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25 Feb 2019

Balance transfer credit cards: interest-free periods drop by five months

People have less time to freeze their credit card debts

Consumers relying on balance transfer credit cards are being given less time to pay off their debts, as new data shows interest-free deals are now significantly shorter than 12 months ago.

A balance transfer credit card allows you to move your debts to a card with 0% interest, although this only lasts for a set time. But the longest deals available now offer just 32 months interest-free -five months less than last year.

We examine what this means for people with credit card debts and look at the best 0% balance transfer credit card deals on the market.

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What is a 0% balance transfer credit card?

With a0% balance transfer deal, you can move your debt from costly credit or store cards to one where interest is frozen for a set period of time, typically after paying a one-off fee.

A typical fee might be 2.0%, which on a £2,000 debt would come to a payment of £40.

This means your entire monthly payment will go towards repaying your debt, rather than servicing interest, giving you a better chance of clearing your balance.

A customer with a £2,000 debt on a card charging 18.9% APR and paying £60 a month could save £755 - and clear the money owed a year earlier - if they switched to a 0% balance transfer card.

0% balance transfer deals falling

A longer-lasting 0% balance transfer deal gives you more time to freeze the debt and make affordable repayments.

The longest deal on introductory balance transfers currently stands at 32 months, according to Moneyfacts.co.uk, and is available from either HSBC or Post Office Money.

But this represents a significant drop over the past two years: the longest period available in March 2017 was 43 months, while this time last year you could get up to 37 months.

The fall in the 0% transfer term could be a reaction by credit card providers to the Financial Conduct Authority's recommendation last year that lenders encourage customers to pay back debts faster.

Aside from the length of the 0% period, you also have less options than previously. The number of balance transfer deals on the market has been falling - hitting a record low in September 2018.

Best 0% balance transfer deals

When searching for a good 0% balance transfer deal, you should consider the length of the no-interest period and the size of the transfer fee. If there's a risk you won't pay off the card during the 0% period, you'll also need to consider how much interest will be payable from that point onwards.

See the longest lasting 0% balance transfer deals on the market currently, below.

Balance transfer credit card0% balance transfer dealBalance transfer feeRepresentative APR (variable)Which? Customer score
Post Office Money32 months2.00%19.9%70%
HSBC Advance32 months1.30%21.9%65%
HSBC 32 month32 months1.40%21.9%65%
Tesco Bank30 months2.69%18.9%72%
Sainsbury's Bank30 months3.00%19.9%69%

Source: Which? Money Compare

But if you want to avoid paying money upfront just to set up the card, here are the best fee-free balance transfer deals available right now.

Card0% balance transfer dealRepresentative APR (variable)Balance transfer fee
Tesco Bank Clubcard20 months19.9%n/a
Sainsbury's Bank No Balance Transfer Fee Card22 months19.9%n/a
Barclaycard Platinum 20-month Balance Transfer Credit Card20 months19.9%n/a

Source: Which? Money Compare

Tips for using balance transfer cards

It's essential to pay the minimum amount on your transfer credit card as most companies reserve the right withdraw a deal at any time if you miss a payment.

Ideally you should look to pay more than the minimum amount to clear the debt sooner. Paying only the minimum amount each month for long periods can have a negative impact on your credit score because it may appear you're struggling with the debt.

You should beware of spending on a balance transfer card, because those which offer 0% interest on purchases do so for a limited time.

If you still have debt at the end of the 0% period, customers could be best advised to switch the remaining amount to another balance transfer card.

You can work out which balance transfer deal might be best for you by using our calculator below.

 Please note that the information above is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Please refer to the particular terms and conditions of the savings account provider before committing to any financial products. 

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited.