They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. While this may be true, 0% balance transfer credit cards come very close. These special types of cards enable you to transfer high interest debt to a new credit card without paying interest during the introductory rate period. In this guide, we cover the best balance transfer cards of 2017.
If you’re trying to pay off debt, a 0% balance transfer credit card could save you hundreds – even thousands – of dollars in interest payments. I took advantage of multiple 0% interest offers from several credit card companies on my own journey to debt freedom. In fact, I continued to roll my debt over to new balance transfer cards for several years until our debt was finally paid off.
To begin with, let’s review the best offers currently available based on our rating methodology that is described at the end of this article.
Our Top Overall Pick
The Best Balance Transfer Credit Card of 2017
Discover it® – 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer earns the top spot. It offers a 0% APR balance transfer for 18 months. We like it because it doesn’t stop there. You get free access to your FICO credit score. You earn up to 5% cash back on purchases. Discover even doubles your cash back at the end of the first year. And there is no annual fee.
Note: There are some balance transfer offers that last longer than 18 months. You can check out these options here.
Balance Transfer Offers
Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®–15 months; 3% transfer fee; $200 bonus
The Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard® offers a 0% APR balance transfer for 15 months. What sets it apart is the $200 cash bonus new card members can earn. Here are the details along with other benefits:
- Get a $200 cash rewards bonus after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days after account opening
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on every purchase
- Every time you redeem, get a 5% cash rewards redemption bonus to use toward your next redemption
- No annual fee
Bottom Line: A solid balance transfer offer with an excellent 1.5% cash back. Add the $200 cash bonus and 5% bonus when redeeming rewards and this card easily makes our list. Learn how to apply here.
Discover it® – Cashback Match™–14 months; 3% transfer fee
Discover it® comes in several different “flavors.” The Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer version offers the longest introductory period on balance transfers–0% APR for 18 months. We described that card above as our top pick. But you may want to consider the Discover it® – Cashback Match™.
It’s 0% balance transfer lasts for 14 months, not 18. But, it also offers 0% on purchases for 14 months (the 18-month balance transfer version offers 0% on purchases for just 6 months). The card has no annual fee. It also offers excellent rewards:
- Cash Back: The Discover it® cash back card offers 1% cash back on every purchase, plus 5% cash back on categories that rotate every 3 months. You can redeem your cash back anytime as a deposit, statement credit, or payment at Amazon.com. And as if that weren’t enough, Discover will also “double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year – only for new cardmembers.”
- Other Benefits: If you’re trying to get out of debt and raise your credit score, this card offers free access to your current FICO® score. You’ll get score updates on your monthly statement, or you can log into your online account anytime for score updates. It also has no annual fee, and there’s no late fee for your first late payment. If you travel often, you’ll appreciate that this card has no foreign transaction fee, and it comes with a $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee.
Bottom Line: If you want to transfer a balance and finance a large purchase, the 14 months of 0% interest on balance transfers and purchases is a great deal. This is also a great score for building credit, with its average credit score requirements. Learn how to apply here.
Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Credit Card–18 months; 3% transfer fee
The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa credit card offers 0% on balance transfers AND purchases for 18 months. There is no annual fee. It also offers a unique benefit that we’ve not seen from other credit cards:
- Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Credit Card
Bottom Line: The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa credit card offers an excellent balance transfer offer along with an interesting perk for those looking to protect their cell phone. The no annual fee is also a big plus. Learn how to apply here.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card–9 months; 3% transfer fee
Capital one also offers cards with 0% offers that combine rewards. With the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards credit card, you’ll get 0% on purchases and balance transfers for nine months. While that’s not the longest offer available, there’s another huge perk with this card: its rewards:
- You earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
- One-time $100 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of approval
Bottom Line: The Quicksilver card offers excellent everyday cash back rewards, a chance to earn a $100 bonus, and good 0% terms. Learn how to apply here.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card–12 months; 3% transfer fee
While it doesn’t offer the longest introductory 0% APR, it makes up for it with its cash back rewards. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card comes with a 0% APR introductory offer on both balance transfers and purchases. On top of that it comes with several other benefits:
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
- Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Android Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
- Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
- No annual fee
Bottom Line: Not the longest balance transfer offer, but a solid option with excellent cash back rewards. Learn how to apply here.
How Balance Transfer Credit Cards Work
Listem to my discussion on how to use balance transfer cards effectively
Balance Transfer Terminology
Let’s start with some important terminology. Here are the key terms you’ll see throughout this guide and when you apply for a card:
- APR: Short for Annual Percentage Rate. This is the amount of interest the card company charges annually.
- Introductory APR: This is the interest rate you’ll be charged during the Introductory Rate Period (see next term). For all of the cards in this study, the Introductory APR is 0%.
- Introductory Rate Period: Usually expressed in months, this is how long the Introductory APR lasts. In some cases, the IRP is expressed in billing cycles, which generally are on a monthly basis.
- Regular APR: This is the APR that will apply once the Introductory Rate Period expires.
- Transfer Fee: The fee credit card companies charge on balance transfers. Most cards charge a fee of 3% of the amount transferred. For example, transferring $1,000 would cost $30 ($1,000 x 3% = $30). The card company adds the transfer fee on top of the amount transferred, increasing the total amount of the debt. Note that most cards have a minimum balance transfer fee of $5 or $10.
- Billing Cycle: The period of time used to determine the charges that will appear on a credit card bill and the interest incurred. Billing cycles are generally monthly, although they frequently do not begin on the first day of the month or end on the last day. A credit card statement reflects the charges on the card during the previous billing cycle.
How to Transfer a Balance
A balance transfer enables you to take an existing balance on a credit card or other debt and transfer it to a new card. When you apply for a balance transfer card, the online application includes a place to list the existing credit card balances you wish to transfer.
It’s here that you would list your existing credit card debt you wished transferred to the new card. Once you’re approved for the card, the credit card company will contact the card issuers you listed in the application to initiate the balance transfer.
It’s important to continue making the required minimum payments on the old debt until you have confirmation that the balances have been transferred to your new credit card.
Types of Debt That Can Be Transferred
This can be tricky. Unfortunately, credit card issuers don’t make it easy to determine exactly what type of debt can be transferred to a 0% card. For this report, I spent hours talking to credit card issuers either on the phone or via online chat to understand what types of debt can be transferred. Here’s what I learned.
Credit Card Debt
Most balance transfers are used to pay off other high interest credit cards. As noted above, these debts can often be listed in the online application for the new card. Once approved for the card, the issuer will initiate the transfer electronically.
It can take a few days to more than a week for the transfer to be completed. During this time it’s important to make any minimum payments on your existing debt.
Non-credit card debt
Most credit card issuers today allow you to transfer all kinds of debt. There are, however, exceptions. Further, the card issuers often do not disclose what types of debt you can transfer on their websites.
For this article, I reached out to Discover, Capital One, American Express, and Barclaycard.
Barclaycard: You can transfer balances from any Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express credit card online. As part of the application process, you’ll be prompted to enter the account number of the credit card balances you wish to transfer.
If you want to transfer other types of debt, Barclaycard prompts you to contact them by phone once you receive your credit card. From Barclaycard’s website: “If you would like to complete a balance transfer from another account that is not a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card, please call the phone number on the back of your credit card once you are approved.”
Discover: A Discover representative informed me that you can transfer any debt not linked to a checking account. Transferrable debts include car loans, home loans, and medical debt. Transfers of credit card debt can be initiated online as part of the application process. For other types of debt, you’ll need to call Discover.
Capital One: With Capital One you can transfer just about any type of debt. Further, you can initiate the transfer online:
American Express: With American Express you are limited to transferring credit card debt.
The credit limit extended by the balance transfer card is critical to managing your debt. You won’t know in advance how much credit you’ll receive. It depends on a number of factors, including your credit score. As a result, there’s no way to know in advance whether the balance transfer card will have a credit limit high enough to cover all the balances you want to transfer.
The approach I took was to apply for one transfer card at a time. You can use the available credit to transfer as much of your existing credit card debt as possible. If you still have high-interest debt you couldn’t transfer due to the credit limit, you can then apply for a second balance transfer card.
There’s one important caveat when it comes to American Express. As I was digging through its terms and conditions, I found a provision that limits balance transfers to no more than $7,500 or 75% of your credit limit, whichever is less:
Balance Transfers: Only balance transfers from accounts in your name requested within 30 days from the date of account opening will be approved. We will charge your Card account for the total approved amount of all balance transfers. No transfer will be processed if: (1) any requested transfer is less than $100; (2) the total amount of all requested transfers exceeds the lesser of $7,500 or 75% of your credit limit; or (3) charging the requested transfers to your Card account would cause your total account balance to exceed your credit limit. We will not initiate any balance transfer until at least ten days after we have mailed or otherwise provided the Card Member Agreement to you. In some cases, it may take up to six weeks to complete a balance transfer. Please be sure to make all required payments on any account from which you are transferring a balance until the balance transfer is credited to that account. You authorize us to verify the balance of such accounts. You may not transfer balances from any account issued by American Express or any of its affiliates. Additional Card Members may not request or authorize balance transfers. Your balance transfer request may be declined if any of your American Express accounts are not in good standing.
Balance Transfer Fee
The vast majority of cards charge a balance transfer fee. The standard fee is 3% of the amount transferred, with a minimum fee of $5 to $10. That means you’ll pay $30 for every $1,000 transferred ($1,000 x 3% = $30). Transfer $10,000 in high interest debt and you’ll pay a fee of $300.
The three percent fee is a great deal when compared to interest rates on credit cards that can easily exceed 15% or 20%. Keep in mind that the fee doesn’t change based on the length of the 0% offer. Even longer offers typically charge the same 3% fee. So if you’re going to pay the fee, aim to get the longest 0% offer you can.
As noted above, no-fee balance transfer offers become available from time to time. You can see those offers here.
Timing of the Transfer
Several cards having timing limitations that are important to understand. To take advantage of some of these deals, you must initiate the transfer within a set period of time (typically 60 or 90 days after getting the card). Be sure to read the fine print here.
Transfers from One Issuer’s Card to Another
Credit card companies do not allow transfers between their own cards. You cannot transfer a balance, for example, from one Discover card to another Discover card. As a result, if you have a balance on a Capital One credit card, you’ll need to transfer it to a card issued by a credit card company other than Capital One.
Balance Transfers vs. 0% on Purchases
It’s important to distinguish between 0% on balance transfers and 0% on purchases. Many of the cards listed here offer both. With 0% on purchases, there is no transfer fee. Instead, the credit card issuer agrees not to charge interest on purchases for a set period of time. The length of the 0% offer is often the same as for balance transfers, but not always.
How Much Can a 0% Balance Transfer Card Save You?
This really is the key question. The answer depends on several factors:
- Your current interest rate
- How much debt you transfer
- The balance transfer fee
- Length of the 0% balance transfer offer
To give you a more concrete idea, however, let’s look at some numbers. Let’s assume we’re dealing with $10,000 in credit card debt at 18% interest. We’ll use simple interest just to make the calculations a bit easier.
Over a 21-month period, we’d pay approximately $3,100 in interest ($10,000 * 18%/12 * 21). It actually would be a bit lower as our balance would decline each month, but it’s roughly accurate. Now let’s compare $3,100 in interest with the fees and interest we’d pay with the three best balance transfer deals:
|0% for 15 Months
No Transfer Fee
|0% for 18 Months
3% Transfer Fee
|0% for 21 Months
3% Transfer Fee
|Interest After 0% Expires*||$630||$288||$0|
|Total 21-Month Cost||$630||$588||$300|
*We assume an 18% simple interest rate. We further assume that during the 0% introductory period, the balance is reduced by $200 each month.
Keep in mind that the above numbers use simple interest, so actual costs will vary slightly. In addition, the above numbers assume that the balance is not paid in full by the end of the 0% offer. If you plan to pay the balance in full before the 0% rate expires, the no-fee balance transfer will always come out on top.
Regardless of which approach you take, all of the above options result in significant savings.
The Dough Roller editorial team has been studying, writing about, and using balance transfer cards for more than a decade. I transferred a high-rate credit card balance to a 0% card for the first time in 2007. It was a great feeling not to pay interest every month.
Since then, the editorial team here has evaluated well over a hundred balance transfer cards. We’ve learned what to look for. We considered several factors in selecting the balance transfer credit cards to include in this guide:
- Credit Card Issuer: We’ve included at least one balance transfer card from each of the major issuers, so long as they met our other rating requirements listed below.
- Length of 0% Offer: The length of the 0% offer is a key factor in our rating. The minimum length to make our list is 12 months, but most offers run 15 to 21 months.
- Balance Transfer Fee: We’ve also considered any fees for transferring balances, and we rank highly those cards (just one at the moment) that do not charge a balance transfer fee.
- Annual Fee: We also looked at other fees associated with the cards, particularly the annual fee. We ranked higher those cards with no annual fee.
- Other Rewards: Finally, we considered other card benefits, including cash back rewards and sign-up bonuses.