Ask the Experts - Balance transfer credit cards

March 28, 2019


Associate Professor of Finance

Ask The Experts | WalletHub Interview, March 2019 with Professor Michael Mullen, CFA, CAIA - Associate Professor of Finance and Finance Program Director 

What’s the best way to find the right balance transfer credit card?

The first step in making this leap is a true self-assessment of you financial situation. If your balance is very high and you are looking to get ahead by paying more than the minimum each month, this may be a viable strategy. Remember, this is not a strategy to mask existing credit card debt. Rather, it is an opportunity to pay it down faster than you might have with the existing account. So do some math and estimate where your debt level might be given your ability to pay over the grace period of a 0% interest rate on the balance. Once you have fairly assessed the situation, you are now better prepared to find a new card that can help you now and then hopefully will be beneficial longer term. I find searching the Internet for current offers on balance transfer accounts the most efficient way to take next steps. Offers and features can change frequently throughout the year. So be patient and thorough as you review offers. There are a lot of paid Internet sites out there that may not necessarily have the most competitive deals.

Why do you generally need good or excellent credit to get a 0% balance transfer credit card?

Banks seek customers by offering 0% APRs on balance transfers for 12-24 months because they want to gain market share and keep good customers. With 15-26% APRs on balances after the transfer grace period, these new customers can be very profitable for the bank longer-term. This is why it often limits transfers by requiring customers to be in “good to excellent” credit standing. These customers are more likely to use the grace period to pay down debt and remain good customers for a very long time. A bank offering cards has a range of deals for customers so it can latter respond to their changing interests and needs. This is all designed to maintain that business relationship. Customers with credit ratings below “good” present a much higher risk and longer-term, may not be able to make the leap to at least “good” credit standing. And so the attractive features offered in a balance transfer account, do not pay off for the lending institution.

What’s the biggest mistake people make with balance transfers?

The biggest mistake people make with balance transfers is not viewing it as a real opportunity to address missteps and manage the use of credit better. It is why I noted earlier that a self-assessment and a plan to reduce the outstanding balance are very important. The term of the 0% APR is limited. So use it as a challenge - seek a card with as long a 0% APR transition as possible and make as big a dent in that balance as you can. Also, seek a card with a 0% balance transfer fee and no annual fee. These dollars can be used to go to debt repayment.

Why aren’t there more 0% balance transfer credit cards with $0 transfer fees?

Yes, unfortunately having both together in a transfer card offering is limited. I think this is just a matter of supply and demand and how aggressive banks want to be in gaining market share. Opportunities for both are out there and could be worth pursuing.