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The best balance transfer credit cards of November 2019

With interest rates at an all-time high, carrying a balance on your credit card is costing you a lot. But one way to get that debt under control is to choose the right card.

Considering Americans carry an average balance of $6,028, 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 $6,028 and pay $200 per month, which means you could pay off the debt in roughly 31 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:

Winner: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Winner: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
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Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

  • Variable APR

    14.49% to 25.49%

  • Balance transfer fee

    $0

  • Rewards

    2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 1X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $404

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $1,444

  • See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 15 months of no interest on balance transfers
  • No balance transfer fee
  • No annual fee
  • Rewards program and welcome bonus, which is rare among no-fee balance transfer cards
  • 20% extra point bonus when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing period

Cons

  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
  • Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

Who's this for? If you want to maximize savings with a balance transfer, consider a card that has no balance transfer fee, such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. Unlike many balance transfer cards that charge a 3% to 5% fee per transfer, this card has no fee. If you transfer $5,000 to this card, you'd avoid a $150 fee that you'd pay if you had a card with a 3% balance transfer fee.

You can also benefit from no interest for the first 15 months on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR). This is a longer-than-average intro period, providing extra time for you to pay off debt when you make sizeable, monthly payments toward your balance. All balance transfers must take place within the first 60 days from account opening to qualify for the introductory period.

Who's this for? If you want to maximize savings with a balance transfer, consider a card that has no balance transfer fee, such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. Unlike many balance transfer cards that charge a 3% to 5% fee per transfer, this card has no fee. If you transfer $5,000 to this card, you'd avoid a $150 fee that you'd pay if you had a card with a 3% balance transfer fee.

You can also benefit from no interest for the first 15 months on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR). This is a longer-than-average intro period, providing extra time for you to pay off debt when you make sizeable, monthly payments toward your balance. All balance transfers must take place within the first 60 days from account opening to qualify for the introductory period.

This card also has no annual fee and a rewards program: Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1X) and 1X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent on all other purchases. And when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing period you receive 20% extra points.

Cardholders can also take advantage of premium Amex perks, including discounts at select merchants via Amex Offers, car rental loss and damage insurance, free two-day shipping at select online retailers with ShopRunner and cell phone protection.

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Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Runner-Up: Discover it® Balance Transfer

Runner-Up: Discover it® Balance Transfer
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On Discover's secure website.
  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 6 months on purchases; 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances must be transferred by a specific date, refer to your cardmember agreement for the exact date

  • Regular variable APR

    13.49% to 24.49%

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Rewards

    5% cash back at different places each quarter after you activate bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1%). Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $436

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $1,505

  • See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 18 months of no interest on balance transfers
  • Cash-back program
  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Bonus categories must be activated each quarter
  • Cash-back program limits 5% cash-back earnings to $1,500 a quarter
  • Fee charged on balance transfers

Who's this for? The Discover it® Balance Transfer card offers cardholders more than the chance to get out of debt — you can also earn rewards, finance new purchases and use the card overseas without incurring fees. Plus, there's no annual fee.

This balance transfer offer is one of the longest available: 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then 13.49% to 24.49% variable APR). There is a 3% intro balance transfer fee, then up to 5% on future balance transfers (see terms)*, but this is typical and is arguably negligible when you consider the amount of interest you save by completing a transfer.

Who's this for? The Discover it® Balance Transfer card offers cardholders more than the chance to get out of debt — you can also earn rewards, finance new purchases and use the card overseas without incurring fees. Plus, there's no annual fee.

This balance transfer offer is one of the longest available: 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then 13.49% to 24.49% variable APR). There is a 3% intro balance transfer fee, then up to 5% on future balance transfers (see terms)*, but this is typical and is arguably negligible when you consider the amount of interest you save by completing a transfer.

Many cards require balance transfers to be completed within 60 days from account opening, but this card sets a specific date, so refer to your cardholder agreement for the exact timeframe.

Cardholders can also benefit from no interest on new purchases for six months (then 13.49% to 24.49% variable APR) and a cash-back program. Earn 5% cash back at different places (like gas stations, grocery stores, Amazon, etc.) each quarter after you activate bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1%). Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

There's no foreign transaction fees, though Discover is not as widely accepted overseas as Visa or Mastercard. Discover also provides one late fee waiver on your first late payment — which is helpful if you forget to pay on time. The waiver acts as a good reminder to set up autopay so you never miss a payment. We always recommend paying your balance on time and in full.

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On Discover's secure website.

Best for Rewards: Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for Rewards: Citi® Double Cash Card
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On Citi's secure website.
  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances must be transferred within 4 months from account opening

  • Variable APR

    15.49% to 25.49%

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Rewards

    2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $436

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $2,185

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 18 months of no interest on balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No 0% APR period for purchases

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 15.49% to 25.49% 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 s 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), but this is similar to other cards on the list.

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 15.49% to 25.49% 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 s 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.

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On Citi's secure website.

Longest Balance Transfer Period: Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Longest Balance Transfer Period: Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever
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Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 21 months on balance transfers and 0% for the first 12 months on purchases

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances must be transferred within 4 months from account opening

  • Variable APR

    16.24% to 26.24%

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $445

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 21 months of no interest on balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening
  • 12 months of no interest on purchases

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No rewards program

Who's this for? The Citi Simplicity® Card offers the longest balance transfer intro period at 0% for the first 21 months (then 16.24% to 26.24% 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.

Who's this for? The Citi Simplicity® Card offers the longest balance transfer intro period at 0% for the first 21 months (then 16.24% to 26.24% 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 16.24% to 26.24% 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.

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Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Longest 0% APR for Balance Transfers and Purchases: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Longest 0% APR for Balance Transfers and Purchases: U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
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Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

  • Variable APR

    14.24% to 25.24%

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2% to 3%

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $436

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 18 months of no interest on balance transfers and purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Cell phone protection plan

Cons

  • No rewards program
  • 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

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 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.24% to 25.24% 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.

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 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.24% to 25.24% 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.

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Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Best for Fair Credit: Aspire Platinum Mastercard®

Best for Fair Credit: Aspire Platinum Mastercard®
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Information about the Aspire Platinum Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 6 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers

  • Transfer timeline

    Balances can be transferred at any time during the first 6 billing cycles

  • Variable APR

    9.90% to 18.00%

  • Balance transfer fee

    2%, $5 minimum

  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Foreign transaction fee

    1%

  • Estimated total fees and interest on debt repayment

    $1,241

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Applicants with fair to good credit may qualify, which is more lenient than most balance transfer cards
  • No time limit on when balances can be transferred

Cons

  • Short intro 0% APR period
  • Credit union membership is required, though it’s free
  • 1% foreign transaction fee
  • No rewards program

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 9.90% to 18.00%. Take note of the 2%, $5 minimum balance transfer fee.

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 9.90% 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.

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Information about the Aspire Platinum Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Our methodology

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 $6,028, the average balance Americans carry on their credit cards in 2019, according to Experian.

If the average consumer with a $6,028 balance on their credit card pays $200 each month, they will spend $1,884 in additional interest, assuming the average 16.97% APR, according to the Fed. And it will take them 40 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 $450 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 2018 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 $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). 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.

Best balance transfer credit cards

Category Credit Card Balance transfer fee Total interest/fees you’d pay Months to pay it off Estimated rewards return after 5 years
WinnerAmex EveryDay® Credit Card$0 $40433$1,494
Runner-UpDiscover it® Balance Transfer$181 $43632$1,505
Best for RewardsCiti® Double Cash Card$181 $43632$2,185
Longest Balance Transfer PeriodCiti Simplicity® Card$302 $44531Not applicable
Longest 0% APR for Balance Transfers and PurchasesU.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card$181 $43632Not applicable
Best for Fair CreditAspire Platinum Mastercard®$121$1,24136Not applicable

How to use a balance transfer card

Before you take advantage of a balance transfer offer, there are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Transfers can't be made between cards from the same bank. For example, if you have a Chase card, you can't transfer debt to another Chase card.
  • You may incur a fee. Most of these cards charge a balance transfer fee. It's usually 3% to 5% of the amount you transfer. For example, transferring $5,000 to a card with a 3% fee will costs you $150.
  • Most transfers need to be completed within 60 days from account opening. If you wait too long to make a transfer, you may miss out on the 0% APR period.
  • There are limits on how much debt you can transfer. Card issuers typically limit the amount you can transfer to a percentage of your total credit limit or a specific dollar amount. And issuers also factor in the total cost of the balance transfer, which includes any balance transfer fees.
  • Many balance transfer cards require good or excellent credit. If you have less than stellar credit, it can be difficult to qualify for a balance transfer card — though we found one card that may accept fair credit.

Click here for more on getting the most out of your balance transfer credit card.

For rates and fees of the Amex Everyday® Credit Card, please click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.