NerdWallet's Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards, Fall 2011 Edition - NerdWallet
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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, 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.

Shop & Compare Credit Cards:

  • Mary Needham

    I’m on SSI and only get 721 a month what is a good credit card for me just really need some help

  • NerdWallet

    Depending on where you are in the world, the Discover it might be the best bet. It has no foreign transaction fee and 18 months of 0% interest on balance transfers. However, it’s not accepted in every country (here’s a list of places that take Discover). If you travel to places not on the list, go with the Capital One Quicksilver. It has no foreign transaction fee, and as a Visa, it’s pretty much universally accepted. It offers 12 months of 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers.

  • JC

    We transferred about 7000 onto Chase slate abd at 0% had a payment of $70 per month. I would guess that would put you sound $100.

  • Sandra

    If you look at the terms and conditions, specifically at the minimum monthly payment, you can see what it would be. For most cards, it’s 1% or $25/30/50. Beware, the transfer fee will accumulate interest if you don’t pay it off right away.

  • JC

    I called Chase right after I was approved for 6000 and asked if they could increase my limit for balance transfer and they gave me another 1000. You can try it to give yourself a better cushion. If not, then they say no. Also, if you only transfer $5000, you could push yourself to pay off the $500.

  • 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.

  • Seth Walker

    How do you do that to yourself? 10k credit card debt? If your hubby makes good money, why would you keep racking up your cc? You guys need to cut up your cards, not get more!

  • guest

    Seth Walker, why would you say something like that? What is the point in being rude to someone while they try to deal with their debt?

  • Eliot Jones

    Did they recently change the intro APR rate from 0% to 0 to 5.9%?

  • Eliot Jones

    Do you have to qualify for membership based on these: ?

  • 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?

  • Renzie

    Must be nice to have a life where no unexpected large expenses pop up… you know, medical bills, big automotive repairs, catastrophic home damage not fully covered by insurance. Maybe instead of being judgemental over people using tools like 0% APR BT offers, you should thank your lucky stars that your life is apparently charmed. I’d offer to buy you a clue, but it doesn’t fit into the budget I carefully set.

  • Sandra

    I agree with mrtrantastic. I did two balance transfers, both of which maxed out the new cards. My score dropped from 770s to 660. I don’t care, as I’m aggressively paying both down and won’t ask for credit until they’re both paid off. If you think you’ll need additional credit in any way, shape or form, do not max out the new card with a balance transfer.

  • Sandra

    I think Discover’s doing the industry norm actually. I did a balance transfer to a Citizens Bank card and a Barclays card. In my myriad of questions, I was specifically told that once I do a balance transfer, there’s a trigger that occurs. The trigger makes every purchase I make to start charging interest from the day it posts on the card, not from the day the statement due date is late. Thus, there’s no more grace period with purchases. Also, balance transfer fees must be paid off from the initial statement on which they occur, otherwise they start incurring daily interest as well.

  • Sandra

    I wouldn’t worry too much if you have pretty good credit. Apply and see what happens. Usually the limit for the balance transfer is your credit limit. This means that the amount you want to transfer + transfer fee MUST BE under your credit limit. Will your score get dinged? It’s not the act of acquiring the card that dings your credit (unless you go crazy on the number of applications). Getting cards is a very small ding, a few points. What DOES ding you is if you max out the new cards with a balance transfer.

  • Sandra

    I would strongly recommend you call them and ask for a credit limit increase because the balance you want to transfer to the card is more than the limit.

  • ImJustABill

    In the real world pretty much everyone needs credit cards nowadays. I’m not sure Jonathan lives in the real world. Ideally it’s best to not carry any revolving credit and that’s definitely a good goal to work for. While working towards that goal however it makes sense to get the best interest rates possible.

  • Jessica

    Unfortunately, as I just found out today, you can’t transfer a balance from one chase credit card to another.