Balance Transfers Primer

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 29th, 2010

Are high credit card fees giving you sleepless nights? Think smart: balance transfers could be an intelligent short-term solution. The following article can be used as an introductory guide and a primer on the use of balance transfers that discusses the intricacies of balance transfer details. Transfer the weight off your shoulders and get a balance transfer credit card with a lower rate of interest. However, make sure to run through the terms and conditions of the new balance transfer card, to make sure you win in the long run.

If you are not really keen on getting a new card, tell your existing company that you want to transfer your balance to another card that offers a much lower rate. Your existing credit card company just might offer you a better deal. If not, then go ahead and call the competition!

So what is so great about balance transfers? Balance transfers to a card with a lower rate can significantly cut down your interest and fees. The most common rate of interest offered by companies on balance transfers is 0% for 3 to 12 months. If you are fortunate and your credit is good enough, you might qualify for a 0% interest card for 12 months on balance transfers and purchases. Be aware, however, that some cards, will link the introductory annual percentage rate (APR) to the billing cycle of the card.

There could be some additional perks available on your balance transfer card as well:
1) Your new card may charge no annual fees.
2) The grace period on payments might be longer.
3) Rewards like cash back on purchases might be available.
4) Discounts from certain retailers, identity theft protection, and even car insurance can be thrown in as well!

How Do I Get One?

You will be required to go through some basic application procedures and paperwork on a balance transfer. You could write a balance transfer on one of the convenience checks that the card issuer will provide after getting approval on the card. These function just like normal checks but there are some things to be aware of, such as expiration dates. Time can cost big money, in this case, with the old interest rates snapping at your heels. How much you can transfer will depend entirely on the credit limit of your new card.

The fees for balance transfers are similar to that of cash advances, but often times, fees will be waived for the very best card offers. If there are associated transfer fees on the card, it is advisable that you avoid transferring small balances, as the transaction fees might undercut your potential savings. Some additional fees on these cards might include:

1) Late Fees: Once the introductory period on your balance transfer ends, you will start incurring finance charges on the remaining balance. Late fees on these card offers are particularly expensive. In order to avoid these exorbitant fees, make sure that you mail payment well in advance of the due date. If you are using an ATM deposit, stay informed about the processing time of your payment. Banks either charge a flat fee, such as $10 or $15, or a percentage, such as 5%, of the minimum payment due, for example

2) Over-Credit Limit Fees: Each time you charge your card beyond the credit limit, the bank has the ability to impose a fee. It is possible that many of these aforementioned fees will gather simultaneously (in addition to interest charges) during the same billing period! Banks usually charge $10 or $15 for this fee or up to 5% of the amount on the exceeded limit amount.

3) Lost Card Replacement Fees: If you ever happen to lose your card, some banks might charge you anything between $5 and $10 for a replacement.

The most important thing to remember regarding balance transfer credit cards is to make all your payments on time and pay off the outstanding balance within the introductory time frame. Usually, there is no grace period offered up for balance transfers and unless you have snapped up an introductory 0% APR, interest will begin to accrue immediately. The calculation can get a little tricky too. Your initial repayments will first go towards clearing the balance transfer amount before making a dent in any outstanding balance created from recent purchases with the card. So if you want to avoid this mess, keep a separate card for balance transfers and another one for regular purchases.

When the Joyride Ends

You should be keenly observant of the expiration date of your promotional offer. Once it ends, you will be charged the normal rate of interest. All remaining purchase and balance transfer amounts will be subject to a much higher APR and significantly higher finance charges.

Your credit history will determine your post introductory APR on your balance transfer credit card. So if this APR is higher than the rate on your old balance transfer card, you could incur more expensive finance charges if you carry a balance from month to month. Just make sure that you transfer your balance to a new card that offers both a lower promotional rate as well as a lower ongoing APR.

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
Joined: April 29th, 2015
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