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 Correct as of December 2023.
What is a balance transfer credit card?
A balance transfer credit card is a special type of card that’s set up to take outstanding balances from one or more credit cards. Because they typically have a lower or 0% interest rate for a fixed period, a balance transfer credit card could help you pay off credit card debt more quickly.
Typically, you’ll have to pay a fee when you transfer a balance – this is usually 2-4% of the amount transferred.
You’ll need to make the minimum repayment each month. If you miss a payment, you may have to pay a penalty fee and could lose your 0% rate, as well as any other promotional deals.
How do balance transfer credit cards work?
If you’re accepted for a balance transfer credit card, your new provider will pay off your old balance and the debt will transfer to them. You’ll typically be charged a fee for making the transfer.
You’ll be given a set amount of time within which you can pay back your debt without any interest being charged. And you’ll be expected to pay a minimum amount every month. If you fail to pay this, you could lose your 0% rate and be charged a late payment or missed payment fee.
Ideally, to pay off a balance in full by the end of the interest-free period, divide up the outstanding debt by the number of months until the end of the deal, then pay that amount each month.
If you can’t afford to do this, pay at least the minimum each month. If you have an outstanding balance at the end of the interest-free period, you could switch to another balance transfer card.
Am I eligible for a 0% balance transfer credit card?
Whether you’re eligible for a 0% balance transfer credit card will depend on your financial status and credit history.
To check if you’re eligible for a credit card without impacting your credit score, use our credit card eligibility checker.
What are the pros and cons of balance transfer cards?
Consider these advantages and disadvantages before you transfer your credit card balance:
Pros of a 0% balance transfer credit card:
- You can clear the balance faster as you’re not paying interest.
- You may pay less overall if the balance transfer fee is lower than the interest on your current card.
- There’s only one card to manage, so it’s easier to keep track of payments.
- You’ll have a timeframe to clear your debts.
Cons of a 0% balance transfer credit card:
- You’ll probably have to pay a balance transfer fee.
- If you don’t make your monthly payments on time, you could lose your interest-free deal.
- You’ll typically be charged higher interest rates if you don’t clear your debt within the interest-free period.
- You’ll be charged interest if you use the card to make purchases.
- You risk building up more debt, especially if you keep spending on your old cards.
How to transfer a credit card balance
Looking to transfer your credit card balance? Here are the steps to take:
1. Check your credit card debt
Work out which cards are charging the most interest and how long you’ll need to pay off the debt.
Compare balance transfer credit cards
You can do this with Compare the Market. Simply tell us a few details about your finances to see which cards you’re likely to be accepted for. We carry out a soft credit search, which won’t impact your credit score.
2. Apply for a 0% balance transfer card
The card provider will carry out a credit check. If you’re accepted, you’ll need to tell the provider how much you want to transfer. Your new card provider will organise the balance transfer, but you’ll need to keep up repayments on your old card until the transfer is complete.
3. Wait for the balance to transfer
Thanks to faster electronic payment processes, an online balance transfer usually takes a couple of days. But it can take longer, depending on the bank.
You can usually transfer more than one balance, even if they’re from different credit card providers, as long as it doesn’t take you over your new card limit.
Just be aware that you can’t transfer a balance between two cards issued by the same provider, or from another provider in the same banking group.
Managing your balance transfer credit card
Follow these golden rules when managing a 0% balance transfer credit card:
Transfer the debt as soon as you can
The 0% period typically starts when the card is issued, so if you wait to transfer you’ll have fewer interest-free months.
Make at least the minimum repayment
You’ll need to make at least your minimum repayments each month, on time. If possible, try to pay more than the minimum – this will clear your debt faster.
If you miss a payment or pay late, you may have to pay a penalty fee. You could also lose your 0% rate and be moved on to the provider’s standard interest rate.
Don’t spend on the card
Avoid spending or withdrawing cash on a balance transfer card. If you do, you’ll incur charges and interest, as well as adding to your debt.
If you need to spend on the card, you might be better off with a 0% balance transfer and purchase credit card.
Pay off your debt before the 0% end date
Aim to repay your balance before the 0% introductory balance transfer period ends, or you’ll move onto the provider’s standard interest rate.
Ideally, set up a direct debit, so you can clear the debt before the introductory rate ends. Set a reminder for the 0% end date, so you have time to move the debt if you don’t manage to clear it in time.
How do I apply for a 0% balance transfer credit card?
You can apply for a balance transfer credit card through a comparison site like Compare the Market or directly through the provider.
How long is the interest-free period on 0% balance transfer credit cards?
It depends on the 0% balance transfer card you choose. Interest-free periods range from six months to two years, with a few providers offering up to 30 months.
What is a balance transfer fee?
You may be charged a fee for making the balance transfer. This is usually a percentage of the amount you’re transferring.
If the card has a 3% balance transfer fee and you transfer £1,000, the fee will be £30. This is added to your balance. Instead of owing £1,000, you’ll owe £1,030 on the new card.
Balance transfer fees typically range from 2% to 4% of the balance you’re transferring, although you may find balance transfer credit cards with no fee at all. These fee-free cards usually have a shorter 0% interest period.
If you’re transferring a small balance, some providers charge a set fee rather than a percentage.
How to find the right balance transfer credit card
When looking for credit card balance transfer offers, consider:
- How long the 0% period lasts
- Any fee for transferring your balance
- The interest rate once the 0% introductory period ends
- Monthly or annual fees
- Your credit rating – some providers may require a good credit score.
Balance transfer cards with a longer 0% period may have higher transfer fees. If you think you can pay off your balance quickly, you might be better off choosing a card with a shorter 0% period and a lower transfer fee.
What do I need to compare credit cards?
Just give us a few details, including:
- Your name, age, marital status, number of dependents and address
- What type of credit card you want
- Your annual income
- The date you moved to your current address.
Why use Compare the Market?
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Find out what credit cards you could be eligible for in under 4 minutes
 Correct as of December 2023.
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What our expert says...
“A balance transfer credit card can be an effective way to reduce your debt. By using our credit card eligibility checker, you can find out which cards you’re likely to be accepted for before you make your application – and it won’t impact your credit score.”
- Alex Hasty, Insurance comparison and finance expert
Frequently asked questions
How much can you balance transfer on a credit card?
Most balance transfer cards let you transfer around 90% to 95% of your total credit limit. Different providers offer different deals, depending on your credit score and balance, so shop around for a balance transfer credit card that suits your needs.
What will my credit limit be on a balance transfer credit card?
Your credit limit will depend on what your provider is prepared to offer you. They’ll base this on your financial situation and will look at your:
- Credit history
- Debt as a proportion of your income
- Repayment history.
Once your card is active, you can find your credit limit by logging into your online account or app, calling your provider or by checking a statement.
What if the balance transfer limit I’m offered isn’t enough?
If the balance transfer limit isn’t high enough, you have two options:
- Move what you can onto the new card and pay this off, along with the remaining balance on your old card. But you’ll have to pay the minimum amount on two different cards every month.
- Apply for another card from a different provider to see if you can get a higher limit. But be aware that applying for multiple cards from different providers over a short period suggests to lenders that you’re in financial difficulty and can lower your credit score.
Why is it important to check the APR?
The APR, or annual percentage rate, shows you the total cost of borrowing money over a year. It’s a good way to see how much a credit card will cost you over the long term, once your interest-free period ends.
The APR takes into account the interest rate, together with any fees.
What does the 0% rate cover?
The 0% introductory rate is typically for balance transfers only, not purchases.
If you want to use your card for spending, look for a 0% balance transfer card that offers an interest-free period for both balance transfers and purchases.
Just be aware that these combined cards usually charge a higher transfer fee, and the 0% period isn’t always the same for balance transfers and purchases.
Do credit card balance transfers lower your credit score?
If your application for a balance transfer credit card is approved, your credit score may initially go down because you’re taking on more credit. But it should improve if you make your repayments on time.
How many times can I transfer a card balance?
In theory, you can transfer your credit card balance as many times as you like. But this may impact your credit score. Too many applications for credit over a short period could lower your credit rating and reduce your chances of getting the best balance transfer deals.
What happens at the end of an interest-free balance transfer period?
Once your interest-free period ends, you’ll probably have to pay a higher interest rate on your outstanding balance.
If you can’t pay off the balance within the 0% period, you could switch to another balance transfer card. But give yourself time to compare credit card balance transfer deals before the higher interest rate kicks in.
The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.