How to Play a Balance Transfer Game


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Credit Card Applications » Research » Guides » Balance Transfer Cards » Starting from Zero: A Guide to Zero-Percent Balance Transfers

Starting from Zero: A Guide to Zero-Percent Balance Transfers

Updated: September 30, 2019

The content is accurate at the time of publication and is subject to change.
Just after college, when I was a new user of credit cards and trying to pay off some debt I’d managed to accrue with a student credit card, a friend of mine gave me a piece of advice. “Play the balance-transfer game,” he said, going on to explain how he bounced his balances from card to card, never paying a penny of interest or a fee. It was the first time I’d heard of a zero-interest balance transfer. I had no idea I could have been saving money every month just by transferring my balance to a new card.

That was back before the financial crisis, when zero-percent APRs with no balance transfer fee offers were everywhere you looked, but there are still plenty offers around that can save you a bundle if you’re trying to pay down a balance. has plenty of cards – at least 10 at last count – that offer zero-percent introductory offers on balance transfers. Here is a primer on “playing the balance transfer game” for anyone with a balance weighing them down.
Most credit cards that offer balance transfers will charge a balance transfer fee, even if they offer a zero-percent APR introductory period. The Discover it® Balance Transfer card is not an exception – but it is still one of the most attractive balance transfer cards out there – these days it’s rare to find a no-fee balance transfer offer.

What sort of fee are we talking about? With most cards, the fee is three percent, or a minimum of five dollars. So, to transfer a balance of $5,000, it’ll cost you $150 with the majority of cards.

Is it worth it? Well, if you were paying 12.99 percent interest on that $5,000 balance, it would cost you –$359 to pay it off over twelve months, so if the balance transfer offer gives you twelve months of zero interest, it’s well worth paying that $150 balance transfer fee.
When considering transferring a balance, don’t be seduced solely by a zero-interest offer if the ongoing APR is much higher than your current APR. You need to think about how long it’s going to take you to pay off your entire balance – if it’s a large balance that may take more than a year or two to pay down, you need to look at what the card’s ongoing APR will be after the introductory period expires.

For example, if you’ve got a card with a fairly low interest rate, like a 9% APR, and you’re working on paying off a balance that’s going to take several years to finish, it may not be a good idea to transfer the balance to a card that will charge a 22 percent APR after that first interest-free introductory year.

The loophole in that guideline is that if you plan to transfer your balance again once the introductory period is over, you may be able to score another year at zero percent interest – and that’s the balance-transfer game!

Just be careful to keep your credit score high by always paying your bill on time, not exceeding your credit limit, and otherwise keeping all the terms and conditions of your card agreement. If your credit history is excellent, then you’ll probably have good luck playing balance-transfer-bingo.
Remember doing story-problems back in fourth grade math class? All my friends used to groan when our teacher gave us one, but I always liked them. A story problem lets you see math in action so you can really understand how numbers play out in real life. So let’s do one!

Rachel has two credit cards with balances she’s trying to pay off. One of the cards has a balance of $3,500 and a fixed, ongoing APR of 12.99 percent. The other card has a balance of $800 and an ongoing APR of 19.99 percent. Rachel has good (but not excellent) credit and is not making new charges on either of these cards.

Over one year, how much can she save by transferring both balances to the Discover card, which offers a zero-percent interest period of 18 months, as well as a cash back bonus incentive offer?

The Discover it® Balance Transfer is great card, offering a cash back bonus program as well as 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months and on balance transfers for 18 months. The balance transfer fee is 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*. (These terms are fairly typical of most offers.) The ongoing APR for purchases and balance transfers after the introductory period expires is 13.49% - 24.49% Variable depending on creditworthiness.

This card also has a great cash back program, which gives 1% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back in rotating categories (up to the quarterly maximum, 1% after that, each time you activate).

If Rachel qualifies for a Discover account with her good credit history and she transfers both her balances within thirty days, she’ll pay $129 in balance transfer fees. She’ll pay no annual fee for the card so her total cost is $129.

If Rachel hadn’t transferred her balances, and tried to pay-off the balance, she’d have paid $371 on the $3,500 balance and $133 on the $800 balance over the course of the year.

Considering a balance transfer fee of $129, Rachel saved $375 by transferring her balances to the Discover it® Balance Transfer credit card.

Kind of makes you want to know how much you could save by transferring your balances, doesn’t it?
Here are a few of’s favorite cards offering zero percent balance transfer introductory periods. Look through and see if one of them looks like the right card for you. When evaluating any credit card offer, think about your credit history, the amount of the balance you want to transfer, and the way you use your credit cards. Always take some time to look over the terms and conditions of the cards you’re considering so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. Having a good credit score will always let you qualify for lower-interest, higher-reward cards, so use credit responsibly to keep your score as high as possible.
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Choose the best credit card from our partners for people with Excellent credit
history that will help you save money on Balance Transfers.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

0% Intro APR Period on Balance Transfers: 18 months

Ongoing APR on Balance Transfers: 13.49% - 24.49% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee: 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

Annual Fee: $0

0% Intro APR on
Balance Transfers:YES

Citi Rewards+ Card

0% Intro APR Period on Balance Transfers: 15 months

Ongoing APR on Balance Transfers: 14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)

Balance Transfer Fee: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Annual Fee: $0

0% Intro APR on
Balance Transfers:YES

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

0% Intro APR Period on Balance Transfers: 21 months

Ongoing APR on Balance Transfers: 16.24% - 26.24% (Variable)

Balance Transfer Fee: 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Annual Fee: $0

0% Intro APR on
Balance Transfers:YES

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

0% Intro APR Period on Balance Transfers: 18 months on Balance Transfers

Ongoing APR on Balance Transfers: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)

Balance Transfer Fee: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

Annual Fee: $0

0% Intro APR on
Balance Transfers:YES
Everyone Wins!
By now you should have a pretty good idea of how “the balance transfer game” works and understand the basic rules of play. When you’re carrying a balance, the options for paying it off at a zero percent rate are almost endless, depending on your credit score and how much the balance is. Regardless, there are so many choices that almost everyone will be able to find some solution to their stubborn balances. Don’t pay a high APR if you don’t have to – if you have questions, consult our expert team at
Good luck – and may the best cardholder win. (That’s YOU!)

Disclaimer: This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer(s). Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer(s), and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer(s). Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate information, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult a card's issuing bank for the terms & conditions.
All rates and fees, and other terms and conditions of the products mentioned in this article/post are actual as of the last update date but are subject to change. See the current products' Terms & Conditions on the issuing banks' websites.
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