Borrow interest-free for three-and-a-half years! The best balance transfer credit cards to help clear your debts
Generous introductory offers on balance transfer credit cards have been steadily re-emerging in the years since the credit crunch. With proper use they can provide the cheapest escape route for those resolved to clearing their debts.
Switching your debts to a balance transfer card can speed up the repayment of debt because most, or all, of your repayment goes toward wiping out the balance and not paying interest.
The best deals now offer over three years of 0 per cent interest in exchange for a switching charge.
Interest freeze: An extended 0 per cent interest term can help borrowers clear their debts quicker
Those with short to medium-term debts can use such offers to finally get out of the red, while those with much more to repay can look to these cards to provide a lower cost alternative to their existing debts.
But beware: there are caveats to consider and barriers to overcome when applying for such cards (see box) below.
Many balance transfer cards also come with a 0 per cent period for new purchases as well.
Avoid the traps
The crucial thing to remember is that card companies aren't providing cheap credit as a favour.
They want you to not clear debts during the 0 per cent period and spend more on the card, which makes them money.
Avoiding falling into this trap is the key to balance transfer success.
Remember, you are trying to repay your debts, not build up more. So think hard before buying anything else with credit.
This is Money has compiled a selection of the best deals currently available in the balance transfer market.
This page is kept updated throughout the year - bookmark it for the very latest developments.
Longest interest-free period cards
|Provider ||Interest-free term on balance transfers||Interest-free term on purchases ||Transfer fee ||APR||Extra info |
|Halifax||41 months||6 months||3.44% if made within 90 days||18.9%||Minimum £100 balance transfer. After 90 days fee drops to 3%|
|MBNA||41 months||-||3.45% fee||18.9%||Includes 20 months 0% interest on money transfers (4% fee).|
|Lloyds Bank||40 months||6 months||2.39%||18.9%||Must make any transfers within first 90 days|
|Bank of Scotland||40 months||6 months||2.39%||18.9%||- |
|Virgin Money||40 months||3 months||2.4%||20.9%||Includes 40 months 0% interest on money transfers (4% fee).|
|Sainsbury's Bank||40 months ||3 months ||2.42% if made within 60 days, then 3% (must hold a Nectar card)||18.9%||5,000 bonus Nectar points offer and points for spending (up until September 27)|
|Tesco Bank||40 months||-||2.69%||18.9%||Must make any transfers within first 90 days.|
|Correct as of October 03 2016|
RESTRICTIONS ON BALANCE TRANSFER CARDS
Being approved for a balance transfer card is by no means guaranteed.
In theory, those with the best credit ratings are the most likely to be approved for a card as they will have a history of paying off debt on time and have a stable income.
It is more probable that those with poor credit ratings will be rejected.
Those who are refused should bear in mind that applying for a number of other balance transfer cards in a short space of time will worsen their credit rating.
Many card providers will not allow you to transfer balances from another of its own products, so you should identify the best deal for you outside of your existing providers before making an application.
Some providers meanwhile may only accept your application if you already hold a current account with them.
There are other restrictions you will also have to satisfy, such as having a minimum level of income (generally £10,000-£20,000).
And to take advantage of introductory 0 per cent offers, you will have to transfer your balance within a specified time-frame.
Lowest handling fee cards
For those confident they can pay off their credit card debts in a short space of time, then getting a balance transfer card with a lower handling fee, but lower interest-free period, can limit the extra charges on your debt.
Competition is tight with the top four our five providers offering fees below one per cent and fairly decent balance transfer windows too.
Halifax offers to waive the transfer fee on its 25 month balance transfer deal if you make your transfer within the first 90 days.
It gives 6 months interest-free purchases and comes with a standard rate of 18.9 per cent.
Alternatively Tesco Bank charges no fee to move debt to its Clubcard Credit Card with No Fee.
It offers 24 months 0 per cent interest on balance transfers but only a single month of interest-free purchases as well as offering Clubcard rewards for spending.
The APR is 18.9 per cent however balance transfers clock up interest after the introductory period at a rate of 20.626 per cent while purchases cost 18.941 per cent.
Virgin Money has a 24-month interest free deal on balance transfers which also charges no fees for moving debt to it. The cards also offers three months 0 per cent interest on spending and comes with a standard interest rate of 18.9 per cent.
Santander's 123 Credit Card also charges no balance transfer fee on top of a 23 month interest-free window for both purchases and balance transfers.
However this is offset by a hefty £36 annual card cost.
The card does come with some extra perks. It pays out up to 3 per cent cashback on your spending at supermarkets, department stores, petrol stations and on National Rail and Transport for London travel.
Representative example: If you spend £200 at a purchase interest rate of 18.9% p.a. (variable) your representative rate will be 18.9% APR (variable). Credit limits and terms may vary based on your individual circumstances. Balance transfer offers and introductory fees limited to transfer made with 60/90 days of account opening. See product specific T&Cs.;
Best low rate balance transfers
People who have racked up substantial credit card debt which is unlikely to be paid off within two years can plump for cards which offer lower rates of interest.
However, those who are considering this option should seek advice as to whether there might be a better deal to be a had consolidating such debts into a loan, particularly with borrowing rates at record lows at the moment.
Market leader: MBNA
MBNA offers a temporary interest rate of 4.9 per cent on balance transfers for 60 months.
What you get
After 60 months, the rate does jump to 8.9 per cent but this is still relatively low compared to the standard 18.9 per cent APR attached to most cards.
Purchases made within the first 60 days also qualify for the promotional rate.
Moving a balance to the card will incur a fee of 0.5 per cent, which works out at £5 for every £1,000 you transfer.
To clear a £3,000 balance with a £15 transfer fee would cost £381 in interest if you were to take the full 5 years repaying £56.76 each month.
Tesco Bank charges 5.9 (APR) per cent interest on it's low-rate credit card.
There is no transfer fees and any debt shifted to the card clocks up interest at a rate of 6.054 per cent. Both money transfers and purchases cost 5.94 per cent.