Balance Transfer Credit Cards

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This page contains a list of recommended balance transfer credit cards.




Important Caveats Regarding 0% Balance Transfers

    • Caveat #1: Make sure to note the interest rate you'll pay once the interest-free period ends (this is sometimes referred to as the "goto" rate.) If you end up paying a significantly higher interest rate on your balance once the interest-free period ends, then you could end up with a much worse deal than you had before. So pay attention to all the numbers and, if you can, payoff your entire credit card balance once the interest-free period terminates.
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    • Caveat #2: Read the fine print carefully. Many zero percent balance transfer deals offered these days come with a catch: if you make any new purchases on the card to which you are transferring your balance(s) during the interest-free period, the annual percentage rate (APR) on those new purchases can be very high! So be careful. Balance transfer deals are a great way to save a lot of money in the long term, but if you have to make any new purchases, choose a "free-free" credit card balance transfer offer that combines a generous 0% introductory rate on both transferred balances and new purchases, like the Discover it Card or the Slate credit card.
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    • Caveat #3: Be careful when using convenience checks! With most credit cards, those convenience checks that you often find packaged with your credit card statement can get you into real trouble if you are not careful. With most cards, use of those convenience checks is tantamount to a cash advance, and credit card cash advances always have very high interest rates associated with them. Some credit cards will give you a favorable interest rate if you use their convenience checks to transfer balances from other credit cards. But read all the fine print carefully. Make sure that you understand exactly what you are getting into before using any convenience checks.

      OK, now for the good news: certain credit-card companies will send you blank checks that you can use with their 0% APR balance transfer offer. These checks are really great because you can use them for anything you like. Many money-savvy consumers use these 0% balance transfer convenience checks as a way of getting an interest-free loan, but you can also use them to open a high-yield savings account * or purchase a Certificate of Deposit *. Just remember: once the 0% intro APR period ends, interest charges will start to accrue on that "loan," so it's best to return any money that you intend to use with a zero APR convenience check back to the credit card account once the interest-free period terminates.

      Of course, all convenience checks have their limits, usually equal to the credit card account's credit limit.

      If you are not 100% sure as to whether or not the checks you'll receive with your new credit card are in fact 0% balance transfer convenience checks, then take 5 minutes and call the credit card company to find out (NB: I think it's always a good idea to write down the name of the representative you speak with just in case he/she makes a mistake.)
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    • Caveat #4: Don't overdo it! It doesn't matter if you are approved or rejected: too many applications for credit within a brief time span can result in a downgraded credit rating. Look for balance transfer deals that offer at least a 6 month intro APR on balances transferred (12 months or more is better) so that you don't end up transferring balances too often.
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    • Caveat #5: Before you submit an application for a credit card balance transfer, make sure that the credit card companies that you are dealing with are in fact different. If you try to transfer a balance from one credit card to another and both credit cards are owned by the same credit-card bank, then your application will almost certainly be declined. If, for example, you try to transfer a balance from a Citi® Diamond Preferred® MasterCard to a Citi® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa card, your balance transfer application will most likely be declined, because both credit cards are issued by Citi. This might not seem like a big deal, but remember: "hard" inquiries into your credit report can have a negative effect on your credit rating, especially those inquiries that result in any kind of rejection.

      You can usually consolidate two or more credit cards that have been issued by the same bank into one aggregate credit card, with the resulting aggregate credit card having a credit limit equal to the sum credit limits of the consolidated cards. You should call your credit card company for more information about consolidating credit cards.
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    • Caveat #6: Make sure that the credit card account to which you'll be transferring your balance(s) has a credit limit that won't get you into trouble with fees. For example, if you are planning to transfer a total of $5,000 via a zero percent intro APR offer, the credit limit of the receiving credit card account should have a credit limit that's above $5,000. Some zero APR offers charge a fee for transferring balances, and if you don't have enough breathing room, the credit card company may smack you with an over-the-limit fee once the balance transfer transaction fee is added to your account (of course, you first priority should be to find offers that don't charge a fee for transferring balances.)
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    • Caveat #7: Sometimes, a balance transfer offer is so good that even with a balance transfer fee, it's worth doing a balance transfer to the card, especially if you have high balances to transfer (see this section of the FAQ.) However, read the fine print and find out if the balance transfer fee is subject to finance charges. Believe it or not, with certain deals out there, you could end up paying finances charges on a balance transfer fee. Bottom line: there are still lots of consumer-friendly, 0% intro APR balance transfer offers available in the American market, so there's no reason to signup for a deal in which you'd be paying interest on a balance transfer transaction fee.
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    • Caveat #8: This may seem obvious, but make sure you pay all your bills on time -- not just your mortgage and credit card bills: you need to stay on top of your household utility bills as well (cable, phone, natural gas, etc.) Bottom line: the banks and credit card companies will offer the best 0% deals to customers with the best credit scores, plain and simple. Having a high FICO® credit score (shoot for a FICO score of 720 or higher) will also minimize the risk of having your credit application rejected.

      For your credit-card accounts, use payment scheduling and automatic payments online, and keep those paper statement coming as a backup payment option just in case.
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Credit Card Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Q: My credit card bank recently closed my credit-card account. Can I still perform a balance transfer to a new card?

A: Absolutely. Performing a credit card balance transfer is not a complicated thing. When you are approved for a new credit-card account and you've been given the option to transfer a balance, the new credit card bank simply cuts a check and pays the bank you are transferring from. The new bank doesn't care if the account is open, closed or whatever.

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Q: How can I know what my minimum monthly payment will be if I decide to transfer my balance?

A: Very good and common question.

Everything you need to know about your credit-card account is contained within your Credit-Card Agreement (also know as your Cardmember Agreement.) From how to calculate your minimum payment due each month to penalties and fees to how to dispute charges you didn't make to how to redeem points...yeah, it's all there.

Many of us -- even those who keep good records -- misplace our card agreements, even though most of us understand how important these info-packed pamphlets are. The good news: Most credit-card banks make an effort to post card agreements for the cards they issue on the Internet. Cool, yes? God bless the World Wide Web.

January 1, 2013: Even better news! The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a lovely new database of credit-card agreements that you can search at any time. It's very thorough; includes even the most obscure banks and credit unions from around the country.

Here are the locations of the card agreements for the credit cards we recommend here at www.FedPrimeRate.com:

Here's a sample minimum payment explainer, as of January 14, 2013:


Discover itTM credit card
(for applicants whose credit needs improvement)

"...You may pay the entire New Balance shown on your billing statement at any time. Each billing period you must pay at least the Minimum Payment Due by the Payment Due Date shown on your billing statement. The Minimum Payment Due will be the greater of:

  • $20; or

  • Any amount past due plus the greater of:

    – 3% of the New Balance shown on your billing statement (excluding any Interest Charges and Late Fee shown on your billing statement); or

    – any Interest Charges and Late Fee shown on your billing statement, plus $15 (not to exceed 4% of the New Balance).
The Minimum Payment Due may also include amounts by which you exceed your Account credit line. It will never exceed the New Balance. When we calculate the Minimum Payment Due, we may subtract from the New Balance certain fees added to your Account during the billing period. The Minimum Payment Due is rounded up to the nearest dollar..."

 

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Q: Can I transfer a balance I have on a store-branded credit card (e.g. a Macy's, Sears or Target credit card) to a credit card that's not co-branded, like the Discover it Card?

A: Yes. This is actually a common practice among credit consumers in the United States.

Caveat: certain banks, e.g. Chase, may not allow a balance transfer to a Chase credit card if your store credit card does not have a MasterCard®, VISA®, Discover® or American Express® logo on it. You'll have to read the terms and conditions carefully before attempting to transfer a balance from any store credit card.

Q: When they say 3% charge on balance transfers is that a one-time charge or a monthly charge?

A: A balance transfer fee is always a one-time charge. This is true for all financial institutions.

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Q: Will a balance transfer rate stay at 0% even if I make a purchase?

A: Yes. Your new purchases APR is completed different from your balance transfer APR. If you signup for a deal that offers 0% Intro APR on transferred balances for 18 months, then that's what the APR will be on the balance(s) you transfer for a year and a half, regardless of whether you make purchases on the card or not. Read all terms and conditions carefully. All your APR's -- new purchases, balance transfers, cash advances, penalty, etc. -- will be in your credit-card agreement or in an accompanying pricing information table.

Sometimes, credit consumers need clarification on this because if a particular credit card doesn't have any 0% Intro APR deal attached to it, the APR for new purchases and transferred balances is often the same.

It's always best to look for the best 0% deals around, i.e. deals that offer 0% intro APR on both transferred balances and new purchases for more than 12 months.

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Q: I want to transfer a credit card balance from CARD "A" to CARD "B". CARD "B" has a balance transfer fee. Will I have to pay a transfer fee to CARD "A" as well?

A: No. You will only be required to pay the balance transfer fee to the receiving bank. American banks do not charge a fee for paying down a credit card balance to zero. When you execute a balance transfer, that's what the CARD B bank is doing on your behalf. Credit cards do not have any prepayment penalties.

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Q: Can my current credit-card bank block me from transferring my balance to a new card at a competing bank?

A: No way!

Let's say you have a $500 balance on a credit card with the (fictitious) High Interest Credit Card Bank of North America (we'll shorten this to High Bank.) The interest rate you are currently paying with this High Bank credit card is 19% APR. To avoid paying the finance charges, you can either:

A) Find $500 cash and pay the High Bank account down to zero, or

B) Transfer your balance to a new card that has more favorable terms, like an 18 month interest-free period on transferred balances.

Option "A" and "B" above are actually the same in the sense that High Bank is receiving $500 cash to pay down your account to $0. The only difference between option A and B is that with B, the balance transfer, the entity paying the $500 is the bank to which you are transferring your balance. The receiving credit-card bank, in essence, is paying your High Bank credit-card account down to zero on your behalf. High Bank can't block the balance transfer, because that would be tantamount to having a rule that says you can't pay your balance down to zero.

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Q: Can I transfer my credit-card balance from one card to another, then back?

A: Yes! Transfer your balance from CARD A Bank to CARD B Bank, and Card A Bank will be sorry to lose your business. Card A Bank would be very happy to get your business back.

Major credit-card banks are almost always offering their credit customers -- folks who already have open accounts with the bank -- attractive 0% balance transfer offers. If Card A Bank makes available a balance transfer offer that you simply can't refuse, then take it. You should always do what you can to keep interest payments at a minimum, or pay no interest at all.

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Q: Can I transfer multiple credit-card balances to a new credit card via a balance transfer offer?

A: Yes! Transferring balances from more than one credit-card account to a single, new credit card via a balance transfer offer is perfectly OK with the credit-card banks. In fact, credit-card banks encourage it. Why? The more money you transfer, the more the bank makes with the balance transfer fee.

Most reputable American banks now charge a fee for transferring balances. A balance transfer fee is usually somewhere between 2% and 5%.

Just be careful when transferring more than one credit-card balance. Banks do not leave 0% balance transfer opportunities open forever. That's why they're called introductory balance transfers: you have a limited amount of time to execute the transfer(s). If you wait too long, that introductory 0% rate may disappear before you've had a chance to take advantage of it. Ideally, if you're going to do a balance transfer, you should transfer the funds without delay, i.e. within 30 days.

If you have a strong credit score, you should consider negotiating the terms of your balance transfer request.

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Q: Can I transfer a personal loan balance to a credit card via a 0% credit card balance transfer offer?

A: It depends on the bank.

For example, with the cards on offer from Discover Financial, you can transfer a personal loan balance to a Discover credit card via a 0% balance transfer offer. No problem.

However, with Chase credit cards, you can only transfer balances from a MasterCard®, VISA®, Discover® or American Express® card.

The credit card application will let you know either way, so, as always, read the terms and conditions associated with any and all credit cards you're interested in.

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Q: How can I tell if doing a balance transfer and paying a transfer fee is a smart move that will save me money?

A: It depends on how much debt you have. In general, if you have a high balance then transferring your credit-card debt is probably going to be a good idea. But you have to do the math to be sure. The math involved is quite simple, so don't let it intimidate you. Just remember: when working with APR's, move the decimal point 2 places to the left to make working with percentages easier. Here's an example:

Let's say you have a $3,000 balance on a credit card issued by the (fictitious) Too High Interest Credit Card Bank of Delaware (Too High Bank.) The annual percentage rate (APR) on your Too High Bank card is 14%. You're thinking of transferring your balance to a card offered by the (fictitious) Good APR Bank of South Dakota (Good Bank.). Good Bank is offering a 0% introductory APR (intro APR) on transferred balances for 12 months, with a balance transfer fee of 4%.
    • Well, if you don't do the transfer, Too High Bank will get around $420 in finance charges from you ($3,000 x 0.14 = 420) over the next 12 months. This is a reasonable estimate. If you pay only the minimum amount due each month, the total amount you'd pay could easily be higher, due to the magic of compound interest. Some banks compound daily, others monthly.

    • If you do the transfer to the Good Bank credit card, then, over the next 12 months, you'll only be charged the 4% transfer fee of $120 ($3,000 x 0.04 = 120.)

So, in the above example, transferring your balance to the Good Bank credit card is obviously the smart move.

OK, but what if the 0% introductory balance transfer APR on the Good Bank credit-card only lasts for 6 months? No problem.

Simple math tells us that the monthly interest rate on the Too High Bank credit card is 1.16667% (14 ÷ 12 = 1.1666666666666666666666666666667.)

  • OK, so for 6 months, if you don't do the transfer, Too High Bank will get about $210 in finance charges from you, because your monthly finance charge would be $3,000 x 0.011666666 = $35. $35 x 6 = $210 (again, this is a reasonable estimate that doesn't factor in compounding or variations in the amount you send in each month.)

  • If you do the transfer to the Good Bank credit card, then, over the next 6 months, you'll only be charged the 4% transfer fee of $120 ($3,000 x 0.04 = 120.)
So, in the 6 month interest-free example, you can see that transferring your balance to the Good Bank credit card is still the smart move.

How would the transfer affect your credit score? Check out this section and this section of the FAQ.

Of course, you should do your best to pay your balance down to zero before the interest-free period ends. You don't want to end up at square one, i.e. paying interest on your credit-card debt.

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Q: How do I convert a balance transfer fee to an annual percentage rate (APR)?

A: The best way to convert a balance transfer fee to an APR is to first convert the fee to a monthly interest rate, then multiply by 12 to get an annual rate.

In the example above, converting doesn't require any math, because the introductory, interest-free period is 12 months. In other words, transferring a $3,000 balance to a new card with a 12-month, interest-free period, and a balance transfer fee of 4% means that converting the fee to an APR yields 4%. Easy!

But what if the interest-free period is 18 months?

Well, to convert the fee to an annual percentage rate, first we find the monthly rate.

    • 4 (transfer fee) ÷ 18 (months) = 0.22222% monthly rate.

    • 0.22222 (monthly rate) x 12 (months) = 2.66664% APR

If the interest-free period were 24 months, then:

  • 4 (transfer fee) ÷ 24 (months) = 0.16666% monthly rate.

  • 0.16666 (monthly rate) x 12 (months) = 2% APR

If the interest-free period were 6 months, then:

      • 4 (transfer fee) ÷ 6 (months) = 0.66666% monthly rate.

      • 0.66666 (monthly rate) x 12 (months) = 8% APR

And there you have it. Not so hard, right?

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Q: Are the new rules governing the credit-card industry -- The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, also known as the Credit CARD Act of 2009 -- really going to be good for me as an American credit consumer?

A: Yes. Though things like "fixed rate" credit cards are now a thing of the past, overall, the new rules make consuming credit much more consumer friendly (fixed rate cards were never really fixed rate anyway, since the banks could raise the APR associated with a card at any time, as long as the bank gave the cardholder notice.) Fees have been reigned in, terms and conditions are now easy to understand, universal default has been eliminated, double-cycle billing is history, and much more.

For more, check out this document (PDF)

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Q: How does a credit card bank like e.g. Discover make money if I don't pay an annual fee and don't carry a balance?

A: Don't worry about the credit-card companies. Even if you don't pay an annual fee and never carry a balance, the credit card banks still make money with the interchange fees they charge merchants.

When you buy goods or services from a merchant, the merchant has to pay a small fee for the privilege of accepting the Visa, MasterCard, Discover card, etc. that you used for the purchase. Some interchange fees are higher than others. That's why you may sometimes find that a merchant prefers that you use MasterCard or Visa rather than American Express: Amex transactions have higher interchange fees associated with them.

And, of course, the credit-card banks know that some won't be able to pay their balance down to zero by the time the interest-free period ends, at which point the cardholder would be subject to finance charges at the "goto" rate.

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Q: Can I transfer my mortgage or car-loan debt to a credit card via a 0% intro APR credit-card offer?

A: There is no law in the United States that prevents you from using, e.g. a 0% balance transfer check to payoff your mortgage balance, car loan, student loan or any other type of non-business debt. It may seem like a good idea, because your mortgage is secured by your home (stop paying and you risk losing your house), and a car loan is secured by your car (stop paying and you risk repossession.) Credit-card debt, on the other hand, is unsecured.

Just pay attention to the numbers. Unsecured debt is usually going to have a higher interest rate than secured debt. If you transfer your mortgage balance to a credit card, it's best to have a plan to pay the balance down to zero before the interest-free period terminates. You don't want to end up in a situation where e.g. you're paying 14% on the mortgage debt you transferred to a credit card, when you were paying less than 5% on it before the transfer.

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Q: I have a $2,000 balance on a closed credit-card account. Will transferring my balance to a new card hurt my credit score?

A: This is a very common concern for credit consumers, as many worry about how a balance transfer will affect their credit-utilization ratio.

Bottom line: your FICO credit score would likely climb higher.

If your current credit limit is $5,000, and you transfer your $2,000 balance to a card with a limit of $5,000, then you credit score will probably improve, due to a better utilization ratio (assuming you keep both accounts open.)

If you current credit limit is $5,000, and you transfer your $2,000 balance to a card with a limit of $25,000, then you credit score will almost certainly improve, due to a much better utilization ratio (again, assuming you don't close the account from which you're transferring a balance.)

FYI: There is no way to know exactly how many points you will gain or lose with FICO®. Only FICO knows that stuff, and they keep it to themselves. Your credit score may take a minor hit for opening a new credit-card account (new credit accounts make up 10% of your score) but your improved credit-utilization ratio should more than compensate for the ding associated with having a new account.

So, the next question that we usually get from credit consumers is: I want to apply online for a 0% credit card, but how can I know what my credit limit will be?

Major credit-card banks almost always provide very quick decisions on credit (also known as instant approval.) Unfortunately, however, you won't get instant notification about your credit limit or your "goto" APR.

So if you want to be sure that you won't get into trouble with fees, or you want to be sure that your new credit limit will be high enough to keep your credit score healthy, make a quick call to the bank 2-3 business days after you apply. Alternatively, you can wait until your credit card arrives before executing the balance transfer. You'll be given at least 30 days to make your balance transfer requests.

For more, check out this section of the FAQ.

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Q: If I do a credit card balance transfer, will the credit-card company from which I'm transferring a balance decrease the credit limit on my card?

A: This is certainly a possibility, but there is no way to know if your credit-card bank will or won't cut your credit limit. It's very likely that a computer algorithm will make that decision. Moreover, there's also a chance that your credit card bank might eventually cancel your account due to inactivity.

But here's the bottom line: if transferring your balance from a high interest credit-card account to a new account with a more favorable interest rate (and perhaps a nice 0% balance transfer intro APR to boot) will save you lots of money over time, then you should do it. Just remember to keep your old accounts open. Keeping old accounts open not only helps keep your credit score healthy, but it also maximizes your access to credit.

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Q: The annual percentage rate (APR) associated with my new credit card is currently 0%, and I have a balance. Do I have to make a monthly payment?

A: Yes! Even though you may be enjoying a period where you won't be subject to any finance charges, e.g. 0% Intro APR for 12 months, you will still have to make a monthly payment to your credit-card bank. This is true with:

  • 0% intro APR balance transfer deals,

  • deals that offer 0% intro APR on new purchases,

  • deals that offer 0% intro APR on both new purchases and transferred balances.

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Q: Can I transfer a credit card balance to an American Express card?

A: Yes, and no.

To clarify, yes: you can transfer a balance to an American Express credit card, but you can not transfer a balance to an American Express (Amex) charge card.

The difference between a charge card and a credit card? With a charge card, you have to pay your balance in full each month when your statement arrives. With charge cards, you do not have the option of carrying a balance from month to month. Typically, a charge card does not have a preset spending limit.

With credit cards, you can pay your balance in full each month, or you can pay less than the full amount due, and leave a balance on the card. Carrying a balance from month to month will invariably involve finance charges, unless, of course, you're enjoying an interest-free period via a 0% intro APR offer. Credit cards have spending limits.

There was a time when American Express only offered charge cards; they offered these cards to relatively wealthy individuals, and the company always provided excellent customer service. Amex eventually evolved into a credit-card bank offering both charge cards and credit cards, but the company never lost its zeal for providing first-class customer service. That's why we've always recommended Amex cards, and it's very likely that we always will.

If you want to transfer a balance away from an American Express consumer credit card, because the transfer will save you money, then, by all means, do it. The best 0% transfer deal are right here. Enjoy!

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Q: I recently transferred a large balance to a new credit-card account via a zero percent balance transfer offer. I've also done some new spending with this credit card. When I send in more than the minimum amount due to this card, to which balance will my credit-card bank apply the excess? Will the excess be applied to the balance where I'm enjoying an 0% introductory APR, or to the new purchase balance which has a high APR?

A: Prior to 2010, many credit-card banks would apply any excess to the low-interest balance first, so as to maximize on finance charges. However, on February 22, 2010, the Federal Reserve put into effect new credit-card protections, including a new rule to stop this practice. Here is a clip from the Federal Reserve website:

"...Payments directed to highest interest balances first: If you make more than the minimum payment on your credit card bill, your credit-card company must apply the excess amount to the balance with the highest interest rate. There is an exception:
  • If you made a purchase under a deferred interest plan (for example, "no interest if paid in full by March 2012"), the credit-card company may let you choose to apply extra amounts to the deferred interest balance before other balances. Otherwise, for two billing cycles prior to the end of the deferred interest period, the credit-card company must apply your entire payment to the deferred interest-rate balance first..."

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Q: Can I transfer a balance from my business credit card to a personal credit card, or from a personal credit card to a business credit card?

A: Technically, you're not supposed to, so we can't recommend this practice.

You may be able to get away with it, but you'd be taking a risk. Banks don't want you putting non-business purchases on business credit cards, and neither does the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.) Business and non-business spending is supposed be kept completely separate.

Here's an example of how you can get into trouble.

As you may already know, if you paid interest on a balance you have on a business credit card, that interest is tax deductible.

So, let's say you transferred the balance on a personal credit card to a business credit card that was offering 0% Intro APR on transferred balances for 6 months. After the 6 month interest-free period ended, you started to pay interest on that debt. The following year, at tax time, you decide to take a tax deduction on the interest you paid on your business credit card. This would be illegal, because technically, the interest you paid was on debt you incurred on your personal credit card. Later, the IRS decides to audit you, and they dig deep. They find out that you took an illegal deduction, and penalize you, heavily.

Is it really worth the risk? We think not. With regard to credit-card debt, it's best to stick with personal-to-personal balance transfers, and business-to-business balance transfers. Keep it legal!

Note: A "professional" credit card is a business credit card, not a personal card.

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Q: Is there any situation where having credit-card debt is a good idea?

A: Not really.

Some money-savvy consumers used to make money with 0% Intro APR credit card offers, a practice known as stoozing. However, in the United States, stoozing isn't practical anymore because the credit-card banks that were OK with stoozing now attach a balance transfer fee to their 0% balance transfer offers. Moreover, interest rates associated with CD's and savings accounts are extremely low right now, and won't rise any time soon.

Credit-card deals have been improving. If a reputable bank is offering a 0% intro APR deal, with no balance transfer fee, we'll let you know about it here.

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Q: How can I get access to my TransUnion, Experian and Equifax credit reports for free?

A: You can access your credit report from the 3 credit-reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) every 12 months by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official site that was created in response to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, and is therefore the only site you should trust if you want to get your reports for free.

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Q: How can I get access to my FICO® credit score for free?

A: Currently, there is no official website where you can access your FICO credit score for free. Sites like CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com offer access to a free credit score, but they aren't offering free access to your FICO credit score. There are many different scoring models out there; no two models are the same. Each scoring algorithm is going to spit out different score for you.

Banks and other lenders love credit scores because they only have to look at one number, as opposed to exhaustively spending time reviewing credit reports. You, however, should get into the habit of reviewing your credit reports every year for free (www.AnnualCreditReport.com.) You can't spot errors by looking at your FICO credit score, but you can spot them by checking your credit-bureau reports thoroughly every year. If someone stole your identity and opened new accounts in your name, you'd want to know about it as soon as possible, right? Check those reports! Once every 12 months is not such a terrible burden.

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Q: Should I transfer my credit-card balance to another card, even if they don't allow me to transfer my entire balance?

A: Even if the credit-card bank to which you want to transfer your balance approves less than you requested, it's usually still a good idea to do the transfer. That's because your credit-utilization ratio will likely improve, and that should eventually give your FICO credit score a boost.

To clarify, here's an example. Let's say you have a $4,000 balance on Old Card. Old Card has a $5,000 credit limit. You want to transfer your balance to New Card, but New Card bank gives you a credit limit of $2,500, and only approves $2,000 for the transfer (Even with the $2,500 limit, New Card bank doesn't approve $2,500 for the transfer, because they want you to have some breathing room; they don't want you to get into trouble with the balance transfer fee.) You decide to go ahead anyway, so you now have a $2,000/$5,000 balance on Old Card, and $2,080/$2,500 on New Card (the extra $80 is because New Card charged a 4% transfer fee.)

Initially, your FICO credit score may take a minor hit because you have a new credit-card account (new accounts make up 10% of your score) but eventually your score may end up a bit higher, because your credit utilization has improved a bit, i.e. you now have a credit-card utilization of $4,080/$7,500, instead of $4,000/$5,000.

Note: Only the good folks at Fair Isaac know exactly how many points your FICO score will move either way.

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Q: My credit card is maxed out. Can I still transfer my balance to another card?

A: Yes! As long as the receiving bank has approved your credit-card application, and your balance transfer request, then there shouldn't be a problem.

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Q: My Sears credit card has a high APR; 25.24%. Why does this card have such a high APR when the US Prime Rate is only 3.25%?

A: The Sears card, which is issued by Citi, comes with special benefits like free access to your TransUnion Transrisk Credit Score and exclusive coupons. Extra benefits like these often come with a price, like a high APR. As you can imagine, carrying a balance on a card with an APR above 25% can become very difficult to manage over time.

You'll find that many store-branded credit cards (also known as co-branded cards) have high APR's.

With the Sears card, the purchase APR is calculated by adding 21.99 percentage points to the US Prime Rate. In your statement, you'll see this written as Prime + 21.99%, or something similar. Prime is 3.25% right now, and that's why the purchase APR on this card is 25.24%. The US Prime Rate is used as an index, and the 21.99 that's added is the margin set by the bank. The US Prime Rate is used in the pricing of most variable-rate credit cards in the United States.

At 3.25%, Prime is currently as low as it can go. Eventually, when the American economy picks up and the Federal Reserve (The Fed) starts to worry about inflation, they will raise the Prime Rate. The median Prime Rate (1947 - 2009) is 8.75%, so Prime can easily get that high at some point, and it could climb even higher if inflation becomes a problem in the future. If you look at the history of the Prime Rate, you'll see how Prime can fluctuate.

So if Prime climbs to 8% in the future, the APR on the Sears card would climb to 29.99% (assuming that the card's terms and conditions stay the same.) Imagine carrying a balance on a card with an APR so close to 30%. If you think 25.24% is a high APR now, imagine how much you could be paying in finance charges when Prime starts to rise.

Not all Citi cards have high rates. Citi has many different credit cards for all types of consumers.

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Q: I see that you recommend different versions of the Discover it Card at this site. Is the Walmart® Discover® Card a version of the Discover it Card with similar benefits like 0% intro APR on purchases and/or balance transfers?

A: No, it's not. The Walmart Discover Card is a co-branded credit card. The terms and conditions associated with the Walmart Discover Card are unique. For example, the APR for new purchases and balance transfers is more than 20%. The Walmart Discover Card doesn't offer 0% intro APR at all.

The Discover it extended balance transfer card, on the other hand, currently offers 0% intro APR on transferred balances for 18 months, and 0% intro APR on new purchases for 6 months. The standard Discover it card currently offers 0% intro APR on transferred balances for 14 months, and 0% intro APR on new purchases for 14 months.

Keep in mind that co-branded credit cards typically have high APR's.

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Q: Can I negotiate a balance transfer fee?

A: Lots of the goods and services we buy in life are negotiable, including the terms associated with credit-card offers.

A credit-card bank may be willing to lower a balance-transfer fee, especially if you plan on transferring a large amount. It can't hurt to try. The worst that can happen is they say no.

You should apply for a balance transfer credit card online, not just because of the convenience and speed, but also so that you can thoroughly review the card's terms and conditions on the credit-card bank's website. Applying online is also safer, because you don't have to divulge sensitive information to a complete stranger. When you apply for a credit card, the information you have to submit is all someone needs to steal your identity. Best to trust that data to a secure computer.

Don't make your balance transfer request right away.

After you've been approved, call the credit-card company to negotiate the terms of your balance transfer request. Start by asking for the balance transfer fee to be waived. If they say no to that, then try for a lower transfer fee. If you have a really great credit score, i.e. above 800, you'll be in a much better position to negotiate the deal you want.

When talking to customer service representatives, it's best not to get hostile. It's also not a good idea to seem to eager to make a deal. Just be firm and tell them exactly what you want.

Once you've been approved, the approving bank very much wants to keep your business. They don't want to have a customer open an account then close it right away. Put yourself in their shoes: they don't want to move backwards in business. They are likely to pull out all the stops to keep you. If you say that the balance transfer fee is too high, and that you want to close the account because a fee deal can't reached, they'll probably roll out the red carpet for you.

It's also important to keep in mind that even if you have to pay e.g. a 4% transfer fee, it's still probably a smarter move than paying the finance charges on your current balance. For more, check out this section and this section of the balance transfer FAQ.

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Q: Can I pay my gas, electric or any other utility bill with my Discover card and earn rewards?

A: Yes! You can earn cashback rewards with your Discover card by using it to pay your electric, gas or any other utility bill. You can also earn rewards by using your card to pay for a life, home or car insurance premium, a hospital bill, parking tickets, child care, child support -- you get the idea. Money-savvy consumers use their rewards cards to pay for as many goods and services they can, to earn the maximum amount of cashback or other rewards. Join the club!

And don't worry about the banks. They still make money with interchange fees.

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Q: Can I take a cash advance on my credit card, then do a balance transfer to a card offering 0% Intro APR or a lower interest rate?

A: Yes! Cash advances are always more expensive (higher interest rate) than regular credit-card purchases. But that doesn't mean you have to get stuck with high finance charges.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to take a cash advance, transfer the resultant credit-card balance to a more favorable deal as soon as possible to avoid high finance charges.

NOTE: You'll almost certainly be charged a transaction fee of between 3% and 5% for each cash advance, and you'll likely be charged a balance transfer fee (again, somewhere between 3% and 5%) when you transfer your balance. However, when you do the numbers, it's a pretty safe bet that taking a cash advance then doing a balance transfer to a card offering 0% intro APR is smarter than taking an advance and not doing the transfer. Remember, if you take a cash advance and choose not to transfer the resultant balance, you'll pay both a cash-advance fee AND a not-so-favorable, cash-advance APR.

As always, pay close attention to the numbers before taking a cash advance. And, of course, you should always do your best to avoid a credit-card cash advance.

Here are some sample cash-advance and balance transfer fees, as of January 17, 2013:

  • Discover it Card - cash advance: 5% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card - cash advance: 5% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Citi Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® - cash advance: 5% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Citi Simplicity® Card - cash advance - 5% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Blue Sky from American Express - cash advance: 3% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Blue Cash EveryDaySM from American Express - cash advance: 3% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card - cash advance: 5% | balance transfer: 3%

  • Chase Freedom Visa - cash advance: 3% | balance transfer: 3%

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Q: Can I have more than one credit card from the same credit-card bank?

A: Yes! Credit-card banks are more than happy to put more than one of their credit products in your wallet/purse.

And if managing multiple accounts becomes too much of a hassle, just put a call into customer service. They may be able to consolidate your accounts. Doing so will not impact your credit score, because if your credit-card bank can consolidate your cards, they will likely conflate your credit limits.

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Q: Is it true that paying the minimum amount due on a regular basis looks bad to the credit-card banks?

A: Yes, it's true. To the credit-card banks and other lenders, it gives the appearance that you are having a hard time with your finances. When you pay the minimum amount due month after month, you are giving the your bank exactly what it wants: the best possible earnings with finance charges. Banks love this, but they also know that anyone who's willing to stretch out their payments as long as possible -- and pay plenty in finance charges -- is either careless with their money, or is experiencing financial hardship. Bottom line: in the eyes of the banks and credit-reporting agencies, you're a credit risk.

You should always pay more than the minimum amount due with your credit cards. You should pay at least three times the minimum. If you can't, and you can only afford to pay e.g. $20 more than the minimum, then that's what you should pay.

If you want to qualify for the best balance transfer offers, show the banks that you are serious about your money and that you have every intention of sticking to your agreements. The biggest mistake you can make is making no payment at all, or paying less than the minimum amount due (default.) Obvious. But banks are also looking for signs that you may be in trouble, like being maxed on your credit cards, and, yes, paying the minimum amount due every month.

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Q: I'm having trouble keeping up with my credit-card payments. Is it a good idea to use a debt settlement company to ease my debt burden?

A: If you think that using a debt settlement company can help you lower your debt and interest rates without affecting your credit profile, think again. A debt settlement company will charge you a hefty fee to help you get e.g. a $10,000 credit-card balance down to $5,000, but you will end up paying much more in terms of your credit profile. That's because paying a banks less than what you have agreed to pay is tantamount to a default, and that's exactly how it will appear on your credit reports.

John Ulzheimer, a former Fair Issac (FICO) employee and expert on credit scores, lists debt settlement as one of the worst credit-related mistakes an American consumer can make.

If you're having trouble making payments, call your credit-card banks and do your best to negotiate lower interest rates. If you're considering bankruptcy, let them know. Just be sure to make it clear that you don't want to default in any way. Lowering your interest rates will make it easier for you to remain current on your payments, and will not damage your credit rating.

If you've tried to negotiate lower rates on your own and failed, or you've managed to get lower rates but you're still having trouble making payments, consider using a debt management plan (DMP) from a non-profit debt management agency.

And, of course, if you can qualify for the best 0% intro APR balance transfer offers, use them!

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Q: The credit limit on my credit card is too low for me. Is it a good idea to overpay my current balance by a significant amount so that I can have more room to spend?

A: OK, so your credit card has a $500 credit limit. You tend to spend more than $500 per month because you prefer not to use cash, and you like to earn lots of juicy credit-card rewards. Your current balance is $450, and you want to send in $1,500 so that you'll have a balance in your favor, which would give you more room to spend. Good idea? No.

Credit-card overpayment is a technique that terrorists and other nefarious individuals and organizations use to launder money. Overpay on your card, and your credit-card bank may suspect that you're up to no good. If you overpay, don't be surprised if the balance in your favor is seized while the bank investigates. Your bank may also reduce your credit limit to $0. Overpay? Not worth it!

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Q: Does the amount of cash you have in your bank affect a credit card application?

A: Not with the credit and charge cards we recommend at this site. You will be asked to submit information like your home address and your annual income. You may be asked if you have a checking or savings account, but you won't be asked to disclose how much you have in those accounts. Other questions you may be asked:

  • Employment status (employed, self-employed, retired, homemaker, etc.)

  • Source of income (employment, retirement, investments, rental properties, etc.)

  • Occupation (lawyer, doctor, information technology, finance, police, government, etc.)

  • Housing status (rent or own)

  • How long you've been at your current residence

  • Your home and business telephone numbers

  • How much formal education you have (advanced / graduate degree, college, some college, high school, etc.)

The above information is used to determine your ability to repay any credit-card debt you may incur. It's also helps banks give you a very quick credit decision (usually less than 60 seconds.)

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Q: My zero percent interest period has ended. Do I have to pay all the interest?

A: No! Why? Because the period in which you've enjoyed a 0% rate means exactly that: you were charged no interest! You may be thinking that's it's a trick, but it's not. Even though you were still required to make monthly payments during your interest-free period, you were not charged interest.

Depending on the 0% balance transfer offer you signed up for, you may have had to pay a balance transfer fee of anywhere from 3% - 5%, but that fee is completely different from your "standard" or "ongoing" APR, which is the annual percentage rate you'll be charged if you still have a credit-card balance after the interest-free period ends.

If you want to avoid paying any interest after the interest-free period ends, either pay your balance down to zero, or transfer your balance to the best 0% balance transfer offer you can find from a competing credit-card bank.

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Q: Are you more likely to be accepted for a credit card if you balance transfer from another?

A: No. Credit-card banks will approve or deny your credit application based on factors such as your credit score (very important!) and your annual income. Credit-card banks love to lure borrowers away from competing banks, but they aren't going to give your application any extra points because you want to transfer a balance. This is true whether you want to transfer $500 or $30,000.

Bottom line: Make sure your financial house is in tip-top shape before you apply for any kind of loan, be it a car loan, credit card, mortgage -- you get the idea. Having a strong credit score is key, and probably always will be.

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Q: Will I have to pay interest -- an APR -- if I don't use my credit card all year?

A: No.

To clarify, if you decide to take advantage of a 0% intro APR balance transfer credit card, you won't have to pay interest on your transferred balance(s) during the introductory period. If you signup for a deal that includes 0% intro APR on new purchases, then you won't have to pay interest on purchases during the introductory, interest-free period.

If you signup for a 0% credit card, and you choose not to transfer a balance, and you make no new purchases on the card, then you won't have to pay anything all year, as long as the credit card in question has no annual fee.

Most of the consumer credit cards we recommend on this site do not have an annual fee.

Many credit consumers keep old credit-card accounts open and pay nothing all year, so as to keep their credit scores high. Smart, as long as your card has no annual fee.

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Q: Can I transfer a balance from a MasterCard® credit card to another MasterCard credit card, or from a Visa® credit card to another Visa credit card?

A: Yes, you can, as long as the cards involved in the transfer are issued by different banks.

Caveat #5 above is correct: if you try to transfer a credit-card balance from Card X to Card Y, and both cards are issued by the same credit-card bank, then your transfer request will be denied.

For example, if you try to transfer a balance from a Citi® Diamond Preferred® card to a Citi Simplicity® credit card, because you want to take advantage of a 0% introductory interest rate, Citi won't let you do it, so don't waste your time.

However, if you wanted to transfer the same Citi balance to a Discover card, it can work, assuming that you've met all other approval criteria.


Visa and MasterCard

Visa and MasterCard are not credit-card banks. They process credit-card transactions. They are payment processors.

So if you want to transfer a balance from any Chase Visa credit card to any Citi Visa card, it can work, assuming everything else on your application is approval-worthy. From any Chase MasterCard to any Citi MasterCard? Same story.

  • Transfer a balance via a 0% intro APR offer between Card X and Card Y, and both cards are issued by the same credit-card bank? No go.

  • Transfer a balance via a 0% intro APR offer between Card X and Card Y, and both cards use Visa as a payment processor? OK, as long as the cards are not issued by the same bank.

  • Transfer a balance via a 0% intro APR offer between Card X and Card Y, and both cards use MasterCard as a payment processor? OK, as long as the cards are not issued by the same bank.

Amex and Discover

American Express (Amex) and Discover are unique in that each company issues credit cards in their role as a credit-card bank, but these two companies also possess their own payment processing networks. Therefore, Amex and Discover don't need Visa or MasterCard to process payment transactions.

Want to transfer from Amex to Discover via a 0% intro APR deal? No problem.

From Discover to Amex? Yup.

From Amex to Citi? OK.

From Chase to Discover? Yes.

From IBERIABANK Visa to Citi Visa? Good to go.

Amex to Amex? No.

Chase to Chase? Nope.

Discover to Discover? Negative.

You get the idea.

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Q: If I transfer a large balance, do I have to report the transfer to the IRS?

A: No. Doesn't matter how large the transfer is, you do not have to notify the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Credit-card debt is not income, and, therefore, does not need to be reported to any federal, state or local taxing authority.

However, it's important to note that if you run into trouble repaying any credit-card debt, and you end up negotiating a settlement, any forgiven debt may very well be taxable at the federal (IRS) level. Many consider this unfair, including the author of this webpage. Isn't it bad enough that a settled debt would ruin one's credit profile for at least seven years? Jeez! For more on this, visit this CreditCards.com article.

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Q: I signed up for Discover card that said no balance transfer fee, but when I got my card it had a 3% fee?

A: You need to be very careful when applying for credit cards online.

We've been recommending credit cards since 2004, so credit-card banks tend to give us access to very favorable offers. However, if you review an offer at this website (www.FedPrimeRate.com), then apply for a card you like via an online application somewhere else, you could easily end up applying for an inferior deal. American credit-card banks offer slightly different deals for the same credit card all the time.

It's also a good idea to review all credit-card offers you receive in the mail. Those offers are invariably prescreened, and can sometimes be slightly better than offers found online. So, before you shred those snail-mail offers into little pieces (an excellent practice by the way, to protect your identity), have a quick look at the terms and conditions section. Not good enough? Shred away!

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Q: I'm married and I want to apply for a new credit card account. Do I have to worry about my wife's / husband's credit score?

A: If applying for a credit card: no, you don't have to worry. Credit scores are not merged when you get married, though this is a very common misconception among American credit consumers.

NB: Buying a house with your significant other is different. If you apply for a mortgage jointly, then you'll want to be sure your life partner's credit profile is in tiptop shape.

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Q: I have a serious complaint against my credit-card company. What's the best way to get my issue(s) resolved?

A: Got a serious problem with your credit-card issuer? You have options.

If you've tried and failed to resolve your issue directly with your credit-card company, your next step should be to visit the "File a credit card complaint" section of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) website . There, you can submit details of your grievance via an online form. The CFPB will give you a tracking number, and will keep you up-to-speed on the status of your dispute.

If still frustrated, you can register a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) here.

You can also file a complaint with your state's Office of the Attorney General. To get started, visit this page and select the link for your state.

 

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Q: My credit-card related question isn't answered in this FAQ. Can I contact someone with a question?

A: Absolutely. For the quickest response, post your question, comment or concern in the comment box below. You can also post a comment in any blog post in this blog.

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* = Disclaimer: See the online credit card application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button, you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the issuer's website.


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