6 things you should know about balance transfer credit cards

For a lot of us, credit card debt just seems to creep up on us. And if you’ve managed to go overboard with your spending within the last year, you might be tossing up ways to put an end to your mounting debt, like applying for a balance transfer credit card.

A balance transfer allows you to take existing debt that’s been built up on a credit card and move it onto a new credit card with a temporary low interest rate - in some case even 0% - allowing you to pay off debt, interest-free. 

Sounds too easy, right? Well just like any financial product, it pays to do your research before signing the dotted line. 

So if you’re just about ready to start shopping around on balance transfer credit cards, we’ve got six things you should know first. 

You can only transfer 80% of the new card’s credit limit 

One thing many Aussies might not be aware of is that you’ll only be able to transfer up to 80% of the card’s credit limit. So if you’ve got $5,000 of unpaid debt on your old card, you’ll only be able to move $4,000 across. In order to transfer the full balance, you’ll need to select a card with a credit limit that’s a bit higher than your debt amount, or request a credit limit increase with the provider. 

There may be a fee to move the balance across 

Generally speaking, credit card providers will move the balance across for you and may charge a fee for doing so, which can typically be between 1% - 3% of the total balance. While 3% might not seem like much, if you’ve racked up $5,000 worth of debt and the balance transfer fee is 3%, that’s $150 extra you’ll need to cough up. 

However, it is possible to pick up a balance transfer card with a 0% transfer fee, in fact, there are 67 balance transfer cards in the Mozo database^ that don’t charge a transfer fee. 

The interest free period will expire eventually 

Once you start shopping around on balance transfer credit cards, you’ll come to find that the 0% interest period does have an expiry date. Balance transfer cards are not a one size fits all and generally have interest free periods that range from 6 - 24 months. It’s important to choose an offer that gives you plenty of time to pay off your debt, because once the interest free period ends, the revert rate will kick in. 

For example, according to our credit card debt repayments calculator, if you’ve got $5,000 worth of debt and can afford to pay $417 in repayments every month, you’ll be able to clear your debt within a year. 

Some cards come with an annual fee 

One thing Aussies may forget to factor into their balance transfer search is the card’s annual fee. While it is possible to find a card with a $0 annual fee, some providers can charge an annual fee that’s as little as $30 or as high as $129. And if you’re needing an interest free period that exceeds a year, the annual fee will be an ongoing cost you’ll have to work into your budget. 

Mozo’s credit card comparison tool can help you find a balance transfer option that not only suits your needs, but also has no annual fees. 

Spending on the card is a big no-no

While it might not be impossible, spending on your card while you have a transferred balance to pay off is definitely not recommended. Remember, the purpose of a balance transfer is to banish debt, not take on more. 

While you’re paying off a transferred balance, there are no interest-free days on regular purchases. That means that once you start spending on the card, you’ll automatically start accruing debt at the regular purchase rate.

It’s also worth mentioning that any new purchases made on the card will need to be paid off first instead of your payment going towards your transferred balance, so in any case, it’s best to keep this card locked away instead of in your wallet. 

Applying for multiple cards at once can hurt your credit score 

While it’s great to have a determined attitude for paying off debt, it’s just as important to have a bit of patience during the application process. Every time you apply for a credit card, it is recorded on your credit history, regardless of whether you are accepted or rejected. That’s why it’s important to take the time to choose a card that’s right for you, instead of applying for multiple with the hope that one will be successful. 

Ready to make debt a thing of the past in 2020? Then make your next stop our balance transfer credit card comparison tool

^At the time of writing 

^See information about the Mozo Experts Choice Credit Card Awards

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