Have you recently been approved for a new credit card with a zero percent interest balance transfer offer? This introductory rate often only lasts for a short, predetermined period. After that timeframe, the interest rate charged on balances will most certainly go up.
Here are ten steps you will want to take before you transfer a balance from an old credit card to a new one and the steps for completing the transfer.
1. Choose Which the Balances to Transfer
Look at and make a list of all of your credit cards. Include their balances and interest rates charged on unpaid balances. Choose one or more cards with the high rates whose balances you’d like to transfer to save money on interest.
The balance doesn’t have to be in your name to qualify for a transfer, so if your new spouse has a high-interest credit card balance and you have excellent credit, you might use a zero percent balance transfer offer to help pay off their old balance and start over together debt-free.
2. Calculate Your Balance Transfer Fee
Read the small print on the zero interest offer and note the balance transfer fee. This is an expense that you’ll have to pay upfront on the amount you want to transfer. The fee is typically around 3%, meaning you’ll pay $30 for every $1,000 you transfer.
With the new, lower interest rate, will you still come out ahead after the balance transfer fee? Go ahead and use a free, online balance transfer calculator to do the math.
3. Understand the Penalties
When you transfer a balance at zero percent, you still have to make the minimum monthly payment on your balance to keep the promotional rate. Pay attention to the interest rate you’ll pay if you lose the zero percent rate because of a missed minimum payment.
Will it be a penalty rate that’s worse than what you’re paying now? Given your payment history, is that a risk you’re willing to take?
4. Know When the Promotion Ends
For how many months is the zero percent rate valid? It is usually 12 or 18 months. If you’re planning to pay off a transferred balance during an introductory period, calculate whether you’re likely to be able to pay it in full during that time.
If not, what interest rate will you pay when the promotional period ends, and will you still come out ahead? If the interest rate is variable, how high can it go and how often can it change?
5. Watch the Time Limit to Transfer
If you’re opening a new credit card account to take advantage of a zero percent introductory APR on balance transfers, the terms will require you to complete the balance transfer within a certain number of days of opening your account to receive the promotional rate. You’ll have a small window of time, usually 30 to 60 days after getting approved for the card, to actually complete the transfer and get the zero percent rate.
Read the fine print carefully to see how big that window is. Complete the transfer the day after that window closes and you’ll pay the regular balance transfer rate, not the promotional zero percent rate.
6. Meet Transfer Requirements
You cannot do a credit card balance transfer if your new account is with the same company as the balance you want to pay off. For example, you cannot transfer a balance from one Capital One credit card to another. Also, if you have a past-due payment with the creditor to which you want to transfer the balance, or if you have filed for bankruptcy, your transfer request may be declined.
7. Decide How Much to Transfer
Check the credit limit on your new card. You can’t request a balance transfer for more than your available credit line. Also, notice that the balance transfer fees count toward that limit.
For example, if you have $10,000 in available credit, you won’t be able to transfer a $10,000 balance with a three percent balance transfer fee; you’d need to have $10,300 in available credit to complete the transaction. The most you’ll be able to transfer is around $9,700.
8. Determine the Destination of Funds
Do you want the balance transfer funds to go directly to another creditor to pay off your existing balance? Do you want the funds deposited to your bank account so you can pay off other debts?
In the latter case, make sure the credit card explicitly states that having funds deposited to your bank account will not be considered a cash advance. If you accidentally take out a cash advance, you’ll pay interest on the transaction immediately, and usually at a high rate.
9. Follow Creditor Instructions
Each credit card company will have its own instructions for completing a balance transfer.:
Balance Transfer Checks
Simply make the check out to the entity you want to pay. Some credit card companies will even let you make the check out to yourself, but again, make sure this won’t be considered a cash advance.
Online or Phone Transfers
Have the name, payment address and account number for the balance you’re paying off and know the amount you want to transfer.
Have the bank account and routing number of the account into which you want to deposit the balance transfer funds.
10. Watch for the Transfer to Clear
Keep an eye on each old account whose balance you’re paying off to see when the balance transfer clears. In the meantime, don’t miss any payment deadlines on those accounts so you don’t incur any late fees.
Allow at least two to three days – and up to 10 days – for your new creditor to pay off your old creditor. Each creditor has its own timeframe for completing a balance transfer. Keep an eye on your new account to see when the balance has transferred, and consider closing your old account so you won’t be tempted to use it again and accrue more debt.
The Bottom Line
Transferring high-interest debt to a zero percent interest credit card can be a good way to save money and make it easier to pay off your balance. Following these steps, along with changing your spending habits, will help you complete the process effectively so you don’t end up worse off than you were before the balance transfer.