Considering Americans carry an average balance of $6,194, there's a lot of room to save money with a balance transfer credit card. These cards offer no interest on balance transfers for a set period of time — at least six months and up to 21 months. During the introductory 0% APR period, you can pay off debt without paying costly interest charges.
We analyzed 101 popular balance transfer cards using an average American's annual spending budget and credit card debt and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
Before signing up for a balance transfer card, consider how you plan on tackling your debt repayment plan. When we crunched the numbers to see which cards could help you pay down debt at the lowest cost, we assumed you'd transfer an average debt of $6,194 and pay $200 per month, which means you could pay off the debt in roughly 34 months. We factored in each card's transfer fee, the length of the 0% interest period and any interest you'd pay once the intro period ends. But the more you pay each month, the faster you'll pay off the balance you've transferred, and ideally, you could pay off the debt in full before the higher interest rates kick in.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top balance transfer credit cards:
2% cash back: 1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill
No current offer
0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases
13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers
3%, minimum $5
Who's this for? The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of our favorite cash-back credit cards, and it also offers an impressive 18 months no interest on balance transfers (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR) — all for no annual fee. Earn 2% cash back on every purchase: unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Cardholders can complete their balance transfers any time within the first four months from account opening, but the interest-free period begins as soon as you open the card. You will have to pay a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), but this is similar to other cards on the list.
There's no annual fee and an easy-to-use cash-back program with no activation required and no limit to how many points you can earn. Cardholders can redeem cash back for checks or statement credits once they've earned $25 worth of points. Balance transfers don't earn cash back.
If you forget to pay your card, Citi will waive your first late fee. (Though we recommend you pay off your credit card balance on time and in full each month to avoid interest charges.) The card also provides access to Citi® Identity Theft Solutions, a service that will help you if you're a victim of identity theft.
0% for the first 21 months on balance transfers and 0% for the first 12 months on purchases
14.74% to 24.74% variable
5%, minimum $5
Who's this for? The Citi Simplicity® Card offers the longest balance transfer intro period at 0% for the first 21 months (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR). This is nearly two years to pay off debt, which can be helpful if you have a large balance or if your cash flow doesn't allow you to pay off debt within the 6-, 12-, 15- or 18-month time periods of other balance transfer cards.
This card has no annual fee, but it does come with one of the steeper balance transfer fees: 5% (minimum $5). But this can be worthwhile if you're paying high interest charges.
New cardholders have four months to complete their balance transfer (longer than the typical 60 to 90 days). While you have more time to complete a transfer, the intro APR period starts at account opening — so try to make the transfer as soon as possible to get the most benefit of the interest-free period.
This card also offers 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR) and never charges late fees (though we always recommend you pay your balance on time and in full). There isn't a welcome bonus or a rewards program.
0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases
13.99% to 23.99% variable
3%, minimum $5
2% to 3%
Who's this for? If you're looking to transfer debt and finance new purchases, consider the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which provides one of the best overall intro APR periods: 0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). This is one of the longest interest-free periods for both balance transfers and purchases.
Balance transfers incur a typical 3% fee (minimum $5) and need to be transferred within the first 60 days from account opening to qualify for the interest-free period. There's no annual fee.
This card doesn't offer a rewards program, but it does come with a cell phone protection plan. When you pay your cell phone bill with your card, you receive coverage for damage or theft up to $600, with a $25 deductible, for up to two claims ($1,200) per 12 month period.
0% for the first 6 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers
8.15% to 18.00% variable
2%, $5 minimum
Who's this for? It can be hard to find a balance transfer card that accepts applicants with fair credit, since these cards often require good or excellent credit. The Aspire Platinum Mastercard® is an exception, as applicants with fair or good credit may qualify.
In addition to more lenient credit requirements, there's no annual fee. The balance transfer period is short: It only applies to the first 6 billing cycles. After the intro period, there's a relatively low variable APR of 9.65% to 18.00%. Take note of the 2%, $5 minimum balance transfer fee.
You can transfer balances at any time, but the intro period begins at account opening. It's in your best interest to complete a transfer sooner rather than later to maximize the 0% APR offer.
This is a credit union card, so 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 if you first become a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center for free.
Before you take advantage of a balance transfer offer, there are some things you should keep in mind:
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 $1,950 in additional interest, assuming the average 16.61% APR, according to the Fed. And it will take them 41 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.