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With unemployment continuing to claim millions of jobs every month, some people are finding themselves falling behind on their credit card payments. If you fall into this category, one option that may help you get a handle on your debt is to get a balance transfer credit card.
Balance transfer credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR on existing debt that you transfer over from another credit card. This introductory rate then applies to the transferred debt for an extended period of time, which can range from 14 to as many as 20 months from when you first open the card.
Some balance transfer credit cards also offer great rewards on your everyday purchases as an added bonus, and a few even have useful perks such as cell phone protection. So check out our list of the best balance transfer credit cards to decide which one will best fit your needs.
The best balance transfer credit cards of September 2020
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
Citi Rewards+℠ Card: Best for small purchases
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for long balance transfers
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best for cell phone protection
Discover it® Cash Back: Best for rotating categories
Wells Fargo Platinum® Card: Best for travel protections
The information for the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, Discover it Cash Back and Wells Fargo Platinum cards has been collected independently by CNN Underscored. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuers.
Why did we select these cards as our best balance transfer credit cards for September? CNN Underscored’s comprehensive credit card methodology compares every aspect of each balance transfer credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially bring you maximum value. So dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.
Citi Double Cash Card
Best for flat-rate cash back
Why it’s great in one sentence: The Citi Double Cash card is extremely simple, since you earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your statement — all for no annual fee.
This card is right for: People who want a balance transfer option along with earning easy-to-use cash back, without having to worry about category bonuses or travel rewards programs.
- 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (13.99%-23.99% variable afterward).
- Earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off — with no limit.
- Cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points at a ratio of 1 cent per point when combined with the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier℠ Card.
- No annual fee.
Welcome bonus: None.
What we like about the Citi Double Cash Card: The Citi Double Cash is easy. You don’t need to keep track of category bonuses and determine which credit card to use at which merchant. Instead, you get the same 2% cash back — 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off — on all purchases, regardless of the type of purchase.
The Citi Double Cash also offers a relatively long 18-month introductory 0% interest rate period for balance transfers (13.99%-23.99% variable afterward) — a great way to pay off your debt. And you have up to four months after you open the account to make your first balance transfer and still have it qualify for the introductory offer.
But this is also a great card to pair with one of the premium Citi ThankYou credit cards, such as the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige Card. That’s because if you also have a premium ThankYou card, you can actually convert your cash back from the Citi Double Cash to Citi ThankYou points, and then transfer those points to one of Citi’s airline partners, or redeem them for airfare at 1.25 cents per point when going through the Citi travel portal with the Citi Premier (though this rate will drop to 1 cent per point after April 21, 2021).
What could be better: The Citi Double Cash doesn’t come with too many perks, such as travel or purchase protections. You’re also charged a 3% fee for balance transfers with a $5 minimum — although that’s similar to many other cards.
This is also not the card to use for international purchases, as you’ll be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee when you’re overseas, which more than offsets the rewards you’d earn.
Why it’s our “benchmark” credit card: The ease of use and straightforward top-of-market cash-back earning rate of the Citi Double Cash are why CNN Underscored currently considers the Double Cash as our “benchmark” credit card. We use it as our benchmark card to compare the features of other credit cards and determine if they’re better or worse overall.
Learn more about the Citi Double Cash Card.
Citi Rewards+ Card
Best for small purchases
Why it’s great in one sentence: If you use your credit card for a lot of small purchases — meaning under $10 — then the “round-up” feature of the Citi Rewards+ will earn you extra rewards, and its introductory balance transfer offer can lower the interest on your existing debt at the same time.
This card is right for: People looking to earn more points for small purchases, while also needing to consolidate credit card debt.
- 0% interest for 15 months on balance transfers (13.49% to 23.49% variable afterward).
- 0% interest on all purchases for the first 15 months (13.49% to 23.49% variable afterward).
- Earn 2 ThankYou points for every dollar you spend at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year (1x ThankYou point thereafter).
- Earn 1 ThankYou point for every dollar on all other purchases.
- All purchases automatically round up to the nearest 10 points.
- 10% points back for the first 100,000 points you redeem per year.
- Points can be transferred to airline and hotel partners when combined with the Citi Prestige or Citi Premier card.
- No annual fee.
Welcome bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first three months.
What we like about the Citi Rewards+: There are three features of the Citi Rewards+ that make it worthy of consideration. First, the rewards you earn for every purchase made on the card round up to the nearest 10 points. That won’t make a huge difference on expensive items, but a $2 pack of gum earns 10 points instead of 2 points, a 400% improvement. Lots of these little transactions can add up quickly.
Second, when you redeem points, you’ll get 10% of your points back on up to 100,000 points every year. That means if you use 2,500 points to redeem for a $25 gift card, you’ll soon see 250 points back in your account to redeem again down the line. Since you can get up to 10,000 points back each year, that’s effectively up to an extra $100 in points to spend on gift cards.
The Citi Rewards+ also offers one of the best sign-up bonus offers of any card on our list, and the 15,000 bonus points you’ll earn upon meeting the minimum spend requirement can go toward gift cards that you can use at retailers, or even redeemed for straight cash back.
Although the Citi Rewards+ earns points that can be redeemed for gift cards, cash back or through Citi’s Shop with Points program, if you also have a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige Card, you can move your points to your other card and open up a whole new world of options, including redeeming points for travel down the line or transferring them to Citi’s airline partners.
What could be better: The Citi Rewards+ only has a 15-month introductory interest rate on balance transfers, which is on the lower end of cards on our list. But the tradeoff is that you’re earning rewards on your purchases with this card, which isn’t necessarily the case with many balance transfer cards.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that the balance transfer offer comes with a fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. That’s pretty standard when it comes to balance transfers.
Also, if you’re not pairing the card with one of the premium Citi ThankYou cards, the most value you can get for your points is 1 cent apiece when redeeming for gift cards. If you redeem points for cash back, the value is only 0.5 cents per point, in which case you’d be better off with the flat-rate cash back of our benchmark Citi Double Cash card.
Where it beats our benchmark card: Valuable sign-up bonus, 10% points back on redemptions up to 100,000 points per year, 15-month introductory offer on purchases.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has a longer introductory interest rate period of 18 months on balance transfers.
Learn more about the Citi Rewards+ Card.
Citi Diamond Preferred
Best for long balance transfers
Why it’s great in one sentence: If your main focus is to lower your interest payments, the Citi Diamond Preferred offers a 0% interest rate for a full 18 months on both purchases and balance transfers completed in the first four months after you open the card (the interest rate rises to a variable 14.74% to 24.74% after the introductory period ends).
This card is right for: People who want an extended timeframe to consolidate their debt, with a full 18 months at the introductory rate as well as a lengthy period to complete any balance transfers and still get the introductory offer.
- 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (14.74% to 24.74% variable afterward).
- 0% interest on all purchases for the first 18 months (14.74% to 24.74% variable afterward).
- No annual fee.
Welcome bonus: None.
What we like about the Citi Diamond Preferred: This is a great card if you need an extended amount of time to get your finances in order. It offers an introductory rate on both balance transfers and your new purchases, which means you may be able to simplify your life by consolidating all your debt onto one credit card over the next four months, and then having a full 18 months to get your debt under control.
You have a four-month period after you first open the Citi Diamond Preferred to make any balance transfers and still have them qualify for the introductory APR offer. Just keep in mind the 18-month clock starts from the date of your first transfer, so if you have more than one transfer, it’s best to get them all done at roughly the same time.
The Citi Diamond Preferred card also comes with a free FICO credit score online and allows you to choose your payment due date, which is extremely helpful for those who pay their credit card bills around their paycheck schedule and need maximum flexibility.
What could be better: Unfortunately, the Citi Diamond Preferred doesn’t offer any rewards. This means you won’t earn any points and miles for travel, or cash back on purchases. This is a missed opportunity, as there are many credit cards that will earn you cash back on the money you spend, which you can then easily apply toward your credit card balance.
You’ll also pay a 3% fee (with a $5 minimum) on any balance transfers made to the Citi Diamond Preferred. Again, that’s roughly average for a balance transfer fee.
Where it beats our benchmark card: An introductory interest rate on purchases for 18 months.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash earns easy-to-redeem cash back on all purchases.
Learn more about the Citi Diamond Preferred.
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card
Best for cell phone protection
Why it’s great in one sentence: The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum has a long introductory balance transfer period of 20 months and is one of the few balance transfer cards that comes with cell phone insurance as one of its benefits, making it a great choice for that perk alone.
This card is right for: People looking for cell phone protection along with extra time to pay off their balance transfers.
- 0% interest for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 60 days after you open the card (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
- 0% interest on all purchases for the first 20 billing cycles (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
- Cell phone protection coverage.
- No annual fee.
Welcome bonus: None.
What we like about the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum: One of the best benefits of this card is that it comes with cell phone protection. This means if you use your card to pay your cell phone bill, you’ll be protected against damage or theft to your phone. With this protection, you’ll be covered up to $600 per claim with a $25 deductible, up to two claims per 12 month period.
This card also offers a 0% interest rate for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers, which is one of the longest introductory offers currently available (though the rate jumps to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% when the introductory offer ends). Still, that’ll give you extra time to pay down your debt without incurring interest, saving you money, especially since the card also has no annual fee.
Even better, the introductory interest rate also extends to purchases made on the card in the first 20 billing cycles, which could be useful if you’re planning a large purchase that you’d like to finance.
What could be better: There’s no welcome offer or rewards program attached to the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, which means you won’t earn anything by using it as a regular credit card. As a result, your primary uses for this card should be the introductory balance transfer and purchase offers, and the cell phone protection.
Also, you only have 60 days from account opening to transfer balances from other cards to receive the introductory interest rate. This is shorter than some other cards, though not ridiculously short.
Speaking of fees, you’ll pay a 3% fee (with a $5 minimum) on any balance transfers made to the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum. That’s typical when it comes to balance transfer offers.
Where it beats our benchmark card: An introductory interest rate on purchases, a longer period of 20 billing cycles for introductory balance transfers, cell phone protection.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash earns easy-to-redeem cash back on all purchases and has a longer 4-month period to complete any introductory balance transfers.
Discover it Cash Back
Best for rotating categories
Why it’s great in one sentence: Along with having access to a decent balance transfer offer, the rotating categories and cash back match sign-up bonus on the Discover it Cash Back card mean you can earn as much as 10% cash back on some purchases in the first year you have the card.
This card is right for: People who don’t mind tracking the rotating bonus categories, and who also spend enough on their credit card to make the cash back match in the first year worth it.
- 0% interest on balance transfers for 14 months from date of first transfer posted to your account by December 10, 2020 (11.99% to 22.99% variable afterward).
- 0% interest on all purchases for the first 14 months (11.99% to 22.99% variable afterward).
- 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories up to $1,500 each quarter (must enroll each quarter to earn 5% cash back).
- No foreign transaction fees.
- No annual fee.
Welcome bonus: Receive a match of all cash back earned at the end of your first year.
What we like about the Discover it Cash Back: Earning 5% cash back on a quarterly basis, up to $1,500 per quarter (you must enroll each quarter to earn 5% cash back), is an anomaly in the cash back world, making the Discover it Cash Back a great card to use at particular merchants throughout the year. The 2020 schedule includes these categories:
January through March 2020: Grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS
April through June 2020: Gas stations, Uber, Lyft, Home Depot and Wholesale Clubs
July through September 2020: Restaurants and PayPal
October through December 2020: Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com
On top of that, all the cash back you earn will be matched at the end of the first year for new cardholders, making this an ideal card to have if you know you’ll be spending a lot on your credit card over the next year. This means those rotating bonus categories are worth 10% in the first year, and all your purchases outside of the bonus categories earn a solid 2% return the first year.
In addition to a great rewards cash back rewards program, new cardholders also have a 14-month introductory balance transfer period. This gives you flexibility and time to pay off your debt while still earning significant cash back on your purchases.
What could be better: The rotating cash back categories on the Discover it Cash Back are lucrative, but you’ll need to pay attention to when they change each quarter to maximize them. Also, you need to manually activate the categories each quarter online or by phone before you make purchases in order to earn the bonus cash back.
The cash back match bonus doesn’t get paid out until you’ve had the card for over a year, whereas many other credit card bonus offers are paid out within a few months of meeting the minimum spend requirement. With that said, there’s no minimum spend to receive the bonus, and there’s also no annual fee to pay, meaning you’ll get the cash back match just by keeping the card open for at least a year.
Where it beats our benchmark card: No foreign transaction fees, the cash back match in the first year equals the earning rate of the Citi Double Cash for everyday purchases and beats it in the bonus categories.
Where our benchmark card is better: After the first year when the cash back match bonus ends, the Citi Double Cash earns a higher return on everyday purchases.
Wells Fargo Platinum Card
Best for travel protections
Why it’s great in one sentence: The Wells Fargo Platinum Card offers an impressive 18-month introductory interest rate period on purchases and balance transfers, as well as cell phone protection, travel accident insurance and an auto rental collision damage waiver.
This card is right for: People who need a long runway to pay off upcoming purchases or transfers, but also want basic travel protections.
- 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first 120 days after you open the card (16.49% to 24.49% variable afterward).
- 0% interest on all purchases for the first 18 months (16.49% to 24.49% variable afterward).
- Auto rental collision damage waiver.
- Travel accident insurance and emergency assistance services.
- Cell phone protection.
- No annual fee.
Sign-up bonus: None.
What we like most about the Wells Fargo Platinum: If you’re looking for a credit card with basic travel protections that also offers a generous introductory interest rate period on both purchases and balance transfers, the Wells Fargo Platinum card includes the one-two punch you’re seeking.
While 18 months isn’t the longest possible introductory period, it’s at the higher end of the scale, and since it applies to both purchases and balance transfers, you potentially have the option to consolidate all your debt onto this one card if your credit limit is high enough.
You’ll also get some standard travel protections with the Wells Fargo Platinum, including auto rental collision coverage, travel accident insurance and roadside dispatch. Plus, if you pay your cell phone bill with this card, your phone will be protected if it’s damaged or stolen, up to $600, with a $25 deductible, for up to two claims per 12-month period.
What could be better: Beyond its introductory usefulness, there’s not much reason to keep using the Wells Fargo Platinum card for anything beyond your cell phone bill or travel charges, as other credit cards offer either cash back or travel rewards on most if not all of your purchases.
You’ll also pay a 3% fee (with a $5 minimum) for each balance transfer you make in the first 120 days after you open the card. As with other cards on our list, that’s a fairly typical fee, but one you should keep in mind when planning your debt consolidation strategy.
Where it beats our benchmark card: Travel protections, cell phone protection, an introductory interest rate on purchases.
Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash earns easy-to-redeem cash back on all purchases.
Frequently asked questions about balance transfer credit cards
Not everyone is familiar with how and when to use a balance transfer credit card, so we’ve assembled some of the more common questions and answers about the process.
How does a balance transfer credit card work?
When you get approved for a credit card with an introductory balance transfer offer, you’ll have a set time period — usually somewhere between 60 days and four months — to transfer any existing debt from another credit card that you already have. By transferring the balance in the specified time frame, you can take advantage of the lower interest rate provided by the introductory offer, thereby lowering your monthly credit card payment.
What features should you look for in a balance transfer credit card?
The most important feature of a balance transfer credit card is the length of the introductory interest period. The longer it is, the more time you’ll have before the interest rate jumps to a rate that’s more typical for credit cards.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for the fee charged for balance transfers. Balance transfer fees are typically 3% of the balance with a $5 minimum, but some cards can have higher or lower fees.
Other aspects of a balance transfer credit card to look for include whether the card earns rewards of any sort, such as cash back or travel points, whether the card has any extra protections and whether the card also offers an introductory offer for new purchases along with balance transfers.
Should I get a balance transfer credit card?
If you’re paying an exorbitant amount of interest on your credit card debt, or having trouble making your monthly credit card payments, a balance transfer credit card could make sense for you by helping you get your debt under control.
However, you’ll need to have a decent credit score to qualify for a new credit card, and even if you’re approved for a balance transfer credit card, it’s not guaranteed that the credit limit on your new card will be large enough to transfer all your existing debt.
Looking for a new credit card but don’t need a balance transfer? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards of 2020.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.