NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers dealing with debt might not necessarily think that looking for a new credit card is a good idea, but there are times when switching to a new piece of plastic is quite literally in their best interest.
Balance transfer credit cards allow consumers to move high interest debt they carry on existing credit cards to a new one that charges little to no interest, at least for an introductory period.
Since the aim is to pay down the debt at a lesser charge (and also potentially boost your credit score), the selection criteria differ drastically than those for a traditional credit card search.
For starters,n rewards programs shouldn’t be a factor since they’ll only entice you to spend more and hinder your ability to pay down the balance while the annual percentage rate (APR) is low, says Beverly Harzog, an expert with Credit.com.
Instead, consumers need to look for cards that have the longest introductory period, typically anywhere from 15 months to two years, at the lowest possible APR on balances or even purchases, since the best balance transfer cards often offer a low introductory rate on both.
“I wouldn’t even settle for anything over 0%,” Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, says. He explains balance transfer cards not only survived the post-recession credit crunch, “they’ve come back with a vengeance,” as issuers are increasingly offering competitive rates in an effort to widen their consumer base.
Because many of these deals are meant to hook consumers in, Harzog says it’s important to look at the APR spread presented as your “go-to rate.” This is what the APR will wind up being once the introductory period elapses.
It’s also what the APR could wind up being should you miss one payment, cautions Kenneth Lin, CEO of Credit Karma. So you need to check the terms of conditions to find out if that should be a concern.
You also need to be on the lookout for high balance transfer fees, which are typically between 3% and 5% of the debt you are moving over.
“There may be one or two cards out there that have no balance transfer fee,” Lin says, but those cards typically carry a higher introductory APR.
MainStreet rounds up some of the best options for consumers looking for a great balance transfer deal.