Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Shift existing card debt to 0% interest for up to 29mths
Paying credit card interest? STOP. A balance transfer credit card can save you £1,000s by slashing the interest you pay. Our guide has full info and best buys – though act now as one of the top deals has just been pulled, so more could follow. Coronavirus financial worries have caused lenders to tighten acceptance criteria, so to help, our Balance Transfer Eligibility Calculator will show the cards you've the best odds of getting.
How do balance transfers work?
With a balance transfer you get a new card to pay off debt on old credit and store cards, so you owe it instead, often at 0% interest – sometimes for a small fee. You're debt-free quicker as more of your repayments reduce the debt, rather than pay interest. If unsure which to pick, use this golden rule...
It's best to go for the card with the lowest fee in the time you're sure you can repay it. If unsure, play safe and go long.
Having another card in itself can have an impact on your credit score as it gives you access to more available credit. Whether that's positive or negative depends on your circumstances. See our boost your credit score guide for full help.
But a balance transfer is not for everyone... say, if you've a really poor credit score or you simply don't trust yourself not to spend on a balance transfer card (which probably won't be at 0%). Have a good read of this guide to work out if it's for you.
Rather watch than read? This helpful little video gives you the balance transfer lowdown...
The five golden rules
Cheap balance transfer deals are designed to make lenders money when you fail to pay them off, or switch to a new 0% before the low rate ends. At that point, the interest rate jumps massively, typically to between 18% and 40%.
What can I do if I can't pay off my debt within the 0% period?
Your aim should always be to clear the amount you transferred over during the cheap period, minimising the interest.
If that's not possible, your next best bet is to shift again before the intro deal ends – or even back to the original card you shifted the debt from, if that's cheaper than the go-to rate on the balance transfer card.
To see the cost of paying off different cards over varying time periods, use our Which Card Is Cheapest? calculator.
Just because you grabbed a 0% deal, it DOESN'T mean you can get away with paying nothing – you must pay at least the minimum monthly payments, preferably more. Otherwise you will be hit with penalties and some card providers will withdraw the deal, leaving you on an expensive rate.
How much should I aim to pay?
Your aim should be to pay more than the minimum – unless you've pricey debts elsewhere, in which case focus max repayments on them. Minimum payments are designed to make debts last as long as possible, which you should try to avoid – see tips to beat this in Danger: Minimum Repayments.
3. Don't spend or withdraw cash on a balance transfer card. If you do, you may get hammered with huge costs
Credit cards let you spend, shift debt or withdraw cash but banks must put repayments towards the most expensive debt first. So spending on a balance transfer card isn't as bad as it was, as repayments first clear the spending, but it can still cost, as you only avoid interest if you pay off the FULL balance, including transfers and purchases.
And if you take out cash you are still charged interest in most cases even if you pay off the balance in full, as interest on withdrawals is charged from the moment you take it out till paid off.
Unlike purchases, you normally don't get any interest free period on cash withdrawals – even if you pay off in full at your next statement date. You usually pay interest from the date of making the cash withdrawal until it's paid off.
This means you'll most probably see an interest charge on the first statement after the cash withdrawal, which is the interest charged from the date you made the cash withdrawal until the date the statement was issued.
But you may also see interest charged on the following statement. There'll be a delay between your statement being drawn up, and you paying it. It may be a couple of days, it may be a couple of weeks. But you'll be charged interest on the cash withdrawal until you pay it off.
There's a catch to watch out for. Some card firms give those with lesser credit histories fewer months at 0% than they advertise. You could, say, apply for a 28-month 0% balance transfer deal, be accepted but given 20 months at 0% – sometimes with a higher fee too.
We highlight cards that do this by putting 'up to' before their headline offer, and tell you the other 0% lengths they may offer in the write-ups of the products below.
Lenders tell us they do this based on risk, so if you've a credit history that only just meets a card provider's minimum criteria, it's likely you'll be accepted for the card, but given a lower number of months at 0%, or a higher APR.
Most cards in this guide are 0% deals, but usually require you to have a good credit history and are for new customers only. If your score is patchy, you may still be able to slash the interest you're paying by doing a credit card shuffle.
It isn't the latest poker trick but our technique using existing-customer balance transfer deals to allow you to shift debt around cards you already have (if you're not maxed out). It's complex, but it's saved people £100s, without new cards.
Our technique is based on you calling your existing card provider (or each one if you have many), and asking if it has any low-rate deals on the card(s) you already have. If so, you can start transferring debt around.
If you're paying debts at 18.9% APR on one credit card, and you can get a low-rate deal for 6.9% APR on another card you have, you could save about £120 interest in a year on a £1,000 debt.
Even if you can't get any special deals, as long as you have a number of cards you can pile as much debt as possible on to the card with the lowest interest rate, then focus your efforts on clearing the most expensive debt first. Here's how to do it step by step:
- List all your debts – take stock of your current situation and note down all your existing debts, including an overdraft if you have one. Our credit card shuffle worksheet should help.
- Ask your provider(s) to cut the rate – sometimes simply calling and asking your existing credit card company for an interest-rate reduction can work to slash the costs of existing credit, without needing a balance transfer.
- Shift debts around existing cards – do a balance transfer to shift your debt from the card(s) charging the most interest to the one charging the least.
- Repay the most expensive debts first – the most crucial part...
Start repaying, focusing as much cash as possible on the most expensive debt first.
This means you should just pay the minimum repayments on all other less expensive cards, and pay off the dearest with any spare cash. Once it's repaid, shift focus to the next-highest-rate card and continue this until you're debt-free.
If you balance-transfer to a card at a special cheap rate, but already hold debts on it with a higher interest rate, the provider biases your repayments towards the higher rate debts first. This is good, as it means the most expensive balance disappears first (it used to be the other way around).
However, it means to get the absolute most out of the shuffle, there are a couple of extra steps to follow:
- Only focus repayments until the expensive debt's repaid – once you've done the shuffle, and you know the priority with which you should pay off each lump of debt, make sure you stop once all the expensive layer is gone.
For example, Luke has £1,000 on Credit Card A, £700 of which is being charged at a low 6% interest and £300 at a nasty 25%, and £400 on Credit Card B at 18% interest. To make the most of the shuffle, he should clear the high-interest £300 from Card A first and then switch to clearing the £400 on Card B before finally paying off the remaining £700 on Card A.
- Move existing debts away, then back again – if you've enough spare balance on other cards, you can take advantage of any special balance transfer deal by moving all the debt off the card. Then once it has transferred over, shift it back again (along with whatever other debt you intended to move to the card).
Following on from our example above, let's imagine Luke has £300 on Card A, which also has an offer of 6% interest on any balances transferred to it. Luke could shift £300 from Card A to Card B, then once it's transferred over, move the whole £700 balance on Card B back to Card A, so everything's at the lower 6% interest.
This means as much debt as possible is at your new, lower rate. Do be aware of balance transfer fees which could wipe out the gain.
- Only focus repayments until the expensive debt's repaid – once you've done the shuffle, and you know the priority with which you should pay off each lump of debt, make sure you stop once all the expensive layer is gone.
The credit card shuffle needs careful management but if you follow the steps above, you could cut the total amount you have to repay by thousands.
Here's an example, showing the interest you'd pay doing a credit card shuffle vs not doing the shuffle. See below table for a full description:
£7,000 debts repaying £100/month on each card until repaid in full
WITH SHUFFLE Card A
14.9% on existing debt,
6.9% on new debt
£526 Card B
0% for 4 months then 16.9% £3,000 £235 Card C
19.9% £0 £0 Card D
17.9% £1,000 £31 TOTAL Avg rate = 17.4%
Avg rate = 14.1%
£792 (1) £100 monthly repayments on each card until card fully repaid. (2) All debt now balance-transferred; to do this, it was moved off the card and returned. (3) Repaying most expensive debt prioritised while paying minimum on other cards.
With normal debts of £1,500 on Card A, £500 on Card C and £5,000 on Card D, the average interest rate is 17.4%. Repay £100/month on each card and by the time you've cleared the cards in full, the interest totals £1,948.
Yet shuffle as much as possible on to Card A's 6.9% existing-customer offer for new debt and the rest to Card B at four months 0% then 16.9%, and then repay the most expensive debts first. This way the average interest rate is reduced to just under 16%, meaning the interest is only £792, less than half the cost – meaning a massive saving of £1,156.
See which balance transfer cards you've the best chance of getting, in your own personal best-buy table.
Usually, applying is the only way to know if you'll be accepted for a credit card. Yet that marks your credit file, affecting your ability to get future credit. To help, our tool uses a 'soft search' to find your chances of acceptance before applying.
Check your chance of acceptance
Longest 0% balance transfer cards
Here are our three top pick cards, all with a long 0% period. Most charge a one-off fee of the amount of debt you transfer (so 2.95% is £29.50 per £1,000) so go for the lowest fee in the time you're sure you can repay. If you're unsure, play safe and go for a long 0%.
|Longest 0% period, though you may be accepted and offered 26 or 23 months at 0%. After the 0%, it's 19.9% rep APR. Full info|
|Long 0% period with fixed £3/mth fee – a marmite card that's good for large transfers but costly for smaller ones. After the 0%, it's 21.7% rep APR, though ditch it then to avoid the fee. Full info|
|Long 0% period that's guaranteed if you're accepted, with a lowish fee. Though you can't have had an HSBC credit card in the last six months. After the 0%, it's 21.9% rep APR. Full info|
The next best long 0% balance transfer cards
If you're unable to get one of our top pick cards above, here are quick details of the next best. Some are 'up to' cards, so you may get a shorter deal than advertised – which can be risky if you've anything other than a top credit score. Though to help, we list the alternative 0% length that could be given.
|All accepted get 27mths at 0%, though you need a First Direct bank account to apply. After the 0% it's 18.9% rep APR.|
Sadly won't accept anyone self-employed
|You must transfer when you apply to pay the 3% fee and could be accepted and offered 23 or 19 months at 0%. It's 21.9% rep APR after.|
Sadly won't accept anyone self-employed.
|You must transfer when you apply to pay the 1.85% fee and could be accepted and given 21 or 17 months at 0%. The card has a 20.9% rep APR.|
|You could be accepted but offered 14 months at 0% and/or a higher 3.49% fee. The card has a 20.9% rep APR.|
|All accepted get the full 20mths at 0%. It's then 21.9% rep APR after.|
Best NO-FEE 0% balance transfer cards
If you can clear your debts in 18 months or fewer, why pay a fee at all? They're the best option if you can DEFINITELY pay it off within the 0% period, though there are only three decent cards left, as many of the top no-fee deals have been pulled this year.
|Top 0% card with no fee – all accepted get the full 18mths at 0% plus a £20 Amazon voucher. Via our links, if you apply by 11.59pm on Wed 16 Dec and are accepted, you'll automatically receive a £20 Amazon voucher by email within 90 days. After the 0%, it's 18.9% rep APR. Full info|
|Sadly won't accept anyone self-employed. A decent no-fee option, though you could be accepted and offered 14 or 10 months at 0%. The card has a 20.9% rep APR. Full info|
|Another decent no-fee option and it gives the full 15 months at 0% if accepted. After the 0%, it's 21.9% rep APR. Full info|
Best balance transfer cards for poorer credit scorers
Warning – after the 0% rate they're VERY expensive, so plan how much to shift. All cards below have a horrid 34.9% rep APR after the 0%, so compare your current interest rate. If that's more, shift as much debt as possible, which'll depend on the credit limit you get. If less, only shift what you're sure you can clear within five to nine months, depending on the card you choose.
|All accepted will get nine months at 0%, though the fee is high. It accepts those with CCJs (1yr+ old) and past bankruptcies (18mths+ old), though starting credit limits are low, from £250 to £2,000. After the 0%, it's 34.9% rep APR. Full info|
|A lower fee, so could win if you can pay off your balance in six months. Like Fluid above, CCJs must be 1yr+ old and bankruptcies 18mths+, though starting credit limits are lower, from £250 to £1,200. After the 0%, it's 34.9% rep APR. Full info|
The next best balance transfer cards for poorer credit scorers
If the cards above don't suit you, here are some quick details of the next best.
Cashback sites may pay you for signing up
As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account.
Full help to take advantage of this and pros and cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.
Balance Transfer Calculator: Which card is cheapest for you?
Choosing your balance transfer weapon's more complicated than it used to be.
The aim should still always be to repay within the interest-free time, or switch after that to another 0% deal if you haven't repaid. However, if you can't, don't automatically jump for a long-term deal, as it may not be cheapest.
Balance transfers Q&A
When you apply for the new card, it will usually include a 'do you want to transfer debts from other cards?' section. In this, you just put in the details of the other cards. If you're successful getting the new card, it will pay the other one off.
Even if you don't do it at initial application, most cards normally allow you to do a transfer within a set period of getting the card (usually 30-90 days).
When you apply for any credit card, it checks you to match you up against its wish list for what is a profitable customer (for full info on this and how to boost your chances, see our credit scoring guide). Yet this doesn't just dictate what products you'll be accepted for, but also how good the ones you actually get are. With balance transfers it has three main impacts:
Some cards vary the 0% length according to credit score. With some, but not all cards, while you might be accepted you may not get the 0% length advertised, eg, you might get 14 months instead of 24. We note in our 'need-to-knows' for each card which cards this may happen with.
They always give a variable APR depending on credit score. Every credit card APR (the annual interest rate your card jumps to after the promotional period) is a 'representative' rate. This term 'representative' is defined in the rules as meaning they only need to give the advertised rate to 51% of accepted applicants, the rest can be, and sometimes are, charged more.
Having said that, the aim is to clear the card or shift the debt before the 0% deal ends, so if you clear it in time, this is less of an issue as you'll never be charged the APR.
Lower credit scores tend to mean you get a smaller credit limit. If this happens, don't automatically jump to get another card instead, at least use what they've given you. See the Credit Limit Too Low? guide.
Unfortunately there's no system that can predict card firms' attitudes to you for these variables. But, as a rule of thumb, the higher the chance the eligibility calculator gives you, the closer to the rep APR and higher credit limit you should get.
No. These are totally separate things. Unlike loans, with credit cards, you choose how much you repay each month, though every card has a set minimum monthly repayment. The interest rate is the cost of the debt. For example, a rate of 20% on £1,000 means it costs you £200 per year assuming a constant balance (see the Interest Rates guide for more).
This does mean in some circumstances you may shift debt to a new, cheaper card, but if it has a higher minimum payment, you'll need to pay more each month. If that may be unaffordable, ensure you check the minimum repayments before switching.
As much as you can – even 0% debt is still debt. The more you repay, the faster the debt disappears. Especially important is that you try to pay more than the set minimum. For more on that and tips on how to do it, read the Minimum Repayments: Danger! guide.
The cheaper the interest rate, the more of your repayment goes towards clearing what you owe rather than servicing the interest. This means you'll be debt-free quicker and will have to pay less in total to do it.
Move what you can, then if needed, simply apply for another provider's card and move the rest there. Don't leave the limit unused if it's cheaper to shift debt to it, as it's already on your credit file so you may as well use it.
No. This isn't like current account switching, where if you use the seven-day switching service, your old account is closed.
All a balance transfer does is transfer debt from one card to another. The old card stays open, and you're able to use it if you wish – although if you're trying to pay debt off, it's usually not wise to keep spending on credit.
If you want to close your old card, you will have to let your old card provider know. Just not using the card or cutting it up doesn't close the account. Read full pros and cons of closing old credit card accounts in the Should I Cancel Old Cards? guide.
If you've regularly used cards to balance-transfer in the past, it's likely you'll have held cards from many of the top-pick providers in this guide. Each has its own rules, but many card providers will automatically reject you if you already have one of their products, or have had one in the past 6 to 12 months.
To help, where possible, we've listed alternative cards, in case you aren't eligible for the top picks. To improve your chances of getting the best deal, cancel any cards you have open but don't need. Read more in the Should I Cancel Old Cards? guide.
Yes, you can. Credit card providers let you transfer from more than one old card to a single new one – and you'll be able to get the 0% period on all balances transferred, as long as you do them all within a specific period (usually 60-90 days of taking out the card).
You can often transfer more than one balance at the same time – or you could do separate transfers if your new card doesn't let you do them all at once. Just be aware that your balance transfer limit will usually be 90-95% of your total credit limit, so you wouldn't be able to transfer more than that amount in total.
Before you think about doing this, be aware that the debt then becomes yours. Even if you have an agreement with your partner that he or she will make the payments, the credit has been provided to you, so it's your responsibility to pay it off.
Make sure you think very carefully before taking on your partner's debt – especially if you’re feeling pressured to do it – as while you may be in a trusted relationship now, there's always a risk things could go wrong in the future.
But if you are sure, some lenders allow you to transfer a balance from any card (as long as it's not with the same provider), it doesn't have to be in your name.
If you need to transfer a balance in your name, some lenders will let you become a second cardholder on your partner's account and then allow you to shift the debt across.
We checked with several major lenders (we've asked HSBC and will update when we hear back):
Bank of Scotland ❌ Barclaycard ✔️ Halifax ❌ Lloyds ❌ MBNA ❌ Sainsbury's Bank ✔️ Sainsbury's Bank told us it reviews requests on a case by case basis, but wouldn't share its criteria. It also told us this policy is under review, so always check before applying. Santander ✔️ Your partner needs to be added as an additional cardholder and live at the same address as you. Tesco Bank ❌ TSB ❌ Virgin Money ✔️ Your partner needs to be added as an additional cardholder, pass fraud/ identity checks and live at the same address as you. Last updated Feb 2020.
If your lender doesn't allow either of these, and you can't get a card from one that does, there is the option to do a money transfer. This is where you get a card and ask the provider to 'do a money transfer to your current account' – there are fees for doing it, and they tend to be higher than on balance transfers.
Once you've done the money transfer, you can use the cash transferred to your account to pay off your partner's credit card – and then you've the debt on your new money transfer card to pay off.
It's a convoluted method, but it's an option if you can't do a balance transfer of your partner's debt.
Cards that are issued by American Express usually have a 15 digit card number, as opposed to the usual 16. This means that it can be harder to transfer a balance from an Amex card, as some online systems aren't able to process the shorter number.
In most cases, you should be able to phone up the card company you want to shift your debt to and they'll process the transfer that way. Another trick that can work sometimes is adding a '0' either to the beginning or end of the card number online when you try to transfer the balance.
We checked with several major lenders whether they accept balance transfers from Amex-issued cards:
Bank of Scotland Yes No Barclaycard Yes No Halifax Yes No HSBC Yes No Lloyds Yes No MBNA Yes Won't accept BT from MBNA-issued Amex Sainsbury's Bank Yes May not be able to process all Amex cards – call 0845 405060 to check in advance Santander Yes Unable to process Amex cards with 15 digit card numbers online, these must be done via phone Tesco Bank Yes No TSB Yes Need to phone Virgin Money Yes Won't accept BT from non-UK issued card e.g. British Airways Amex
Last updated Jan 2019.
Withdrawing cash on your credit card isn't usually a good idea. Each time you do it, it's recorded on your credit record – and lenders may see it as a sign that you can't manage your finances.
They often think you've withdrawn cash that way because you had no choice as you were in financial dire straits because your bank account was empty.
However, withdrawing cash on your credit card isn't the end for your credit score. If all other accounts are up to date, and you're not maxed out on your cards, then – in isolation – credit card cash withdrawals aren't likely to tip the scales of future credit applications. But, if you don't need to withdraw cash on your credit cards, then it's best not to take the risk.
For more on this, you can read our mini guide to withdrawing cash on a credit card, and how it affects your credit record.
The best time to apply is roughly six weeks before your current 0% deal ends. This gives you enough time to apply, find out if you've got the card, and shift the debt, while your other card is still at 0%.
Multiple applications, especially close together, and high outstanding debts, even at 0%, diminish your ability to get competitive credit. The most important preventative measure is to spread card applications out.
Do this and most people with reasonable income and no missed payments should be able to tart without worry, though occasionally some get scored out. Read the Credit Ratings guide.
If you're looking to do a credit card shuffle, then you can try calling your existing provider and seeing what they'll offer you.
Before you pick up the phone to call your credit card company you're better off doing a bit of research first. Some card companies have official set rates and others target individuals. So it's important you know how the company will deal with you before you call it.
We've done the research for you and found possible existing-customer deals from your credit card provider. While these offers aren't guaranteed for everyone, and they may change over time, you can get an idea of the type of deals on offer before you make the call.
Barclaycard 17.9% - 18.9% Official Response: We offer tailor-made deals for the customer.MoneySavers' experiences: Reduced interest from 29.9% to 6.9% on current balance for life of balance, or 23 months 0% on balance transfers, 1.9% fee. Let us know if you get a deal Bank of Scotland 17.9% Official Response: We offer tailor-made deals for the customer. Call to get a deal.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 15 months. 1% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal
Capital One 9.9% - 34.9% MoneySavers' experiences: Nothing reported. Let us know if you get a deal First Direct 16.9% - 19.9% Official Response: It does not offer deals. Check MoneySavers experiences & let us know if you get a deal. Halifax 9.9% - 17.9%
Official Response: It does not offer deals. Check MoneySavers experiences & let us know if you get a deal.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 27 months. 3% BT fee.
HSBC 16.9% MoneySavers' experiences: Reduced interest to 4.9% for six months. Let us know if you get a deal Lloyds 17.9% - 19.9% Official Response: We offer tailor made deals for the customer. Call to get a deal & let us know
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 28 months 1.5% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal
MBNA 16.7% - 17.9% Official Response: Check your online account for existing-customer offers.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 13 months 2% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal
Nationwide 16.9% Official Response: We offer tailor-made deals for the customer.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 12 months, 2.9% fee. Let us know if you get a deal
NatWest 16.9% - 18.9% Official Response: It does not offer deals. Check MoneySavers experiences & let us know if you get a deal. RBS 16.9% - 18.9% Official Response: It does not offer deals. Check MoneySavers experiences & let us know if you get a deal. Santander 17.9% Official Response: We offer tailor-made deals for the customer. Call to get a deal & let us know if you get a deal.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 12 months 3% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal
Tesco 16.9% MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 20 months 2.99% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal Virgin 18.9% - 20.9% Official Response: We offer tailor-made deals for the customer. Call to get a deal or check your online account.
MoneySavers' experiences: 0% on balance transfers for 12 months 2% BT fee. Let us know if you get a deal
The basic answer is to always err on the side of caution. However, if a card has a 0% deal for purchases and balance transfers that lasts exactly the same length of time, then it's fine to spend on. However if they're not identical, eg, 0% for purchases for 3 months and 0% on balance transfers for a year, it's best not to do it.
This depends on the specific card, and it varies. Sometimes you will pay interest on the fee, yet it's arranged so your first or first and second monthly repayments pay all of it off, so the interest is negligible.
This is almost impossible to answer – you're credit-scored depending on that lender's wish list for a profitable customer. So it all depends on how well you fit what it wants. In general, though, Barclaycard has a reputation for lower credit limits and MBNA higher limits.
Lenders determine their wish list for profitable customers – it's not all about risk. Read the Credit Scoring guide for a full explanation.
Of course, you should check for errors on your credit file, but hard and fast reasons are difficult to come by. It may be as bizarre as a lender choosing to give credit cards to customers it's more likely to be able to flog a mortgage to.
Some cards operate a rate for risk policy meaning that it accepts you, but gives you fewer months at 0% than advertised. Barclaycard, Lloyds, TSB, Halifax, MBNA and Bank of Scotland are the main lenders that operate this policy, but some others will give you higher APRs rather than a lower number of months.
If it's a general question about how balance transfers work, please ask it here and we'll endeavour to include it in the guide. If it's a specific question about your situation or a product, please use the question/discussion link which will take you to the forum. There, you can chat about it with other MoneySavers.
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