How Balance Transfer Credit Cards Can Help Pay Off Debt Faster[yoast-breadcrumb]
How Balance Transfer Credit Cards Can Help Pay Off Debt Faster
Paying off credit card debt can be really hard. The high interest rates make it seem like you’re running in place- no matter how much you pay, the balance never goes down! But there’s a clever way to pay off debt faster and save money on interest at the same time: balance transfer credit cards. Here’s how they work and why they can be so helpful for getting out of debt.
What is a Balance Transfer?
A balance transfer is when you move debt from one credit card over to a new credit card that offers 0% interest for a promotional period. Many balance transfer cards offer 0% intro APR for 12-21 months. During this time, all your payments go straight to paying off the principal debt, since there’s no interest being charged.
Balance transfers allow you to consolidate multiple high-interest debts onto a single card and avoid interest charges for a while. This gives you time to pay down the debt aggressively without racking up more interest fees. Pretty cool right? It’s like getting an interest-free loan to pay off your credit card debt!
How Do Balance Transfers Save You Money?
Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt scattered across a few different cards, all with an average APR of around 16%. You’re paying about $133 in interest every month. If you got a balance transfer card with a 0% intro APR for 15 months, you could move the $5,000 debt over to that new card and pay zero interest for over a year!
In 15 months, you could pay off $3,500 of the debt by making $200 monthly payments. That’s $3,500 you paid off without any interest fees! If you had kept the debt on the 16% APR cards, you would have paid around $995 in interest over those 15 months. So the balance transfer saved you almost $1,000!
And you can pay off the debt even faster if you pay more than the minimum payment each month. Balance transfers let you attack the principal debt aggressively so you can become debt-free sooner.
Should You Do a Balance Transfer?
Balance transfers aren’t for everyone. They can be risky if you don’t manage them properly. But they can also save you a ton of money if used strategically. Here are some key factors to consider:
- Your credit score – You’ll need good or excellent credit to qualify for most balance transfer cards.
- Your monthly budget – Make sure you can afford the higher monthly payment needed to pay off the debt before the 0% APR period ends.
- Payoff timeline – Balance transfers are best for those who can pay off most or all of the debt during the intro 0% APR period.
- Deferred interest – Some cards charge all the deferred interest if you don’t pay off the full balance by the promotional period end.
- Balance transfer fees – There is usually a 3-5% balance transfer fee, so factor that into your calculations.
If you have a solid payoff plan and timeline, the upfront balance transfer fee is worth it for the interest savings. But don’t transfer debt just for temporary relief – have a strategy to pay it off for good!
How to Choose the Best Balance Transfer Card
All balance transfer cards are not created equal! Here are some key factors to look for when comparing balance transfer credit card offers:
- 0% intro APR length – Look for at least 12 months interest-free.
- Balance transfer fee – Typically 3% or 4% of the transfer amount.
- Credit required – Good or excellent credit is usually required.
- Deferred interest policy – Avoid “deferred interest” cards if possible.
- Ongoing APR – What’s the rate after the intro period? Look for low double digits.
- Other fees – Low or no annual fee is ideal.
- Bonus rewards – Some cards offer extra rewards on purchases.
Ideally, look for a card with a long 0% intro APR offer (15-21 months is great), low balance transfer and ongoing APR, and no deferred interest gotchas. Bonus rewards are icing on the cake!
Balance Transfer Tips & Strategies
Here are some key tips to make the most of a balance transfer and avoid potential pitfalls:
- Make a payoff plan – Calculate how much you can pay each month to pay off the debt before the 0% APR expires.
- Pay more than the minimum – Pay as much as you can each month to pay off debt faster.
- Don’t use the card – Avoid charging more to the card until the transferred balance is paid off.
- Watch deferred interest – Some cards charge all deferred interest if balance isn’t paid in full.
- Start early – Apply 3-4 months before your current card’s promo APR expires.
- Pay on time – Late payments can trigger penalty APRs.
The key is to have a solid payoff plan before you even apply for a balance transfer card. Crunch the numbers to make sure you can pay off most or all of the debt within the promotional period. Avoid deferred interest offers and charge nothing else to the card until you pay off the transferred balance.
Alternatives to Balance Transfers
Balance transfers aren’t your only option for paying off credit card debt faster. Here are a few alternatives to consider:
- Debt consolidation loan – May offer lower interest rate than credit cards.
- Credit counseling – Get help negotiating lower interest rates on current accounts.
- Debt settlement – Negotiate with creditors to settle debt for less than you owe.
- Debt management plan – Credit counseling agency helps organize reduced payments.
- Personal loan – May offer lower interest rate than credit cards.
The best option depends on your specific situation. Compare the pros and cons of each to decide which debt payoff strategy works best for you.
The Bottom Line
When used strategically, balance transfer credit cards can help you pay off debt faster and save a ton on credit card interest. But make sure you have a solid payoff plan in place first – don’t transfer balances just to buy temporary relief. Crunch the numbers to see if you can realistically pay off most or all of the debt before the 0% APR period ends.
Balance transfer cards work best for those with good credit and the financial discipline to pay more than the minimum each month. Used properly, they are powerful tools that can speed up your debt payoff timeline dramatically! Just be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully to decide if a balance transfer is right for your situation.