How to choose the right balance transfer credit cards

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Balance transfer credit cards offer you the opportunity to take a break from interest charges while you pay down your existing balances. How do they do that? These cards offer 0% APR promotional financing for a limited period on balances transferred from other accounts. By law, this financing period must be at least six months long, but the most competitive offers will last at least 15 months to as long as 20.

 

The largest drawback to these offers is the balance transfer fee that’s added to your new account, typically 3% of the amount transferred. Most of the major credit card issuers offer at least one card with 0% APR promotional financing on balance transfer, but they aren’t all created equal. Not only does the length of the promotional financing period vary, but some of these cards also include interest-free promotional financing for new purchases as well.

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How we chose the top balance transfer credit cards

To find the top balance transfer credit cards, we first divided the market into the following six subcategories.

  • The longest duration balance transfer offers
  • Competitive balance transfer cards with strong cash back offers
  • Balance transfer offers on cards that also feature travel rewards
  • Balance transfer cards that also offer 0% APR on new purchases
  • Balance transfer cards with very low standard interest rates
  • Balance transfer cards for small business owners

We then looked at more than a dozen major credit card issuers and credit unions to find the cards that best fit each of these subcategories. We included only cards that are offered to all applicants, which excludes any products offered by credit unions that not everyone can join. For each subcategory, we looked at the factors that were likely to be most important to someone choosing a card from that group. For example, when looking for a card with the longest duration balance transfer offer, the number of months of 0% APR financing was the most important factor, while any rewards offered weren’t considered. But when looking for the top competitive balance transfer cards with strong cash back offers, we had to balance both the length of the promotional financing and the value of the cash back offered. Naturally, credit card terms may change from time to time, but the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in August 2021.

The longest duration balance transfer offers

Having as much time as possible to pay down credit card debt without accruing additional interest can save you a lot of money. That is why having the card that offers the longest duration for balance transfers can be such a huge value. When we were looking at cards with the longest duration balance transfer offers, the most important factor was the number of months of 0% APR financing. We also looked for cards with no annual fee.

If you want the longest duration balance transfer offer available: US Bank Visa® Platinum Card

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offers the longest duration for balance transfers available from a major card issuer. With this card, an applicant can get 20 months of 0% APR financing on both balance transfers and new purchases. Note that the 0% APR for balance transfers applies only to balances transferred within 30 days of opening the account. There’s also a 3% balance transfer fee, with a five dollar minimum balance transfer. Taking advantage of the 20 months of 0% APR promotional financing offer could help buy enough time to pay off most or all of your existing balances. After the introductory APR offer ends, the variable APR rate between 14.49% and 24.49% will apply, depending on your creditworthiness when you applied. There is no annual fee for this card, but it also doesn’t offer a new account bonus or rewards for spending.

Competitive balance transfer cards with strong cash back offers

Credit card applicants shouldn’t have to choose between a card that includes a great balance transfer offer  and a card that earns good cash back rewards. When looking at competitive balance transfer cards with strong cash back offers, we balanced the length of the promotional financing with the value of the cash back offered. We also looked for cards with no annual fee and valuable benefits.

If you want a competitive balance transfer card with a strong
cash back offer
: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited not only features a competitive balance transfer and strong cash back options, but it also features added benefits like purchase protection and trip insurance. The card offers new applicants 15 months of 0% APR financing on both balance transfers and new purchases, while also earning cash back on those new purchases. There is a transfer fee of the greater of $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer made within 60 days of account opening. After that, the transfer fee will be $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

 

The total amount of the transfer balance, including interest and fees, cannot exceed the available credit limit or $15,000, whichever is lower. Transferring balances from another Chase account is not allowed. After the introductory APR offer ends, the variable APR rate between 14.99% and 23.74% will apply, depending on your creditworthiness. As for the cash back component of the card, it offers 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining (including takeout), 3% on drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.

 

In addition, for the first year, cardholders get 5% cash back on grocery store purchases, on up to $12,000 spent. As an added bonus, new applicants can also receive a $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account. This card even comes with purchase protection, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and an auto rental collision damage waiver benefit. The cash back rewards don’t expire as long as the account is open, and there is no minimum for redeeming cash back. Award travel enthusiasts will appreciate the fact that this card’s cash back rewards come in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. When these points are combined with those from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred, they can offer even more value when redeemed for travel reservations or transferred to airline and hotel programs. There is no annual fee for this card.

Balance transfer offers on cards that also feature travel rewards

Although they’re rare, some cards do offer both 0% APR balance transfers and competitive travel rewards for spending. For people who love to travel, saving money on interest while earning travel rewards might sound like a dream combination, so those are the two factors that carried the most weight with us as we evaluated cards in this subcategory.

If you want a top balance transfer offer on a card that also features travel rewards: Frontier Airlines Mastercard

The Frontier Airlines Mastercard from Barclays is a great card for earning travel rewards and elite status through spending, while still receiving a zero balance transfer offer. This card offers new applicants 0% APR for 15 months on balance transfers, though to be eligible the transfers must be completed within the first 45 days after the account opening. There’s a fee for balance transfers, which is $5 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater. After the introductory APR offer ends, the variable APR rate of between 15.99% and 24.99% will apply.

 

New applicants can also earn 50,000 bonus Frontier Airlines miles after spending just $500 on new purchases within 90 days of opening the account. The card earns 5x miles on Frontier Airlines purchases and 3x miles at restaurants. Furthermore, cardholders can earn one qualifying mile towards elite status for every dollar spent on all purchases. Frontier has three levels of elite status, and they come with perks like free seat assignments and free bag carry-ons, both of which usually cost extra on Frontier. You can also earn a $100 flight voucher each cardmember year after spending $2,500 on any purchases within one year. That may more than make up for this card’s $79 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

Balance transfer cards that also Offer 0% APR on New Purchases

Incurring interest charges on new purchases while trying to pay off a balance transfer just doesn’t make sense. For someone who has a lot of upcoming purchases but also wants to pay down existing debt, a card that offers 0% APR on both new purchases and balance transfers may be the way to go. In this subcategory, we looked for cards that provided both options.

If you want a top balance transfer card that also offers 0% APR on new purchases: US Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Not only does the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offer the longest duration for balance transfers from a major card issuer, it also offers an equally long promotional financing offer for new purchases. New applicants can get 20 months of 0% APR financing on both balance transfers and new purchases. Just remember that the 0% APR for balance transfers only applies to balances transferred within 30 days from account opening, and that there’s also a 3% balance transfer fee. If anything, the biggest drawback of this offer is that it could encourage cardholders to incur more debt than they can pay off within 20 months. Don’t forget that after the introductory APR offer ends, a variable APR rate of between 14.49% and 24.49% will apply to any remaining balances. There is no annual fee for this card. And unsurprisingly, this card doesn’t offer a new account bonus or rewards for spending.

Balance transfer cards with very low standard interest rates

Zero interest rate financing periods don’t last forever. After the introductory period ends, many cards go back to charging high interest rates. A balance transfer card that has a very low standard interest rate may be appealing for those who are looking to pay off existing debt and incur interest charges at a lower rate if they need to carry a balance in the future. So that was our primary consideration as we evaluated balance transfer cards in this subcategory.

If you want a balance transfer card with a very low standard interest rate: PenFed Gold Visa

Although offered by PenFed Credit Union, the PenFed Gold Visa card is open to anyone within or outside the armed forces. The card offers a 0% promotional rate for 12 months on transfers made between now and September 30, 2021. While most cards charge interest rates up to 25% after the introductory period, this card offers a standard interest rate of 7.49% to 17.99% APR for new purchases, depending on your creditworthiness.

 

For applicants with excellent credit, that’s likely to be well below the national average of about 15% APR. Note that this standard interest rate applies only to new purchases. Any remaining balance transferred will incur interest at 17.99% APR after the promotional financing period ends. There’s also a 3% balance transfer fee for each transaction. PenFed is the nation’s second largest credit union. While it was created to provide financial services to members of the military and their families, you can join with no military service required. And while this card isn’t a rewards card, it currently offers a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days of account opening. There is no annual fee for this card.

Balance transfer cards for small business owners

Individuals are not the only ones who could benefit from balance transfer cards. Small business owners may want to take advantage of these offers as well. There are a few balance transfer cards for small businesses owners, and we looked for the one with the longest promotional financing period.

If you want a balance transfer card for small business owners: US Bank Business Platinum

The U.S. Bank Business Platinum card is a relatively simple small business credit card that offers zero balance transfer for small business owners. The card offers 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months. This includes 0% APR for the first 18 months for new purchases, as well as 0% APR for the first 18 months for balances transferred within 30 days of account opening. This is one of the shorter transfer windows of the cards on this list, so make sure to transfer balances right away. There is a balance transfer fee of 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater. After the introductory APR offer ends, the variable APR rate of 11.99% to 20.99% will apply. There is no annual fee for this card, but there are also no rewards currently available.

 

The takeaway

 

When you have outstanding debt on one or more of your credit card accounts, the interest charges can add up very quickly. But by opening a new account and taking advantage of one of the top balance transfer offers, you could obtain relief from accruing interest. And when you have 0% APR interest financing, 100% of your credit card payments will go to paying down your balance, and you may be able to get out of debt sooner than you might have imagined. If you’re shopping for a credit card but your credit isn’t great or you just haven’t had time to build up a credit history yet, there may still be options.

 

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6 strategies for becoming debt free

 

It isn’t the $5 cups of coffee. Or the $50 a month for the gym.

It isn’t that new smartphone, or your shoe addiction, or even that pricey cable subscription. These are common things everyone likes to waggle their finger at when they talk about overspending. But it isn’t necessarily any one of those expenses that really gets people into debt.

It’s usually all of them. And then some.

According to the 2018 U.S. Financial Health Pulse survey by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 46.5% of Americans said their spending equaled or exceeded their income in the past 12 months. 33.9% said they were unable to pay all their bills on time. And 29.5% said they had more debt than they could manage.

That’s a lot of people who are worried about money.

Though frivolous or impulsive spending can be part of the problem, the slide sometimes starts with the best of intentions — with the desire to get a college education, perhaps, or to own one’s own home.

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning and Progress Study, mortgages and student loans, along with credit cards, are among the leading sources of debt in the U.S.

And when the nonprofit organization Student Debt Crisis surveyed student loan borrowers in 2018, 86% said student debt is a major source of stress. Add in credit card payments, car payments, utility bills, groceries and gas, and all the other things — big and small — that take our money every single day, and it’s clear how debt can become a deep, dark hole.

Which is why it’s so important to have a plan to get back out.

If you’ve wanted to become debt-free for a while, but didn’t know how to get there, think of your plan as a rescue rope you can hold onto during the climb. Everyone’s situation is different, but here are some popular strategies you might consider on your journey to becoming debt-free.

Related: Are you bad with money? How to know & what to do 

 

Doucefleur / istockphoto

 

If you have a significant amount of debt to pay off, you’ll likely be looking to cut costs in a meaningful way. A budget can help with that. First, when you’re going through bills, it can help to determine your priorities, this information can assist you in making informed decisions about what can go and what should stay.

Later, it can create a feedback loop, as you (and your partner, spouse, or other family members) compare real-world spending to the numbers in the budget and consider whether to take corrective action to stay on track.

And over time, it also may be possible to uncover the behaviors that have been holding you back.

If the idea of bird-dogging every penny has been a barrier to budgeting, or if you’ve tried and failed in the past, it may help to keep the process simple. The 50/30/20 rule is a simplified budgeting strategy that’s gained traction because it limits the number of spending categories a budgeter must establish and then follow.

After determining net take-home pay (what’s left after paying taxes), it breaks down the spending money that’s left into three buckets: needs, wants, and savings:

•   50% of the money goes toward needs, including housing costs, utilities, groceries, transportation, medical expenses and any regular debt payments that have to be made (credit card bills, loans, etc.). From there, it’s up to whoever is drawing up the budget to determine what are the true necessities and what belongs in the wants bucket.
•   30% goes to those wants. That’s everything from grabbing takeout, to your Netflix subscription, to getting your car washed and detailed for date night. Logically, this is the portion of the budget that has the most potential for trimming, but emotionally, it might require some real effort to get everything to fit the allocated funds.
•   20% goes to savings. This money might go into an emergency fund, some sort of savings account for short- and long-term goals and/or an investment savings/retirement account. If you decide to pay extra toward your credit card or student loan debt, that expense also would go in this category.

The percentages are meant as a guideline, and they can be tweaked to fit individual needs. The key is to make a budget that’s strict but doable.

 

fizkes/istockphoto

 

Yes, this is easier said than done, but before rolling your eyes and moving on, consider the possibilities.

Is it time for a pay raise? If a bump is overdue, it might be time to have a talk with the boss.

Is there side-gig potential? Do you always have nights or weekends off, and would your employer be OK with your taking on a part-time or occasional job for extra money? Maybe a friend does catering, landscaping, house-painting, or some other work and could use an extra hand from time to time.

Could a hobby become a money-maker? Crafty folks can sell their wares online or at craft fairs and flea markets. History buffs can give lectures or teach classes. Animal lovers can offer dog-walking or cat-sitting services. Where there’s a passion, there’s often a way to earn income.

 

MARHARYTA MARKO

 

If that raise comes through, or you earn a bonus at work, or you get a tax refund from Uncle Sam, instead of living it up while the money lasts, consider using it to pay down some debt.

A few hundred dollars might not feel like it’s making much of a dent, but every dollar you pay over the minimum can help reduce the interest you owe on a credit card or student loan.

To get some idea of how paying even a little extra toward a bill can help, check out the alert on your monthly credit card statement. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 requires card issuers to warn consumers about how long it will take to pay off a balance if only the minimum is paid each month.

 

Farknot_Architect / istockphoto

 

One way to consolidate debt is with an unsecured personal loan. You may be able to consolidate all or some of your debts at better terms, such as a lower or fixed interest rate and possibly pay them off in less time than you expected.

This strategy could be useful for those who aren’t up for keeping tabs on several bills every month. A personal loan can consolidate multiple debts together into one manageable payment, which could help make it easier to keep tabs on what you’ve paid and what you still owe.

And because the interest rates offered for personal loans can sometimes be lower than the rates on credit cards, you could end up paying less in interest over the life of the loan than you would have if you just kept plugging away at those individual revolving credit card balances.

Typically, the better your financial and credit history, the better the loan terms are likely to be, so it can be a good idea to check your credit record and make sure the information listed on credit reports is accurate.

Then look for a lender who offers the best terms to fit your needs. Keep the length of the loan in mind, as well as the interest rate and other terms to help you on the road of becoming debt-free.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

It could be difficult (okay, next to impossible) to stop using credit cards completely since they’re commonly used for things like booking or holding flights, making online purchases and more. But making a commitment to reduce credit card utilization could help you cut spending and reduce the amount of money that’s only going toward interest on those cards.

A credit card is a convenient way to pay — if you can keep your balance at zero. But if you can’t afford to erase the balance each month with a full payment, the interest can start piling up.

And though many credit cards make limited-time “no interest” offers, it’s good to review the terms in detail.

For instance, some cards may have terms where if consumers don’t pay off the entire balance by the end of the promotional period, they may be charged all of the interest accrued since the date of purchase.

To better the chances of staying in check, some options may be to consider recording all credit card purchases with a budgeting app or pen and paper and to try and face the costs in real-time, instead of weeks later when the bill arrives.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

Seeing progress is inspiring for many people. Think about how good you feel when you lose a little weight from dieting or gain some muscle from working out. Even small wins can be motivating.

How does that apply to downsize your debt?

Two of the commonly recommended approaches to debt repayment are the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche methods. These strategies vary but primarily focus on paying extra toward just one balance at a time instead of trying to put a little extra money toward all your balances at once.

The Debt Snowball

The Debt Snowball method directs any excess free cash you might have to the debt with the smallest outstanding balance. Here’s how it can work:

•   Start by listing outstanding debts based on what you owe, from the smallest balance to the largest. (Disregard interest rates.)
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as possible each month toward eliminating the smallest balance on your Debt Snowball list.
•   After you pay off the smallest debt, turn your attention to the next-lowest balance.
•   Keep going until you are debt-free.

The Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche method targets the highest interest rates rather than the balance that’s owed on each bill. It’s more about math than motivation — you can save money as you eliminate each of those high-interest loans and credit cards, which should allow you to pay off all your bills sooner. Here’s how it can work:

•   Disregard minimum payment amounts and balances, and list balances in order starting with the highest interest rate.
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as you can each month to get rid of the bill with the highest interest rate.
•   Move through the list one debt at a time until you pay off all the balances on your list.

Though the methods are different, both plans provide focus, and as each balance disappears, momentum grows. But a newer approach, the Debt Fireball method, may be a better fit for modern-day debt, which could include a large amount of low-interest student loan debt.

The Debt Fireball

The Fireball method takes a hybrid approach to the traditional Snowball and Avalanche strategies. It’s called the Fireball because it can help blaze through bad debt faster by making it a priority. Here’s how it can work:

•   Categorize all debts as either “good” or “bad.” “Good” debt is generally things that can increase your net worth such as student loans or mortgages. (Interest rates under 7% could be considered good debt—rates above 7% would likely fall into the “bad” category.)
•   List all those “bad” debts from smallest to largest based on each bill’s outstanding balance.
•   Make the minimum monthly payment on all other debts and funnel any extra cash available each month toward the smallest balance on the Fireball’s “bad” debt list.
•   Once that balance is paid in full, move on to the next smallest balance on that list. Keep blazing until all “bad” debt is repaid.
•   Pay off “good” debt on the normal schedule while investing for the future. Apply everything you were paying toward “bad” debt to investing in a financial goal.

The Fireball makes sense mathematically because it gets rid of expensive (or bad) debt first, but it also provides plenty of motivation because momentum can grow as you approach the finish. These two combined elements could provide an extra boost to your efforts.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

The deeper the hole you’re in, the longer it may take to climb out. But having the right plan in place before you start could give you a better shot at sticking to a budget, minimizing your dependence on credit cards and methodically reducing your debt in a way that keeps you motivated and saves you money.

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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