When you’re trying to pay off credit card debt, high interest rates can make it near impossible. That’s the beauty of a balance transfer — you may be able to qualify for an interest rate of as little as zero percent on the transferred amount. Be forewarned, this dream scenario can turn into a nightmare if you haven’t first done your homework on the different types of credit card offers available.
Do you qualify for an interest rate lower than your current one?
We’re not talking here about the introductory offer. Obviously, the only reason to transfer a credit card balance is if the interest rate will be lower on the transferred amount than the one you have already. But that’s only for a limited time and only on the balance you transfer. That doesn’t apply to new transactions made on the card or transactions made after the introductory period has expired.
Is the amount you’ll save on interest rates higher than the balance transfer fees?
Do the math. How much will the new credit card issuer charge you in annual fees and transfer fees? Compare that to how much you’ll save on interest rates before the transferred amount is paid off.
Can you pay off the transferred balance before the introductory interest rate expires?
This one is key. Introductory interest rate offers may last anywhere from 6 to 18 months. If you do not pay off the entire balance within that time frame, you’ll be charged your regular interest rate on the remaining amount from that point forward.
Can make every monthly payment on time?
Make one late payment, and the terms of your introductory interest rate are likely null-and-void. Should this happen, expect the regular interest rate to kick in on any balance you have remaining on the card at the time of your late payment.
Can you resist putting new charges on the new card?
Again, the introductory interest rate for a balance transfer only applies to the transferred amount. If you make new charges to the card, expect the regular interest rate to kick in on those transactions.
Have you researched multiple credit card offers?
The one you got in the mail probably isn’t the best deal. Shop around for the best credit card offer, carefully read the fine print, comparing:
- Introductory interest rate.
- Length of the introductory offer.
- Regular interest rate.
- Only apply for credit cards geared toward your credit score range. This will increase the chances of approval and minimize the need to apply for multiple cards, as that does negatively affect your credit score.
- If you have multiple credit card balances, you may be able to transfer two or more to one new card.
- If you cannot find one credit card that will transfer the entire amount of your balance, you may be able to split the balance in two. Just be sure to do the math first, as you’ll then be facing double the annual and transfer fees for moving the balance from one credit card to two.
- If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself unable to pay off the balance before the introductory interest rate expires, start shopping around for a new balance transfer offer.