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If you're struggling with credit card debt, completing a balance transfer can be a smart way to pay off debt without the big interest charges. Americans carry an average balance of $6,194, making balance transfer credit cards a useful tool to manage your debt and minimize the interest you owe.
Select spoke with two financial experts who shared some best practices you can follow in order to get the most out of a balance transfer.
"It's important to understand how the balance transfer card works ahead of time," Farnoosh Torabi, financial expert and host of the podcast So Money, says. Terms and conditions differ between cards, she explains, so you want to be sure you're clear on the exact rules of your card.
Before applying for a balance transfer credit card, review the terms associated with your offer. This includes any limits on the amount of debt you can transfer, when the introductory 0% APR ends and whether there is a balance transfer fee.
Also beware there may be a maximum amount of debt you can transfer. "See how much of a balance transfer you'll be approved for," Priya Malani, founder and CEO of Stash Wealth, tells Select. "You may not be able to move your entire balance over, but move over as much as you can."
For example, the fine print for the Chase Slate® states: "The total amount of your request(s) including fees and interest charges cannot exceed your available credit or $15,000, whichever is lower." If you receive a $10,000 credit limit, your balance transfer can't total more than $10,000. And if you put $2,000 in new purchases on your Chase Slate® before completing a balance transfer, your can't transfer more than $8,000.
Balance transfers aren't always free. "Some cards charge a fee for the balance transfer," Malani says. "Make sure your savings will be worth the balance transfer fee. If your balance is super small, it may not be worth the switch."
There are no-fee balance transfer credit cards cards available, which save you the typical 3% to 5% fee many other cards charge per transfer. But even if there's a balance transfer fee, it may still be worthwhile to complete a transfer. Cards with transfer fees typically offer the longest intro 0% APR periods.
For example, the Citi Simplicity® Card offers 0% intro APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening (after, 19.24% - 29.99% variable APR, based on your creditworthiness). Balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening. You'll pay an introductory balance transfer fee of 3% or $5, whichever is greater for transfers completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
Both Malani and Torabi say completing a balance transfer is a great way to dig yourself out of debt, as long as you use it responsibly.
"Balance transfer cards can be a great vehicle to temporarily alleviate the interest burden you're facing on other credit cards," Torabi says. "But you want to be sure that you can commit to paying down the debt within the introductory 0% APR time frame. After that, your interest rate may adjust higher, and you may find yourself back in the same shoes."
After all, you don't want to wind up with lingering debt once your balance transfer period ends. Create a plan to make significant payments toward your debt throughout the intro period so you're on track to be debt free by the time it ends.
Bankrate has a balance transfer calculator that can help you figure out the minimum you can pay each month if you want to pay off your entire balance during an introductory 0% APR period.
"Automate your payments to ensure you'll pay the balance off in time," Malani also recommends, so you don't have to worry about missing a payment.
Information about the Chase Slate®, Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.