10 Steps to Pay Off Debt with a Zero Balance Transfer Credit Card
Published 5/17/10 (Modified 3/9/11)
A balance transfer credit card can be a useful resource for a credit card debt elimination plan. It allows you to consolidate debt into a single account and may lower your overall interest rate, helping to reduce your monthly payments and pay off your debt more quickly.
Of course, opening a balance transfer credit card on its own won't make your debt evaporate overnight and shouldn't be an excuse to spend more--but if you understand what the balance transfer credit card is for and stay disciplined in your debt payments, it can be a very useful tool.
Ten Steps to Debt Reduction Using Zero Balance Transfer Credit Cards
- Make a list of all of your debts--and add them up. This gives you a clear idea of how much you owe, how much the interest rate is on each debt, and what you are currently paying in monthly interest and minimum payments. Awareness is the first step toward being debt-free.
- Review the terms of your current debt. If you currently pay little or no interest on at least some of your debt, you may not even need to transfer that part. However, if your existing low interest rate is for an introductory period that is ending soon, you may want to consolidate that debt with the rest.
- Find a low interest credit card that can be used to transfer balances. If you don't already have one that will work, apply for a new balance transfer card. If possible, select one with at least a 6- to 12-month introductory period, during which the card issuer charges reduced or even zero interest. Apply for a credit limit sufficient for all the debt you want to consolidate at this time.
- Learn the fees associated with any balance transfer. There are two typical balance transfer fees: an upfront fee at the time of transfer, plus an interest rate to be charged monthly until the balance is paid off. Try to obtain a zero balance transfer credit card, if possible, which may charge only one type of fee during your introductory period--or possibly no fee during the intro period.
- Read the fine print about your balance transfer terms. Many low interest transfer credit cards will charge you a higher-than-promoted rate if you make any late payments or otherwise violate their terms, especially during the introductory period. This can potentially cost you even more than before you transferred your debt--so be forewarned, plan ahead, and figure out a way to commit to paying on time.
- Transfer your target debt to the low interest credit card, then review and update your list of debts. Create an overall debt repayment plan based on your budget and income, and commit to pay it all off within your chosen timeframe. Avoid adding new debt and making unbudgeted purchases--and use any unexpected income (a raise, overtime, a side gig) to pay it down even faster.
- Pay more than the minimum required total payment. As long as you can pay more than just interest on all your debt, you can pay down your debt and eliminate it over time. But it will take more than just the minimum payment to pay off credit card debt within a reasonable timeframe. The Federal Trade Commission's credit card calculator shows you just how much time you can save by paying down more.
- Pay down any remaining higher interest debt first. If you were unable to consolidate all debt on your low interest credit card, pay only the minimum monthly amount on your lower interest rate debt, and then put the difference from your planned monthly debt payoff amount toward paying off your highest interest debt faster.
- Don't assume you can transfer debt balances indefinitely. When the interest rate on your consolidated debt goes up after the introductory period, you may consider a second balance transfer. While this strategy has worked for some, this usually means you'll need to obtain a new zero balance transfer credit card. Be aware that too many new accounts can negatively affect your credit score, and that credit card companies may simply stop approving you for the new offers. Ideally, you should just select a decent zero balance transfer credit card with a low ongoing interest rate to begin with to avoid getting caught again in the cycle of perpetual new accounts and transfers.
- Do something nice to reward yourself. Eliminating the burden of debt is a reward in itself--but don't forget to find little ways to reward yourself inexpensively along the way. This will help you stay motivated and continue to enjoy life as you should. Once you pay off your debt, do something nice for yourself and your family--and pay cash! It took a lot of effort, but you've made it.
Debt Payoff: Keep Your Eyes on the Goal
The purpose of consolidating debt is to make it easier and faster to pay it off--instead of putting it off until it becomes overwhelming. Make paying off your credit card debt the number one priority in your financial life, after meeting your family's basic needs and commitments. You'll be relieved to finally live a life without overwhelming debt obligations.