You might be thinking of switching credit cards for a variety of reasons, but if you’ve already racked up some outstanding debt on your current card, you’ll still need to pay this off.

Fortunately, by transferring your credit card balance, you can potentially pay much less in interest as you chip away at your debt, or even none at all.

Here, we take you through everything you need to know about transferring your credit card balance from one card to another, and why you’ll probably want to consider a balance transfer credit card for this purpose.

Why transfer my credit card balance?

There are a few reasons why you might consider transferring your credit card balance. For example, you might have racked up debt on a few credit cards, and you’d prefer to hold this on a single card.

You might also want to benefit from deals and rewards offered by a new credit card provider, such as cashback or points for spending which can be exchanged for vouchers.

However, the main reason to consider switching to a new credit card is usually to benefit from a lower or 0% interest rate. Normally you’ll want to avoid paying interest on your purchases anyway, by making sure your credit card balance is paid off each month. However, this is not always possible, so it can be a good idea to look out for providers who charge lower interest rates than your current provider, particularly if you’re making large purchases.

You might already have built up some debt on your current card and find that you are paying through the nose in interest for this. The longer this takes to pay off, the more interest your debt will generate. So, transferring your balance to a new card charging 0% on balance transfers can ease cash flow.

What is a balance transfer credit card?

A balance transfer credit card enables you to shift your debt from one card to another to benefit from 0% interest. By moving your debt to one of these cards, you effectively pay off your debt to your old provider, and owe the balance to your new provider, but at 0% interest.

You won’t be charged interest on your transferred balance for a set number of months, so you’re free to make your repayments within this time period without worrying about interest payments stacking up on top of your debt. This time period can range from two months to as long as 29 months, so there’s a range of options available that may suit you, depending on how long it’ll take to wipe out your debt. After all, interest can build up rapidly on credit cards and make paying off your debt stressful, so being able to focus purely on repaying what you originally owe without additional interest can be a huge relief.

Bear in mind, however, that you will be subject to a credit check before being accepted for a 0% balance transfer credit card deal, and you may be offered a less favourable rate if your financial record isn’t in great shape. If you find that you aren’t accepted for a particular deal because your financial record needs improving check out our article Seven steps that could improve your credit score for a few ideas to bump up your score.

There’s also a few ways to check your credit score for free. ClearScore offers a free credit checking service that accesses Equifax data. They also offer free identity protection that scans for stolen passwords, security problems and fraud defence tips. MoneySuperMarket’s Credit Monitor tool enables you to check your score using data from TransUnion and offers free personalised tips to help it grow. You can sign up with Experian and check your credit score with them for free and Totally Money also allows you to check your score free of charge using data from TransUnion.

Bear in mind that even if you are accepted for a 0% balance transfer credit card deal, your new card will still come with a monthly repayment, or the minimum amount that you are expected to pay off each month. If you fail to keep up with these repayments, you might lose your 0% interest deal. You will also need to stick within your credit limit on any new spending.

Also, ensure that you understand what rate you may be charged on your debt once the interest-free period ends. At this stage, you will most likely shift onto your provider’s Standard Variable Rate (SVR), which average around 20%. This makes it important to pay off your balance within the interest-free period.

Most (but not all) balance transfer credit cards cards will involve a small transfer fee for moving your debt across. This usually amounts to between 2% and 5% of the balance being transferred. This may sound a lot, but depending on your debt, it may be worth paying for the amount you can save on interest. Still, it doesn’t hurt to do the maths and double-check!

It’s worth noting that many providers will require that you do not already have a card with them, or have not had one in recent months or years, before you can apply for their balance transfer card. Always check the provider’s criteria carefully before applying.

How do I apply for a balance transfer credit card?

Do the maths

Before you start applying, work out how much debt you have and how much you can afford to put towards repayments each month. From here you can calculate how long it would take to fully pay off your debt without incurring interest.

For example, if you have to pay off £800, and can put £50 towards this per month, then it will take 16 months to pay off this debt, if no interest is added. So, you should search for a balance transfer credit card with a 0% interest period that spans at least 16 months, assuming you do not plan to make any additional purchases on this card in that time.

Compare deals

As with any financial decision, check the criteria carefully when picking a new card, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. If you’re in need of a starting point when it comes to choosing a card, we update our article Balance transfer credit cards and personal loans compared every week, listing the best value balance transfer cards.

Apply for a card

You can apply for most balance transfer cards online, where you simply complete a quick application form with the provider. You’ll be asked about transferring your balance from an old card as part of the application process, so make sure you have the exact numbers and your credit card information handy. It can take about a week to find out whether you’ve been accepted for a new card, and remember that during this time you are still responsible for the balance on your old card – so, if you have any payments due, don’t forget about them!

If you are accepted for a particular balance transfer credit card and wish to proceed with the application, your new card provider will usually take care of the actual transfer.

How long does a balance transfer take?

If you are switching to a new provider then the process of transferring your balance can take a few working days. Check with both of your banks before making the transfer if you have any concerns.

If you are shifting your balance from one card to another with the same provider, however, this can usually be done by the next working day, or soon after.

Finally…

If you do your sums and take some time researching your options, transferring your credit card debt may result in some serious savings. However, only apply for one new card at a time, as attempting to open several new accounts at once could potentially impact your credit score.

Have you transferred your credit card balance recently? Are you finding it easier to manage repayments with your new card? Let us know. Join the money discussion on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.

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