(consider this) credit card balances are:


The Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Latest Update August 18, 2016

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The best balance transfer credit cards are designed to help you consolidate debt. You only make one payment on one card instead of two or three or four payments on different (typically high-interest) cards. We reviewed over 50 to find our favorites: ones with lengthy 0% APR grace periods and low, or even no, transfer fees.

The best introductory offer around: no balance transfer fees for 60 days and 0% intro APR for 15 months.

If you’ve got a lot of debt, you’re probably very familiar with the whole “make a payment every month; watch interest eat up half of that payment” thing. Even if you’re making more than the minimum payments on your credit cards, you’re still seeing a lot of your hard work — and money — go straight to interest payments, thanks to credit card APRs that might be anywhere from 12 to 25%. It can make those debts seem insurmountable.

(consider this) credit card balances are:

Chase Slate® $0 intro balance transfer fee

0% introductory APR

But everyone’s debt is different, and there are lots of different balance transfer credit cards to choose from. Our favorite is Chase Slate® because it has the best introductory offer out there: No balance transfer fees for 60 days, and 0% intro APR for 15 months. No other cards have that double-whammy of savings, making it especially appealing if you’re transferring a lot of debt.

If you’ve done the math and know you need a little more time to pay off your balance, the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever has the longest 0% intro APR grace period of them all — a whopping 21 months. And for those who want to pay down old debt, but are ready to take on “new debt” responsibly, there are balance transfer credit cards that offer perks. Our favorite is the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer, which offers 5% cashback on rotating product categories, 1% cashback on everything else, and a gracious 18 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers.

Our only caveat is that all of the best balance transfer credit cards are for people with at least average — if not good or excellent — credit. Our pick for a poor credit balance transfer credit card is the Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee, which requires a cash security deposit to open the card, but then offers a relatively low 10.99% APR for the first six months.

How We Found the Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

We reviewed over 50 different balance transfer credit cards, looking for which ones had the right criteria:

  • 0% APR for at least 12 months. Most cards have a 0% APR grace period that ranges from six to 21 months; we wanted cards that offer at least a year without interest payments.
  • 0% APR applicable to both balance transfers and new purchases. A person trying to pay down old debt may still need to use a credit card for new purchases — and although it’s best to pay off new debt in full every month, we know it’s not an option for everyone.
  • Balance transfer fees at 3% or lower. This is the second-lowest balance transfer fee available — some cards offer 0%; some offer 3%, and it goes up from there.
  • No annual fee. We avoided cards that have an annual fee because there are so many good options that don’t.

Of the 56 cards we reviewed, 11 fit what we were looking for. From there, we narrowed down the best options by looking for which cards offered the lowest fees and the longest 0% APR period. Then, since all of the cards that fit our criteria were for people with good or excellent credit, we went back to our initial list to find a card that would help people with bad credit transfer balances and pay down their debts as well.

  • The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
  • Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever
  • Chase Slate®
  • Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
  • Discover it® Cashback Match™
  • Discover it® Chrome
  • NHL® Discover it®
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Credit Card
  • Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®
  • BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card

And real quick, a note on what we didn’t consider: rewards or APR after the initial 0% APR expired. We acknowledge both, sure, but a good balance transfer card isn’t about racking up airline points or getting cash back on gas; it’s about transferring your debt for as little money as possible and paying it down over a reasonable period of time. And all of these cards are going to charge you interest at some point, so we focused on the cards that gave you the most time to pay down your debt interest-free.

Our Picks for the Best Balance Transfer Cards

Best If You Have a Big Balance

(consider this) credit card balances are:

Chase Slate® $0 balance transfer fee for 60 days and 0% intro APR for 15 months.

Chase Slate® is the only balance transfer credit card that offers both a $0 intro balance transfer fee and 0% introductory APR. If you’ve got a lot of debt to transfer, this might be the right card for you. Let’s break it down:

If you’re looking to transfer a large amount of credit card debt in order to pay it off interest-free, Chase Slate® lets you make that transfer without paying any fees. Other cards charge balance transfer fees of at least 3%, which means an extra $3 is tacked on to your debt for every $100 you transfer. If you have $5,000 in credit card debt, that’s an extra $150 you won’t have to pay if you use Chase Slate®.

Don’t dillydally though: That no-transfer fee expires after 60 days — if your account has been open for longer than that, balance transfers include a 5% fee.

Chase Slate® also offers a 0% introductory APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months after you open your account. After 15 months, expect a variable 15.49% to 24.24% APR depending on your creditworthiness.

(Heads-up: If you currently have a Chase credit card with promotional pricing, you will not be eligible for a second Chase promotional pricing offer. If you already have a Chase credit card in a similar Chase Rewards Program, you may not be eligible for Chase Slate®.)

  • $0 Introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made during the first 60 days of account opening
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Monthly FICO® Score and Credit Dashboard for free
  • No Penalty APR – Paying late won’t raise your interest rate (APR). All other account pricing and terms apply
  • $0 Annual Fee

(consider this) credit card balances are:

Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever 3% balance transfer fee and 0% intro APR for 21 months — plus no late fees.

The Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever charges a 3% balance transfer fee, but once you’re done with that, it offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 21 months — the longest of any card out there. Even better: there is no penalty or fee for making a late payment. If you need to work down your debt slowly by making smaller payments over a longer period of time — and are worried you might slip here and there — this is a great option.

What do “smaller payments” look like in reality? If you have $3,000 in credit card debt, paying it off over 21 months means making payments of $143 per month (plus the initial 3% balance transfer fee, which would be $90 in this example). Paying your $3,000 debt off on a balance transfer card like Chase Slate®, which offers a 15-month 0% intro APR, means contributing $200 per month. Paying it off in 12 months tallies up to $250 per month.

The caveats: You must make your balance transfers within the first four months of opening the account, and this card is really only for people with good or excellent credit — something to consider before applying.

  • The only card with no late fees, no penalty rate, and no annual fee…ever.
  • 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers and Purchases for 21 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% – 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The same great rate for all balances, after the introductory period.
  • Save time when you call with fast, personal help, 24 hours a day – just say “representative”
  • Enjoy the convenience of setting up your own bill payment schedule on any available due date throughout the month.

Best If You Want Cashback Rewards

(consider this) credit card balances are:

Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer 5% cashback on rotating categories, 1% cashback on everything else, and 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months.

There are actually two Discover cards we like for balance transferring that also offer cashback rewards: the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card and the Discover it® Cashback Match™ card. We’ll start with their similarities — their cashback rewards.

Both cards earn 5% cashback in different purchase categories that change every quarter (gas, for example, and then restaurants) and 1% on every other purchase. Discover will also match the cashback rewards new members accrue in their first year for both cards: “You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match TM ,” the ads say.

Their differences lie in their balance transfer offerings, and the one that is right for you depends on your debt and your spending habits.

The Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card has a 3% balance transfer fee, then offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, and a 0% intro APR on purchases for six months. That means you have 18 months to pay off the outstanding debt you transferred to your card interest-free, but you’ll start paying interest (expect a variable APR of 11.49% – 23.49%) on any new debt after six months.

(consider this) credit card balances are:

Discover it® Cashback Match™ Same rewards, but 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months.

This card is good for people who have a large amount of “old debt” that they’re working to pay off, but are also ready to manage “new debt” responsibly and pay it off in full every month.

The Discover it® Cashback Match™ card also has a 3% balance transfer fee, but offers 0% intro APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 12 months — a little less time to pay off your balance transfer than the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card, but a little more time to pay off any new debt interest-free.

If you’re using your balance transfer credit card for day-to-day purchases, having a card that offers cashback rewards makes sense. However, don’t let a cashback rewards program lure you into additional debt; make sure you pay off those new purchases in full every month.

One more thing to be aware of: Some merchants do not accept Discover, so make sure it isn’t the only payment tool in your wallet.

  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click “Apply Now” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click “Apply Now” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

(consider this) credit card balances are:

The Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee is designed to help you build or rebuild your credit. It’s a “secured card,” which means you pay Discover a security deposit that is equal to the credit line they offer you (a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line, and so on).

Those with poor credit don’t get the perk of a 0% APR, but we liked the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee because it has a relatively low 10.99% into APR on balance transfers for the first six months, which is a lot better than the 20% or more you pay on high-interest credit cards. As you build up your credit score, you’ll be eligible for better credit card options with lower and lower APRs.

We also liked the Discover it® Secured Card because it lets you earn cash back right away: 2% on restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 in purchases every quarter) and 1% on all other purchases. Discover will even match your cash back earnings after 12 months if you are a new cardmember.

To take advantage of the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee, you have to transfer your balance within four months of opening the account, and once that six-month introductory period is over, you’ll pay 25.49% APR on any unpaid balance transfers, as well as on all new purchases.

  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • A security deposit of $200 or more will establish your credit line (up to the amount we can approve). Automatic monthly reviews starting at 7 months to see if we can transition you to an account with no security deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Tools to assist you; email alerts, text reminders and 24/7 customer service. Plus get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements and online.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • No late fee on your first late payment. And paying late won’t raise your APR.
  • Click “Apply Now” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

0% Intro APR Period

Balance Transfer Fee

Balance Transfer Window

APR After Intro Period

0% for 60 days / 5% after

18 mo. balance transfer / 6 mo. for new purchases

12 mo. balance transfer and new purchases

*0% intro APR is not available with the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee card.

How to Choose the Best Card for You

Only you can determine which balance transfer credit card is your best option, but here is a list of questions to consider as you make your decision:

Take a look at your credit score before you start applying because some of the best balance transfer cards are only available to people with good or excellent credit. If you have good or excellent credit, consider Chase Slate®. If you have poor credit, consider the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee.

None of the credit cards on our list allow you to transfer debt from another credit card within the same issuing system — Chase Slate® won’t let you transfer debt from other Chase cards or from loans made by Chase and its affiliates; you can’t transfer Citi debt onto the Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever.

So take a look at your debt. If the majority of the balance you’re carrying is on Discover cards, you don’t want to apply for any of our Discover options, and so on and so on. Don’t get stuck with a balance transfer credit card that you can’t use to transfer balances.

How much debt are you trying to pay down?

We don’t know what credit limit you’ll get on your new balance transfer credit card, but if your outstanding debt is higher than your balance transfer card’s credit limit, you’re going to need to make more than one balance transfer to get everything paid off and to take advantage of the 0% intro APR period.

Remember: Chase Slate® charges a 5% balance transfer fee for all balances transferred after the first 60 days, and all of the Citi and Discover cards on our list only allow you to transfer balances for the first four months after opening your account.

How much of a monthly payment can you afford?

Take a look at your household budget and figure how much money you can put aside every month to pay off your outstanding debts. Then see which balance transfer card allows you to fully pay off those debts, with the monthly payment you can afford, in the 0% intro APR period available.

Some of us will be able to pay off our outstanding debts within a year. Others will be better off making smaller monthly payments and looking for balance transfer cards that offer 0% intro APRs for 15 months, like Chase Slate®; 18 months, like the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer; or 21 months, like the Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever.

Are you planning to also use this credit card for day-to-day purchases?

If you’re planning to use this card to make day-to-day purchases, consider one of the Discover it® cards so you can take advantage of the cashback rewards. Pay off your new purchases in full every month so you don’t accumulate new debt.

Are you planning to also use this credit card to finance a large purchase?

If you are thinking about using a balance transfer card’s 0% intro APR period to both transfer a balance and finance a new large purchase, such as an upcoming vacation, you wouldn’t be the first person to make this decision.

In that case, stay away from the Discover it® 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer card, because it only gives you a 0% intro APR on purchases for the first six months — unless you know you can pay that large purchase off before the six-month period expires.

If you don’t receive steady paychecks, consider a card like the Citi Simplicity® Card – No Late Fees Ever, which doesn’t penalize you for late payments.

Can I do A Balance Transfer from someone else’s Credit Card?

(consider this) credit card balances are:

A 0% Balance Transfer credit card can be cost effective means of significantly reducing the interest you pay on your credit card debt, but they come with some very tight restrictions that should be considered prior to any application to avoid rejection and a consequent downgrade of your credit score.

One restriction that is commonly questioned is the ability to transfer a balance from someone else’s card to your card. This can certainly be done though you’ll need to ensure you have sufficient credit limit to cover the value of any balance transfer.

Things to consider before transferring a balance from someone else’s credit card

Responsibility for the debt

0% balance transfers can be a convenient and cost effective way of helping out family and friends or repaying money you have borrowed, though the key factor for consideration is that once the balance is transferred on to a credit card in your name, then you assume all the liability for the debt. So you take on the full responsibility for the debt and are 100% responsible for paying of this debt, even if the person whose balance you “adopted9rdquo; is making the payments.

Impact on your Credit Report

Should you miss a payment on the balance transfer card, or default on the card these issues will be added to your credit report and not the person from who the debt was transferred.

What happens at the end of the 0% Balance Transfer Period?

As the card holder you will be responsible for any interest payments incurred once the 0% balance transfer period ends. This makes it doubly important to manage your budget so you can ensure that the debt is fully paid before the end of the 0% balance transfer period.

Getting paid back(consider this) credit card balances are:

Think very carefully about whom you help out with a 0% balance transfer as not only are you taking on their debt but at some agreed point in the future you will be seeking repayment of the balance transfer amount.

Are there any restriction on whom can transfer balances?

Yes some very specific restrictions do exist and these vary by credit card provider, the restriction that tends to apply most frequently is centred around making transfers from jointly held accounts.

To understand this restriction we must first be clear on the types of joint account that credit providers permit:

1. Joint Account with 2 primary card holders

This account is commonly used by married partners where they only want to mange a single credit card. As “Primary Card” holders they will both have full account holder access to the card that includes ability to log in and manage the credit card on line (subject to availability of this service), request an increase in Credit Limit, close the card, and dispute any transaction made on the card be it by them or the other account holder.

As far as balance transfers are concerned they can be made from Joint Accounts, where the account holders are both Primary Account Holders, so long as the transfer is into a Joint Account of which they are both Primary Card Holders.

2. Primary Card holder with additional users

Under this account the additional user does not full access to all aspects of the credit card account, though does have the ability to make transactions with the card. The Additional user has limited access to the on line services (usually includes ability to check balances and an online statement), though usually has not ability to make any changes to the card such as credit limits, address changes or cancelling the card.

As far as balance transfer go only the Primary card holder can initiate a balance transfer to another account, and this account can only be a Single Primary account holder account.

To establish the potential savings on interest by switching to a balance transfer credit card try our Free Balance Transfer Calculator.

Published 27th November 2013 updated 13th January 2017

Latest Balance Transfer Credit Card Offers

Introductory Offer : 0% p.a. on Balance Transfers for 24 months

Offer conditions: Apply by 30th April 2017

  • Up to 55 interest free days on purchases - providing you pay off your balance in full every month including any balance transfer amount.
  • Low Minimum Income requirement - eligibility level of $35,000 p.a.
  • Generous Points ratio - 1.25 points per $1 spent on eligible purchases in Australia
  • High Points cap - Earn up to 250,000 points every year with Citi's Rewards Program
  • Complimentary Insurances - Purchase Cover, International Travel, Transit Accident & Extended Warranty insurances on eligible purchases
  • Platinum Concierge - 24/7 service

Introductory Offer : 0% p.a. on Balance Transfers for 24 months

Offer closes: 30th January 2017.

  • The balance transfer can be made from a maximum of 3 credit or charge cards - none of which can be a Westpac Credit Card
  • Upto 55 Days interest free on purchases
  • Low minimum Income requirement - $15,000 p.a.
  • Low Annual card fee - $59 p.a.
  • Fast decision for online applications - within 60 seconds

(consider this) credit card balances are: Introductory Offe r: Balance Transfer 0% p.a. for 18 months PLUS 0% p.a. on Purchases for 6 months

Offer closes: 30th March 2017

  • Up to 55 interest free days on purchases - providing you pay off your balance in full every month including any balance transfer amount.
  • Additional Card Holder - Add an additional card holder for $0
  • Low Purchase Rate - 13.24% p.a.
  • Low Minimum Income to be eligible to apply - Just $15,000 p.a.
  • Maximum Credit limit - $40,000
  • Fast decision for online applications - within 60 seconds

Balance Transfer Credit Card Comparisons

The range of Balance Transfer Offers available is large which can make it difficult to compare the options relative to what is important to you, be it the balance transfer term, the balance transfer rate or the balance transfer fees. To simplify this comparison process we have split the available balance transfer offers into a number of sub categories which is designed to help you focus on the credit cards which feature the criteria which you consider important.

Balance Transfer Offers from the major Credit Card Providers

Balance Transfer Credit Cards Compared and Reviewed - Access the current balance transfer deals and compare the details side by side. Calculate the saving on interest you will make by transferring from your current card to each of the current deals. Read more

0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards - Offering the opportunity to save the most on interest charges following a transfer, these 0% Blanace Transfer Cards include transfer periods from 6 to 24 months. Use the Blanace Transfer calculator to establsih the potential interest savings you could make with each of the 0% banace Transfer cards. Read more

No Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Cards - this combination of a balance transfer and $0 annual fee is firmly focusseed on delivering a low cost Blanace Transfer card. As these cards charge no annual fee they tend to offer shorter balance transfer periods, generally less than 12 months in duration. Read more

Personal Loan Balance Transfer - A limited number of credit cards issued by Citi and Virgin Money offer the facility to make a Personal Loan Transfer to 0% p.a. Balance Transfer Credit Cards. Read more

Credit Card Comparison - This guide makes comparing credit cards easy, it walsk you through each credit card type then compares cards side by side. Read more

We Compare Australian Credit Cards

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Will a Credit Card with Zero Balance Hurt My Credit Score?

Sep 30, 2013 | Odysseas Papadimitriou , WalletHub CEO

(consider this) credit card balances are:

The short answer to that question is no. In fact, maintaining a credit card account with no balance (i.e. never using it to make purchases) can actually be a smart strategy because it enables you to take advantage of the credit building capabilities of credit cards without running the risk of incurring unsustainable debt.

You can even go as far as locking your card in a drawer or simply cutting it up, as long as your account has zero balance when you do so.

Why is Zero Balance Beneficial?

The value of this course of action is clear when you consider the information tracked by TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax – the nation’s three main credit bureaus – as well as the relationship between your credit reports and your overall credit standing.

Credit reporting agencies maintain information about how many credit card accounts you have, your aggregate available credit, your credit utilization ratio, whether or not you submit payments as agreed every month, and various other factors that speak to your financial health.

When you have an open credit card account that you never use, the credit bureaus will merely see that you have available credit that you don’t tap into. And that, of course, means that your credit utilization is low, indicating that you aren’t desperate for credit in order to support unsustainable spending habits. In other words, it will fill your credit reports with information that reflects favorably upon your financial responsibility on a monthly basis and therefore help you build credit.

For a zero balance credit card strategy to work, the card in question simply must not have an annual fee. Otherwise, you’ll waste money while your account sits dormant.

Is it Better to Have Zero Balance at Month's End or All the Time?

From a credit building standpoint, you’re better off making purchases with a credit card and paying for them in full by the due date than you are not using the card at all. While refraining from tapping into a card’s credit line does illustrate a certain measure of financial self-control, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’ll be able to pay back loans and lines of credit according to the terms of your agreements should you ever need to leverage debt. Making purchases with a credit card and proving yourself capable of paying the right amount at the proper time at least gives financial institutions a track record of credit utilization and payment on which to base their estimates for future performance.

With that being said, not making purchases with plastic is unquestionably better for your credit standing than irresponsibly racking up debts that you cannot afford to repay. So, if your desire to maintain a credit card account with zero balance stems from a lack of trust in your own spending habits, then it’s certainly a wise decision. But if you’re able to make purchases with credit without spending more than you normally would with cash, the convenience and credit building benefits of plastic are two prime reasons to do so.

At the end of the day, you can rest assured knowing that maintaining a no balance credit card is a viable credit building strategy that will not hurt your financial situation.

What you do with your inactive credit card is up to you, but if you truly want to avoid temptation, you should consider simply cutting up your card. If you do that, remember to note your account number in case you need to contact your issuer with any questions. Don’t write down the card’s expiration date or CV number, though, because that information will enable you to make purchases online or over the phone.

Image: retrorocket / Shutterstock

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Here's Why That Credit Card Balance Transfer Might Not Be Such A Great Idea

Ben DeMeter blogs for CreditCardAssist.com and writes for The Content Factory.

If you’re struggling to pay your credit card bills, it might seem like a good idea to transfer your balances to a 0% interest card while you get yourself back in the black.

While shifting your accounts to these cards looks like a smart way to avoid accruing even more debt, more often than not these credit card balance transfers end up being fool’s gold.

Here are a few situations where a transfer is a step in the wrong direction:

You’ve transferred your balance before

When you’re applying for a loan, the last thing you want your potential lender to see is a history of balance transfers on your record. Multiple transfers suggest a chronic inability to keep up with your credit card payments and will be a major red flag for anyone considering loaning you money. Rather than continually consolidating your debt onto lower-interest cards, try looking for help at the NFCC or other nonprofit agencies.

Your interest rate is less than 10% already

Although a 10% APR is definitely more than 0%, you should take this fact into account: every credit card provider levies a fee of at least 2% of the total amount being transferred. This means that right out of the gate you could be paying more (in fees) to transfer your balance than the interest you’d otherwise pay on your current account. When you also factor in that many of these 0% interest rates turn into double-digit APRs after a few months, it’s probably better to just stick it out with your current provider.

You can only make minimum payments

As you’ve probably heard before, making only minimum payments on your credit card balance is the worst thing you can do to yourself financially. On most credit cards, these baseline payments are calculated in such a way that it’s mathematically impossible for anyone to pay off an account by sticking to them. This free fall into debt will only be accelerated if you transfer your balance to a card whose interest will – within just a few months – likely be double what you’re currently paying.

You want to keep multiple cards

The only way a balance transfer can help you out is if you consolidate all of your funds onto one no-interest card. This means giving up the freedom of using low-limit and rewards credit cards for different purchases. What happens if you keep another account open after your transfer? Well, according to the CARD act, creditors are allowed to apply all minimum payments to the account with the lowest interest rate. This means that you’ll be forced to pay off the 0% interest card while the debt on your other cards continues to grow.

Transferring your credit card balance isn’t always a bad idea, but you should give it some serious thought before making the move. If you’re confident that you can pay off your balance before your new card’s no-interest period expires, or if you already have good credit and just want to take advantage of the promotional APR, then a transfer might be the right step to take. However, if you’re in any other situation it will almost always be a better idea to seek credit counseling to help alleviate your debts instead.

How to Build Credit So You Never Have to Worry About Getting Approved for a House, Car or Credit Card

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By: Nathan Birt, David Rodeck and Gideon Sanford

Most of us come face-to-face with our credit at some point in our lives. Living purely on cash is possible but can be challenging. The biggest ticket item most Americans buy on credit is a home but even something as simple as opening a utility or cell phone account might require a credit check.

How’s your credit? Have you checked it recently? If you are searching for a way to start building your credit, or simply want to know more about it, we’ve got some information that you may find useful.

Here’s what you can expect in this guide to building your credit:

If you don’t have a good credit score – or any credit at all – prepare for harsh consequences if you haven’t encountered them already. Maybe that cell phone provider asked you for a cash deposit of several hundred dollars before they agreed to open a regular account for you. Maybe a landlord refused to rent you an apartment.

Credit spills into other areas of life, too. Some employers want to see that you’ve got a solid credit history before they’ll offer you a job.

Anyone, at any income level, can achieve great credit. We’ve put together a road map detailing what you need to know to build credit quickly.

What is the process for building credit?

When you borrow money, the lender reports how you manage your payments to one or more of the three major U.S. consumer credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion (“the credit bureau”). These companies keep track of all your information on your credit report. Future lenders are then able to look at your report to help make a decision on whether to lend to you.

It seems counter-intuitive, but if you avoid credit products, you will not be viewed as a lower credit risk. In fact, the opposite is true. You have to have and use credit in order to build a credit history and credit score.

Building positive credit essentially boils down to borrowing money and then paying it back on schedule and keeping your balance low in relation to your card’s total credit limit. This helps to demonstrate that you are a reliable borrower. If you pay late or stop paying, this negative information will also show up your credit report.

What your credit score is made of

The credit bureaus use the information in your credit history to calculate 3-digit credit score that represents your creditworthiness. The FICO credit score is the most common credit score. The credit score ranges from 300 to 850.

FICO credit scores are based on these factors, in the noted proportions:

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Debt utilization (the amount of debt you carry compared to your available credit) (30%)
  • File age (the average age of all of your accounts) (15%)
  • Inquiries (the number of recent new applications for credit) (10%)
  • Credit mix (such as student loan, personal loan, credit card, auto loan, mortgage) (10%)

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Although all three bureaus maintain a file on you, the information in those files can vary. Not all creditors report to all three bureaus. So the FICO credit scores generated by the three bureaus might not match. They should be close, though.

Is there a best way to build credit?

The credit bureaus use a few specific factors to calculate your credit score. Similar to the FICO formula, you need to understand why each factor is important, and what you need to do in order to help improve your credit score.

  • Keep balances low. For a better credit score, keep your balance under 30% of your card’s total limit. If your credit card has a $500 limit, don’t carry a balance of more than $150. If you use your card more than that, there’s a simple trick for having a lower balance reported. Just pay it down before the balance is reported to the credit bureaus (usually on the statement closing date, but check with your card issuer to be sure).
  • The most important factor is your payment history. Do you make your monthly payments on time? If you do, your score will slowly and steadily go up. At the same time, if you miss payments, your score will suffer.
  • Variety of different credit products in your file. Someone with a car loan, a mortgage and a credit card is easier to score that someone who only has a credit card.
  • The age of your credit history. You’ll reach a higher score with a long history of responsible credit use. Avoid closing old accounts because their age helps you, especially if you’ve also opened new accounts within the last few years.

VantageScore is another credit scoring model. VantageScore is very similar to FICO and uses the same criteria in similar proportions. VantageScore claims to more accurately score consumers who have a short or limited credit history.

Wondering how you stack up against other Americans when it comes to credit? Most people find the highest scores hard to reach. Only 19% of Credit Sesame members were in the highest credit score range (720 or higher), while 25% have good scores (640-719). About a third fall in the fair score range, between 550 and 639, and about a quarter of our members had credit scores below 549. This is a chart that shows credit scores, taken from a subset of Credit Sesame’s 7 million members collected October 2015.

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How to start building credit for the first time

If you’re starting out and building credit, you might need to get a little creative.

A secured credit card is one choice because you can usually qualify regardless of your credit history. Typically if you use the secured credit card responsibly for six to twelve months, you can consider applying for a traditional card, which usually comes with better terms, and continue to build your credit.

If you have a friend or family member with a credit card, that person can make you an authorized user on their account. You will receive a card with your name on it that you can use to make purchases on their account. The payment history and utilization for the account are usually reported to your credit file. If payments are late or the card is maxed out, your credit score will suffer along with the primary account holder’s.

Another strategy is to ask someone with good credit to co-sign for you. This means they take full responsibility for the debt in the event you fail to pay it back. Having a co-signer can help you qualify for a credit product that would otherwise be out of reach. Make all of the payments on time and handle the account responsibly or you could do serious damage to your co-signer’s credit. The individual who is considering being a co-signer should consider this carefully before agreeing to this as there are risks and disadvantages that can seriously affect their credit. Note that not all credit card issuers allow or accept co-applications and co-signing so be sure to check with the lender, or credit card issuer as to their policy around co-applications and co-signing.

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Credit Sesame staffer Kari, moved to the U.S. from Canada.

If you moved to the United States from another country, your past credit history might help you here. International credit data does not transfer over, but some multinational companies communicate between branches.

For example, one of Credit Sesame’s staff moved to the U.S. from Canada. She set up a U.S. bank account with TD Bank, which also handled her banking in Canada. TD Bank was willing to approve her credit card application even though she didn’t have any credit history here in the U.S., because they already had a good financial relationship with her.

Note that accounts are not removed from your credit report when they are closed. They can continue to help or hurt your credit for quite some time. Closed accounts in good standing remain in your file for another ten years. Closed derogatory accounts remain for seven years.

Each time you apply for credit, the creditor checks your file. That’s called a hard inquiry. Applying for new loans and credit cards hurts your score in the short-term. Only apply for new credit when you really need it.

When you check your own credit, that’s a soft inquiry and it doesn’t hurt your score at all. Other soft inquiries that don’t hurt you include pre-screened credit card offers that you receive in the mail, and the free credit score generated by Credit Sesame.

How to read your credit report

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You can order a copy of your credit report, the exact same document that lenders check. Every 12 months, you can request a free copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to check your report more frequently, you can sign up for a paid service or you can use Credit Sesame, which updates your free credit report and free credit score monthly.

Your credit report starts with your personal information like your name, Social Security number, addresses, and work history.

Your report also shows a summary of all your loans and credit cards. Here’s what you can expect to see when you receive your credit report.

- Date account was opened

- When negative info will be removed

- Average monthly balance

- When negative info will be removed

Your credit report also has a section for public records, which shows whether you ran into any legal problems like bankruptcies or foreclosures.

Finally, you’ll see inquiries. Soft inquiries, including self-checks, are visible to you but not to creditors. If you’ve applied for new credit and the issuer requested a copy of your credit report, this is a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries remain on your report for two years.

Your free credit report does not include a credit score. To get your score from the credit bureaus, you’ll pay a fee. You can get it for free, updated monthly, on Credit Sesame. Credit Sesame provides VantageScores generated by TransUnion.

  • Credit cards
  • Secured credit cards
  • Personal loans
  • Student loans
  • Utility bills
  • Rent

Using credit cards to build credit

One of the most important elements of your credit report is your use of revolving credit, which for most credit users takes the form of credit cards.

Credit cards can affect your credit score in three simple ways. First, credit card issuers typically report your outstanding balance and payment history to the three major credit bureaus, and each month that you pay at least the minimum amount due counts as a positive mark in your credit record. A history of consistent on-time payments is one of the foundations of a good credit score.

Second, creditors like to see that you have credit but don’t use it much. If you keep your credit card balances low compared with their credit limits, you’ll help your score.

Third, besides establishing a record of on-time payments, credit cards are also factored into the average age of all your credit accounts. So even a credit card with which you don’t make any purchases at all will, over the long term, gradually increase the average age of your accounts and exert upward pressure on your credit score.

Best Credit Cards to Build Credit

If you’re starting out new to credit with limited or no credit history, basically a thin or nonexistent credit file, the first challenge is getting approved for a credit card at all. And indeed, young people without a history of income and of servicing debt may struggle to qualify for the best rewards-earning credit cards out there. But plenty of credit card options exist that, with responsible use by you such as making consistent on-time payments, can help you establish a history and increase the average age of your credit accounts. We made a short list of some recommendations below.

For many consumers, the most realistic way to build credit from scratch is to apply for a secured credit card. If you want to open a secured credit card, you need to put down a deposit with the card issuer — which means you’re essentially using your own money to front your credit line. If you’d like a secured credit card with a $1,000 credit limit, you typically need to give the card issuer $1,000 which will be placed in an account and held as collateral by the credit card issuer in the event you do not meet your credit card financial obligations. However, the upside is that a secured card can be used as a tool to help you build your credit because your payments are usually reported to the credit bureaus, so make sure you manage your credit card obligations responsibly. And, check with the card issuer to make sure they report your credit transactions to the three major credit bureaus.

After you’ve developed a history of using your secured credit card responsibly you can either ask to be moved to an unsecured credit card or apply for a new unsecured credit card and close the secured card. In either case, providing you have met your obligations on the secured card, you’ll get your deposit back.

Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

Although there is no single best credit card to help you build credit, I found several good options that are available. One option for a card that can be used to help with your credit-building is the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee card. This Secured Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount Discover can approve of at least $200, which will establish your credit line. Be prepared as you will need to include your bank information at the same time you submit your security deposit. Starting at 8 months, Discover will have automatic monthly reviews to see if you can be transitioned to an unsecured line of credit, in other words to an account that does not require a security deposit. Keep in mind that these reviews are across all of your credit cards and loans, Discover and others, and are based on your responsible credit management.

The Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee has two additional advantages over some of the other secured credit cards. First, like all Discover cards, it has no foreign transaction fees, so you won’t pay a 3-5% premium when you use your credit card for purchases made outside of the United States, including Mexico and Canada.

Second, it offers a cash back rewards program on purchases made with the card, rare for secured cards, so you can earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus 1% cash back on all your other purchases. As a new cardmember you can get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically, again, only for new cardmembers.

Remember to take full advantage of any rewards program it’s important to pay off your entire balance on-time every billing cycle. Credit card debt incurs interest charges, and the rate you’re charged will always be more than the rate you earn in rewards.

Another key point to keep in mind, you can use a credit card as a tool to help you build or establish credit but remember it is ultimately up to you to handle your credit obligations responsibly.

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Another good secured credit card option is the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, which has no annual fee, you will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99 or $200, based on your creditworthiness. If you deposit more money before your account opens you can get a higher credit line, up to $1,000. The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has no foreign transaction fees, but doesn’t offer a rewards program.

For that reason, the cash back rewards program, I believe the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee card is a slightly better value, despite the somewhat more limited acceptance of Discover cards compared to Mastercard.

Besides Discover and Capital One, most large banks offer secured credit cards for building credit, like the Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card, which has an annual fee of $25, and the Citi® Secured Mastercard® (Citi is a CreditSesame.com advertiser), which has no annual fee. Unlike the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee and the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® these cards charge a foreign transaction fee of each transaction made in a foreign currency or made in U.S. Dollars that is processed outside the United States. This fee will be in addition to any other applicable fee.

Finally, many credit unions offer secured credit cards to help you build credit, some of which have very friendly terms.

Many banks offer student credit cards. These are designed for young people who have yet to build a credit history. Student credit cards are credit cards for building credit, but before you apply, know that the rules for student cards are slightly different from the rules for traditional credit cards.

Student cards require proof that the cardholder can repay the debt (evidence of employment, for example) or some may request a co-signer (usually a parent), who becomes equally liable with the student for any charges made with the card. In that case, the card will appear on both the student’s and the co-signer’s credit report, so if it’s not handled responsibly, both credit scores will suffer. As mentioned before not all credit card issuers allow or accept co-signers or co-applicants so be sure to check with the specific lenders or credit card issuers as to their policy around this.

If it’s managed responsibly, consistently paid off on time, a student credit card can give the student’s credit a leg up when he or she enters the workforce and starts looking to borrow for larger purchases.

Store cards are like credit cards in the sense that you borrow money in order to make a purchase, and then have the option to pay off your balance later. If you choose not to pay your balance in full, you’ll also be charged interest on the amount of your purchase.

The difference between a store card and a traditional credit card is that the store card usually can only be used at the issuing store (or, in some cases, a family of stores).

Store cards are reported to the credit bureaus and a history of on-time payments will tend to increase your credit score over time.

Some store cards are popular because they allow you to accumulate a store’s loyalty or reward points faster than you would if you paid with cash. For example, the Banana Republic card earns 5 rewards points for every dollar spent at Banana Republic brands in-store and online, so if you do a lot of shopping at GAP, Athleta, Banana Republic, or Old Navy you can get a $5 reward for every 500 points you earn.

Other store cards are popular because of periodic promotional deferred interest rates on large purchases. For example, some store cards may have a promotional offer for a 12-month zero percent deferred interest rate promotion on purchases over a certain dollar amount. But beware: deferred interest rate offers can be dangerous, since if the purchase isn’t paid off in full and on time, the entire amount of accrued interest is added to your balance at the end of the offer period.

What should my first credit card be?

For those who are new to credit, roughly 1.3% of active Credit Sesame members, secured credit cards are an option that you may want to consider. A history of consistent responsible use by you will build up your credit score until you can graduate to an unsecured card.

If you don’t want to deposit cash to secure a credit line, you might consider applying for a store card from a store where you regularly shop. Since store cards can generally only be used at the issuing store, eligibility requirements may be less stringent.

As the old saying goes, banks are in the business of lending money to people who can prove they don’t need it. The best way to build credit and prove you don’t need it is to apply for credit, use it responsibly over time, and gradually apply for more.

Like other forms of debt, student loans appear on a student’s credit report and, if consistently paid on time, will gradually increase the student’s credit score over time. Student loans issued by the federal government don’t require a co-signer, so present no risk to a parent’s credit when a student decides to borrow to pay for their education.

How a credit builder loan works and why it can help build credit

If you’re wondering how to build credit without a credit card, one option is a credit builder loan. In some ways, a credit builder loan serves as a resume of your financial merits. The acts of applying for, obtaining and successfully paying down a small loan demonstrates your ability to make timely payments, meet a financial objective and manage debt without falling behind.

Broadly speaking, a lending product that does not require credit to be issued can be considered a credit builder loan, explains Carlos Colón, an Accredited Financial Counselor®, bilingual personal finance coach and financial education program manager with mpowered in Lakewood, Colo. Some credit cards fall into this category.

A credit builder loan is one such product. In its most traditional form, the loaned funds are deposited into a restricted savings account that the borrower cannot access until after making the final payment. In another type of credit builder loan, the collateral is money that is already in the bank. The funds are frozen and then released gradually as the borrower makes payments against the loan.

Consumers of all credit scores may seek to build credit for various reasons, but some in particular might see measurable benefits. According to Credit Sesame data, approximately 55 percent of active Credit Sesame members identify their credit score as fair (550 to 639) or lower, which means there is plenty of room for credit improvement.

In addition, about 1.3% of our active members are new to credit (a thin credit file – limited or nonexistent credit history). Depending on their circumstances, some of those borrowers may benefit from a credit builder loan because a positive payment history could add to the depth of their credit portfolio.

Credit cards are the top form of credit sought by consumers, followed by car loans and student loans, according to a May 2015 report by the Federal Reserve. The report surveys the economic well-being of U.S. households based on a survey of nearly 5,900 respondents.

Credit builder loans help consumers improve their credit score in two ways.

“One, the product does not require any credit, thereby allowing people who would otherwise be effectively barred from participating of the credit system to start building a file,” Colón says. “Two, the lender reports the payment activity to the credit bureaus thereby building credit by starting a credit file, or by adding a new and presumably positive active line of credit to an already existing file.”

In most cases, a credit builder loan has a balance below $1,000 and the payments period is from six to 24 months, depending on the borrower and the circumstances of his or her credit, he says.

Shopping For Credit-Building Loans

Consumers need to do a little advance legwork before deciding to apply for credit building loans.

“First, meet with a credit counselor or financial coach to review your credit and determine if it might be the best course of action,” Colón says. “This is useful because some people may not require a credit builder loan and could apply instead for a traditional credit card, or other product, with a low balance.”

In cases where that course of action isn’t possible, credit building loans are an option to consider. That kind of situation “usually involves other actions for rebuilding credit,” he says. “In other words, it becomes one part within a larger strategy.”

What You Need to Be Aware of When Using Small Loans to Build Credit

There are several pitfalls to avoid when exploring small loans to build credit, in addition to the risk that you might fall behind on payments. Among them is signing onto a loan without a holistic approach to rebuilding credit.

“These loans are not a one-size-fits-all type of product,” Colón cautions. “Another common mistake is to assume that the creditor is reporting to all three credit bureaus. It’s important to know ahead of time if the creditor will report to one, two or all three, and generally speaking we would choose a product that reports to at least two credit bureaus.”

Additionally, be aware some products and services come with strings such as fees. The collateral funds will earn just a small fraction of a percent in interest, while the interest you pay on the loan will be higher at least ten times that amount and possibly more.

So even though the money is in the bank, the loan will cost more than it earns. In some cases, paying the loan off early could result in a penalty. Colón recommends asking the lender whether it provides an exit strategy as credit improves.

Where to Apply for Loans to Build Credit

Many credit building loans are offered by financial institutions such as credit unions, brick-and-mortar banks and online banks.

The best loans to build credit may be found right in your neighborhood. “I like to recommend credit unions because they are a nonprofit institution, tend to be local and thereby tend to offer better service,” Colón says. “Nonetheless, the borrower should shop around and choose the products that best serve their goals as well as their bottom line.”

It’s always smart to seek out the best interest rate on loans to build credit, but be cautious about how you do this. That’s because in some cases, you can’t find out the rate you qualify for until the lender checks your credit. That’s a hard credit inquiry and it will result in the loss of a few points from your credit score. Unlike mortgages, student loans and auto loans, there is no rate-shopping window for personal loans.

A soft approach is best for the initial research. Place phone calls or check online to inquire about lenders’ rates. Know your credit score in advance so you can share it with a prospective lender, who should be able to easily report back on typical rates for someone in your score category. If you are uncomfortable with making contact in this way, you can try out peer-to-peer online lenders like Prosper or Lending Club. In response to your request for a rate quote, these lenders make a soft inquiry that won’t affect your score.

Remember that loans to build credit are meant to demonstrate responsible interaction with debt over time, not your ability to speed through the process quickly. Pay your monthly balance in full and on time. Don’t accelerate the payoff. This is how you’ll develop a solid history of responsible credit use.

As you search for a lender and the right financial product, work with a free or low-cost credit counselor or financial coach to nail down and follow through with the proper credit-building strategy.

Secured Credit Builder Loan Versus Unsecured Loan

Credit building loans are available both as a secured loan to build credit and as an unsecured loan. The term “secured” refers to the fact that if you don’t make your payments, you forfeit your collateral. The lender can repossess or place a lien on your assets if you fail to repay the loan.

An unsecured loan means the financial institution doesn’t have the right to act on your assets in that way, though your interest rate generally will be higher as a result.

In general, the small scale of a secured loan to build credit should mean that if you fall behind, you can work with your lender to find a solution that doesn’t require a transfer of assets.

How to Buy Your First Home with Help From a Credit Builder Loan

It’s possible to buy your first home with support from a credit builder loan, but there’s no direct correlation between the two. You must have a broad financial strategy and work with knowledgeable financial professionals to achieve your dream of home ownership when the time is right, Colón says. A financial coach or counselor can assist you in building credit, while a housing counselor can help you understand the ins and outs of a real estate purchase.

“Credit builder loans can help to the extent that they help improve our credit and credit scores, and typically, the better our score, the better the terms on a mortgage,” he explains. “However, it is important to realize that credit scores are just one factor that lenders and mortgage underwriters use to assess risk. In other words, I can have very good scores and still get denied on a mortgage.”

Credit builder loans are a piece of the puzzle, ‘not a silver bullet’

Although useful in some cases, credit builder loans are not a silver bullet. Colón encourages borrowers to work on their overall financial goals with help of financial professionals accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE). Impartial experts who are not associated with any particular financial product can help you set and achieve the smartest objectives for your family.

Editor’s Note: The information related to the Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card has been collected by CreditSesame.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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