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Hear from our editors: The best balance transfer cards of May 2021
Updated April 30, 2021
This date may not reflect recent changes in individual terms.
Editorial note: Credit Vana receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Louis DeNicola is a personal finance writer and has written for American Express and Discover.
Written by: Louis DeNicola
Do you carry a balance on your credit cards? If you do, how much interest are you paying?
Rather than pay interest on your credit card debt or juggle multiple payments each month, you may be able to transfer high-interest debt to a single credit card by doing a balance transfer.
Here are our choices for the best balance transfer cards.
- Best for long 0% intro APR: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
- Best for people who might forget to pay back in time: Citi Simplicity® Card
- Best for time to transfer your balances: Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
- Best for transfers from major card issuers: HSBC Gold Credit Card
- Best for simple cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card
Here’s why: The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card comes with a long intro APR offer for balance transfers that’s matched by an equally long intro APR for purchases.
The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers an intro 0% APR for the first 20 billing cycles on purchases and on balance transfers completed in the first 60 days of your account opening. Once the 20 billing cycles are up, you’ll be charged a variable APR of 14.49% – 24.49% for each.
But the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card charges a balance transfer fee of 3% (minimum $5) per transfer.
Find out how you can make the most of a U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card.
While it’s a good idea to pay on time, this can be a helpful safety net for busy people who are prone to forget their due dates from time to time. Keep in mind that even though this card doesn’t have late fees or penalty APR, you may still have a late payment reported on your credit, if you’re 30 days or more late on your payments.
You’ll also get an intro 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months from the date of the first transfer, plus an intro 0% APR for purchases for 18 months from account opening. There are a few things to know before you apply for this card, though.
- Once those two introductory windows are up, you’ll be charged a variable APR of 14.74% – 24.74% on both purchases and balance transfers.
- To qualify for the low balance transfer rate, you must complete your transfers within four months of your account opening.
- You’ll be charged to transfer a balance: The Citi Simplicity® Card has a fee of 3% (minimum $5) per transfer.
Learn more about the Citi Simplicity® Card and how to use the long balance transfer intro APR offer to pay down your debt.
Best for time to transfer your balances: Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
Here’s why: The no-frills Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card gives you more time to get all the paperwork in order for your balance transfers.
The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card comes with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months from the date of your first transfer for balance transfers completed within the first four months of your account opening.
At the same time, you’ll receive a 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 18 months after your account opens. After the intro APRs expire, you’ll be charged variable rates from 14.74% – 24.74% (note that your purchase APR and balance transfer APR may be different).
Keep in mind that there’s a balance transfer fee of 3% (minimum $5) per transfer.
Learn more in our review of the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card.
Here’s why: You often can’t transfer balances between two cards from the same credit card issuer. If you’re currently carrying credit card balances with major issuers, like Chase, Citi and Capital One, a balance transfer card from a lesser-known issuer could be a good option for you.
This is where the HSBC Gold Credit Card comes in. The card comes with a competitive intro 0% APR of 18 months from account opening on purchases and on balance transfers completed within the first 60 days your account is open. After that, you’ll be charged a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%.
But given the card’s 4% (minimum $10) balance transfer fee, this could also be an expensive option. It should generally be a last resort for balance transfers if you can’t find a less-expensive option that works for you.
You can read more about the HSBC Gold Credit Card with our review.
Here’s why: The Citi® Double Cash Card has a good 2% cash back rate for when you want to start using the card for purchases: 1% cash back on every purchase, and another 1% cash back when you pay the bill for those purchases.
It also has an introductory 0% APR for 18 months from the date of the first transfer for balance transfers that are completed within four months of your account opening. But there’s a balance transfer fee of 3% (minimum $5). And once the intro 0% APR window is up, there’s a variable APR of 13.99% – 23.99% on balance transfers.
Also, there’s no promotional rate for purchases, and your purchase balance may start to accrue interest right away if you’re still paying off balance transfers (the card’s variable APR for purchases is 13.99% – 23.99%). We generally recommend not using the card for new purchases until you pay off your balance transfers.
Here’s our complete review of the Citi® Double Cash Card.
How to make the most of balance transfer cards
As with rewards cards and low-interest cards, it’s a good idea to compare balance transfer cards to determine which is best for your particular circumstances. If you don’t think you can pay off the debt quickly, a longer promotional period could be best. Or, you may want to try to save as much money as possible by avoiding balance transfer fees.
The right balance transfer card could help you save money while you pay down your debt, but even then it’s not a magic solution. Here are a few things you’ll want to watch out for, plus some tips for getting the most out of your card.
- Some balance transfer cards give you an introductory 0% interest rate on purchases, too, but this may not be the same length as the balance transfer intro period.
- You usually have to pay a fee to transfer your balance to your new card — typically 3% or 5% of your balance.
- Balance transfer cards may provide temporary relief from high interest rates, but they don’t make your debt disappear. If you’re approved for a transfer, you should make a plan for paying your debt down during the introductory APR period.
- A balance transfer calculator can help you estimate how much a particular balance transfer offer could save you.
- Depending on how much debt you’re carrying, you may not be able to transfer all of your debt, even if you’re approved for the card. How much you can transfer will probably be restricted to the credit limit you’re approved for. The card’s issuer may set a maximum transfer amount, too.
- You may need to have good or even excellent credit scores to qualify for a balance transfer card. If you’re still working on your overall credit, a card that can help you build credit may be a better fit for you.
As long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls and have a plan, a balance transfer card could be a good option for you to help you consolidate and pay down debt.
How we picked these cards
We looked for cards that could help people who are currently in debt and plan to use a new balance transfer card to help them consolidate and pay down their debt. The length of the balance transfer introductory APR period and the balance transfer fee are two essential components, as a longer intro period and lower fees could help you pay off the balance before it starts to accrue interest.
We also considered other card fees, like annual fees, as these expenses could make it more difficult to pay off your debt. In fact, none of our picks for the best balance transfer cards charge an annual fee.
We didn’t consider sign-up bonuses, which can be more common with rewards cards than balance transfer cards.
FAQ: Editors’ answers
Editorial Note: Credit Vana receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about our team.
How do balance transfers work?
Lots of credit cards offer introductory 0% APRs for balance transfers, which last for a set amount of time. For example, you may see an offer advertising an introductory 0% balance transfer for 15 months, before the interest rate rises to a variable percentage that’s based on your credit. These balance transfer cards give you a window of time — which varies by card — to pay down your debt without adding to it with interest charges. But the balance transfer APR will jump once that window is up, and you will start being charged interest again.
When is a balance transfer a good idea?
A balance transfer could also be a good idea if you’re juggling high-interest debt across multiple cards. It may be possible to transfer several balances to a balance transfer card, depending on the card issuer’s rules and how much you’re allowed to transfer. Consolidating your credit card debt can help you streamline multiple payments into one manageable payment.
Is there a downside to balance transfers?
Also, if you intend to use the balance transfer card for new purchases as well, you could end up adding to your debt and paying more in interest. So if you don’t have a plan to pay off these new purchases, you may end up creating more problems for your finances.
And you may not be able to transfer all of your debt either. Balance transfer cards frequently limit the amount you can transfer, and some credit card issuers may not allow you to make transfers from the other accounts you have with them.
So before you decide on a balance transfer, read the fine print on the offers to check for any restrictions and or other potential downsides.
Who qualifies for a balance transfer card?
But having higher credit scores doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get approved. If you’re a Credit Vana member, you can use our Credit Vana Approval Odds to get an idea of how likely you are to be approved for a certain card. The Approval Odds aren’t a guarantee, but they can be a helpful tool to determine whether you might be likely to get approved while you’re researching your options.
Do balance transfers affect my credit scores?
A new credit card can also lower the average age of your accounts, which can have a negative impact on your scores.
But getting a new balance transfer card can also have a positive impact on your credit scores by lowering your credit card utilization rate (as long as you don’t increase your spending). Your credit card utilization rate is the percentage of your revolving credit you’re using at any given time.
If you choose a balance transfer, consider keeping all of your cards open (including the cards you transfer from) to show your positive payment history, boost your average age of accounts and help you maintain a low credit card utilization rate.