Transferring credit card balances can be a great move financially. It can get you out from under exorbitant interest rates and give you a fresh start on making payments. Some credit cards even have low introductory rates from zero percent to 5 percent that can make paying off your balance easier and faster. That said, transferring credit card balances is a slightly convoluted process that you should be more educated about before proceeding. Here are some tips to help you figure it out.

1. Your debt will get bigger before it gets smaller.

Back in the day, transferring balances used to come at a rate with a maximum fee. That means you’d pay 3 percent or something like that for a certain amount but no more than $50-$75. These days, transfer caps are gone. If your balance is small then this isn’t a big deal but if you have thousands of dollars in credit card debt, the transfer fee can add up quickly. It is unavoidable but make sure you know how much will be added back onto your debt when you transfer the balances.

2. The introductory interest rates can be a trap!

Like we mentioned, some credit cards come with introductory rates between zero percent and 5 percent. These typically last for 6-12 months. If you cannot pay back your balance before the introductory rate, then you should pay attention to what the regular rate will be. These higher rates can range from 12 percent to 18 percent or even higher depending on your credit. Do yourself a favor and sit down with a calculator and make sure you’re actually saving yourself money by switching over!

3. If you don’t pay your dues, they’ll make you pay in other ways.

While we’re on the topic of introductory rates, let’s talk about what happens if you don’t pay your bill. Pretty much all credit cards will cancel your introductory rate and give you the regular rate if you fail to make payments on time. Remember folks, there is no grace period when transferring credit card balances. Do not skip a payment or it can cost you!

4. Don’t neglect your debt while transferring credit card balances.

The process of transferring balances from one credit card company to the next can take some time. Experts say that it can take a month or longer for the process to complete. During this time, you’re still responsible for paying your bill every month. We’ve already discussed what can happen if you don’t make payments on time. Don’t sabotage yourself!

5. The best rates are reserved for those with good credit.

Sadly, those of us with bad credit don’t get the same features with new credit cards that people with good credit will receive. You may see credit cards that brag about having low introductory rates but if your credit is bad then those rates probably aren’t meant for you. It’s not uncommon for people with bad credit to be forced into taking less appealing offers like no introductory rates and higher APRs overall. You can still apply and try for things like introductory rates but don’t base your financial future on credit card features you may not be eligible to receive.

6. Even more introductory rate confusion.

Some credit card companies will only give you the introductory rates for the amount of your balance. This means any purchase you make could be subject to the regular APR. For example, let’s say you transfer your balance of $3000 to the new credit card at the introductory rate of zero percent and then you go buy a laptop for $500. The $3000 would have the zero percent introductory APR while the laptop would be subject to the regular APR. Here is the kicker. Since most credit card companies apply payments to a split-rate account to the balance with the lower interest rate, that means that $500 will continuously increase until you pay off the $3000.

7. Don’t be a transfer junkie.

After reading through here, you may be thinking of getting a credit card with an introductory rate and then transferring to a new credit card with a new introductory rate in a year. It sounds like a good plan but you can be penalized for doing this. If you transfer your balances too many times, your credit can be penalized. Since paying off a credit card is supposed to increase your credit score, doing anything to prevent that is actually counterproductive.

8. Slash your cards.

This isn’t a technical tip but rather a figurative one. Due to all of the confusion and complexity of transferring credit card balances, it’s probably in your best interest to just hack up the cards. The accounts can remain open but let’s face facts here. If you’re in the kind of financial crunch that can motivate one to transfer balances, then you should probably not give yourself an opening to make it worse. Cut up the cards, pay off the debts, and many of the pitfalls we discussed today don’t apply to you.

9. Take your time and find the best deal

This applies to everything, ever. Finding a credit card with a 12-month introductory APR of zero percent may sound great, but paying 18 percent APR after that could be very bad. Meanwhile, there may be a card out there with a flat 12 percent rate that would be a better deal in the long run. Shop around, do the math, and find the deals that will save you the most money. Do not get suckered into a bad deal because of an appealing opening offer. Finally, be especially careful of the old bait-and-switch tactic. An example of this is being pre-approved for a certain card with a certain balance and a certain rate but when you go to officially apply, you end up with something much worse than that. Unfortunately, this does happen.

10. Don’t try too hard or you’ll never get it done.

As with any other loan process, applying for a new credit card requires a credit check. It’s pretty much common knowledge that if you ping your credit over and over again then it will cause your credit to go down. If you can’t secure a credit card after a couple of tries, it’s best to give up and try again in a few months to avoid harming your credit because otherwise you may lower your credit which will just make it harder to get another credit card!

11. If you don’t slash it, then don’t spend it.

Earlier we suggested that you slash the old and new credit cards and we stand by that advice. However, we also understand that you may need to keep one of them around for emergencies. Spending $250 on a credit for shoes is a horrible idea but spending $20 in gas to get home because you don’t get paid until the next day is totally understandable. Should you decide to keep your old or new credit cards around, we recommend you don’t spend anymore money than absolutely necessary.

12. Why are you in this situation to begin with?

If you’re transferring credit card balances then you are in some sort of financial trouble. Generally, the only two reasons people transfer balances is to switch to a card with a lower rate or because they’re experiencing problems with their current credit card and need a fresh start. In either case, look into what caused this problem. While transferring balances can save you money in the long run, it won’t save you that much money month to month. If you’re having trouble paying your credit card now, you’ll have trouble later too. Fix the underlying problem and you may be able to avoid this whole mess!

Wrap up

The bottom line is simply this: be educated. Make sure you read everything before you sign any paperwork. Don’t let fast talking customer service reps try to rush you. This is your money and your life and if you don’t feel in control of the situation then take a step back and assess the situation. There are no shortcuts so work hard and get it done.

Featured photo credit: Digital Trends via digitaltrends.com

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