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Carrying a balance on a high interest credit card can be costly. But moving the debt to a balance transfer credit card can help you save hundreds in the long run.
If you need more than a year to repay any revolving credit card debt, consider the Citi Simplicity® card, which offers 21 months of interest-free financing on balance transfers (after 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR).
The Citi Simplicity® ranked on CNBC Select's list of the best balance transfer credit cards because it has one of the longest 0% intro APR periods out there.
To determine the rankings, CNBC Select 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.)
While a balance transfer card can be a smart tool for managing your debt, before you open a new card you should first set up a 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 balance transfer fee, the length of the 0% interest period and any interest you'd pay once the intro period ends. The more you pay each month toward your debt, the faster you'll pay off the balance you've transferred, and ideally, you could pay off the card in full before the higher interest rates kick in.
Below, we break down Citi Simplicity®'s rewards, benefits and fees to help you decide if it's the right card for you.
0% for the first 21 months on balance transfers and 0% for the first 12 months on purchases
16.24% to 26.24% variable
5%, minimum $5
See our methodology, terms apply.
For new cardmembers, the Citi Simplicity® stands out in part because it has the longest introductory period for balance transfers at 0% APR for the first 21 months (after that it's a 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR).
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 you'll want to make the transfer as soon as possible to get the most benefit of the interest-free period.
You can also benefit from no interest on new purchases for the first 12 months (then 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR). There is a $5 or 5% fee (whichever is greater) charged to make the balance transfer.
Unlike a rewards credit card, the Citi Simplicity® doesn't come with a ton of additional perks. There is no rewards program or welcome bonus. Cardholders do have access to Citi Entertainment, which provides early access and special perks at music, theater, dining and sports events, such as Keith Urban in Las Vegas, Broadway shows and the Basketball Hall of Fame showcase.
Not only does the Citi Simplicity® offer you a long stretch of time to pay off your debt, there are never late fees if you miss a credit card payment (though we always recommend you pay your balance on time and in full). The card has no annual fees; however, a 3% fee is charged on all foreign transactions.
Even though the Citi Simplicity® does come with one of the steeper balance transfer fees, 5% (minimum $5), it can be worthwhile if you're paying high interest charges on another card.
The Citi Simplicity® card offers exactly that: simplicity.
Its guaranteed no penalty rate, no late fees and no annual fee make it so all you really have to worry about is paying down your debt during the intro period. New cardmembers can get 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.
During the intro period, make sure to create an aggressive repayment plan so you can start living debt-free. You can divide your balance by the length of the intro period to figure out how much you need to pay each month to have a zero balance before the intro period ends.
For example, if you transfer $3,000 to the Citi Simplicity® with a 0% APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers (then 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR), you'd need to pay roughly $143 a month. Keep in mind the 5% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum).
If you are looking for a long balance transfer intro period but also want some type of rewards program, the Discover it® Balance Transfer is another good option. The cash-back card offers a 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then 13.49% to 24.49% variable APR), and there is a 3% intro balance transfer fee, then up to 5% on future balance transfers (see terms).
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.