer to a credit card. Additionally, review the credit card’s terms and conditions. Some cards offer lower balance transfer fees if you transfer your debt within a certain number of weeks after opening.

Look for low regular APR

After the introductory period ends, the regular APR applies. This is the interest rate charged on any remaining balance after the introductory period. If you anticipate that your debt won't be entirely cleared during the introductory period, look for a credit card with a low regular APR.

Choose a different issuer than your current card balances

Consider the issuer of your current card and the issuer of the card you wish to transfer the balance to. Issuers don’t allow balance transfers between cards from the same company or affiliated brands. For instance, if you are carrying a balance on your Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, you cannot transfer it to a Citi Simplicity card. In this case, you would have to apply for a different card.

Check for balance transfer limits

Most credit cards allow you to transfer your balance up to your credit limit less the balance transfer fee. However, card issuers like American Express and Chase limit the amount you can balance transfer up to a certain dollar value or your credit limit, whichever is lower.

At the end of your research, you should have a short list of cards you’re considering. Before submitting your application, compute how much you can save with each option. This will help you narrow down the cards you’ll apply for.

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Our review of the best balance transfer cards offers 0% introductory APR, a long introductory period and a low standard APR rate.

If you’re looking for longer (than average) introductory period offers, you may want to consider the Citi Simplicity Card, or Wells Fargo Reflect Card. Both offer an impressive 21-month 0% interest on balance transfers.

U.S. Bank Visa Platinum is also a good card to consider if you just want a straightforward balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR 18-month introductory period offer.

4. Compute Potential Savings

From the cards you’ve shortlisted, calculate your potential savings and costs. You can also compare the added perks of these cards. The total of these factors should clarify if a balance transfer is worth it for your situation.

In some instances, a balance transfer may not be the best option for you. For example, if you plan to pay off your balance in three months or less, a balance transfer may cost more than retaining and paying your old card. You can use a balance transfer calculator to compute how much you save on interest or if a balance transfer is worth it.

5. Apply for Your Selected Card

Once you've identified your ideal balance transfer credit card, the next step is to apply. Your credit score, relationship with the bank and financial history will influence your approval chances and the specific terms you'll be offered.

After submitting your application, it goes under review. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes (in automated systems) to a few business days for manual reviews. Note that you may experience a temporary dip in your credit score due to a hard inquiry.

Once approved, you can initiate the balance transfer. But keep in mind the balance transfer process takes time. Depending on the credit card issuer, it could take between two days to six weeks to complete.

During this period, continue making at least the minimum payments on your existing card to avoid late fees and potential damage to your credit score.You’ll know once a balance transfer is complete if your old card reads $0, or the payment from your new card has been reflected.

FAQ: Choosing a Balance Transfer Card

Selecting a balance transfer credit card involves understanding various details. To assist you in making an informed choice that aligns with your financial goals, we've compiled a list of frequently asked questions.

Can I transfer my balance to the same card issuer as my old card?
Will card issuers limit the amount I can transfer?
Is a high credit score always necessary to get a good balance transfer card?
Should I get multiple balance transfer cards if I have multiple debts?

About Doug Milnes, CFA

Doug Milnes, CFA headshot

Doug Milnes is a CFA charter holder with over 10 years of experience in corporate finance and the Head of Credit Cards at MoneyGeek. Formerly, he performed valuations for Duff and Phelps and financial planning and analysis for various companies. His analysis has been cited by U.S. News and World Report, The Hill, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and many other outlets.

Milnes holds a master’s degree in data science from Northwestern University. He geeks out on helping people feel on top of their credit card use, from managing debt to optimizing rewards.

*Rates, fees or bonuses may vary or include specific stipulations. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. Learn more about our editorial policies and expert editorial team.
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