For years, credit card companies battled for your business by letting you surf your balance at a low introductory rate. While some cards carry fees, other balance transfer deals can qualify you for extra perks and rewards.
Looking at the real cost of say, a zero percent balance transfer can save you hundreds of dollars, especially if you think you'll need longer than the introductory offer period to pay off your new account. Our credit card tables include some of the industry's most attractive balance transfer offers.

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Comparing balance transfer offers

It's easy to assume that the best balance transfer credit cards carry the longest promotional periods. That's the length of time you'll have before your card triggers its "go-to rate." Though a handful of ultra-premium accounts quietly invite new cardholders to enjoy low fixed rates, most balance transfer credit cards bounce to a variable APR that's tied to the nation's prime lending rate.

Check out the fine print on credit card offers to learn whether your go-to rate will include finance charges on the full amount of your balance transfer, or just the amount that remains after you make regular payments during the teaser period. It's a policy common among retail credit cards, and it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars if you miss a payment or fail to clear your balance before your teaser rate expires.

Finding the lowest balance transfer fee

Not all balance transfer offers are alike. Most carry a balance transfer fee ranging from 3 to 5 percent that you'll have to add to your opening statement cycle. If you've got excellent credit, or if you respond to an offer to keep your credit card and checking account at the same bank, you may earn a free pass to transfer a balance at no charge. Major lenders haven't been shy about using low introductory APR balance transfer offers to poach each other's best customers, even during tight economic times.

In many cases, a lower balance transfer fee signals a higher go-to rate or a split between your teaser rate for transfers and purchases. For example, if you find a zero percent balance transfer credit card with a 3 percent fee, you may end up paying a double-digit interest rate on new purchases. Even though you're saving money whenever you're surfing a balance from a card with an APR higher than your transfer fee, other account terms may force you to use your new credit card differently than the others in your wallet.

Choosing your debt reduction strategy

Balance transfer credit cards work best when you use them as part of a thoughtful strategy to get out of debt. The popular "debt snowball" method focuses on the quick wins of knocking out small balances first. Some balance transfer credit cards waive finance charges on any consolidation moves you make within a short period of time, usually four to six weeks. That will let you roll up many smaller bills into a single monthly payment, so you can sharpen your focus and cancel your zero balance accounts.

Another popular debt reduction strategy involves reducing the interest rates on your biggest bills. A handful of balance transfer offers let you surf a single, very large balance for a longer period of time. Check your prospective lender's terms and conditions to learn whether their offer makes sense for your budget, especially if future balance transfers count the same as higher-cost cash advances.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company.