A balance transfer credit card can help you save on interest payments while you pay down debt, but these cards typically come at a cost. Most charge balance transfer fees of around 3%-5% of the transferred balance. Put another way, every $1,000 in debt you transfer can cost you between $30 and $50.
At a time when every cent counts, the ideal balance transfer credit card would feature no such balance transfer fee, as well as a $0 annual fee and a long 0% interest period to boot. Unfortunately, these “triple-zero” cards are hard to find.
In fact, balance transfer offers in general have become harder to find amid the COVID-19-related economic environment. And pandemic or not, balance transfer fee or not, many of these products require excellent credit (typically FICO scores of 720 or higher) to qualify at all.
Still, it’s possible to pay down debt for less using a balance transfer credit card. Here are some options that can help.
Nerd tip: Most credit card companies don't allow same-issuer transfers. If your debt is with American Express, for example, you can't move it to another American Express card.
Credit cards with no balance transfer fees
Frankly, the number of cards that offer balance transfers without a balance transfer fee has always been small, and it's even smaller now.
Some regional banks and credit unions offer balance transfer cards at a lower cost, but these products come with their own limitations. Credit unions require membership, and regional banks don’t operate in every state. Check with local banks in your area to see what they offer. Here are some examples of what’s available:
The Navy Federal Credit Union® Platinum Credit Card charges 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 5.99% - 18.00%, Variable. It has no balance transfer fees, but you must be eligible for Navy Federal Credit Union membership, which is generally available to military members and veterans, their families and Department of Defense civilian personnel. See our review of this card for more information.
The SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card offers a twist on the typical balance transfer card: The APR is an intro 3.25% for the first 36 months for all Balances transferred within 60 days of account opening, and then the ongoing APR of 11.24%–21.24% Variable APR. Depending on your situation, a low APR for a longer time period (in this case, three years) may save you more than a 0% interest offer for less time. There’s no balance transfer fee if you transfer a balance within the first 60 days of card membership. But this card is not available in every state. See our review of this card for more information.
Cards to consider despite their balance transfer fees
Sometimes, the best feature of a credit card is that it actually exists. You may find more card options if you’re open to the idea of a balance transfer fee. Look for a 3% fee, which is on the low end of the typical range. A $0 annual fee and a long no-interest period make these cards even more valuable. Here are some examples of what’s available:
The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is known for its no-fuss rewards program that earns 2% cash back on every purchase (1% as you spend, 1% as you pay), but it also offers an intro 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. Balance transfer fee: 3%.
The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers one of the longest 0% intro APR promotional periods around, which is ideal if you need some extra time to make payments. Balance transfer fee: 3%.
The Discover it® Cash Back is known for its rotating quarterly cash-back categories, but it also offers 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR. Balance transfer fee: 3% introductory fee and up to 5% on future balance transfers. Terms apply.
How important is it to pay no balance transfer fee?
If you intend to pay down your balance in three months or less, the balance transfer fee could exceed what you’d save on interest. If that’s the case, you may be better off sticking with the card you already have.
But the longer you need to get out of debt, and the higher your current interest rate, the more beneficial a balance transfer becomes.