The 5 Best 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards
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Those who live under a mountain of credit card debt quickly realize that their suffering has two components. First there is the principle, the actual amount of goods and services that was charged to their credit card. Secondly, there are the financing charges imposed each month on their balance. With each statement cycle, their average daily balance is multiplied by one twelfth of the card’s Annual Percentage Rate (APR). Therefore, if you owe $10,000 on a card with an APR of 12%, you are incurring $100 in interest each month. Due to the effect of compounding interest, the finance charges incurred each month add to your balance, resulting in more interest being accrued with each passing month. (See also: What You Must Know Before Transferring Credit Card Balances)
How a Balance Transfer Works
To help relieve the burden of debt and acquire new customers, banks have long offered credit cards with a 0% promotional APR, for a limited time, on balance transfers. Applicants who qualify for a new card with these promotional rates can have their existing balance paid off by their new card. During the time that the 0% promotional rate applies, interest is not being accrued on the balance transferred; however, the amount transferred is almost always subject to a one-time balance transfer fee. This fee, typically 3%-5%, is added to the new balance. Also, cardholders are still responsible for making minimum payments on their account. New transactions may incur interest at the standard rate, although in some instances, the 0% promotional rate also applies to new purchases as well. Finally, no matter how much you are struggling with your debt, it is critical that you continue to make all of your payments on time, as only applicants with the excellent credit will qualify for most of these excellent promotional credit card offers.
How to Save Money With a Balance Transfer
First, it is crucial that those seeking a balance transfer do so as part of a comprehensive plan to eliminate their credit card debt. Such a plan should focus on maximizing their income, minimizing their expenses, and regularly paying down their entire credit card before the promotional rate expires.
As part of an overall plan to eliminate debt, the benefits of a balance transfer are clear. For example, if a cardholder has an existing credit balance of $10,000 on a card with a 15% APR, that cardholder is currently accruing $125 in interest each month. If the cardholder continues to pay interest while reducing the balance by $500 each month, that person will still have accrued $1,250 of interest over the 20 months it took him or her to pay off the balance (15% interest applied to an average daily balance of $5,000 over 12 months). Alternatively, that person could accept a balance transfer offer of 21 months at 0% interest with a 3% balance transfer fee. In this case, that person’s old balance of $10,000 will be paid off, while they will incur a new balance of $10,000 plus $300 in balance transfer fees. If all goes according to plan, at the end of the 21 months, the new balance will be paid off and the cardholder will have saved nearly $1,000 in interest.
A 0% balance transfer is not an instant solution to the problem of credit card debt. You should think of these offers as a significant push up a big mountain, but you will still have to do most of the work yourself. (See also: 6 Hidden Dangers of Credit Card Balance Transfers)
Top Five 0% Balance Transfer Cards on the Market
Like every aspect of the credit card industry, we are fortunate to enjoy an extremely competitive market for 0% balance transfer credit cards. None of these cards have annual fees, because if you're working on paying off your debt with a balance transfer, you shouldn't be worrying about the extra rewards. Here are the top offers currently available.
The Chase Slate® card is catered specifically for balance transfers, and was named "Best Credit Card for Balance Transfers" by MONEY® Magazine two years in a row in 2013 and 2014. You get 0% Intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers and new purchases. After that the APR will be 12.99%, 17.99%, or 22.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness. What makes this card uniquely suited for balance transfers is the zero balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future transactions is 3% of the amount transferred, with a minimum of $5. This is a great deal if all you need is a card to transfer a balance to and get a 15 month relief from interest. There is no annual fee.
Citi Simplicity® Card
Citi offers the Citi Simplicity® MasterCard that has a 0% APR for 21 months on both balance transfers and new purchases (that's a long time). After that, the regular balance transfer APR will be 12.99%-22.99% (variable), depending on your credit. There is a $5 or 3% balance transfer fee (whichever is greater). Simplicity doesn't have any cash back or points program, but it does offer no late fees or penalty interest rates, and include exclusive services like Citi Price Rewind. It also includes EMV Chip technology and is compatible with Apple Pay. There is no annual fee.
Discover it® Card
The Discover it® card is offering a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months (but only 6 months for purchases). After that, the APR will be 10.99%-22.99% (variable), depending on your credit. Balance transfers are subject to a 3% fee. There are no penalty interest rates, no late fee for your first late payment, and no overlimit fee. Although the Discover card is not as widely accepted as some others, customers rave about their excellent service. Plus, you get a free FICO® Credit Score online and on your monthly statement, online, in their mobile app to help you stay on top of your credit. And if you need to freeze or unfreeze your account quickly, Discover's new Freeze ItSM on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers via their website or mobile app.
In addition to a great 18 month balance transfer rate, the Discover it card is a great cash rewards card, offering 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up, plus 1% cash back on all other purchases. Additionally, Discover's online shopping portal boasts 5-20% cash back with their over 200+ retail partners. There is no annual fee.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card offers 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99%-21.99% based on your creditworthiness and other factors. The balance transfer fee is a $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
This card also offers great cash back rewards: 3% US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 2% at US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% on other purchases. There is currently a sign up bonus for $100 back (in the form of a statement credit) after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within 3 months. Terms and limitations apply. There is no annual fee.
Chase Freedom® offers 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 13.99-22.99% applies. This is a popular card for its 5% cash back (on rotating quarterly categories). From now through 6/30, get 5% cash back (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases) at restaurants, Bed Bath & Beyond, H&M and Overstock.com. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. There is no annual fee.
Sign up offer: Earn $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. Earn another $25 if you add an authorized user and make a purchases within the same 3-month period.
Low Interest Credit Cards for Long Term Debt
Another option to save money if you have a large credit card debt is to transfer the balance(s) to a low interest credit card. This option is especially attractive if you won't be able to pay off the entire balance within the 0% intro APR period of the cards above. The Barclaycard® Ring MasterCard® is a good choice for transferring balances to a low interest card. (Click here for more good low interest credit card choices.)
Barclaycard® Ring Mastercard®
A relatively newcomer, the Barclaycard® Ring MasterCard® offers a 8% variable APR with no annual fees and no balance transfer fees! Capitalizing on the crowdsourcing popularity, this card offers members to shape the terms and conditions. Cardmembers can discuss issues with the card and vote on new ideas. It's a fun and simple card for those looking to provide some input and exert some control over their credit cards.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.