The best balance transfer credit cards
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Many would-be award travelers are sitting on the sidelines of the points-and-miles game because they’re not sure how to get out from under their existing credit card debt. Although travel rewards credit cards can be incredibly lucrative, the value disappears quickly if you carry a balance with a high interest rate. Excessive debt also damages your credit score and keeps you from getting the best credit card sign-up bonuses.
Today I’ll explain how you can use balance-transfer credit cards to avoid interest charges while you pay off your debt and earn travel rewards at the same time.
Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards of 2019
- Chase Slate
- Citi® Double Cash Card
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
The information for the Amex EveryDay and Amex EveryDay Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
These offers vary in the terms and benefits offered, but all of them feature a 0% APR on balance transfers, which can help you consolidate other credit card debt.
Although not a travel rewards card, the Chase Slate is one of the only cards with 0% APR promotional financing on balance transfers that doesn’t charge a fee if the transfer is completed within 60 days of account opening. Slate cardholders receive 15 months of interest-free financing on balance transfers and new purchases, and there’s no annual fee. Transfers made after the first 60 days have a 5% balance-transfer fee with a $5 minimum. A variable APR of 16.74% to 25.49% applies after the introductory period.
Note that Chase (like other card issuers) will not accept balance transfers from cards that it issues. So if you have debt on one or more Chase cards, you’ll have to find another bank that offers a promotional balance transfer.
This Citi card offers 18 months of interest-free financing on balance transfers made within the first four months of account opening. There is a balance-transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. After the introductory period, a variable APR of 15.49% – 25.49% applies.
This card offers up to 2% cash back on all purchases with no limits. You earn 1% cash back at the time of purchase, and another 1% cash back when you pay for the purchase, or a total of up to 2%. There’s no annual fee for this card. As of September 2019, you can also convert rewards earned on this card into transferable ThankYou Points.
This entry-level travel rewards card offers you 15 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a variable APR of 14.99% – 24.99%), with a balance-transfer fee of $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. It also features 2x points at gas stations and supermarkets, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. The points you earn on each purchase will be rounded up to the nearest 10 points. Rewards+ cardholders can redeem these points for about 1 cent each toward travel, gift cards and other options, and you can also transfer 1,000 points to 800 JetBlue TrueBlue points. JetBlue points are worth 1.3 cents each, according to TPG’s latest valuations. This works out to slightly more value than other options. There’s no annual fee for this card.
The Chase Freedom offers 15 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a variable APR of 16.49% – 25.24%). There’s also a $150 sign-up bonus (equal to 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within three months of opening an account.
The standard Chase Freedom card offers you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on purchases made from featured merchants and merchant categories, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Freedom also sports the benefit of having no annual fee.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited also offers 15 months of interest-free financing on new purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a variable APR of 16.49% – 25.24%). Similarly, the Unlimited also has a $150 sign-up bonus (equal to 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within three months of opening an account, making these cards very comparable, at least from a balance transfer standpoint.
The Freedom Unlimited features 1.5% cash back on all purchases. There’s no annual fee for Unlimited card either.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
The standard, no-annual-fee EveryDay card offers 15 months of 0% APR promotional financing on both new purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a variable APR rate of 14.49% to 25.49%). There is no fee for transfers made within 60 days of account opening. It also offers you 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. This card features double points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent each year (1x thereafter), plus a 20% points bonus when you use your card to make at least 20 transactions per statement period. There’s no annual fee for this card.
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
The EveryDay Preferred offers 12 months of 0% APR promotional financing on both new purchases and balance transfers (after that, it’s a variable APR rate of 14.49% to 24.49%), with a 3% balance-transfer fee. It offers a welcome bonus of 15,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 3x points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (1x thereafter) and 2x points at U.S. gas stations. In addition, you receive a 50% points bonus when you use the card to make at least 30 transactions per statement period. There’s a $95 annual fee.
Additional Options for Balance Transfer Cards with Rewards
Discover it cards
This card comes in two versions, both offering 14 months of interest-free financing on new purchases and balance transfers. There’s an introductory 3% balance-transfer fee (after that, it’s a variable APR of 13.49% to 24.49% and a 5% balance-transfer fee). The Discover it® Cash Back card offers you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter on purchases made with featured merchants and in rotating categories of retailers that you select, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The Discover it® chrome card offers you 2% cash back on up to $1,000 spent each quarter on combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants and 1% on all other purchases. Both versions of this card feature Discover’s Cashback Match program, which will automatically match all of the cash back that you’ve earned after the end of your account’s first year. There’s no annual fee for this card.
Barclays travel rewards cards
All travel rewards card issued by Barclays currently include 12 to 15 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers that post within 45 days of account opening. Of the travel-related cards that have this offer, my favorites include:
- Frontier Airlines World Mastercard
- JetBlue Plus Card
- AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
- Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
- Miles & More World Elite Mastercard
- Wyndham Rewards Visa Card
U.S. Bank FlexPerks Select+ American Express Card
This card offers 0% APR financing on balance transfers for the first nine billing cycles (then, a variable rate of 15.49% to 25.49%), with a 3% balance-transfer fee. You can also earn 10,000 bonus FlexPoints, worth $150 toward travel reservations, after spending $1,000 on new purchases within your first four months of account opening. With this card, 25,000 FlexPoints can be redeemed for $375 in airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and other travel expenses. There’s no annual fee for this card.
The information for the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Select+ has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Credit cards that help you get out of debt
Because credit card debt is unsecured, it has a higher interest rate than other secured loans such as a home mortgage or a car loan. Credit card debt is also more costly than a home mortgage or a student loan because it’s never tax deductible. If you’re paying interest charges on credit card balances, your first priority should be to pay off that debt as soon as possible.
If you’ve used a credit card to get into debt, then it’s also possible to use a credit card to get out of debt. The key is to open an account that offers 0% APR introductory financing for balance transfers. These offers are like welcome bonuses in that they extend valuable benefits to encourage new applicants to open a credit card account. Instead of (and, occasionally, in addition to) earning points or miles, you receive interest-free financing on an existing balance you transfer to the new account. In addition, most of these offers also feature 0% APR financing on new purchases.
To really get the most out of a promotional financing offer, you must combine it with a sound plan to pay off your debt: by reducing your expenditures, maximizing your income and making regular payments to pay off the balance. As long as the 0% APR promotional financing offer is in effect, you won’t pay any interest charges, allowing you to save money while eliminating your debt as quickly as possible.
By law, these balance-transfer offers with promotional financing must be valid for at least six months. Some of the top offers currently available extend for as long as 18 months. Most balance-transfer offers impose a balance-transfer fee of 3% of the amount transferred, which is added to the new balance; other offers have a fee of up to 5%, and there are a few offers with no balance-transfer fee. In most cases, a 3% fee is far less than the amount you would pay in interest charges over the course of the promotional financing offer.
Keep in mind that you can’t transfer a balance between two cards from the same issuer.
Travel rewards and financing offers
It’s possible to achieve your goal of reducing debt and also earn travel rewards along the way — with careful planning.
For some people struggling with credit card debt, trying to earn rewards while paying down the balance isn’t the best strategy because rewards credit cards invariably have higher interest rates. Cardholders who pay down their debt and temporarily avoid interest by taking advantage of a balance transfer offer can safely earn rewards on their spending. If you get a rewards card with a 0% APR offer, you won’t earn points, miles or cash back on the amount of the balance transfer or any balance-transfer fees. Occasionally, some card issuers offer a welcome bonus on the amount transferred, but that’s not the case with any current offers.
I always advise people to avoid travel and other rewards credit cards when they’re carrying a credit card balance. Credit cards that don’t offer rewards will always have a lower standard interest rate than those that do. But with the cards listed above, you can transfer your balance and avoid interest altogether, which is even better than a card with a lower interest rate.
I would recommend these cards with 0% APR financing only for those who are doing everything possible to pay off their credit card balances. The worst thing that you can do is to continue carrying the debt, which is not just a bad habit — too much debt will also hurt your credit score and make it harder, or impossible, to qualify for another similar offer later.
The best way to retire your debt is to pay a percentage of your remaining balance each month so that you will have no outstanding balance by the time the promotional financing offer expires. For example, if you have a $5,000 balance transferred to a card with a 15-month introductory financing offer, then you’ll need to pay off at least $333 a month to get out of debt before the standard interest rate applies.
By finding the right promotional offer, you can avoid interest charges while paying off your debt and earn some valuable travel rewards too.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
SIGN-UP BONUS: $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $150
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: No annual fee + earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
- 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
- No annual fee
- No minimum to redeem for cash back
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open