Balance Transfers: Longer Intro Period vs. Shorter Period With Rewards

Updated: March 19, 2024

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When considering balance transfer offers, choose a card with a longer payment period. These extra months give you more flexibility should unexpected and unbudgeted expenses occur that could derail your budget.

Getting 1% to 2% cash back or other rewards sounds enticing. But if you don't clear your balance before the end of the introductory period, interest charges on the new debt can easily wipe out any rewards or cash back you get.

If you’ve decided to choose the card with rewards but has a shorter introductory period, do so if you can pay off your debt quickly. If not, opt for a card with a longer introductory period. Remember, you can upgrade your card once you've cleared your balance.

  • Choose a longer 0% introductory period if you need a lower monthly payment and more time to pay down debt without incurring interest.
  • Choose a shorter 0% introductory period with rewards if you’re using the balance transfer to consolidate accounts and if you can pay off your balance quickly (less than six months).
  • You can always upgrade your credit card once you’ve paid your balance. You might even qualify for a better rewards card due to your improved credit.

Longer Introductory Period vs. Shorter Period With Rewards

Deciding between a longer balance transfer introductory period and a shorter one with rewards depends on your financial priorities. Regular credit card users often find rewards attractive. However, if your goal is to minimize debt, the primary consideration should be the longer introductory period.

Reasons to get a credit card with a longer intro APR period:

  • If you have large debts that require more time to settle
  • If you want lower monthly payments that are realistic and manageable
  • If you want to concentrate on debt paydown

When to get a balance transfer card with a shorter intro period:

  • If you have a smaller, more manageable debt that you can easily pay off before the intro period ends
  • If you’re using the new card to consolidate and simplify your credit cards but want to continue earning cash back or rewards
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When making budgets, we expect our plan to proceed smoothly and don't account for unforeseen expenses. Create a contingency plan by including a budget line for unexpected expenses.

Benefits of a Longer Intro Period

Choosing a balance transfer card with a longer introductory APR period gives you more time to pay off debt without the immediate stress of interest charges. A longer intro period can lead to lower monthly payments, making it easier to manage your budget and reduce your debt more effectively.

The interest savings during this period can also be significant, allowing you to allocate more money toward the principal balance. Although rewards are tempting, the ultimate goal is to clear your debt. A longer introductory period gives you the best shot at doing this without extra costs.

Benefits of a Shorter Intro Period With Rewards

Balance transfer cards with points and cash back let you save on interest and earn rewards on new purchases simultaneously. Cash back rewards from balance transfer cards range between 1% and 2%; some even have welcome offers. However, note that the cash back rates and rewards for balance transfer cards aren’t as impressive as rewards cards.

You can make cards with a shorter introductory period work in your favor. Use the shorter intro period as motivation to avoid the high regular interest rate. The rewards should help you save money on purchases, not encourage you to spend more and rack up debt. Remember, the key benefit of a balance transfer card is debt reduction, not the accumulation of rewards.

Ability to Upgrade Your Card Later

You can always upgrade your card after paying off your balance, either with your current issuer or by applying for a new card with a different issuer. Upgrading your card can provide you with a higher cash back rate or better rewards than what's typically available with balance transfer cards.

The good thing about getting a credit card upgrade with the same issuer, also known as a product change, is that there is no hard inquiry. You'll also get to keep that existing card's credit length. The catch is that you may not qualify for welcome offers or signing bonuses available to new accounts.

On the other hand, you can apply for a new rewards card with a different issuer. Now that you have a better credit history, you'll qualify for better rewards than what balance transfer cards offer.

FAQ: Balance Transfer and Reward Offers

To further guide you in choosing the best card for balance transfers, here are some of the most commonly asked questions answered for your convenience.

Can I negotiate for a longer introductory period?
Will choosing a card with a longer introductory period affect my credit score differently than one with rewards?
Can I switch from a longer introductory APR to a card with better rewards later?

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.

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