Transferring credit card balances to a card with a lower annual percentage rate can be a money-saving move if it means paying less interest on the debt.
There's just one thing to watch out for: balance transfer fees.
These fees can add to the total amount you have to repay. Your credit card company may allow you to negotiate a lower fee, but it's not always easy. These tips can help you get the best deal possible when it comes to balance transfer fees.
See related: Best balance transfer credit cards
Calculate potential balance transfer fee savings
Balance transfer fees are just one way that credit card companies make money, so it's not necessarily in their best interest to waive those fees for customers.
“Although cardholders are rarely successful at negotiating a lower balance transfer fee or getting it waived entirely, it is possible and some cardholders have reported success,” says Megan Horner, credit card expert at Finder.com.
Before approaching your credit card company about waiving or reducing the fee, calculate how much you'd pay with the standard fee. For example, on a $5,000 balance, a 3% transfer fee would net the credit card company $150.
Having a specific number in mind can help you decide if trying to negotiate is worth your time. There's a big difference, for instance, between a $25 fee and a $250 fee. Also, be clear on your goals for transferring a balance.
For example, say that Card A offers a 0% APR for nine months with no balance transfer fee. Card B offers a 0% APR for 18 months, with a 3% balance transfer fee.
Card A would make negotiating unnecessary. If you need the longest amount of time possible to pay off a balance transfer, Card B might be the better fit. But with Card B, you're taking a gamble on whether the credit card company will cut you a break on the balance transfer fee.
Choose the right approach for negotiating a balance transfer fee
When you're planning to ask your credit card company to waive or reduce a balance transfer fee, it's all about strategy. That starts with connecting with the right person when making your request.
“When you call, ask to speak with a supervisor since the first agent you speak with probably won't have the authority to negotiate,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful.
Here's where patience can be an asset, since it may take multiple phone calls to move things along. You may also have better luck in getting a balance transfer fee waived or reduced if you can negotiate face to face.
“You might not realize it, but officers at local banks have the authority to waive fees in certain circumstances,” says Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right.
Whether this works for you or not depends on how motivated the bank is to keep you as a customer. For instance, Horner says that if you have a business credit card at a particular bank, they may have a stronger incentive to keep you as a customer and waive fees for a personal balance transfer.
When you call [to discuss a balance transfer fee], ask to speak with a supervisor since the first agent you speak with probably won't have the authority to negotiate.
Make your case for a balance transfer fee reduction
Your credit card company may need some convincing to agree to lower or eliminate balance transfer fees. Be prepared to make a strong argument for why they should play ball.
Your credit history could be a key bargaining chip.
“If you have an excellent credit score you can use it as leverage and point to your history of responsible card use,” says Horner.
If you haven't checked your credit score lately, consider doing that before looking for a balance transfer deal. Keep in mind that a score of 740 or better is generally in the excellent range and should give you the best odds for success when negotiating balance transfer fees.
Once you call the credit card company, get the lay of the land first so you know how to proceed.
“Before asking to speak to a supervisor, ask the agent if they have any current offers which might eliminate the need to negotiate,” says Steiner.
When you're trying to transfer a balance to a card at the bank or credit union where you keep your checking and savings accounts, Allec says to research the competition first.
For example, if you know that a competitor bank or credit union charges a lower fee or no balance transfer fees at all, you could try and use that to persuade your bank to cut you the same deal.
If you have an excellent credit score you can use it as leverage and point to your history of responsible card use.
Weigh your alternatives if negotiations are unsuccessful
If you've reached out to your credit card company or bank and hit a dead end, there are still a few options for saving money on balance transfer fees.
“Likely, your best course of action is to open a balance transfer card with no balance transfer fees,” says Horner.
These cards currently have zero balance transfer fee and 0% APR promotions:
- Chase Slate: Transfer balances with a $0 fee within the first 60 days of account opening.*
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: $0 balance transfer fee for transfers requested within the first 60 days of account opening.*
- SunTrust Prime Rewards Visa: Pay no balance transfer fee for the first 60 days after account opening.
These types of balance transfer promotions are readily available but don't overlook unadvertised offers.
“Some banks will periodically run special deals where they allow low or no balance transfer fees for a 30-day period,” says Allec.
The catch is that these may be unadvertised until right before the promotion begins. Banks may also cap the number of customers who can take advantage of these special offers, so if you come across one, you'll need to move quickly to cash in, says Allec.
See related: 8 steps to reducing credit card debt
Consider alternatives to a balance transfer credit card
A third option is to consider a debt consolidation loan in place of a balance transfer. There are pros and cons to this approach.
On the pro side, there'd be no balance transfer fee to worry about since you're getting a loan to pay off the balances, versus moving them from one card to another. Using a loan to consolidate credit card balances may also be less impactful to your credit score than a balance transfer.
The biggest con, however, is that you're less likely to find a debt consolidation loan with a 0% APR. So, you might be trading no balance transfer fee for a higher interest rate. And you may still pay an origination fee to get the loan.
The last option is to simply do nothing and keep your balance where it is. This might be something to consider if you're working on improving your credit score to qualify for one of the no balance transfer fee cards mentioned above.
If you decide to transfer a balance to a 0% APR card with or without a fee, make sure you have a strategy for paying it off. Most importantly, keep an eye on the calendar so you don't risk triggering interest charges once the promotional period expires.
“The best thing you can do is pay down most or all of it while the introductory rate is still in effect,” says Steiner.
*Information about the Chase Slate and Amex EveryDay Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.