A balance transfer can help you get a handle on debt by allowing you to transfer high-interest-rate debt to a card with a lower interest rate, consolidate multiple payments into one and take advantage of better card terms and lower fees. However, not all balance transfer offers are the same—so if you’re in the market for a balance transfer, be sure to review the details of each offer carefully before selecting the best one for you. To help you make the most informed decision, let’s look at some of the common myths about balance transfers.
Myth 1: All credit cards have balance transfer fees.
Fact: The amount charged to transfer a balance varies, and some financial institutions don’t charge any balance transfer fees at all. Be sure to read the fine print and learn how much, if anything, it would cost to transfer balances.
Myth 2: A balance transfer reduces the principal you need to pay back.
Fact: Though it can help you save money in the long run, a balance transfer isn’t the same as repayment. The principal you owe stays the same, meaning you’ll still have to pay back the amount you transfer—but you’ll pay less in future interest if you transfer to a card with a lower rate.
Myth 3: Closing an old credit card after a balance transfer will boost your credit score.
Fact: Since closing a card may reduce your available credit and shorten your credit history, it can actually negatively impact your score. However, if you’re concerned about racking up more debt on the card, or if you no longer use the card but it has an annual fee, then closing the card may still be the right move for you. Alternatively, you can keep the old card open, but store it somewhere safe in your home where you can still access it in an emergency.
Myth 4: Balance transfers are for credit card balances only, not other debts.
Fact: Depending on the lender, you may be able to transfer debts for appliances, furniture and other personal loans. If this option is available, the credit card issuer will provide checks that can be used to transfer other debts to your credit card.
Myth 5: Anyone can qualify for a low- or zero-rate balance transfer.
Fact: Lenders will check your credit before approving a balance transfer—those with good or excellent credit are more likely to qualify for the best promotional and regular card rates.
Myth 6: Balance transfers don’t affect your credit score.
Fact: How a balance transfer affects your score depends on a number of factors, including the total amount transferred and how many times you’ve transferred your balance in the past. If you’re continually moving debt from card to card without making any progress on repayment, your score could be negatively impacted. On the other hand, if this is your first time making a balance transfer and you use the money saved on interest to pay off your debt faster, then the overall effect on your score may be positive.
Myth 7: You can stop making payments to your old card as soon as you apply for a balance transfer.
Fact: Continue making payments on your old card until you get confirmation that the transfer has been approved and the balance has been transferred. Transfers can take up to two weeks to complete, and you don’t want to incur any missed payment fees or late fees in the meantime.