If you’re struggling under the weight of high interest credit card debt, a balance transfer credit card might be exactly what you need. By transferring your high interest debts to a card with 0% interest, you can save money while paying down your debts at lightning fast speed. You can also look into getting a personal loan at a low rate that may work as well.
This is not to say that you should use these cards to allow you to take out more debt. 0 APR cards should be a tool that can help people get out of debt faster, not accumulate larger amounts.
While most balance transfer credit cards offer 0% APR for a limited introductory period, others extend that benefit to purchases as well. That makes signing up for one of these offers a smart idea for anyone who needs an affordable line of credit to remodel their home or make a large purchase. By signing up for a card that offers 0% APR for anywhere from 12 – 21 months, you can secure your own “short term” loan that is both convenient and interest-free.
Best 0% APR and Balance Transfer Credit Cards for 2016
This page includes the top 0% APR balance transfer credit cards currently available, as well as details that make each offer unique. Before we dig in, take a look at our top 0% APR balance transfer credit cards for 2016:
- Chase Slate®
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
- Chase Freedom®
- Discover it® – Double Cash Back Your First Year
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Chase Slate®: Best All-Around Option
Whether you want to transfer high interest balances or secure an affordable line of credit for a large upcoming expense, the Chase Slate® card offers the best of both worlds. For starters, this card is the only card on the market that charges zero balance transfer fees for the first 60 days, plus a 15 full months at 0% APR. This offer extends to purchases as well, making this the perfect card to save money as you pay down debt or make a large purchase.
The only caveat to consider is the fact that you cannot transfer balances from other Chase cards to your new Chase Slate®. Here are some additional details to consider before you sign up and start paying down your debts for good:
- Read here to learn more about the Chase Slate® card
- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
- No balance transfer fee for the first 60 days
- No annual fee
- Free Monthly FICO score for cardholders
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Longest 0% APR Period
The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card offers the longest repayment period among 0% APR and balance transfer credit cards on the market – a full 21 months with 0% APR. That’s almost two full years with no interest you can utilize to pay down debt faster and save money in the process.
While this card does charge a balance transfer fee of 3% of your total balance or $5, whichever is greater, it offers the longest 0% APR introductory period on the market. Best of all, you can score 0% APR for a full 21 months without paying an annual fee for the privilege.
And since the 0% APR is good on purchases as well, this card is a no-brainer if you plan to remodel your home or finance a large expense you want to repay over time. Here are some more details to consider:
- No annual fee
- 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for a full 21 months
- 0% liability on unauthorized purchases
- APR readjusts 12.24 % -22.24% based on creditworthiness after introductory period
Chase Freedom®: Best Perks with No Annual Fee
The Chase Freedom® card is one of the most popular credit cards on the market, and for good reason. Not only does it offer 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for a full 15 months, but it also offers a signup bonus and excellent ongoing rewards – and all with no annual fee.
You’ll earn a signup bonus worth $150 if you can use the card for at least $500 in purchases within the first 90 days, plus 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases and 5X points in categories that rotate every quarter, making it one of our best cashback rewards cards. Redeem your points for cash back, gift cards, or travel, and all while taking advantage of 0% APR to pay down your debts as quickly as possible. If your goal is to get the best airline credit card for rewards this is a great pick as well. More details:
- Read here to learn more about the Chase Freedom® card
- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
- No annual fee
- Earn $150 after you spend $500 on the card within the first 90 days
Discover it®: Double Cash Back Your First Year
If you want to pay down debt and earn rewards at the same time, the Discover it® card offers one of the best opportunities out there. Not only do you get 0% APR on balance transfers for a full 18 months, but you also earn a minimum of 1 point per dollar spent on all of your purchases – plus double your miles after the first year!
The Discover it® card also offers 5% cash back in categories that rotate every quarter, which seriously improves your ability to rack up points quickly! Best of all, there is no annual fee so you can pay down debt and earn rewards without paying for the privilege. Here are some additional details:
- Read here to learn more about the Discover it® card
- No annual fee
- 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months
- Balance transfer fee equal to 3% of your transferred balance
- Track your FICO score for free online
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best Ongoing Rewards
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is another great option for anyone who wants to earn rewards while paying down debt at 0% APR. This card’s current offer include 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 15 months, plus a $150 signup bonus after you spend $1,000 on the card within 90 days.
In addition to the signup bonus, you’ll earn 6% back on your first $6,000 in grocery spending each year, plus 3% back at gas stations, and 1% back on all other purchases. I have seen several entrepreneurs that drive for their business who use this card as their business credit card because of the gas rewards. This card does charge a $75 annual fee, but the signup bonus alone more than covers it. Before you move forward, consider these other important details:
- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
- Earn 6% on your first $6,000 spent at grocery stores annually, plus 3% back at gas stations and 1% back on all other purchases
- $75 annual fee
Getting the Most Out of Your 0% APR or Balance Transfer Credit Card
So, you’ve signed up for one of the best balance transfer or 0% APR credit cards on the market. Now what?
To get the most of your card, you’ll want to come up with a long-term strategy for its use. Most of the time, that means creating a plan that will help you maximize your card’s benefits while minimizing any expenses you pay out-of-pocket. Here are some tips that can help.
If you’re taking advantage of a 0% APR balance transfer offer…
#1 Watch the fees.
Many balance transfer credit card offers will have a fee of 3%-6% to make the transfer. If you are paying 25% in interest this may not be a bad decision. However, with creditors finally letting up a bit on their offers, there is a good chance that you can get a transfer with no fees, if you have a good credit score.
#2 Create a plan to become debt-free during your card’s 0% APR introductory period.
If you signed up for one of the cards listed above, you’ll have at least 15 months to pay your balance down at 0% APR before your interest rate readjusts. To figure out how much you need to pay each month to make that happen, take your total balance and divide it by the number of months included in your introductory offer.
Let’s say you owe $5,000 total and have 15 months at 0% APR to pay it down. You would need to pay $334 per month to pay your debt in-full before your card starts charging you interest.
Example: ($5,000/15 months = $334)
#3 Don’t use credit as an excuse to overspend.
If you choose a card with 0% APR on purchases, you might be tempted to spend more than you can afford. Don’t let that happen! To avoid getting into more debt, only use your card for purchases you plan to pay off right away. If you need to stash your card away in a sock drawer until you’re debt-free, so be it. Don’t let the allure of cheap and easy credit cause you to dig a deeper hole than you had to begin with.
#4 Once you’re debt-free, dedicate your life to keeping it that way.
Once you transfer a balance to a 0% APR card and pay off your debts, you might be tempted to borrow money again. No matter what, you shouldn’t let that happen! Instead, you should create a monthly budget you can stick to and live well below your means. Enjoy being debt-free and all that means for your family instead of falling back into old habits.
If you’re taking advantage of a 0% APR offer in order to finance a large purchase….
#1 Take your introductory period into account before you start putting purchases on your card.
If you’re taking advantage of 0% APR in order to make a large purchase or take on a huge project such as a home remodel, you’ll want to take your card’s introductory APR period into account. If you have 18 months at 0% APR, for example, you’ll want to create a spending and repayment plan that will help you avoid paying interest in the long run.
You should also consider the type of card you are getting. For instance, if you are using the card to finance a vacation, you should really look at a travel rewards card that will give you a good percentage back on all your travel. This way, not only are you financing at a low rate you can also take advantage of the rewards (some of which will also let you pay down the balance of the card). Check out our review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card for more info!
#2 Only borrow what you can afford to repay while you’re at 0% APR.
Just like with a balance transfer, you should create a repayment plan that lets you take advantage of your card’s full 0% APR introductory period while helping you avoid interest. If you plan to charge a $10,000 home remodel, for example, and have 15 months at 0% APR to pay it back, you’ll need to pay $667 per month to make that happen.
Example: ($10,000/15 months = $666.66)
#3 Don’t get hooked on cheap and easy credit.
It’s easy to grow accustomed to charging all of your expenses, but you can do some serious damage if you let it become a habit! If you want to take advantage of your card’s 0% APR introductory offer without getting into trouble, use your card sparingly and only for planned purchases you know you can pay off right away.
7 Questions to Determine if You’re Ready for a Balance Transfer Card
Taking advantage of a balance transfer is a great way to pay off debt fast while avoiding high-interest credit card debt. However, balance transfer credit cards aren’t the best solution for everyone. Here are 7 questions you should consider to help determine if a balance transfer card is right for you.
Question #1: Do You Have High-Interest Debt?
If you’re stuck with a pile of high-interest credit card debt that you think you can pay off quickly, using one of the best balance transfer credit cards is a good option to help you save. Many balance transfer cards offer an introductory 0% APR, which makes transferring those high-interest balances very attractive. Because there’s no interest accruing, your payments will be lower – which also means you’ll be able to pay off your balances faster.
Those attractive 0% introductory offers might have you wondering if you should transfer other types of debt to the card as well. Before you do, consider your options carefully. Remember, introductory rates don’t last forever. Credit card interest is also variable, as opposed to some debt – like car loans – which is usually fixed. If you can’t pay the debt off before the introductory rate expires, transferring other debt to these types of cards is usually a bad idea.
Question #2: Why are You Considering a Balance Transfer?
It’s tempting to use balance transfer cards to create some extra breathing room with your monthly budget. However, that is probably the worst possible reason to use a balance transfer credit card. If you’re struggling to meet your minimum payments every month, you don’t have an interest rate problem; you have a debt problem. While a balance transfer card can be a part of the plan, it is not a long-term solution for someone in this position.
For the best results, use a balance transfer card with a specific and clear payoff goal in mind. Use the card to eliminate interest costs, then use the savings (and more) to pay off your debt quickly.
Question #3: What is the Introductory APR and How Long Does it Last?
While almost all credit cards offer a balance transfer option, the best balance transfer cards offer an introductory 0% APR offer. In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to transfer balances to other cards that don’t offer this option. With that said, introductory offers vary even between the best cards.
Generally speaking, the best cards usually offer an intro APR that lasts between 12 and 21 months. Once the introductory period expires, interest rates will adjust somewhere into the high teen or low twenty percent range. Make sure you know how long your intro rate will last and what your card will adjust to prior to transferring your balances.
Question #4: Is There a Balance Transfer Fee?
Even though you’ll save money on interest charges, most balance transfer cards employ a balance transfer fee ranging from 3 to 6% of the balance transferred. (The exception is the Chase Slate®, which offers “no balance transfer fees” within the first 60 days of opening your account.) So, if you’re transferring $10,000 in bills, you’ve immediately added an extra $300-$600 worth of debt to your total balance. Of course, this fee may be nominal compared to the 20% interest rate on your other credit card, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.
Prior to choosing a good balance transfer card, determine if the balance transfer fee is even worth it. If you have the money, it might make sense to pay off your card immediately rather than get whacked with an additional fee. Regardless, you should know how much the fee is and factor it into your debt payoff plan for the best results.
Question #5: Have You Committed to Paying Off the Card Before the APR Adjusts?
Before you’re ready to use a balance transfer credit card, you should commit to paying off the balance before it adjusts. If not, you’re playing with fire. Don’t use it as an excuse to rack up more debt, and prepare to make payments above the minimum so you can get ahead. Use the money you’re saving on interest payments (plus some) to pay the balance off prior to the interest rate adjusting. Doing so can help you pay off your debt faster while helping you save on interest payments.
Have a clear plan for how much you’ll pay on the card each month. As stated above, the introductory 0% APRs offered by the best balance transfer cards are available for a limited time only. Planning how you’ll pay off the balance helps ensure that you’ll have the card paid off before the rate adjusts at the end of the introductory period.
Question #6: Do You Have Other Debt on the Card or With the Issuer?
If you already have a great balance transfer credit card in your wallet, you might want to transfer your existing balances to that card. When doing so, keep in mind that your payments will be split up according to interest rate. As required by the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009, when a card has balances with differing interest rates, the amount of the minimum payment goes toward the balance with the lowest rate. Any payment over the minimum balance is applied toward the balance with the highest rate. Also, keep in mind that you are usually unable to transfer balances between the same card issuer (Chase, Citi, Discover, American Express, etc.) and secure the publicly available 0% APR rate.
For new accounts, know that most of the best balance transfer cards offer the same 0% introductory rate for both balance transfers and purchases. Although there is nothing wrong with using a new card for both balance transfers and purchases, you should be extremely careful and only use this option in a way that does not accrue new debt. Be sure that you can pay off the entire balance of both your purchases and balance transfers prior to the rate adjustment. If not, you’ll only fall further behind on your payments.
Question #7: What is Your Credit Score?
In order to get the best 0% balance transfer card offers, you first need to be eligible. The best offers usually are available only to those who have the best credit scores. Generally speaking, you’ll need good to excellent credit (scores above 700) to qualify.
Transferring balances from one card to another can actually help improve your credit score, provided you leave the old account open. Although you may take a small hit for a new credit inquiry, you’ll improve your credit utilization ratio (the amount of credit available compared to how much you use). However, you’ll want to remember that transferring balances usually comes with a fee. Thus, transferring balances on a regular basis should be avoided at all costs.
How Much Can You Save With a Balance Transfer Card?
One of the biggest benefits of using the best balance transfer cards is that they help you save money on interest payments. When transferring high-interest balances to a card with an introductory 0% APR, you can reduce the total amount of your minimum payments while using the money you save to pay down your debt faster. Let’s take a look.
Example #1 – Making Minimum Payments
Let’s assume you’re considering transferring your debt to a card with an introductory 0% APR offer that lasts 15 months. Your current debt of $5,000 is on a card which charges an 18.9% APR and requires a minimum payment of 2% of your balance. As such, your average monthly payment over those 15 months would be about $97/month, or about $1,455 in total. Unfortunately, only about $300 of that would apply toward the principal of your balance. In other words, you’ll still owe about $4,690 on the balance after 15 months. At this rate, you’ll pay about $15,125 in interest over the course of a whopping 35 ½ years!
When you transfer that $5,000 balance to a 0% balance transfer card with no balance transfer fees, you’ll save time and money. By making just the minimum payment, you’ll knock off about $1,307 in principle over the first 15 months. That leaves you with a balance of $3,693. If you do no more, let the rate adjust to 18.9% on the remaining balance, and make only minimum payments going forward, you’ll save about $4,844 and 6 years on the life of your loan. You’ll still end up paying $10,281 in interest over the course of 29.5 years if you go that route, however, so it definitely isn’t ideal.
Example #2 – Making More than Minimum Payments
The best way to take advantage of a 0% APR balance transfer card is to make payments above the minimum. That way, you can knock out the debt faster AND save money on interest!
Let’s assume you’ve decided to destroy your debt fast and pay $333.33 toward your $5,000 debt each month. Using the same 18.9% card cited above, you’ll get the follow results:
Monthly Payment: $333.33
Total Time to Pay Off: 18 Months
Total Interest Paid: $749
By making extra payments, you’ve saved $14,376 in interest payments and 34 years on your debt compared to Example #1! Obviously, paying over the minimum makes a huge difference.
Even better, here’s what happens if you use the same monthly payment but transfer your debt to a card like the Chase Slate®, which has an introductory 0% APR and no balance transfer fees:
APR: 0% (for 15 months)
Monthly Payment: $333.33
Total Time to Pay Off: 15 Months
Total Interest Paid: $0
Just by transferring your balance, you’ve saved an additional $749 and 3 months! That’s real money that you can use for your other savings goals. Even if the card has a balance transfer fee of 3% (which equals $150 in this case), you’ll still save a total of $599! Wouldn’t you like to save 600 bucks just for transferring your balance to a new card?
5 Steps to Take After Completing a Balance Transfer
Now that you’ve made the decision to use a balance transfer card to get ahead, your job isn’t over. There’s still plenty of work to be done! To make the most out of your introductory period, be sure to complete the following 6 tasks:
Step 1: Decide How Much You’re Going to Pay and Stick to It
Using a balance transfer offer that comes with zero percent interest is a great way to save money and get ahead quickly. But remember, those introductory offers don’t last forever. Use that time to make the biggest dent possible in your principal balance instead, and then you’ll really get ahead.
Determine exactly what your payment needs to be in order pay off your balance during the intro period. This simple formula should help you out:
Total Balance + Balance Transfer Fees / Number of Months for Intro APR = Monthly Payment Needed
If you’re transferring $7,000 to a card with an 18-month 0% APR and a 3% balance transfer fee, you’ll need to pay $400.56 a month to pay it off before the rate adjusts ($7,000+$210/18 months=$400.56 per month). If you want to pay it off faster, simply pay more each month. Decide what your payment plan will be, then stick to it!
Step #2: Press Pause on Your Other Debt
Making the most of your balance transfer card means paying it off before the rate readjusts. To do that, it helps to focus on one debt at a time.
If you’re strapped for cash and need some extra money to make overpayments on your new card, press the pause button on your other debts. Don’t stop paying them entirely (that would be baaaaad), but make only minimum payments. Use all available funds to pay off your transferred balances faster. When you have them knocked out, pay extra toward the rest of your debts, or consider moving them to a balance transfer card as well.
Step #3: Get on a Budget and Track Your Spending
To determine how much you can afford to pay each month, think in terms of your overall monthly financial plan. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start a budget.
Starting a budget doesn’t have to be painful or scary. All it means is that you’re creating a monthly plan for your income and expenses. Simply add up the amount of income you’ll make during the month, then spread it around to your bills until you reach zero. Anything you have left over is money you can use to pay down debt faster.
After that, you need to track the actual amount of money you spend. Doing so gives you a clear picture what you’re actually spending, helping you to stay on budget. Check in with your budget once a week to ensure that you’re sticking with the plan.
Step #4: “Just Say No” to More Debt
Using a good balance transfer card is a great way to pay off debt quickly, but it won’t work if you continue racking up debt. Stop using debt and credit to fund your lifestyle. Instead, only buy things that you have the cash to pay for. This will help you avoid overspending and put you on a solid financial path.
It’s crucial that you change your mindset about debt and that you stop using credit immediately. When opening a balance transfer card, it can be tempting to use it to buy more stuff you can’t afford. Avoid this at all costs as it will only hurt your progress. Once you’ve transferred your balances, cut up your new card so you can’t add to the debt you already have.
Step #5: Consider Keeping Your Old Account Open
Even though you might cut up your old cards to avoid temptation, that doesn’t mean you should close the accounts. Doing so could have a negative impact on your credit score.
Your length of credit history accounts for 15% of your total credit score. Credit utilization (the amount of credit you have available versus the amount you are using) accounts for 30%. By closing old accounts, you’re not only affecting your credit history, you’re also negatively impacting your utilization score.
Cutting up those old cards is still good practice, especially if you’re tempted to use them. However, you should consider leaving those accounts open and unused. This is especially true if you are in the process of trying to improve your credit or may be using credit for a large purchase (like a house) in the near future.
To get the most out of your 0% APR offer, you should do your best to avoid the pitfalls that tend to plague people who rely on credit. For the most part, that means only using credit for purchases you can pay off right away, or in this case, during your card’s introductory 0% APR period. Second of all, even though you are getting a deal signing up for one of the best credit cards, you should learn to use credit as a tool to improve your finances and not as a crutch that pulls you deeper into debt over time.
The best 0% APR and balance transfer credit cards can serve as a valuable tool in anyone’s financial tool chest, but only if they are used wisely.
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