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Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards to Help Alleviate Post-Holiday Debt

01/10/2013 10:57 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2013

If your credit cards are maxed out from holiday shopping, you might want to consider getting a balance transfer credit card to help alleviate some of the stress.

Why a balance transfer credit card? If your current credit cards have a high APR that is adding interest to your balance, then you are basically throwing money away. Using a balance transfer card can lower your APR to zero and give you more time to pay down the balance before you get hit with interest charges.

What should I look for in a balance transfer card?

APR: Look for a card with 0 percent introductory APR. The longer the introductory period, the better. This will give you extra time to pay off your balance without adding interest to your balance.

Fees: Find a card with no annual fees and no balance transfer fees. These will just end up adding to your balance.

Special features: Many balance transfer cards have added features like cash back or travel rewards, which can be a nice extra bonus. Cash back rewards can even help you pay off your balance. Just remember that special features are not as important as a 0 percent APR or no fees.

Which balance transfer card is best for me?

Well, that depends on what you need the most. If you're looking solely at paying the lowest fees possible, try this balance transfer calculator. This will calculate how much interest and other fees you would pay for all the leading balance transfer cards, based on your balance, monthly payments and credit worthiness.

You may have other priorities, too, so we examined the best balance transfer cards for four common situations:

Best Card with Longest Introductory Zero Percent APR Period: Want the longest amount of time to pay off your balance? The Citi Simplicity Card offers an introductory zero percent APR for 18 months, which means you have a year and half to pay off your balance without adding any interest to it. The best part? It also has no late fees, so even if you are late on a couple of your payments, you won't be hit with extra fees. It also doesn't have an annual fee, although it does have a balance transfer fee of $5 or 3 percent of the balance transfer amount, whichever is greater.

Best Card for Earning Cash Back: If you think cash back rewards can help you pay off your balance, and you are planning on using your balance transfer card for purchases as well, you should take a look at the Discover It card. You get 5 percent cash back in a range of categories that change throughout the year, and up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. Also, you'll get 1 percent cash back on every other purchase. While it does have a 3 percent balance transfer fee, its 18-month introductory zero percent APR will save you a bundle on interest payments.

Best Card for Average Credit: Maxing out your credit cards means that you are using all your available credit, which can affect your credit score. If you think your credit score may make it difficult to get a balance transfer card, try the Capital One Classic Platinum Card. It has a zero percent APR until September 2013 and no balance transfer fee, which are some great perks for a credit card aimed at those with average credit. Keep in mind that there is a $39 annual fee and the purchase APR goes up to 19.8 percent after the introductory period. But if you are looking for a great balance transfer card and don't qualify for the better cards, this is the best option for you.

Best Overall Balance Transfer Card: Other balance transfer cards have a hard time competing with the Slate card from Chase. It has all the perks you would expect from a stellar balance transfer card, including no balance transfer fee or annual fee. The card also offers a zero percent APR for the first 15 months, not to mention a purchase APR as low as 11.99 percent, depending on your credit worthiness. All these features mean that for most situations, it will be quicker to pay off your balance with this card than with any other balance transfer card.