NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers dealing with debt might not necessarily think that looking for a new credit card is a good idea, but there are times when switching to a new piece of plastic is quite literally in their best interest.
Balance transfer credit cards allow consumers to move high interest debt they carry on existing credit cards to a new one that charges little to no interest, at least for an introductory period.
Since the aim is to pay down the debt at a lesser charge (and also potentially boost your credit score), the selection criteria differ drastically than those for a traditional credit card search.
For starters,n rewards programs shouldn’t be a factor since they’ll only entice you to spend more and hinder your ability to pay down the balance while the annual percentage rate (APR) is low, says Beverly Harzog, an expert with Credit.com.
Instead, consumers need to look for cards that have the longest introductory period, typically anywhere from 15 months to two years, at the lowest possible APR on balances or even purchases, since the best balance transfer cards often offer a low introductory rate on both.
“I wouldn’t even settle for anything over 0%,” Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, says. He explains balance transfer cards not only survived the post-recession credit crunch, “they’ve come back with a vengeance,” as issuers are increasingly offering competitive rates in an effort to widen their consumer base.
Because many of these deals are meant to hook consumers in, Harzog says it’s important to look at the APR spread presented as your “go-to rate.” This is what the APR will wind up being once the introductory period elapses.
It’s also what the APR could wind up being should you miss one payment, cautions Kenneth Lin, CEO of Credit Karma. So you need to check the terms of conditions to find out if that should be a concern.
You also need to be on the lookout for high balance transfer fees, which are typically between 3% and 5% of the debt you are moving over.
“There may be one or two cards out there that have no balance transfer fee,” Lin says, but those cards typically carry a higher introductory APR.
MainStreet rounds up some of the best options for consumers looking for a great balance transfer deal.
Citi Platinum Select MasterCard
The card offers a 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 21 months. After that, the APR will be between 11.99% and 21.99%, so Harzog says for those with a good credit history, the go-to rate will “certainly be livable” should they find themselves unable to pay the debt off on time. The Platinum Select also carries the standard 3% balance transfer fee, but has no annual fee after that.
This other Citi offering also features a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 21 months. However, the go-to APR is a flat 16.99%, so cardholders with good credit won’t be able to take advantage of the lower rates offered on the Platinum or the Diamond Preferred Card.
Tim Chen, CEO of NerdWallet, says the Simplicity makes up for it by being “a bit more fee-friendly.” In addition to a $0 annual fee, cardholders also aren’t charged for late payment fees and there are no penalty APRs instituted either. The balance transfer fee is the standard 3%.
Capital One Platinum Prestige
Another $0 annual fee card, Capital One’s (Stock Quote: COF) Platinum Prestige is currently offering a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months. After that, the APR will be between 10.9% and 18.9%. This is the best scale of all the cards featured, even though the introductory APR period is shorter.
The card carries a 3% balance transfer fee and also offers a 25-day grace period on late payments before the 29.4% penalty APR goes into effect.
PNC Flex Visa Card
PNC’s (Stock Quote: PNC) Flex Visa admittedly doesn’t offer a 0% introductory APR, but Chen says those who think they are going to need more time to pay down their debt may save in the long run since the card carries a 24-month 2.99% APR on balance transfers. Purchases carry a relatively reasonable APR between 10.99% and 17.99% (also the go-to rate after the introductory period elapses). However, as Harzog says, “don’t buy more things.”
The balance transfer fee is 4% and the card carries no annual fee.
Discover More Card
This popular rewards card offers a 0% introductory APR for the first 15 months. After that, the go-to rate will be between 11.99% and 19.99%. The card currently carries a 3% balance transfer fee and there is no annual fee.
What other rewards cards with no annual fee should you look into after your debt is paid down? Find out in this MainStreet roundup!
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