Balance transfer credit cards

Roll your credit card debt into one payment with a balance transfer.

By   |   Verified by Yvonne Taylor   |   Updated 21st October 2020

Comparing balance transfer credit cards

Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Highlights

  • 1.95% p.a. for 6 months on balance transfers (3% balance transfer fee applies). Reverts to cash advance rate of 19.95% p.a.
  • Earn 2% Money-Back Rewards on your everyday purchases in two 2% Money-Back Categories of your choice, and 0.50% Money-Back Rewards on all your other everyday purchases.
  • Get your Rewards deposited into your Tangerine Savings Account and get a 3rd 2% Money-Back Category.
  • No limit on the amount of Money-Back Rewards you can earn on your everyday purchases. Conditions apply.
Tangerine World Mastercard

Tangerine World Mastercard

Highlights

  • 1.95% p.a. for 6 months on balance transfers (3% balance transfer fee applies). Reverts to cash advance rate of 19.95% p.a.
  • 2% Money-Back Rewards on purchases in two categories of your choice or deposit your Rewards into a Tangerine Savings Account and get a third 2% Money-Back Category.
  • No limit on the amount of Money-Back Rewards you can earn on your everyday purchases. Conditions apply.

Overview

If you have credit card balances that can't get paid down because of the high interest rate, balance transfer credit cards may offer the best opportunity to get out from under debt. Through their low promotional APRs, balance transfer cards could provide Canadians an opportunity to quickly pay down a card balance and get their credit back in order.

Although you can technically move balances between most credit cards, balance transfer promotion cards usually offer promotional interest rates which are significantly lower than traditional credit cards. With introductory periods between six and 24 months, you can take advantage of lower interest percentages and reduce your overall debt.

However, balance transfer credit cards aren't the best option for everyone. Like all credit cards, applying for and using these special credit cards requires discipline and smart money management. Here's everything you need to know before applying, and moving your first balance from an old credit card to your new credit card.

Why you should consider a balance transfer credit card

Balance transfer credit cards are among the best options for those who are struggling to pay down their debt. These lines of credit will offer a lower interest rate when you move your balance from one credit card to another, sometimes even a rate of 0%. If your interest rate is 18% or more, it may be beneficial to consider rolling over the account to a lower-interest card.

Consolidate debt onto one card

One of the biggest advantages of a credit card for balance transfers is being able to repay multiple debts with one card. Depending on how many cards you have and your overall credit card limits, moving the balances from multiple lines to one card can help you reduce your debt load, even if it has an annual fee.

Roll over personal loans at a lower APR

Some balance transfer credit cards offer the opportunity to roll over high-interest personal loans into a lower APR on their card. Before applying for any card, be sure to understand which balances are allowed for transfer, and which ones are excluded.

Watch out for high balance transfer fees

Although balance transfer credit cards offer a lower interest rate, they can also come with high balance transfer fees or an annual fee, which are ultimately added to the amount you owe. For example, if you owe $5,000 and your card has a 2% balance transfer fee, you will pay $100 in fees. If your promotional offer card has a balance transfer fee above 3%, you may want to do the math to determine if you will be saving money.

Check for minimum monthly repayments

Like all credit cards, you will have to make monthly minimum payments until the balance is paid off completely. With a low balance transfer rate, a credit card with a promotional offer gives you the option to pay more to reduce your debt faster. If you can't afford more than the minimum payment, you may want to carefully consider if a balance transfer card is right for you, because when the promotional period ends, the rate will revert to the card's standard interest rate – which could be very high.

Understand the interest rate after the promotional period ends

With most cards, the balance transfer rate is only for a limited period of time — from six months up to as long as two years. If you cannot pay off the balance before the promotional period expires, the remaining debt will revert to the card's normal interest rate, which can range from 12.99% to 22.99% and beyond. To get the most out of your balance transfer, be sure to pay off the debt before the promotional period ends.

Alternatives to balance transfer credit cards

If a balance transfer credit card isn't right for your financial situation, there are plenty of options available to Canadians, to help them get on a better footing:

  • Personal loan for debt consolidation. Moving balances to a credit card will reduce your rate for a period of time between six and 24 months. But with most debt consolidation personal loans, your interest rate is locked in for the life of the loan, with a set monthly payment over a period of time ranging from three months to five years. With a debt consolidation personal loan you will also make regular equal payments over the life of the loan, rather than having the credit card option of making small, minimum repayments and even extending the payment term to go beyond the time limit of the promotional offer. Debt consolidation personal loans may also come with up-front costs, including lender fees, closing costs and early repayment fees.
  • Refinance your home mortgage. If you have equity in your home (i.e. its market value is significantly higher than the loan secured against it) you could refinance your home for a higher loan amount and use the surplus cash you generate to repay your short-term debts. But you need to realise that you are converting short-term debt into long-term debt. So even though the interest rate on the mortgage will be lower than a credit card or personal loan interest rate, you could end up paying more in interest in total. You could also face early exit fees when paying off your existing mortgage, as well as fees to establish the new mortgage.
  • Apply for a home equity line of credit. This is another way to convert your home equity into cash, but without refinancing your mortgage. It's effectively a revolving line of credit with your existing home lender, giving you access to an amount of cash limited by the equity you have in your home. Once again you'll pay a lower interest rate on your withdrawals than you would with a credit card or personal loan, but you are eroding your home equity.

Learn about balance transfer credit cards

What is a credit card balance transfer and are they worth it? Find out here.

  • Pros & cons

  • Tips

  • FAQs

Balance transfer fees could erase savings

If the balance transfer fee and annual fee are high on your card of choice, they could seriously reduce any savings you receive by adding to the amount you owe on the card. Before you apply, be sure to do the math to calculate the net amount you could save with a balance transfer credit card after paying the transfer fee and the promotional interest rate.

Combine your debts

A credit card offering balance transfers can help you consolidate all your debts into one monthly payment. Instead of paying many different cards at differing rates, they can all be paid at one low balance transfer rate, helping you save money with a lower APR.

Earn interest by deferring payments

By making smaller payments and saving money on credit card APR, you could earn money by putting more money into a high-interest savings account. Not only will you be building a nest egg for a big purchase or emergencies, you will also get rewarded for saving at the same time.

Making only minimum monthly payments could result in high interest charges later

Although your monthly minimum payments may be lower under a balance transfer rate, only paying the minimum balance can hurt you once the promotional APR is over. Before you move a balance, be sure you can pay it off during the promotional period.

Moving balances could result in more debt

Once you have moved one or more credit card balances onto a balance transfer credit card, you could feel like you have a clean slate to start spending again. Unless you have the discipline to not spend with your other credit cards (or with your new card), it may be wise to avoid a balance transfers credit card.

Save money with lower interest rates

If you are paying high APRs on other Canadian credit products, a credit card for balance transfer can help you reduce your monthly payments and pay down debt faster. The balance transfer rate can help you catch up on old bills, while giving you more financial resources every month.

Be disciplined about old credit cards

While it's okay to keep old credit cards open, adding more debt on top of your transferred balance can add even more trouble to your personal finances. If you can't be smart about your spending, it might be time to close those old cards.

Consider cards with a low or $0 annual fees

Some balance transfer options come with an annual fee for opening and holding their card — especially if they offer reward points, cash back or frequent flyer miles. Unless you are getting a value equivalent to or greater than the annual fee, look for a card with either zero or low yearly fees.

Get a card offering low APR on both balance transfers and purchases

Some Canadian balance transfer credit cards come with not only a promotional rate for balance transfers but also ongoing interest rates as low as 12.99% on new purchases. Shopping around for a low APR can give you the best of both worlds and help you save on everyday spending.

Understand the promotional period end date and terms

Every balance transfer credit card comes with its own promotional period terms and conditions. Before applying, check for more information on the promotional period, and when it will end. This gives you a timetable by which you must pay off the transferred balance.

Use the promotional period to quickly pay off debt

Balance transfer offers are intended to help you pay down debts quickly. By paying off the balance over the promotional period, you can quickly erase debt and build your credit score.

Can I earn rewards points on balance transfers?

Rewards cards come with an annual fee and let you earn bonus points with every purchase. However, most cards won't let you earn rewards points on balance transfers.

Can I make multiple balance transfers to the same card?

Yes. You can transfer multiple debts to the same card, as long as they are all under the total credit limit of the card.

Can I transfer a balance from a foreign card to a Canadian credit card?

Although you can use your card for purchases in most foreign countries, you cannot transfer a balance from a foreign credit card to a Canadian credit card.

Can I transfer debt from retail store credit cards?

Some cards will let you transfer the balance from a retail store credit card to their products. Before you apply, be sure to understand what balance transfers your cards will allow.

Does a balance transfer affect my credit score?

Opening a new account and initiating a balance transfer can affect your credit score. While opening a new account could cause your score to go down a few points – because the card issuer will make a 'hard enquiry' about your credit history – successfully opening a new account and making on-time payments could raise your score.

How are repayments allocated to my balance transfer card?

Your credit card issuer can choose whether to allocate your payments in one of two ways:

  1. Apply the minimum payment amount to the lowest interest rate portion first (usually new purchases made during the current month), and then allocate any additional payment in the same proportion as the contents of your balance (e.g. 10% to cash advances, $25% to new purchases, 65% to balance transfers)
  2. Apply the minimum payment amount to the lowest interest rate portion first, and then allocate any additional payment amount to the remaining debt, starting with the portion accruing interest at the highest rate and working down to the lowest interest rate portion.

Read your card's small print carefully to find out how balances are allocated.

How do banks evaluate my balance transfer credit card application?

Banks and lenders will look at your credit history and credit score from Equifax Canada and/or TransUnion Canada to determine your creditworthiness. Factors involved include your total debt, the number of open accounts, and your overall payment history.

How does my card's credit limit affect balance transfers?

The credit limit represents the maximum amount of debt you can hold on your balance transfer card. In order to make a successful transfer, your balance must be below the promotional rate card's total credit limit, including any transfer fees and the annual fee.

How long do balance transfers take?

Balance transfers typically take three to five days to resolve. However, depending on the bank and their procedures, it can sometimes take up to 14 days for the transaction to be completed.

How much money can I save?

Your average savings amount is based on several factors, including your old interest rate, new interest rate, any balance transfer fee, and any annual fees you may be paying on your credit cards. For example: If your balance on Card A is $5,000 at an APR of 20.99% and you made a $500 payment every month, it would take you a year to pay off the balance, and you would be charged $544.35 in interest. If you roll it over to Card B with a promotional interest rate of 2.99% and make the same $500 payment, you would pay the balance off in 11 months and only pay $69.73 in interest — a saving of $474.66. If you had to pay a 2% balance transfer fee, the amount you save would be reduced by $100.

How much should I pay on my balance transfer credit card every month?

Provided you make at least the stipulated minimum monthly payment, it's up to you, but you should aim to pay off the balance before the end of the promotional period to avoid paying the card's standard interest rate on the remaining debt.

How quickly do I need to transfer the balances?

Every credit card gives you a different window during which transfers must be complete. While some require you to apply to transfer a balance immediately you open a credit card account, others will give you a short while to decide whether or not to transfer balances.

If I change credit cards, will I need to change automatic bill pay?

If you intend to keep those cards open, you will not need to change any automatic bill payments. If you decide to close them, then you will need to make changes.

Is it worth paying a balance transfer fee?

When you transfer a balance from one card to another, you will be forced to pay any fees associated with the transaction. The fees are usually no more than 3% and are added to your balance, similar to an annual fee. The amount of the transfer fee will reduce the total amount you can save, but unless you are transferring a very small amount and the promotional interest rate is still fairly high, it's still worth paying a fee.

For example, if you are transferring a debt of $2,000 to a card with a promotional interest rate of 2.99% APR for nine months and make only 3% minimum monthly repayments, you will pay $40.21 in interest during the nine months. If there's a 2% balance transfer fee to pay you'll be adding a further $40 to your cost. But if the card you were transferring from had an interest rate of 19.99% APR, you'd still be saving $203.56 after paying the transfer fee plus interest at the promotional rate.

Should I transfer balances to a card with an annual fee?

Cards with an annual fee can include promotional offers to encourage balance transfers. However, you should only get a card with an annual fee if you get more value from the card every year than the cost of the fee.

What are balance transfer credit cards?

A balance transfer credit card is designed for users to roll over their debts from other cards to the new card. These products come with a promotional period with a lower interest rate – sometimes a 0% interest rate – giving users the opportunity to pay off their debts faster. Balance transfer cards often come with an annual fee, so it's important to read the fine print.

What are balance transfer fees?

Balance transfer fees are charged by the bank for assuming the debt from an external card to their credit card. These fees are usually between 1% and 3% of the amount transferred.

What is the interest rate after the promotional period ends?

After your promotional period ends, your interest rate will be the current rate on your new credit card. If your promotional rate is 3.9%, and your regular interest rate is 12%, any unpaid debt after the promotional rate ends will be charged 12% APR.

What should I do with my old credit cards?

If you still get value from your cards beyond the annual fee, it may be prudent to keep them open to still earn rewards, or as a backup plan. But if you are worried that you will only run up debt, you should close the old cards.

Will I pay additional fees if I pay off the card before the promotional period ends?

You will not pay any additional fees if you pay off your debt before the promotional period ends, but you will be responsible for repaying any new purchases you have made with the card.