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What is a balance transfer and can you make one work for you?

Credit card balance transfers can help you reduce the interest you pay and consolidate your debts. Find out about balance transfer credit cards and what to consider when transferring debt from one card to another.

Compare interest rates on cards

You can use balance transfers to get a lower interest rate on a different card. For example, you might have built up a debt on your current card and be paying 18% interest or an even higher rate in the case of store cards. Balance transfer cards are often offered with 0% interest for a fixed period of time. So, you could reduce the amount of interest you pay or make it easier to manage your debts by bringing them together.

Check the fees for balance transfers

Often, there's a one-off handling fee when you make a balance transfer. It's usually a percentage of the amount you're transferring - typically around 3-6%. You'll generally be charged up front and the amount added to the balance. Some providers also charge an annual fee. You need to take account of all fees when you work out potential savings.

Compare interest-free periods

Balance transfer cards have become more competitive - particularly on how long the low interest rate lasts. The length of the offer is set out in months, for example 0% for 32 months. To maximise your potential savings, you should be able to pay off your debt within the free or low interest period. Once this has ended, your interest rate will go up.

How do repayments work on balance transfer cards?

As with normal credit cards, you need to pay at least the minimum repayment every month and on time. If you don't keep up payments, you could find that the interest offer is withdrawn. The best way to do this is by Direct Debit so you never miss a payment.

Can I use a balance transfer card for purchases?

Most balance transfer cards charge you their typical interest rate on purchases. This means you won't be using your card in the most cost-effective way. Some cards offer 0% on balances and purchases, but the interest-free period is usually much shorter than the best deals for either spending or transfers.

What else do I need to know about balance transfers?

Your credit limit on your new card will depend on your credit score and this may affect how many transfers you can bring together on one card. Also, most banks won't let you switch balances from one card to another in the same banking group. Applying for too many credit cards or switching too often will show on your credit record and could negatively affect your credit score.

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