NerdWallet’s Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards, Fall 2011 Edition

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A balance transfer credit card is a great way to consolidate your debts and pay them down interest-free for a period of time. For example, let’s say you have $3,000 of credit card debt on 3 different cards that accrues 15% interest. If you transferred that debt to a balance transfer credit card that gave 0% interest for 12 months and paid off your $3,000 debt in that time, you’d save $450! It’s not all good news, however – you usually have to pay a balance transfer fee (the industry standard is 5%, though some charge 3% and others waive it altogether) and after the promotional period ends, you’ll be charged a higher APR. Still, you get the chance to pay down your debt without paying any interest at all, in some cases for nearly two years!

Our top balance transfer picks:

When evaluating balance transfer cards, we consider the length of the 0% promotional APR period, the ongoing APR, and the balance transfer fee. Always remember to consider the transfer fee, as paying 5% to transfer debt that you’ll pay off in three months is pretty unhelpful. Still, the best balance transfer cards can offer a great value, especially if you’re struggling with debt. Read on for why we like them…

Longest introductory APR period: Citi Simplicity

The Citi Simplicity offers the longest 0% balance transfer APRs out there. It charges no interest on purchases or transfers for 18 months, well more than the standard 12. What’s more, the balance transfer fee is only 3% instead of the standard 5%, so you’re saving a substantial bit of money in both cases. But one thing sets the Simplicity apart from the other 18-month cards: it has no late fee and no penalty interest rate. If you’re nervous about paying your bills on time, the Simplicity’s got you covered.

On top of that, it has no annual fee and a low ongoing APR (minimum 12.99%, maximum 21.99%. All rates are variable and current as of September 15th, 2011). These are great cards if you’ll need a long time to pay off your debts. Though they don’t earn rewards, they do give you the most time to pay off your debts.

Best rewards + balance transfer combination: Discover More & Dividend

The Discover More and Citi Dividend World MasterCard share the podium on this one, because the More offers a slightly longer balance transfer period, but the Dividend gives better rewards, in our opinion.

The Discover More has no interest on balance transfers for 18 months and purchases for 6. It’s the same deal as the Simplicity, Diamond Preferred and Platinum Select. Plus, unlike the Big Three, the Discover More actually gives rewards. Let’s start with the fees: no annual fee, low 3% transfer fee, lower-than-usual 2% foreign transaction fee. Now, on to the rewards: the More gives 5% cash back in bonus categories that change quarterly, up to a cap that also varies quarterly. On top of that, you earn 0.25% cash back on every other dollar you spend up to $3,000 a year, and 1% cash back thereafter. It’s a pretty solid offer, especially considering that it lets you pay off your debts and get a little something back.

The Citi® Dividend World MasterCard® – $100 Cash Back (that’s quite a mouthful) has a slightly shorter 0% APR period, offering no interest on both purchases and transfers for 12 months*. However, we think it’s got a better rewards program than the Discover More, and here’s why. First off, you get $100 cash back when you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Past that, you earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories, just like the More, but you get 1% back elsewhere on every dollar you spend, with no spending threshold. Keep in mind, though, that your total rewards are capped at $300/year (not including the $100 cash back bonus). Like the other cards mentioned, the Dividend has no annual fee* and a low 3% balance transfer fee.

Best offer for students: the Citi Forward® Card for College Students

The Citi Forward® Card for College Students has no purchase APR for 7 months*. Its balance transfer fee, like the Diamond Preferred and Platinum Select, is only 3%, which is lower than most, and it has no annual fee. Best of all, it also has rewards: you earn 5 Citi ThankYou Points per $1 spent on restaurants, music, movies and bookstores (which includes, campus bookstores, fast food, etc.) as well as 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. You’re rewarded for paying on time: if you stay under your credit limit and pay on time for 3 billing periods in a row, your APR can fall by up to 2%, and you also get bonus points for being good. The Forward actually offers the best deal for students both in terms of rewards and 0% intro periods – it’s hard to top that offer.

  • J A H

    What if I want to apply for Chase Slate in order to transfer our debt balance on my wife’s high interest Chase Slate to my new Chase Slate. Or, will Chase prevent that?

    • NerdWallet

      Unfortunately, CAP is correct – As of December 2014, Chase won’t allow you to transfer balances between two Chase cards.

  • D.W.M.

    I want to transfer about 10K but I’m afraid that the monthly bill from the new card will be to big to handle at first. Is there a formula they use to figure that out? Thanks

  • Martin

    Can I transfer from a Citi card to Chase Slate Card?

    • NerdWallet

      In general, yes, there shouldn’t be an issue with that.

  • NerdWallet

    Hi @Ana,

    If you already have the Chase Slate, it sounds like a great idea to transfer your other balances so that you can take advantage of the introductory 0% APR period. You should be able to transfer balances from multiple cards – I would contact Chase directly to have them walk you through the transfer process. The 0% balance transfer offer is only valid for the first 60 days, so be sure to get this taken care of sooner rather than later!

  • cmartel2

    The rate that you get depends on your credit score and potentially your debt to income ratio. It could be anywhere between a 0-5.9% rate. I qualified for a 0% rate.

  • Tessa

    I don’t have excellent credit. My credit score is fair (around 650), so what’s the best balance transfer card for someone like me? I’m looking only to transfer my $7000 balance from a Visa I’m paying high interest on. I would appreciate ANY help!!

  • Princess Elsa

    I have a credit score 711 last month. Never paid interest on any credit card!always on time. I have amex 12k limit. Discover 3k. I had one secure card 300$ that was just redicilous with the fees so i closed that one. Can you transfer my husbands home depo 1k and to which citi chase or some other? My credit history is not long we moved from Europe. But my first amex they card was 3k then 7k and always paid amex in full they raised 5k more. I havent asked for any card a year and a half. So my question is which card wiuld be best fitting for me? The debt are not deep,i just wanted another good card with spread payments and hi limit. Thank you for helping me!

  • anastasia

    hello! Im looking to get a credit card specifically to transfer credit debt onto- i looked in the us airways card right now since it gives you 50000 points after first purchase and payment of card fee. what i want to know is if its possible to transfer my husbands credit card debt onto that too, or does it have to be in my name? thank you

  • Pete

    Hi I’m seeking advice for an alternative to the Chase Slate card, are there any other cards out there that offer the 0% transfer fee combined with 0% APR for balance transfers? The issue is the balance we are looking to transfer is on a Chase Freedom card, and if I understand correctly, you cannot transfer balances between Chase cards. Thanks!!

  • Aaron Kirksey

    Is it at all possible to get a credit card with the 0% APR for 12-18 and at the end of that period get a new

  • Denise

    Thank you for the additional info! I will contact Citi to see if I can get approved for a higher credit limit.

  • NerdWallet

    Hi @disqus_aD2EpSGTlv:disqus,

    I’m sorry to hear about your situation! A balance transfer does sound like a good idea — the Chase Slate is one of the best in the business, with (as of 12/23/2014) no transfer fee for the first 60 days, and a long introductory 0% APR period. Applying for any credit card has a small and temporary negative impact on your credit score, which shouldn’t be an issue unless you are applying to multiple cards in a short time period. Unfortunately, balance transfer cards are typically reserved for people with good or excellent credit, so this is something to be aware of.

    Hope this helps! Feel free to contact us with additional questions.

  • Lindsey

    I would be hesitant to apply for the Slate. It isn’t a bad card but I had a score of 763 and only got approved for a $500.00 balance and I seem to hear that a lot about that card.