What is a balance transfer?

A balance transfer – also known as credit card debt transfer – is a do-it-yourself option for debt consolidation. It allows you to take the balances from one or more high interest rate credit cards and move them onto a card with 0% APR on balance transfers. This allows you to focus wholly on paying off the debt, rather than using funds to cover accrued interest charges.

How does a debt transfer work?

  1. First you must qualify for a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR on balance transfers for X months
    1. The longer the term (X) the more time you have to pay off the debt interest-free.
  2. Once your account is active, you transfer your balances
    1. There is typically a balance transfer fee applied for each balance moved over; it’s usually between 2-5% of the balance transferred
  3. Through the 0% APR introductory period, 100% of every payment you make goes to eliminating the principal
  4. At the end of the introductory period any remaining balance owed will be subject to the standard balance transfer APR listed in your card agreement.

Comparing the pros and cons of balance transfers

The advantages of credit card debt transfer

Reducing the APR applied to your debt to 0% means all of every payment you make is used fully to eliminate the debt you owe rather than the interest it accrues each billing cycle on a high interest rate credit card.

This gives you a certain number of months to eliminate your debts making large lump payments each month. So if you transfer $5,000 of credit card debt to a card with 0% APR on balance transfers for 24 months, you have 2 years to complete debt elimination interest free. With payments of less than $250 per month, you can eliminate the debt before interest charges are applied.

The risks of balance transfers

First, balance transfers are the most effective when you have excellent credit, because you can qualify for 0% APR for the longest term possible. With only good or fair credit, the introductory period may be 12 months or less, if you can qualify at all. If you don’t have enough time to eliminate the debt effectively, this may not be the right option for you.

It’s also important to note that balance transfer fees will increase the amount you need to pay off. With a balance transfer of 3% the $5,000 listed above would mean you add $150 to the debt you need to pay off.

Another challenge with balance transfers is making sure you don’t just run up your balances again on your other credit cards. If you start charging on your other cards, you will have more credit card bills to pay every month. This can decrease the funds you have available to complete the payoff on the transferred debt.