f you are the custodian of expensive credit card debt, one of the most valuable kinds of plastic you could get your hands on is likely to be a 0% balance transfer credit card.
These cards present the opportunity to transfer that debt onto a new card from a different provider, and avoid paying interest on it for a set period. However, in most cases a balance transfer fee will apply of around 3% of the debt transferred.
If used correctly, this arrangement can save you a tidy sum in interest payments and even help you clear your debt faster.
What are the best 0% balance transfer credit cards?
But which of the numerous balance transfer cards should you opt for?
We carried out some research (May 2021) to round up some of the best deals. We’ve looked at both the longest 0% balance transfer duration, as well as the best deals with no transfer fee. We’ve also considered other criteria – more on this below.
Before you start, bear in mind that not all applicants will be offered these cards on the stated terms.
Depending on your credit score for example, you may be offered a shorter 0% balance transfer window and/or a higher representative APR (annual percentage rate). And you may not qualify at all.
Note also that, while deals are correct at time of writing, they can – and do – change.
1. M&S Credit Card Transfer Plus Offer
Transfer fee: 2.75% (min £5)
Rep. APR: 21.9 (variable)
Why we chose it: M&S Bank offers the joint longest interest-free period on balance transfers. But, unlike some other cards that advertise as ‘up to’, if you are accepted for this card, you will be guaranteed 29 months. That’s nearly 2.5 years to pay down your debt.
The fee at 2.75% is also cheaper than the more typical 3% charged on the balance transfer cards with the longest 0% offers.
Note that HSBC, which is part of the same banking group as M&S Bank, offers exactly the same card.
2. HSBC Balance Transfer Credit Card
Transfer fee: 2.75% (min £5)
Rep. APR: 21.9 (variable)
Why we chose it: HSBC won’t charge you any interest on balance transfers for 29 months, though its interest-free window is shorter than some at 60 days as opposed to the typical 90-day window.
At 2.75%, its balance transfer fee is reasonable and from month 30 you’ll pay interest at a representative 21.9% APR (variable) if you have any outstanding balance. Cardholders can take advantage of HSBC home&away – a revolving programme of discounts on things like car hire, meals out, hotel reservations and entertainment.
3. MBNA Long 0% Balance Transfer
Transfer fee: 2.79% (min £5)
Rep. APR: 20.9 (variable)
Why we chose it: Three reasons: 29 months 0% interest on balance transfers, high customer experience score and 0% on money transfers (where you send money from your credit card account to your current account) for 12 months.
Depending on your personal circumstances, you could be offered a smaller, 14-month interest-free window, and if you are keen to take advantage of the money transfer offer, there’s a 4% fee to pay. Remember that balance transfer cards are about paying down debt, so consider carefully whether money transfers are right for you.
4. Virgin 29-Month Balance Transfer Credit Card
Rep. APR: 21.9% (variable)
Why we chose it: For a slightly greater fee, you get access to the same 29-month window with this Virgin card. And, again, the 29 months is guaranteed so long as you qualify.
While balance transfer cards should be seen primarily as a debt-clearing tool, this one also offers 12 months at 0% on money transfers (4% fee) and three months at 0% on purchases. The card also acts as a pass to Virgin Money customer lounges.
5. Sainsbury’s Nectar 28-Month Balance Transfer Credit Card
0% duration: Up to28 months
Transfer fee: 3% or 2% (depending on your application)
Rep. APR: 21.9% (variable)
Why we chose it: At only a month off market-leading in terms of balance transfer duration alone, this card comes with other perks too, which could be particularly appealing to Sainsbury’s shoppers.
In the first two months for example, the card allows you to rack up 7,500 bonus Nectar points (worth £37.50) on your shopping. It also pays 750 points for every £35 or more you spend in-store 10 times. That’s 7,500 points which is worth another £37.50.
However, this card’s headline offer is ‘up to’ so you may be offered a shorter 0% window of either 25 or 21 months.
Finally, whilst you will get the most out of this card by paying off the balance every month, it does come with 0% on purchases for the first three months.
How are the cards ranked?
To rank the 0% balance transfer cards, we used the following criteria (listed in order of importance):
- 0% balance transfer duration (for fee and no-fee cards)
- Balance transfer fee
- Guaranteed 0% term if accepted
- Representative APR (applies after the 0% period expires and to purchases)
- Rewards, perks and benefits
Want to know balance transfer cards? See these frequently asked questions.
How do 0% balance transfer credit cards work?
You switch the debt built up on another one or more credit cards and any store cards – where typically you will pay interest at a rate of at least around 20% (and more for store cards) – to a balance transfer card which offers zero interest for a set period.
The new card will need to be issued by a different banking provider. You can make multiple transfers from different cards, so long as it’s within the stated period (usually 30 to 90 days) and the total balance does not exceed 95% of your allocated credit limit.
Just like any other card application, you need to pass criteria and credit checks by the provider and agree to make monthly repayments.
Who do the cards benefit?
When used in the right way, balance transfer cards can help prevent your debts from spiralling out of control, thanks to the 0% interest period.
By consolidating unsecured debt and paying no interest at all to the card provider, every penny you repay goes towards paying down the capital you owe, rather than going into the lender’s coffers.
This frees you up to be debt-free faster.
How do I choose the right 0% balance transfer card?
Most balance transfer cards charge a ‘balance transfer fee’ which can be anything between 1% and 3% of the amount of debt you move. Some don’t charge a fee but, in this case, will normally carry a much shorter interest-free period.
Weigh up the length of time you realistically need to clear your debt against the size of the fee in order to get the best deal. If you had a debt of £5,000 for example, it could cost you as much as £150 to transfer the balance if the card was to charge the full 3%.
You could find a card with a lower, or even no fee. So long as you can afford the monthly payments to clear the debt, it would save money to go for a card with a shorter interest-free term.
And always shop around for the best deals.
Will I definitely be accepted for the 0% term?
Card providers are increasingly choosy about who they lend to and the best deals are ring-fenced for those with the cleanest credit scores. Bear in mind, if you do qualify, you might not be offered the full interest-free period that the credit card company advertises.
Credit card companies are only required to offer 51% of applicants the advertised interest rate, which means that the other 49% could be offered a higher rate or be rejected outright.
Equally, if you have a poorer credit score than most, you might be offered fewer months at 0% than advertised.
What should I be wary of?
Make sure you’re disciplined and don’t spend on this card once you have it. The 0% only applies to debt moved from other cards – not to new borrowing (unless this is actually specified).
This is particularly important to remember if you’re tempted to use it for withdrawing cash. Doing so attracts hefty fees and interest – right from day one. You will be charged interest on the amount you withdraw from the day you take it out until you pay off the balance. There will also be a cash advance fee.
You should reserve taking out cash on your credit card for emergencies only.
When the interest-free period comes to an end, ideally you will have paid off the debt. If you don’t manage to clear what you owe, make sure you apply for a new card and move the balance again to avoid any interest charges. If you leave the debt on this same card, interest charges will kick in of around 20% but could be even higher.
It’s prudent to set up a direct debit so that you always repay at least the minimum monthly payment and preferably more.
If you miss a payment completely on a card with a zero interest period, not only will this affect your credit rating, you risk losing the 0% promotional offer. Should this happen, interest will start being charged.