Balance Transfer vs. Personal Loan: Which Is Better?

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Edited byErika Hearthway

Updated: July 25, 2023

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Wondering what the difference is between a balance transfer and a personal loan? A balance transfer involves rolling over the balances of one or more credit cards to another loan to consolidate credit card debt and benefit from a better interest rate. On the other hand, a personal loan is a lump sum of money borrowed from a bank that you can use for almost any purpose, including debt consolidation.

Knowing the difference between a balance transfer and a personal loan can help you determine what’s best for your needs.

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What Is a Balance Transfer?

What is a balance transfer? A balance transfer is the process of moving the balance of one or more credit cards to a single new card with a better interest rate. These new cards are called balance transfer credit cards and are offered by credit card providers.

Generally, a balance transfer credit card sports an introductory 0% APR for the first few months of the card, with the duration varying depending on the issuer. That introductory APR allows you to focus on repaying your balance without interest — at least for a time — and is a popular way to address high-interest credit card debt from one or several cards. However, to do this, lenders may charge a balance transfer fee, which is the cost to transfer the balance from other cards.

Similar to other credit cards, balance transfer cards are repaid on a monthly basis, with the minimum amount set in the agreement. If these payments are not made, your credit score will be heavily impacted, and your account will default. Some providers may also send debt collection agents to retrieve what is owed.

Features of a Balance Transfer

Balance transfer cards are a great way to tackle high-interest debt, but there are a number of features that are important to consider before applying for one.

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GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

Providers will look at your credit score, income and other financial details to determine if you qualify for a balance transfer card. Generally, you must have at least a good credit rating to qualify, but this will depend on the provider.

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INTEREST RATE

Balance transfer credit cards often feature an introductory 0% APR for a certain period of time, ranging from six months to one year or more, depending on the provider. This allows you to pay off existing credit card debt without worrying about interest. After the introductory period, you will be subject to a fixed or variable APR, depending on the agreement with the provider.

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REPAYMENT TERMS

A balance transfer card is repaid monthly, with a minimum amount set in the agreement with the provider. However, it is possible to pay above the minimum amount set to lower the principal balance.

Pros & Cons of a Balance Transfer

Transferring your credit card balance to a card that temporarily has no interest may seem tempting. But keep in mind that, as with any line of credit, there are pros and cons to balance transfers.

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What Is a Personal Loan?

A personal loan is a lump sum of money borrowed from a bank, credit union or online lender that you can use for almost any purpose. For instance, a personal loan can be used to fund your home’s renovation, go on a vacation, consolidate multiple debts and more. However, how much you will be able to borrow and at what interest rate depends on the lender, your credit score, your income and other factors unique to you.

If you get approved for a loan, paying it off is done monthly, with the due date and amount set by the lender in your loan agreement. However, if you are late on your monthly payments, your lender may implement a late payment fee and report it to the credit bureaus, which can impact your credit score.

Features of a Personal Loan

When managed properly, a personal loan can help you achieve myriad goals — from renovating your home to making debt management easier. However, understanding the general qualifications and the pros and cons of personal loans is essential before applying for one.

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GENERAL QUALIFICATIONS

To get a personal loan, lenders mainly look at your credit score, debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, income and desired loan amount. This influences your interest rate, terms and how much you can borrow. However, some online lenders may also look at factors other than your credit score.

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INTEREST RATE

The interest rate is how much you will pay to borrow funds. It is usually expressed in percentage form and applied to the amount due monthly. At the end of 2022, the average interest rate for a personal loan was 11.23%, but this can change based on your credit score and other factors.

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REPAYMENT TERMS

Personal loans are paid in monthly installments over the lifetime of the loan, which can be anywhere from a few months to a few years. It is possible to repay a personal loan before the term is over, but some lenders may charge a prepayment penalty.

Pros & Cons of a Personal Loan

While this type of loan can be quite useful, it is essential to understand the pros and cons of personal loans before applying.

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Which Is Better: Balance Transfer or Personal Loan?

If you’re debating the merits of a balance transfer vs. a personal loan, know that the best choice will depend on your needs and circumstances. Here are a few factors to consider that may help you determine which one is best for you:

  • Your qualifications: While both personal loans and credit cards consider your credit score, they also have different requirements based on the lender and provider.
  • Your purpose: What do you need it for? If you’re aiming to make a big-ticket purchase, a personal loan may be the better option. However, if you want to consolidate multiple debts, both may be good options, depending on what you’re consolidating (credit card, loans or both).
  • Your financial circumstances: Both personal loans and balance transfer cards are new forms of debt. While they can help you manage existing debt better, it’s important to determine if you are able to repay it and which one would be easier to repay.

FAQs About Balance Transfers and Personal Loans

Determining whether you should take out a personal loan or a balance transfer depends on your circumstances. Learn the ins and outs of balance transfers and personal loans through our frequently asked questions.

It depends on the lender or provider. Some lenders may allow you to transfer your loan to a balance transfer card. It’s best to ask your desired provider what their terms and conditions are.

To apply for a new balance transfer card, you will need to provide your basic personal and financial data. That includes an ID, income statement, Social Security number and more. Ask your provider what documents they need so you can prepare ahead of time.

Whether you can transfer a personal loan to a credit card depends on both your personal loan lender and your credit card provider. Ask your lender and provider about their policies on transferring your personal loan balance to a credit card.

Processing balance transfers can take two days to six weeks. However, the actual length of time depends on your card provider.

Once the period for your introductory APR has passed, you can determine your next moves. If you haven’t cleared your debt and your score is healthy enough, you can move your balance to another balance transfer credit card or a low-interest credit card. Alternatively, you can leave things as they are and continue making payments on your current card.

There are a few instances when doing a balance transfer may not make sense. If, for example, you can pay off your existing credit card balance in a few months, it may not be worth transferring that balance to a new card since most issuers will charge a balance transfer fee. Before initiating a transfer, you'll want to weigh whether you'll save enough on interest to offset that fee.

It also may not make sense to carry out a balance transfer if adding a new card to the mix will encourage you to spend more, if you already have a hard time managing your credit or if your credit score is fair or poor. After all, credit card providers base their approval of new cards, in part, on your creditworthiness.

Yes! Unless you close the account, you are free to use your existing credit cards or even your balance transfer card.

For a time, balance transfer credit cards are interest-free. This can range from a few months to a year or more, depending on the lender.

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Shield Insurance

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the rates mentioned may have changed. We recommend visiting the lender'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, lender or other entity. Learn more about our editorial policies and expert editorial team.