Debt can be crippling, and finding a way to erase it is the key to good financial health. An often-overlooked tool to accomplish this is by transferring the balance you owe on a high-interest card to one with little or no interest (at least for a while).
But of course, balance transfer credit card offers are not all created equal. In fact, some may have lower fees but a shorter introductory term where you can pay off what you owe while being charged 0 percent interest. By contrast, others may have a longer 0 percent introductory interest rate window but higher fees.
To take full advantage of a limited duration 0 percent interest rate to pay down debt requires you to be honest about your willingness and ability to make the necessary payments. "If you miss the deadline to pay off or transfer your debt before the offer expires, it can be very costly," says Gerri Detweiler, Head of Market Education for Nav.com.
Whether through a balance transfer card or not, the time to pay off your debt is now, while interest rates are still very low. "Consumers are being given a rare opportunity to make their financial lives easier," says Gary Foreman, founder of The Dollar Stretcher website. "The Federal Reserve has been talking about raising interest rates for quite some time. Normally, we don't get this type of warning. Anyone who is paying attention wants to lock in low rates on the money they owe." Higher rates mean debts will be even more costly to pay off, says Foreman.
Balance transfer credit cards with long and generous introductory interest rate offers are a tool to eliminate your debt. We've rounded up a list of the best long-term balance transfer credit cards with introductory offers that range between 15 and 24 months.
IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN
This card is in a class of its own among long-term balance transfer credit cards. It's not because its introductory offer is 15 months at 0 percent APR. It's because that initial 0% APR for 15 months has no fee, which is a rarity in today's market (click for detailed card review and application info).
Remember, several of these cards offer terms as long as 21 to 24 months. Depending on how big your balance is, you could still really get slammed with those 3 percent balance transfer fees.
As long as you know you can pay off your debt in 15 months, the Chase Slate gives you an opportunity to pay off your balance with absolutely no fees or interest.
TOP LONG-TERM BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARDS
Citi Simplicity Card®*
The Citi Simplicity Card made our list for two simple reasons: It has an introductory APR of 0 percent and it lasts for 21 months, one of the best offers on the market (click for detailed card review and application info). Second, its "No Late Fees Ever" promise is truly unique.
There is a 3 percent balance transfer fee, but that lack of late fees and penalties makes it worthwhile. Remember: Even though this card doesn't charge late fees, not paying your bill on time will still result in a lower credit score and could raise your rate to the penalty rate.
Santander Sphere® Signature Card
The Santander Sphere Signature card offers a 24-month 0 percent APR introductory rate when you complete a balance transfer within the first 90 days of opening an account. At 4 percent, the balance transfer fee is a little higher than competing cards. But this can be outweighed by the additional three months of 0 percent APR when compared to the Citi Simplicity. After all, you can pay off a lot of debt with an extra three months.
Rare for a balance transfer card, the Santander Sphere Signature card has a rewards program. You receive one point for every dollar you spend, which can then be used to redeem rewards, such as gift cards, travel perks or cash back. You will want to note that it is not 0 percent on purchases, only balance transfers, so it would be unwise to use the card for purchases during the transfer period.
Discover it® Card*
The Discover it card gives you 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 18 months. The balance transfer has a 3 percent fee. Discover sweetens the deal by offering 0 percent APR on purchases made within the first 6 months after opening an account.
In other words, this is a great card for doing double duty. Not only can you get 0 percent APR on a balance transfer of existing debt, you can also use the card if you need to make a large purchase. But remember: Adding more debt through a purchase will make it harder to pay off your balance within 18 months.
NASA Federal Credit Union Card
The NASA Federal Credit Union card offers a 7.9 percent balance transfer for life. In other words, there is no limit to the incredibly low APR. There's also no balance transfer fee.
This could be a great card for individuals who know they will take longer than 18, 21 or 24 months to pay off their debt. When the introductory APRs on the other cards expire, the rate is usually double what's being offered by this card.
BankAmericard Credit Card*
The BankAmericard credit card offers 0 percent APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months and has a 3 percent transfer fee. After the initial 18 months, the BankAmericard offers one of the lowest ongoing APR of any of the BankAmericard products. The ongoing APR is between 11.24 and 21.24 percent, depending on your creditworthiness.
This card also offers credit education resources, making it a good card for individuals who are looking for a long-term balance transfer card in an effort to pay off their debt and improve their credit.
Barclay Bank NFL Extra Points Card*
Although U.K. based Barclay Bank has been offering credit cards in the U.S. for several years, the bank still is far from a household name here and is a bit of a best kept secret. The balance transfer offer of the NFL Extra Points card is impressive, though not quite a touchdown. It offers 15 months on transfers made within the first 45 days and comes with the industry standard 3% fee. After that, a variable purchase APR applies, currently 15.24%-25.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
While not the best transfer offer on the market, the card also offers a unique 0% promotional APR for 6 months on NFL ticket purchases from any participating NFL team ticket office. Another nice perk is complimentary online FICO credit score access.
Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum*
If you're looking for a long-term balance transfer credit card that doesn't have a balance transfer fee, look no further than the Simmons Bank Visa Platinum card. Though the card charges no balance transfer fee, it does levy a variable 7.5 percent APR on balance transfers made within the first 90 days of opening the account. This is comparable to the NASA card, although at a lower rate.
A unique feature of the card: Unlike many other cards on this list, the APR following the introductory rate does not vary depending on your credit worthiness. With the Simmons card, it's simply a flat 7.5 percent, if you get approved.
BEST LOCAL AND REGIONAL LONG-TERM BALANCE TRANSFER CARDS
Sometimes the best long-term balance transfer credit cards don't come from large national chains and credit unions. Instead, you can find some gems right where you live. Here is a sampling of some of the most attractive offers, but be sure to consult with locally owned and operated banks and credit unions in your area.
First National Bank of Omaha Platinum Edition® Visa® Card
This is a good regional card worth considering. First National Bank of Omaha
currently offers the Platinum Edition Visa Card with a long-term balance transfer period available to people who reside in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota or Texas. These cards offer a 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 15 months along with a 3 percent balance transfer fee. After the introductory period, the bank offers APRs as low as 10.24% up to 18.24%.
Note: This is an interesting side note for those applying for a transfer offer with another issuer. Although not a balance transfer card, we did not want to neglect to mention another card worth considering from FNBO: the Complete Rewards Visa Card. This card offers a 15 month 0% APR on purchases, not balance transfers. This could be a nice complementary card to use while paying down your transferred balance if you expect to be making some purchases along the way.
TruWest Credit Union Visa® Platinum Card
The TruWest Credit Union Visa Platinum credit card is a long-term balance transfer card available to people who reside in parts of Arizona and Texas. The card offers a 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 18 months, though there is a 3 percent fee. After the introductory period, the credit union offers APRs as low as a very rare rate of 6.5 percent, a real bargain.
TruService Community Federal Credit Union Visa® Platinum Card
Arkansans looking for a long-term balance transfer credit card won't find a better deal than what's offered by the TruService Community Federal Credit Union.
TruService lives up to its name with a ridiculous ongoing APR as low as 5.5 percent. This is the lowest ongoing rate in the nation (that we are currently aware of). There's also no balance transfer fee within the first 60 days. After that, it's only $25 per card.
Logix Platinum Rewards MasterCard®
The Logix Platinum Rewards MasterCard offers a very unique variable long-term balance transfer deal of 4.99 percent to 9.99 percent APR for 24 months with no balance transfer fee. It also has no foreign transaction fees, a plus for travelers. The transfer rate is based on your creditworthiness, so if you can get the lower rate, this is a good offer, but if you get the higher rate, it's not that great. For those qualifying for the lower rates, this can be a great option for individuals in Southern California who need to find a way to pay off high-interest debt.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Long-term balance transfer credit cards are a great solution for individuals who are looking to pay down their high-interest debts once and for all. In a nutshell, here's what makes a card worth looking at: It must have a long introductory period 0 percent APR, decent fees and low ongoing APRs. All of the cards above fit the bill and can help you improve your financial situation.
CHECKLIST BEFORE YOU TRANSFER
- Identify which balance(s) and which card(s) you want to transfer.
This can be as simple or complicated as you choose to make it depending on your goals and how many cards and balances you are looking to transfer. For many people, they may be simply transferring debt from one card to another. Others may want to consolidate debt from multiple cards, especially if they can move all balances to one card at 0%. It is good to know in advance what balance(s) you want to transfer. If you have some cards that you do not have a balance on, you can contact those issuers to see what kind of balance transfer deal they may be able to offer to win your business.
- Identify how much you plan on paying per month and how fast you can pay it off.
This can impact which card you choose. If you determine that you can pay off your current debt within twelve months, you open the range of cards to select from. If you figure out that 15-18 or 24 months is a more realistic assessment of how fast you could pay the transferred balance off, you may want to strongly consider one of the cards with longer intro rates or plan for transferring to another card with a balance transfer offer when that intro offer expires.
- Check your credit score.
Knowing your credit score is handy to helping know what card or cards you can be approved for. The higher your score, the more options you will have in applying for a great balance transfer card. If your FICO credit score is 720-750 or higher, you should have no problem qualifying for most cards that state that "Excellent credit is required." Click here to check your credit score.
Consider the impact of transferring a balance on your credit score, but maintain your focus on the goal. Although it could negatively impact your credit score, especially in the short term, you should be more concerned with taking advantage of the offers that allow you to pay off your debt the fastest and at the lowest rate possible. In the long run, that will be the best toward eliminating debt and improving your credit score.
- Get an idea on how much you can be approved for on the new card.
If you have not applied for a card in a while, you may be flying blind on this one. A number of factors influence how much credit you will be awarded including your current debt load, credit score and other items. If you apply online, you should know fairly soon if you are approved and how much credit you qualify for. If the amount is not enough to cover the balance you wish to transfer, contact the card issuer and see if they can do anything to extend that to help accommodate the balance(s) you are wanting to transfer. Worst case, you can apply for multiple cards (from different issuers) to accommodate the total balance and identify which amount from which card will go where. (A word of caution: Each time you apply for a credit card, it can lower your score a little bit on a temporary basis.)
- Use a balance transfer savings calculator to determine which offer is best for your situation.
Terms vary on the introductory balance transfer offers. Most of the 0% offers carry a balance transfer fee typically at 3%, but some are higher. Other cards offer an intro period without a balance transfer fee. You can use such an online calculator to determine how much you will save for each card and see which gives you the biggest bang for your buck over time.
- Decide if you prefer to transfer a balance or get a consolidation loan.
It is true that a balance transfer at 0% is the absolute lowest rate you can find. But, crunching the numbers are not 100% of what erasing debt is all about. Personalities and personal preferences should be considered as well. Some people are more comfortable with a single fixed monthly payment and a pre-determined final payment date. In that instance, a loan may be the best route for you. There are a number of companies offering great rates on personal loans that can be paid off over two to five years on average. Check out local credit unions first and then local banks to find the best rates and terms. Also consider online sources such as Payoff.com for debt consolidation loans. Although not as low as 0%, you may find that you can afford the payment and get a plan that will erase that debt once and for all.
- Don't try to transfer balances between two cards with the same bank or card issuer.
This may seem like a tip that does not need to be said, but you may have an airline miles card, rewards card or a store card issued by a bank and their logo is not prominent front and center on the card. Check the issuing bank on the back of the card before applying for that new card. Banks typically use these balance transfer offers to create new business and are hoping to steal business away from their competitors. They will not be interested in reducing a rate on a balance they already manage. Having said all that, many cardholders often have success contacting the existing card issuer and negotiating a lower rate on their current balance.
- Get the transfer done as soon as possible and know the deadline date. (Typically, 60 - 90 days.)
Many card issuers have promotional balance transfer offer time periods between 60 to 90 days from the time you open the account. It is definitely in your best interest to transfer your balance as soon as possible. The sooner you are paying on a lower interest rate, the better, right? So, if transferring a balance to help pay it down faster with interest is your goal, don't procrastinate on this. Get it transferred as soon as possible!
CHECKLIST FOR AFTER THE BALANCE TRANSFER IS DONE
- Pay on your card on time, every month!
Ok. So, you know this one. Late payments can trigger steep late payment fees and can also hurt your credit score. If you make a late payment, you will most likely lose your low introductory transfer rate and could get stuck with a high default or penalty rate which can be northwards of around 30%. In addition, late payments are typically reported to the credit bureau, which could then impact your score. Automate your payments (at least to the minimum) so you are never late. You can always go online and make extra payments as well to help pay it down faster.
- Don't use your new balance transfer credit card if you can help it.
After you have transferred your balance to the card, you don't want to add more debt. Unless the card also offers a 0% purchase rate offer for a set time period, any purchase you make on that card will start accruing interest at a higher rate after the grace period. The goal is to drop the interest for a while so you can pay down the debt. If you can help it, you don't want to add to it.
- Don't use your card at an ATM or get cash out while shopping.
Walking hand-in-hand with the tip to not use your card, we emphatically say to avoid using your card at ATMs or getting cash back at the checkout counter. These transactions are not your typical "purchase" transactions; they are considered cash advances and almost always come with an initial fee, usually around 5% and carry a much higher interest rate. In addition, there is usually no grace period for cash advances, so interest accrues immediately. If your shiny new card does offer a 0% purchase rate for a time, these cash advance transactions will not fall under that category.
- Don't close your old accounts.
After you have transferred your balance from one card to another, you may be tempted to close the accounts of those cards that now have a $0 balance. You do NOT want to do this. Keeping those accounts open will help you with your credit utilization ratio which is a factor used in determining your overall credit score. Each card has its own credit utilization ratio, which is the actual debt balance divided by the total credit available. For factoring your credit score, they also look at the overall credit utilization ratio, which is the total debt balance divided by the total credit available. Your goal is to be below 30%. As you get new cards and move the balances there, you will have increased your total available credit, which will improve your overall credit utilization ratio. Also, the age of accounts is also a factor and older accounts can help improve credit scores. For more information on when to close an account, click here. The bottom line is: get those cards to a $0 balance as fast as possible, but leave them open to improve your credit score.
- Add to the payment as you can over time.
While experiencing a breather from your earlier interest rate, you may find times when you can pay on the card a little more over time. Anything you can do to pay off the debt faster is always helpful. Eventually, the intro rate will end, unless you have locked down with a low ongoing rate. Even paying $10 or $20 extra each month can have a big impact. Paying extra reduces the balance faster and gives you more of a chance to keep interest charges at bay.
FICO: The Credit Score You Need To Know
When reviewing these cards, we do our best to put ourselves in your shoes. We choose cards based on such things as (lack of) fees, finance charges and ease of use. In other words, if we wouldn't use these cards ourselves, we wouldn't recommend them!
* NOTE: About half of the credit card offers that appear in this article are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation (these cards are listed as such on our site). They are noted above with an asterisk. We are proud that we list cards that don't advertise with us--- almost all of our competitors ONLY list cards that advertise with them. The bottom line is that we don't know of another site that prominently lists as many non-advertiser cards.
Co-written by Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer advocate and founder of CardRatings.com, the pioneering website that started posting the first credit card ratings online around 20 years ago, and Shane Tripcony, personal finance blogger and web marketing consultant. They are the founders of BestPrepaidDebitCards.com, which provides ratings and reviews of prepaid cards and reward credit cards.
(Photos from Adobe Stock)