When credit card debt from last year’s unexpected twists and turns follows you into the new year, you’re not necessarily stuck with an interest payment. If you have good credit, you might qualify for a balance transfer credit card.
Balance transfer cards allow you to move high-interest credit card debt to a low-interest credit card from a different issuer.
The right offer can save you money and inch you closer to a prosperous new year.
What to know about balance transfer credit cards
Kumiko Ehrmantraut, an accredited financial counselor and a blogger at The Budget Mom, moved $7,500 in debt spread across several credit cards to two balance transfer cards. She put as much as she could on the card offering the best deal: 18 months at 0% interest.
“If I think about all of the interest that I would have paid on those seven credit cards, it would have been thousands of dollars,” says Ehrmantraut.
Like Ehrmantraut, you should look for a balance transfer credit card with a lengthy 0% introductory APR period, so that you’ll have a nice long window to pay down debt interest-free. Also, make sure the card doesn’t charge an annual fee.
Balance transfer fees are harder to avoid, unfortunately. You’ll generally be charged 3% to 5% of the amount transferred, although some cards don’t charge this fee as long as you initiate the transfer within a specific time frame.
You can transfer only as much debt as your credit limit on the new card permits — and generally you won’t know what your limit is until after you’re approved. If you have debt on several credit cards, start by transferring the balance from the card with the highest interest rate.
Remember that the goal of a balance transfer is to save money as you pay off debt — not necessarily to secure a lower monthly payment. “We really want to look at the interest rates and the cost of borrowing that money, not the payment itself,” says Katie Bossler, a financial wellness expert at GreenPath, a credit counseling agency.
Maximize your promotional period
Once you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, make a plan to help yourself stay on the debt repayment track.
“I literally took the balance I owed that got transferred on that card, I divided by 12 and I added $100 to it (per month) because I wanted to make sure that I had it paid off” well before the 18-month offer ended, Ehrmantraut says.
These tips can help:
- Make payments on time to keep the promotional offer active
- Plan your monthly payment by dividing the amount you’re transferring by the number of months in the promotional period
- Make more than the minimum payment if you can
- Set reminders for your expiration date
- Don’t use the card for purchases or additional transactions, as that can delay your progress
Safeguard your credit score
The length of your credit history is a factor in credit scores, too, so you may want to keep the old account open and active, as long as it doesn’t charge an annual fee.
Transferring enough debt to max out your new card’s limit may hurt your score by increasing your credit utilization — but that will be reversed as you pay down debt and free up available credit.