When you transfer balances on credit cards, what happens is that the new credit card’s issuer pays your original creditor for the amount transferred. Once the balance is transferred, you will owe your debt to the issuer of the balance transfer card. You can transfer most types of debt to credit cards, including balances from car loans, student loans, HELOCs, mortgages, and other credit cards. Not all issuers allow all types of transfers, though. Plus, the amount you transfer cannot exceed your new card’s balance transfer limit, which may or may not be the same as the overall credit limit.
People usually transfer a balance on a credit card to take advantage of lower interest rates, especially 0% APR transfer offers. These give you a certain number of months after account opening to repay your balance without interest. However, transferring a balance usually involves a fee: 3% to 5% of the amount transferred is the norm.
Here’s what happens when you transfer a balance on a credit card:
The card issuer transfers funds: Once your transfer application is accepted, the card issuer will typically send a check to the old credit card or loan issuer.
The debt moves to a new issuer: You now no longer owe the balance to your old creditor. Instead, you owe it to the issuer of the balance transfer card. Ideally, the card should have a lower APR.
The card issuer charges monthly payments: Your monthly statement will tell you the minimum you must pay to keep your account in good standing, but it’s best to pay off as much as you can each month. Try to pay off your entire balance by the end of any 0% intro period, or you’ll owe interest.
Interest accrues: Ideally, your balance transfer card will have a long 0% interest period. But once that period ends, you will owe interest at the card’s regular APR on any balance that remains. Interest compounds daily.
When selecting a balance transfer credit card, look for an APR that will lower the overall cost to repay your debt. Consider any introductory rate and how long it will last, along with the regular APR, how long it will take you to pay what you owe, and the fees involved.
If you’re transferring multiple debts, be aware that each may incur its own transfer fee. You should also be sure to check your credit score and only apply for a card with good odds of approval. Applying for a new card will make your credit score dip temporarily.
Once you request a balance transfer, remember to keep making payments on your old loan or credit card while your transfer processes, so that you aren’t marked as late.
When you transfer balances on credit cards, your goal should be to save money while getting debt-free sooner. There may be fees, and applying for new cards gives your credit rating a small hit. But in the long run, the potential to pay off your debt faster can help your score and your wallet overall.
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