Money Advice

How to Use 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards Responsibly

After years of hovering at shut to zero, rates of interest are on the rise. The Federal Reserve raised charges thrice in 2017 and twice extra in early 2018, with extra will increase possible. That’s excellent news for savers, however unhealthy information for anybody who’s carrying bank card debt. Most bank cards have a variable curiosity rate, in order the federal fund rate creeps upward, so will the value of carrying a bank card stability.

However, for some individuals, there’s a means of getting out of paying these larger charges, at the very least briefly. If you’re fortunate sufficient to get a suggestion for a zero-interest stability switch, you may transfer your debt out of your present, high-interest card to a brand new card and pay no curiosity in any respect on it for up to a year and a half. That offers you a bit respiration room in your funds that so you may pay down the debt sooner.

If you’re one of many many Americans who’s fallen into the entice of bank card debt, there’s a sure pleasing irony on this. Sure, bank cards acquired you into this mess – however the proper bank card may assist get you out.

How Zero Interest Balance Transfers Work

A stability switch is simply what it seems like: shifting the stability on one bank card to a unique one. This generally is a brand-new bank card or one you have already got, so long as it’s issued by a unique financial institution from the primary card. In impact, you’re utilizing the second card to repay the primary one.

Just name up the financial institution, or log into your account, and inform them you need to switch a stability. It can take just a few weeks for the switch to undergo, so that you’ll have to maintain paying the primary financial institution till the second notifies you that the switch is full.

You can switch a stability to practically any bank card, since banks are all the time joyful to have you ever paying curiosity to them as a substitute of their opponents. However, a zero-interest stability switch is a particular deal. In an effort to appeal to new prospects, banks generally provide them a brief curiosity rate of 0% once they switch a stability to a brand new card. You can discover examples of bank cards with zero-interest presents presents at NerdWallet and Credit Karma.

How Much You Can Save

Transferring a stability isn’t the identical factor as paying it off. You nonetheless owe precisely the identical quantity of money on the second card as you probably did on the primary one. However, you’ll have a break of a number of months throughout which you don’t have to pay any curiosity on that debt, at the very least in the course of the introductory interval. Depending on how massive the debt is and the way excessive the curiosity rate was on the outdated card, this may add up to massive financial savings.

For occasion, say you owe $3,000 on a bank card with an curiosity rate of 17% APR. Your minimal month-to-month cost on this debt is now $120. If you pay this quantity every month, it’ll take you 32 months – over two and a half years – to repay the stability, and also you’ll find yourself paying greater than $700 in curiosity. Even in the event you double the month-to-month cost, you’ll take 14 months to pay it off and pay round $325 in curiosity.

Now suppose you switch that stability to a card that prices you no curiosity for 15 months. Even in the event you can solely pay the minimal of $120, you’ll lower your payoff time to 26 months and save shut to $600 in curiosity. If you double this cost to $240 a month, you’ll have the entire stability paid off in simply 13 months, earlier than the 0% curiosity rate has expired, and pay no curiosity in any respect.

Things to Watch Out For

Like each nice deal, zero-interest stability transfers include a catch – a number of, actually. Before you go speeding off to search for a brand new card that gives this deal, right here are some things you want to know:

  1. They’re Not Available to Everyone. According to NerdWallet, most bank cards that supply zero-interest stability transfers require a good credit score rating of at the very least 690. If your credit standing is decrease than this, you’re most likely higher off with a personal mortgage. You can use the money to repay your bank cards after which repay the mortgage in installments.
  2. They’re Not Free. Balance transfers can prevent money in the long term, however they really value you money up entrance. When you switch a stability to a brand new financial institution, it prices you a price that’s often round 3% of the entire stability. So, in the event you switch a stability of $3,000, you owe $90 proper off the bat. However, not like many different financial institution charges, stability switch charges aren’t capped, to allow them to be as excessive as 5%.
  3. The Amount Is Limited. If you open a brand new account since you need to switch a stability of $10,000, you may be disenchanted. The quantity you may truly switch is determined by how a lot credit score your new financial institution is prepared to offer you – and that’s one thing you may’t know till after you apply for the account. So, if the financial institution solely offers you a credit score line of $7,000, you’ll be caught leaving $3,000 in your outdated, high-interest account.
  4. The Interest Rate Is Temporary. Zero-interest stability switch presents are solely good for a restricted time, often known as the introductory interval. Typically, that is wherever from 9 to 18 months after you open the account. Once that point interval is up, the financial institution begins charging you curiosity – often at a excessive rate – on any stability you could have left. For occasion, in the event you solely handle to repay $2,000 of your $3,000 stability in the course of the introductory interval, the curiosity you pay on the $1,000 stability that’s left might be larger than the rate you have been paying in your authentic card.
  5. Late Payments Can Kill the Deal. Most zero-interest presents embody a fine-print warning that in the event you’re ever late making a cost, your zero-interest interval ends instantly. If you miss a cost by simply sooner or later, your curiosity rate may shoot up in a single day to a “penalty” rate as excessive as 30%. This will make no matter stability you could have left loads more durable to repay than it will have been in the event you’d caught together with your authentic card.
  6. New Purchases Are Not Interest-Free. A zero-interest stability switch provide isn’t the identical factor as a zero-interest bank card. You don’t owe any money on the stability you’ve transferred, however in the event you use your new card to make any new purchases, you’ll pay curiosity on these. Some of one of the best balance-transfer playing cards provide a 0% APR for brand new purchases as properly, however often this provide is barely good for the primary six months. And, after all, any purchases you make together with your new card simply add to the entire quantity of debt you could have to repay.
  7. It Can Affect Your Credit Score. Doing a stability switch doesn’t harm your credit score rating, for the reason that quantity you owe stays precisely the identical. However, making use of for a brand new bank card to reap the benefits of a stability switch provide does ding your credit score rating. Doing it as soon as isn’t an enormous deal, however in the event you attempt to repeat the trick so you may transfer your stability once more when your introductory rate expires, lenders will begin to see you as a poor credit threat. On the opposite hand, in the event you reap the benefits of a zero-interest stability switch to aggressively pay down your debt, that may enhance your credit score rating.

Ways to Use Zero-Interest Balance Transfers

In the heady days of the early twenty first century, when rates of interest have been nonetheless excessive and credit score was free-flowing, some intelligent finance bloggers discovered how to mix these two details to make money on the expense of the bank card corporations. They used zero-interest stability transfers to borrow money, then deposited the money in a high-interest financial savings account, incomes 4% to 5%. Then, simply earlier than the introductory interval ran out, they’d take the money again out of the financial institution and repay the mortgage, pocketing all of the curiosity it had earned within the meantime.

This crafty apply, known as bank card arbitrage, was all the time difficult, calling for cautious consideration to element. Nowadays, it’s roughly unattainable. Zero-interest presents are a lot more durable to come by, and financial institution accounts that pay greater than 1% to 2% are nearly exceptional. At these charges, it’s practically unattainable to make sufficient in curiosity to meet the price of the stability switch price.

However, it’s nonetheless potential to use zero-interest stability transfers to your benefit. Borrowing money at no curiosity can provide the monetary wiggle room you want to repay different money owed. It may also offer you much-needed emergency money.

Pay Off Other Debts

The most blatant means to use a zero-interest provide is to switch a stability from one other bank card. Paying off bank card debt is commonly difficult due to the excessive rates of interest many playing cards cost. Even in the event you cease utilizing the cardboard to make new purchases, a big portion of every month’s cost is eaten up by the curiosity on the stability you’ve already constructed up. Transferring the stability to a zero-interest card helps you to put your complete cost towards your debt, so you may clear it away sooner.

However, bank card debt isn’t the one variety you may repay with a stability switch. Some banks will even allow you to switch debt from pupil loans, automotive loans, residence fairness traces of credit score, and different purchases made on credit score, comparable to furnishings or home equipment.

Often, this course of entails utilizing a stability switch test, often known as an entry test. These work similar to regular checks, however as a substitute of drawing in your checking account, they draw funds out of your new bank card account to repay your different debt. You then have wherever from 9 to 18 months to repay the stability, interest-free.

Using stability transfers this fashion is dangerous, nonetheless. If you don’t handle to repay the complete stability in the course of the card’s zero-interest interval, the curiosity you pay on the rest will shoot up to a brand new, larger rate – most likely a lot larger than what you have been paying on the mortgage you began with.

According to Value Penguin, the typical curiosity rate on a five-year automotive mortgage is round 4%. The Department of Education says rates of interest for pupil loans vary from 3.76% to 8.5%. By distinction, the curiosity rate on a bank card that’s previous its zero-interest interval may be as excessive as 25%. So, in the event you don’t repay the stability in time, you can find yourself paying extra curiosity in whole than you’ll have paid in the event you’d simply caught together with your authentic mortgage.

However, if in case you have a mortgage that’s shut to being paid off already, transferring it to a zero-interest card generally is a good transfer. Without the added value of curiosity, you may throw all of your spare money on the mortgage stability and erase it utterly earlier than the introductory interval ends.

Get Cash for Emergencies

Balance switch checks aren’t simply helpful for paying down debt. They may also present much-needed money in an emergency. You write out a test drawing in your new zero-interest card, deposit it within the financial institution, and use that money to pay the payments. Once your emergency is over, you could have the remainder of the introductory interval to pay again the money earlier than you begin owing curiosity on it.

Of course, utilizing a stability switch test this fashion isn’t nearly as good as having an actual emergency fund in financial savings. For one factor, you could have to pay a stability switch price up entrance, simply as you’ll with some other switch.

More severely, you’re paying your payments with borrowed money. If you may’t pay it again inside the zero-interest interval, you’ll be hit with a excessive curiosity rate. So in the event you’re unsure you’ll give you the chance to repay the debt that quick, you’re most likely higher off with a personal mortgage, which you can pay again over three to 5 years.

If you could have present debt, it’s also possible to use a stability switch to assist you build an emergency fund. Normally, each greenback you set towards financial savings is a greenback that isn’t going to repay your debt, so the curiosity simply retains piling up. In this case, it’s tempting to throw each greenback you could have on the debt and pay it down sooner – however that leaves you with nothing for emergencies. If catastrophe strikes, you find yourself counting on the cardboard to pay your payments, which simply bumps up the stability much more.

A zero-interest stability switch can take the strain off. First, you switch your present debt to the brand new zero-interest account. With no curiosity to pay, your bank card funds can be decrease, and you’ll put the additional money into financial savings. That means, you may pay down debt and build up financial savings on the similar time.

This is a superb plan in the event you’re ready to repay your debt in full in the course of the introductory interval. You’ll come out of it with no debt and a pleasant little chunk of change put aside for emergency financial savings. However, in the event you nonetheless have debt left when the zero-interest rate expires, you’ll have to begin paying curiosity on it at the next rate. Therefore, in the event you do that technique, you’ll want to crunch some numbers and work out how a lot you may afford to put towards financial savings every month whereas nonetheless shaving down that mortgage stability as a lot as potential.

Use Balance Transfers Responsibly

Make no mistake, bank card issuers don’t provide zero-interest stability transfers out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it as a result of they’re anticipating to make a revenue. They hope that you just’ll both use your new card for purchases, miss a cost, or let your stability sit there till the introductory interval expires. If you do any of this stuff, they will cost you excessive curiosity that may greater than make up for the zero-interest mortgage they’ve given you.

To keep away from this downside, consultants advocate taking some primary precautions:

  • Read the Fine Print. Before signing up for a zero-interest stability switch, be sure you know all the main points. This consists of the scale of the stability switch price, the size of the introductory interval, the curiosity rate you’ll pay as soon as that interval expires, and whether or not the brand new card you’re signing up for has an annual price. Keep a replica of the paperwork with all these phrases on file, so you may refer to it afterward.
  • Avoid Cash Advances. Make completely certain that what you’re signing up for actually is a stability switch, fairly than a money advance. While a stability switch is usually a sensible monetary transfer, a money advance, which comes with extra-high curiosity and charges, virtually by no means is. However, bank card issuers have been recognized to ship out entry checks for each kinds of transactions – generally even facet by facet in the identical envelope. So, in the event you use an entry test to make your stability switch, take a look at it very rigorously to be sure it’s the correct.
  • Do the Math. A zero-interest stability switch saves you money in the course of the introductory interval. However, it prices you money for the stability switch price, in addition to curiosity on any stability you could have left when the introductory interval ends. To work out whether or not the financial savings outweigh the prices in your case, take a look at the stability switch calculator at It permits you to enter all the main points about your switch, comparable to the scale of your debt, the curiosity rate you’re paying now, the quantity can afford to pay every month, and the charges related to the switch. Then it exhibits you ways a lot you’ll save – or how a lot additional you’ll pay – by doing the switch.
  • Don’t Ditch the Old Card. When you utilize a stability switch to repay considered one of your outdated playing cards, that doesn’t imply you’re achieved with that card for good. First of all, you’ll need to test the subsequent assertion for the outdated card and make it possible for the stability is paid in full. And second, closing the account may harm your credit score rating by decreasing your obtainable credit score. It makes extra sense to maintain the outdated card, cost a small quantity on it every month, after which pay the complete stability whenever you get your invoice. This will assist you enhance your credit score rating when you’re paying down your debt. However, in case your outdated card has an annual price, go forward and ditch it. There are different methods to increase your credit score rating with out paying $20 or extra each year for the privilege.
  • Don’t Use the New Card for Purchases. If you’ve opened a brand new card to reap the benefits of a zero-interest stability switch, don’t use that card to make purchases. Your aim needs to be to pay down the stability as quick as potential and get it paid off inside the introductory interval, not run it up by shopping for extra stuff. Also, normally, new purchases on the cardboard received’t be included within the zero-interest provide, so that you’ll have to pay excessive curiosity on them immediately. If you could purchase on credit score, stick to your outdated playing cards, which most likely have decrease rates of interest.
  • Pay On Time. This is essential. Missing a cost on a bank card is all the time an issue, because you get hit with curiosity in addition to late charges. But with a zero-interest card, lacking a cost – even by sooner or later – may lower brief your zero-interest deal and ship your curiosity rate by way of the roof. If you’re the sort of one who’s usually careless about paying payments on time, a zero-interest stability switch isn’t worthwhile.
  • Stay On Track. Keep a detailed eye in your new card and be sure you’re on observe to repay the stability earlier than the zero-interest interval expires. A couple of months earlier than the introductory interval ends, it’s a good suggestion to name up the financial institution and discover out the precise date by which you want to have the stability paid off to keep away from curiosity.

Final Word

Zero-interest stability transfers are a double-edged sword. They generally is a useful gizmo to get out of a high-interest debt entice, however in the event you’re not cautious, they will additionally enable you to dig your self in deeper. If all you do is transfer debt from one card to one other after which run up your stability as soon as extra, you can find yourself with twice as a lot debt as you began with.

To keep away from this downside, be diligent about paying off your debt when you’ve transferred it. Look on the money you’re saving in curiosity as additional money to throw at your debt so you may get it out of your life for good. If you’re good and cautious, you can also make certain a zero-interest provide works to your benefit – not the bank card company’s.

To find out about extra methods to repay debt, take a look at our different articles.

Have you ever used a zero-interest stability switch? Did you discover it useful or dangerous?

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