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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% balance transfer 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:

  • Citi Simplicity® Card0% for 21 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 22.99% Variable ; No late or annual fees, no penalty APR
  • Discover® More® Card: 0% for 6 months on purchases and 0% for 18 months on balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 10.99% - 20.99% Variable ; Earns 5% cash back on bonus categories
  • Citi® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card : 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99%-22.99% (Variable); Earns 5% cash back on bonus categories
  • Citi Forward® Card for College Students: 0% on purchases for 7 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99%-23.99% (Variable); Earns 5% back on typical college purchases

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® Card offers one of the longest 0% balance transfer APRs out there. 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. It also has no late fee and no penalty interest rate. If you’re nervous about paying your bills on time, this card’s got you covered.

Best rewards + balance transfer combination: Discover® More® Card & Citi® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card

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

The Discover® More® Card 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 Discover® More® Card 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 Platinum Select® Visa® Card  has a better rewards program than the Discover® More® Card, and here’s why. You earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories, just like the Discover® More® Card, 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 Citi® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card has a low 3% balance transfer fee.

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

The Citi Forward® Card for College Students has rewards: you earn 5 Citi ThankYou Points per $1 spent on restaurants, music, movies and bookstores (which includes Amazon.com, 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 Citi Forward® Card for College Students actually offers the best deal for students both in terms of rewards and 0% intro periods – it’s hard to top that offer.

  • http://vivian-lee.net/ Vivian Lee

    I have a rather low credit score and am finding it difficult to be approved for any of these. Slate and Discover It both rejected me, and the hard credit inquiries aren’t helping. Do you know of any cards that would be helpful for those of us with low credit scores?

    • Joshua Seigler

      Both of those cards you applied for do require excellent credit. Its going to be tougher to be approved. Have you tried Barlclays Ring card? They pull transunion and are slightly easier to get.

    • King Lo

      Best thing to do is find a local credit union, and try for one of their cards. Some offer a card with a low balance for credit rebuilding and establishment.

  • Sabrina

    I currently owe about $3000 on a B of A card with a $7000 limit. I’d like to do a balance transfer to something with 0% interest for 12-18 months. Credit score is 777. At my current salary though it’s going to take 24 – 26 months to pay it off, so I’ll still need to pay after the 0% intro period ends. My current card has a 12.99% APR so I hope that my new card wouldn’t be higher than that after the intro period. Considering the Discover IT with 18 months at %0 for balance transfers or possibly the Chase Slate. I’d appreciate suggestions. Thanks

    • Eryn

      If you exceed the intro period you end up having to pay interest on the entire intro period – they just tack it on…then your APR is most likely going to be variable and can definitely exceed your current card. It’s not much, but I would figure out how much you can afford towards the new card (and still pay the current after you have transferred out an amount) each month. Multiply the monthly amount by how many ‘free’ months you have at 0% and only transfer that amount (account for any transfer fee if any). It will end up saving you some money, even though it’s a pain. jmo

  • arun

    Just used the BT offer and after promotional period migrated the card to chase freedom. Can I re-apply for Slate, will I get the same offer?

  • Denise

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

  • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ 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.

  • Sean

    Hi Dan, did you learn any more about this? I am in the same situation?