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A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer the balance from existing credit cards to a new credit card account.
Transferring your balance helps you get on top of your debt because you can stop paying a high interest rate on an existing credit card and instead pay a low or 0% rate on your new balance transfer card.
Be aware that you will usually have to pay a fee of up to 3% of the balance you wish to move. You should also look to pay off the balance before the 0% or low interest period runs out.
The following example sets out how a balance transfer card works and can save you money on interest payments.
1) You have an existing credit card with an outstanding balance of £3,000 that’s charging you 19.9% interest.
2) You are approved for a new balance transfer card that offers a 24-month 0% interest free period with a balance transfer fee of 2.5%.
3) You move your balance to the new card. This gives you a new balance of £3,075, including the one-off fee.
4) You pay £128 each month for 24 months to clear the balance in full. This results in a £734 saving on interest payments over 24 months.
In contrast, if you decided to stick with your original credit card (at 19.9% interest) and paid £128 a month, it would take you 30 months to clear the balance with £779 paid in interest alone.
As of February 2024, the Bank of England base rate is 5.25%, the highest it’s been for 15 years. High interest rates mean the cost of borrowing increases, including credit card repayments if you don’t clear your balance every month. Moving what you owe to a low or 0% balance transfer card can help you:
Clear debt faster. Allowing you to repay more of what you owe rather than covering high interest rate charges
Save money. You’re likely to face a one-off fee for moving your debt to the balance transfer card, but could save much more in interest repayments
Improve your financial position. By consolidating and clearing your debt you’ll help improve your credit score, which in turn helps when applying for financial products in the future
You will often have to pay a one-off fee to secure a 0% interest deal on a balance transfer card. Consider the following:
Fees are typically between 1% and 3.99%, depending on eligibility*
No-fee balance transfer cards may be available offering a shorter 0% interest period or a low-interest rate on your outstanding balance
Weigh up the size of the fee and the length of the 0% interest period against the amount of interest you will have to pay on a no-fee card
The card provider’s view of your credit status will also determine which deals you are offered.
*Accurate as of January 2024
Allows you to clear your debt faster
0% introductory deals could mean you don’t have to pay any interest at all
Straightforward process to complete the balance transfer
You usually have to pay a small percentage as a transfer fee
The low, or 0%, interest rate will jump up after the introductory period
You might be charged high interest rates if you use your new card for purchases
While balance transfer cards can be a useful tool for managing your money, it's critical that you keep some things in mind when you're using it. These include:
A higher interest rate will kick in unless you clear your balance within the new card’s 0% interest period.
The card may only offer 0% interest on the balance transfer. You may be charged interest if you use it for purchases.
You could be charged and lose your 0% deal if you fail to make at least the minimum payment every month.
The main change at the end of the 0% introductory period is that the 0% or low interest rate is likely to rise. This means…
Any remaining balance on the card at the end of the 0% transfer period starts accruing interest at the new, higher rate
You should be aware of this deadline and take appropriate action, such as paying off the balance or transferring it to another low-interest or 0% card if possible.
A balance transfer card might not be right for everyone. Here are some examples where it could be better to look for alternative options to consolidate your debt:
The cost of the transfer fee outweighs the interest savings
The 0% introductory period is too short to clear the balance, leading to higher interest rates after the promotion ends
You don’t want to damage your credit score further with a new credit card application
You don’t trust yourself NOT to use the balance transfer card for spending ·
A debt consolidation loan offers a low interest rate for a longer period and offers a better chance to clear your debt in full
Balance transfer credit cards can be a great tool for managing and, crucially, paying down debt without interest charges eroding your best efforts. But you’re only quids in if the transfer fee is less than the interest you’d pay if you stayed put. It usually makes financial sense, as long as you can resist the temptation to slide new purchases onto the card at the same time. Don’t do it. Putting new purchases on a card designed for balance transfers gets expensive fast!"
Making any new credit application – including for a balance transfer credit card – can cause an initial drop in your credit score. However, as with any kind of credit product, if you make your repayments on time your score should eventually start climbing again.
If you’re in any doubt over how your credit rating has been affected you can check and monitor your credit score with our free tool.
Balance transfer cards work as follows:
Find a new card. Compare balance transfer cards to find the best deal – ideally a card that gives you enough time to pay off your debt at 0% interest. Factor in any fees.
Transfer the debt. Give your new card provider details of your transfer. It usually takes 1-2 days. You can’t usually transfer debt between cards from the same provider.
Record when the 0% interest period ends. Make a note of when the interest-free period ends and spread your payments to make sure you’ve cleared your debt or get ready to switch again.
Stick to the terms of the deal. Start paying off what you owe, making sure you stick to the terms. Missing a payment could mean a charge and the interest-free period being cancelled.
When you get your new credit card, you should destroy any old ones you have – even though they may be expired or the account may be closed. An identity thief can still use the information on the card.
You should be able to transfer any existing credit card balances on to your new credit card. But it isn’t usually possible to transfer a card balance between two cards issued by the same bank or banking group.
Most providers will let you transfer balances between £100 and £10,000 to a new card – at most, around 90% of your current credit limit.
Balance transfer fees are generally given as a percentage of the overall amount you’re transferring – this will usually be between 1% and 3%, but could range anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the total sum.
Some balance transfer deals may be fee-free, but typically they will have shorter 0% interest periods. If you shop around, you can also find cards with no annual fee to pay for maintaining the card.
If you have a balance on one or more credit cards that you can’t repay in full and you’re paying a high interest rate, then a balance transfer card could be right for you.
By taking out a 0% or low interest balance transfer card, you can shift the balance from the old card and pay down the debt faster. First check how much you will need to pay in fees. It’s usually between 1% and 3% of the transferred balance.
If you want to continue making purchases on your credit card, it might be better to apply for a combined purchase and balance transfer card instead.
There are no limits on how many times you can transfer a credit card balance from lender to lender. But remember your credit score can be negatively affected when you apply for credit, so if you make a lot of applications in a short space of time this could impact on your ability to get the best balance transfer deals.
An online balance transfer to a new card can usually be done within a few days. But transfer times will vary between providers due to their different procedures. In some cases it could take a couple of weeks.
There are lots of reasons why transferring credit card balances is a shrewd move. But it's only worthwhile if it helps you pay off your debt faster during the interest-free period, so you pay less overall – and provided you’ll still be saving money after any balance transfer fee is paid.
If you need a credit card to continue spending, there are likely to be better alternative options.
When weighing up whether a balance transfer card is right for you, we recommend you...
Ensure the savings in interest you'll make outweigh the transfer fee
Are aware that the interest rate will rise steeply after the 0% period
Bear in mind that late or missed payments mean you could lose your 0% deal
Remember that you can't usually transfer balances between cards from the same provider
As a general rule, you'll need a high credit rating to be eligible for a balance transfer card. Our eligibility checker will show you your chances of being accepted for individual cards when you search.
People generally look to switch to a balance transfer card because they do not have the money to pay off their credit card in full. If you can clear your balance in full, this is nearly always the preferred option because it will save you interest charges.
While balance transfer cards often offer 0% interest deals for a period – meaning you don’t have to clear your balance straight away, you will still face a one-off fee for transferring your debt onto the new card.
If you’re unable to clear your balance before the low or 0% introductory period ends on a balance travel card, it is time to take action. Consider transferring your debt to a new balance transfer card or compare interest rates on loans to see if you can find a competitive deal.
Because the standard interest rates on balance transfer credit cards can be high once the 0% period ends, it is unlikely that the best move is to do nothing.
Divide the amount you transfer by the number of months your interest-free deal lasts for. The result is the amount you need to pay each month to clear the debt.
If you do not clear the balance by the end of the 0% period, you will be charged interest on what you owe.
You will have to make at least a minimum payment each month.
If you know you’re not going to clear the balance within the 0% period, you could consider transferring to another card with an interest-free period.
Avoid exceeding your credit limit or you’ll face penalties such as losing your interest-free deal.
Make the necessary payments to the card or cards you move the balance from, especially if you do not clear the balance completely.
If you do not clear the balance by the end of the interest-free period, transfer that sum to another 0% balance transfer card.
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