If you're looking to pay off your credit card debt, you may have thought about applying for a balance transfer card.
CNBC Select has ranked the best balance transfer credit cards, and while most require good or excellent credit (scores 670 and above), there's one credit union card that stands out for people with fair credit.
Below, we take a look at the Aspire Platinum Mastercard® and unpack why it is the best choice for people with fair credit who want to do a balance transfer. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.) But first, we look at exactly how balance transfers work.
Balance transfer cards give you a promotional interest-free period (anywhere from six months to 21 months) to pay off your credit card debt. Transferring your debt from your current credit card to a balance transfer card lets you apply your payments directly to your balance — and not to expensive interest fees.
If used responsibly, these cards are an effective way pay down your debt faster. Of course, this works best when you pay off your balance before the introductory 0% APR period ends, so you don't end up accruing interest on the new balance you transferred over.
Most balance transfer cards usually require a 2% to 5% fee (or a $5 minimum) for each transfer, but there are some balance transfer cards with no fee.
You can transfer balances at any time, but the introductory 0% APR period begins when you open the account and lasts for six months. For this reason, it's in your best interest to complete a transfer sooner rather than later to maximize the 0% APR offer.
Your credit score plays a big role in whether or not you qualify for a balance transfer card since many issuers want to see that you have good credit before granting you more time to pay off your debt, and at no interest.
If you do qualify for a balance transfer card, your credit score will then help determine the amount of debt that you can transfer. It will either be a percentage of your total credit limit or a set dollar amount. While each credit application is different, generally speaking a good credit score qualifies you for more credit and higher balance transfer limits.
The Aspire Platinum Mastercard is a balance transfer card where applicants with fair credit have a better chance of qualifying. Even though its promotional interest period is shorter than most cards, if you're struggling with high-interest debt this six months of savings could help you get ahead. And if you aren't able to pay your balance off in full after the introductory 0% APR period, the variable interest rate is relatively low, at 8.15% to 18.00%.
Like many balance transfer cards, this one has a 2% balance transfer fee on each transfer (or a $5 minimum). This is slightly lower than the standard 3% and still gives you considerable opportunity to save even with the fee.
Additionally, there is no annual fee for the Aspire Platinum Mastercard.
Before applying, note that this is a credit union card. Membership to the Aspire Federal Credit Union is required. Membership is available to employees of the credit union's Select Employer Group and their family members. You can also join for free if you first become a member of its partner association, the Marine Mammals Stranding Center.
If you do not meet these requirements, you may still be eligible to join, according to its website. To inquire about Aspire FCU membership, you can place a call to 732-388-0477 for more information. This line is available 24/7.
0% for the first 6 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers
8.15% to 18.00% variable
2%, $5 minimum
See our methodology, terms apply.
To determine which credit cards offer the best balance transfer deals, CNBC Select analyzed 101 of the most popular credit cards that offer no interest on balance transfers issued by the biggest banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join.
We compared each card on a range of features, including: annual fee, balance transfer fee, rewards program, introductory and standard APR, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.
For balance transfer cards, we used a Bankrate calculator to tally the interest rates and fees you could incur if you transferred $6,194, the average balance Americans carry on their credit cards in 2019, according to Experian.
If the average consumer with a $6,194 balance on their credit card pays $200 each month, they will spend $2,012 in additional interest, assuming the average 16.97% APR, according to the Fed. And it will take them 42 months — more than three years — to pay off that debt.
With four of the five cards featured on this list, if you take full advantage of the intro APR period and pay $200 per month, you'll pay less than $500 in interest. That's a significant savings.
For the cards that offered a rewards program, we also estimated how much cash back you might earn over a five year period. CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.
CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.
It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)
When choosing the best balance transfer card, we focused on the card that provides consumers with the cheapest way to pay off their debt rather than the number of rewards they could potentially earn. When you're in credit card debt, your primary focus should be repayment. Earning rewards should be seen as a bonus, and you don't want to spend beyond your means in order to earn points.
The five-year rewards total and the interest rate and fees estimates are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending and debt. You may earn a higher or lower return depending on your spending habits.
Information about the Aspire Platinum Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.