Struggling with credit card debt? Low-rate balance transfers can save you wasted cash. But before you transfer a balance, double check to be sure moving your balance won’t do more harm than good.
1. If I transfer a balance, what will I do with the old credit card?
You can’t get out of credit card debt if you don’t stop using your credit cards for new purchases. If you are close to or beyond your total credit limit on one or more credit cards, transferring a balance to a new credit card will put available credit back onto your old card. Can you avoid the temptation to use it?
If you do transfer a balance, destroy the old credit card. Only cancel the account if it is a credit card you have held for less than a year. Keeping the credit card open – even if you do not use it – will give you a higher credit score.
2. Can I get approved for this credit card?
Credit cards offering good balance transfer offers typically require good to excellent credit. If your cards are maxed-out, or if you have had recent credit problems, you may not be able to get approved for a new card, and applying for a card can further lower your credit score. Not sure where your credit stands? You can get your free credit report and score from several sources.
A credit card company may also approve you for the card you applied for and transfer your balance, but at a higher-than advertised rate, based upon your credit risk. Read the fine print of any credit card offer to see if you might get stuck with a higher rate.
If your credit is shaky, hold off on trying to transfer a balance and work on paying down your debt and possibly negotiating a better interest rate on your existing credit cards.
3. What fees will I incur?
Most credit cards charge a fee to transfer a balance – usually around 3% of the balance transferred and up to a maximum of between $150 and $200. If you pay off your balance within a year, this can still be a good deal, but you should be aware of the fees that will be assessed – especially if you have a large balance and there is no maximum fee.
Why? If you have a credit card with an APR of 15%, you are paying $150 a year in interest for every $1,000 of credit card balance. Three percent of that is $30, so you are saving $120 – assuming you pay off your balance that year.
4. Would I benefit from a fixed balance transfer APR?
Most balance transfer credit cards offer new applicants a 0% APR for a certain number of months. If you have a small balance that you can pay off within a year, these offers are the ideal way to eliminate paying further finance charges on your balance.
If, however, you cannot afford to pay off your entire balance in a year, keep in mind that the credit card’s regular APR will kick in on your transferred balance. If that APR is higher than what you’re paying now, the balance transfer isn’t such a great deal.
If you think you need more than a year to pay down your balance, consider transferring a balance to a card with a 0% rate, but that also has a low regular APR, like the Iberia Bank Platinum Rewards Visa (8.0%) or the Captial One Platinum Prestige Card (8.9%).
5. Can I avoid new charges?
Finally, you must ask yourself if you can avoid making new charges on the new credit card to which you transfer the balance. This is a big no-no, because the credit card will take your payments and apply them to your low-rate transferred balance before your new purchases, which will be at a higher regular rate (unless the card also features an intro rate on purchases).
Almost always, it’s best to transfer a balance to a card and then keep that card out of your wallet until the transferred balance is paid off.
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