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Balance Transfers

Recently banks and credit card companies have been ramping up their marketing efforts to obtain new credit card customers or extend unbelievable offers to existing cardholders. As the economy continues to improve creditors have loosened their grip a bit on lending standards. Every week people are starting to receive multiple credit card offers in the mail. The most prominent marketing campaign is the low rate or zero interest balance transfer. On the surface this looks like a great deal. Who wouldn’t transfer their $10,000 of credit card debt from 18% to 0%? These offers are often riddled with traps most consumers don’t see. Some of the common traps are:

  1. The low rate or zero percent rate is for a limited time (6 months, 12 months, etc.). Deferred interest begins to accrue on day 1, usually at the cash advance rate, which is higher than the purchase rate.
  2. While the transferred balance may be at a low or zero rate for a period of time, new purchases or cash advances you make are subject the interest charges if not paid in full the next billing cycle.
  3. Almost in every case there is a transaction fee of 1% – 5% of the debt transferred over. So if you transferred $10,000 of credit card debt based on this special offer and the credit card company charges a 2% transaction fee that is $200.00. If it takes you twelve months to payoff the debt at zero interest, you actually paid 2% because of the transaction fee. What if the zero rate is for 6 months? Then on an annual basis you paid 4% just in the transaction fee. While these can still be great deals just know its not free.

As the old adage goes, nothing is free. So the next time you receive an attractive balance transfer offer, take the time to read the fine print, because that is where you pay the price.

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