Balance transfer credit cards
Shift existing card debt to 0% interest for up to 28 months
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 top picks, plus our Balance Transfer Eligibility Calculator will reveal the cards you've the best odds of getting.
What is a balance transfer card?
With a 0% balance transfer you get a new card to pay off debt on old credit and store cards, so you owe it instead, but at 0% interest. A card will have a 0% period, during which you pay no interest – for example, 28 months – and sometimes you'll pay a small fee. It means you become debt-free quicker, as more of your repayments reduce the debt, rather than pay interest.
Which balance transfer card is best?
First up, you can't transfer a balance between cards from the same bank/group. So where you're transferring debt from will narrow down the choice. Of those left, which to go for will largely be determined by which cards you're eligible for, as you'll need to pass a credit check as part of any application.
Our eligibility calculator will show your chances of acceptance for most of the top interest-free balance transfer cards in this guide, with no impact on your credit score. If it shows you're eligible for many cards but you're unsure which to pick, follow this rule...
The five golden rules
Cheap balance transfer deals are designed to make lenders money when the 0% period ends, as interest rates jump massively (typically to between 18% and 40%). Yet this can be avoided...
- Aim to clear the balance before the 0% period ends. Quite simply, divide the amount you owe by the number of months at 0%, then pay at least this every month to pay it off in time.
- If you can't clear it in time, balance-transfer again to another 0% offer. If you can't afford to repay in time, the next best bet is to shift the debt again, before your 0% period ends. If you're not eligible for any cards, you could consider transferring back to the original card you shifted the debt from, if it's still open and cheaper than the interest rate on your current card.
- Aim to clear the balance before the 0% period ends. Quite simply, divide the amount you owe by the number of months at 0%, then pay at least this every month to pay it off in time.
Just because you grabbed a 0% deal 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 our Credit Card Minimum Repayment Calculator for tips to beat this.
While balance transfers made to the cards in this guide are interest-free for a number of months, other uses such as spending and cash withdrawals are usually not – and will incur charges and interest.
For cash, you'll usually pay interest from the date of the withdrawal until it's paid off.
This means you'll most probably see an interest charge on the first statement after the withdrawal, which is the interest charged from the date you made the 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 withdrawal until you pay it off.
There are special cards if you need to shift debt AND spend
If you also need to spend on the card, it's best to get an all-rounder card, which has a 0% length for balance transfers AND spending, and means you only need to apply for one card. Check our 0% balance transfer & spending guide for full info, or alternatively you could try a separate 0% credit card for purchases.
For most cards, the 0% period is only reserved for balance transfers that are made within the first 60 or 90 days – though always check your card for its time limit, as it does vary. After this has passed, any transfers would incur expensive interest at the card's normal rate, unless it's paid off in full.
This can sometimes apply to the one-off transfer fee too, so it's likely you'd pay a higher fee on later transfers, in addition to interest.
There are some notable exceptions to this though, with certain cards requiring you to request the balance transfer when you apply, and others allowing transfers at any point during the 0% period. But as the 0% period usually starts on the day the account is opened, you'd have less interest-free time if you waited.
How to request a balance transfer
When you apply for the new card, it will usually include a 'Do you want to transfer debts from other cards?' section. Here, put in the details of the other card(s). If you're successful in getting the new card, it will pay the other one(s) off.
If you don't do it at the initial application, you can usually submit the request via your card's online banking or by calling the lender.
For balance transfers, one rule is clear – you can't transfer a balance between two cards issued by the same bank (for example, from one Barclaycard to another).
However, for some cards it's a bit more complicated, as certain providers extend this to prevent transfers between cards from the same banking group:
Banking group Credit cards you can't transfer a balance between Capital One Capital One, Littlewoods, Luma, Ocean, Post Office (cards issued after November 2019), Thinkmoney and Very HSBC First Direct, HSBC and M&S Bank. John Lewis cards applied for before 21 September 2022 are with HSBC group too. NatWest NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank NewDay Amazon, Argos, Aqua, Fluid, John Lewis (if you applied for a card on or after 21 Sep 2022), Marbles and Opus. You're also unable to transfer a balance from a store card or American Express Santander Cahoot and Santander Virgin Money B, Clydesdale Bank, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money and Yorkshire Bank. You're also unable to transfer a balance from a non-UK issued American Express (for example, British Airways Amex)
How to apply for a balance transfer card
A few years ago, the only way to know if you'd be accepted for a credit card was to apply. But that leaves a mark on your credit report that lenders can see – affecting your ability to get credit in future.
However, our eligibility calculator uses a 'soft search' (which lenders can't use) to calculate and show your percentage chance of getting the top credit cards. This is the best route as it reveals which cards you're most likely to be accepted for WITHOUT impacting on your credit report.
Some cards even give a 100% acceptance chance, meaning you're 'pre-approved' to get them. This is particularly helpful for 'up to' cards – ones where poorer credit scorers may get a shorter deal than advertised. Be aware of these if you're not showing as pre-approved.
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 you apply.
Check your chances of acceptance
Best 0% balance transfer cards
We've highlighted the standout cards here, yet our eligibility calculator has many more, so it's best to use that to get your personalised best-buy table. The calculator also shows if you're 'pre-approved' for any cards, which can give certainty over which to apply for (especially important with 'up to' cards, where some people are accepted and given fewer months at 0%). Plus, our eligibility calculator will now tell you if you're pre-approved for a guaranteed minimum limit on some cards.
If you need help to choose between cards, go for the lowest fee in the time you're sure you can repay in. The longest charge a one-off fee, as a percentage of the amount of debt you transfer (for example, 2.9% is £29 per £1,000 shifted). But there are shorter options with no fee, so no cost if you can clear your debt within 19 months or fewer. If unsure, play safe and go long.
|Longest 0% period, all accepted get the full 28 months. If you're pre-approved in our eligibility calculator you'll definitely be accepted (as long as you pass M&S’ ID and fraud checks).|
|Longest 0%, but higher fee & some could get less time at 0% unless pre-approved in our eligibility calculator. If you're pre-approved in our eligibility calculator you'll definitely get the full 29 months at 0% (as long as you pass Barclaycard's ID and fraud checks), otherwise you could be accepted and get just 14 interest-free months and/or a higher 31.9% rep APR.|
||Longest 0% period with NO FEE – a winner if you can repay before the 0% ends. If you repay in full within 14 months, this transfer will cost you absolutely nothing. Plus, our eligibility calculator will now tell you if you're pre-approved for a guaranteed minimum limit on this card. Also offered by sister banks RBS and Ulster Bank, though these do not feature in our eligibility calculator.|
Best balance transfer cards for bad credit
To be accepted for most of the deals above, you need a decent credit score. If that's not you, there's still hope, as a few providers offer cards for those with a patchy credit past – though the 0% periods are usually much shorter. Some will accept you even with past defaults or county court judgments (CCJs). For more info on cards for those with bad credit, see our full guide.
The cards below are all included in our eligibility calculator, but they're worth highlighting because of one big difference...
The interest rates after the 0% periods end are VERY expensive, so plan how much to shift. All the cards below charge up to 34.9% rep APR after the 0% periods end, so compare that against your current card's interest rate. If your current card's rate is higher, then shift as much debt as possible. If it's lower, then only shift the amount of debt you're sure you can clear within the 0% period.
|Longest 0% period available for poorer credit scorers. All accepted get the full 16 months at 0%. You must have a history of managing credit, even if you've had CCJs or defaults in the past, and a yearly minimum personal income of £7,000 or household income of £15,000 (including non-salary income such as pensions).|
|Longest 0% period with NO FEE for poorer credit scorers. All accepted get the full 6 months at 0%. You must have a minimum yearly income of £10,000, plus two active lines of credit such as a phone contract or overdraft.|
- 3% fee
- 29.9% rep APR
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 that the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account.
There is full help to take advantage of this and pros and cons in our Top cashback sites guide.
If you can't get a new 0% card, try the credit card shuffle to cut interest
If you're unable to get any of the cards above (use our eligibility calculator to check), you may still be able to slash the interest by asking for a low-rate or 0% deal on the card you already have.
If you've more than one credit card, you can then shift debt to the card which offers the lowest rate, though you'll need to factor in any one-off transfer fees.
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 may help.
- Check your account(s) for existing-customer offers. Lenders sometimes offer special deals (either a lower rate or 0% for a set period) for transferring new debt to your existing cards, though usually for a one-off fee. You can usually find these on your online account or by calling your card provider.
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.
- Shift debts to the cheapest card. Do a balance transfer to shift your debt from the card(s) charging the most interest to the one charging the least (or the cheapest ones, if your credit limit isn't big enough to allow you to move it to just one card). You could even consider shifting debt away from any card that will offer you a 0% deal for transferred balances. You can then transfer it back along with debt from other cards to get the 0%. Though be aware of balance transfer fees that could wipe out the gain.
- Repay the most expensive debts first – the most crucial part. Once all your debt's as cheap as possible, relist them in the credit card shuffle worksheet. Then, focus as much cash as possible on the most expensive debt first and just pay the minimum repayments on any less expensive debts. Once that's repaid, shift focus to the next highest-rate debt... continue this until you're debt-free.
Quick credit card shuffle questions
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's an extra step 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, if you had
Card A. £1,000 balance: £700 at 6%, £300 at 25% interest.
Card B. £400 balance at 18% interest.
You'd want to pay enough to clear the high-interest £300 first and then switch to clearing the £400, before finally paying off the £700. Though remember to always pay at least the minimum on the card you're not focusing on.
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:
WITH SHUFFLE Card A £3,000
14.9% on existing debt,
6.9% on new debt
0% for four months then 16.9% £3,000 £235 Card C £2,000
19.9% £0 £0 Card D £5,000
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 over 14%, meaning the interest is only £792, less than half the cost – meaning a massive saving of £1,156.
Balance transfer FAQs
Remember percentages are a clinical measure. A 50% chance means half those in your situation will be accepted. And while 95% seems almost certain, you can still be the 1 in 20 who doesn't get it.
My worry is many are wrongly put off by low odds. I often tell a tale of something that happened a few years ago, which may help...
I sat with a MoneySaver who had large, costly card debt and a poor credit history. Her eligibility showed zero chance of all balance transfers, except a 20% chance with Halifax. She looked despondent and asked me: "Is there any point?"
I explained that as it was the only credit she needed - there was no mortgage application or similar due - it didn't overly matter that a rejection would mark her file. The reason to protect your credit history is so you can get maximum use from it when needed.
This was her most pressing financial need, so a 20% chance was better than nowt. The worst that could happen was a rejection. She applied and got a 26mth 0% card with a £1,500 limit.
For more on this, and what you can do to improve things, see my related blog: Why you shouldn't worry too much about your credit score - it's not actually a real thing.
The application is now on your credit file anyway, so make use of it. Use the new card to shift as much debt as you can to cut costs.
Once that's sorted, you can use our 0% Balance Transfer Eligibility Calculator again to see your chances of acceptance for other providers' cards. Though try to spread future applications out, as too many in a short space of time can hurt.
Yes and it's worth looking at. Some cards will give existing cardholders special offers (eg, 12mths 0% for a 3% fee), not as good as new customer deals, but useful, especially as it won't usually go on your credit file.
Even if you don't get a special rate, try and move all your debt to where it's cheapest. For example, if one is 18% APR, another 30%, ask the 18% card if you can shift debt from the other to it, it'll help. For a full step-by-step, see the credit card shuffle for how this all works.
The best thing to do is list all of your debts in order of the interest rate (APR) with the highest first.
Then focus all spare cash on clearing that highest APR debt – as that's growing most quickly – and just pay the minimum on all others. For many people this will be the overdraft at first, as at 40% it's often more than double a high street credit card. So reducing your debt on it is the priority.
Once you’ve cleared the costliest debt, shift your spare cash to the next highest APR, and so on. This way you’ll pay less interest and more of your money will be clearing the actual debt.
No. When you 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 Should I cancel old cards?
Shifting a balance from one card to another isn't recorded on your credit file, so you're free to balance transfer as many times as you like. However, a footprint is added to your file every time you apply for a new credit card.
Multiple applications, especially close together, and high outstanding debts, even at 0%, can affect your ability to get further credit. See our Credit scores guide for full information.
The most important preventative measures are to spread card applications out and use our eligibility calculator to check your chances of acceptance, before applying blind.
If you've a current 0% deal that's ending and you've a need to transfer the balance again, the best time to apply is roughly six weeks before. Use our eligibility calculator to see which card you've the best chance of getting. 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%.
Before you think about doing this, be aware that the debt then becomes yours. Even if you have an informal agreement between you that they will make the payments, the credit has been provided to you, so it's your responsibility to pay it off.
Make sure you think 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 future.
But if you're sure, some lenders allow you to transfer a balance from a card that's in someone else's name (as long as it's not with the same provider).
Here are the policies of several major lenders:
Bank of Scotland ❌ Barclaycard ✔️ First Direct ✔️ Halifax ❌ HSBC ✔️ Lloyds ❌ MBNA ❌ NatWest ❌ New Day ❌ RBS ❌ Sainsbury's Bank ❌ Santander ✔️ (1) Tesco Bank ❌ TSB ❌ Virgin Money ✔️ (1) (1) You need to add your partner as an additional cardholder.｜Last updated: Feb 2022.
If your lender doesn't allow this, and you can't get a card from one that does, there is a slightly trickier option of taking out a 0% money transfer credit card. These cards give the option of moving money to your current account, which you can use to pay off your partner's card. You'll then owe the amount on the new card.
You'll pay a one-off fee to do it (often higher than a balance transfer fee) and while it will have a 0% period, these are shorter than the top balance transfer offers. For full help and top picks, see 0% money transfer credit cards.
Getting a credit card is not always the right thing to do, and if you have a poor credit history or too much debt already, you might be rejected for one (or more) cards anyway.
If you're struggling to pay for your outgoings or meet your debt repayments, or are building up more debt just to pay for day-to-day living, getting another credit card could just add to any debt problems in the longer term. Our full debt help guide runs through the practical steps you can take if you're struggling with debt, including specialist resources and charities you can contact for free one-on-one debt counselling and advice.
Yes, in most cases – though you may have to call the new card provider if it can't process the transfer request online. American Express usually has 15-digit card numbers, rather than the standard 16, so some systems are unable to process the shorter number (for example, Santander, Tesco Bank and TSB have told us this is the case for most requests).
If this happens, calling the provider is your best bet or you could try adding a '0' to the beginning or end of the card number to 'trick' the system.
There are some notable exceptions though, as cards issued by NewDay such as Aqua, Fluid and Marbles above won't accept any transfer from an Amex. Equally, Sainsbury's Bank advises to call to check the Amex card(s) you hold can be accepted in advance and Virgin Money will only accept UK-issued Amex cards.
Clever ways to calculate your finances