If you've found yourself lumbered with unsecured personal debt after unwittingly maxing out a credit card or two, you may be thinking about a balance transfer card to spread your repayments and clear your debt. However, the longest interest-free deal might not be the most cost-effective, as these interest-free cards usually charge a fee each time you switch. Luckily, not all cards apply such a fee, which means you could clear your debt without paying a penny.
Our latest research reveals that there are in fact seven fee-free and interest-free balance transfer cards with terms of two years or more available, from Bank of Scotland, Barclaycard, Halifax, Lloyds Bank, Sainsbury's Bank, Tesco Bank and Virgin Money (you can find out more about the top six by reading our overview). If you think you can clear your debt in less than two years, you're in luck, as in total there are currently 16 fee-free cards on the market offering 0% periods of between one and 29 months.
Think a fee-free card won't make too much of a difference? Think again! The table below highlights the top balance transfer cards currently available, together with their fee, and how much it could cost you to transfer a £4,000 balance – over £130 in some cases, and in all cases over £100. Compare that to the top fee-free alternatives, and you've made an instant saving.
|Balance transfer (BT) cards (Top 3)|
|Longest introductory 0% BT cards||0% Intro BT offer||BT fee %||Cost of transferring £4,000|
|MBNA Platinum 42 Month Balance Transfer Credit Card Visa||42 months||2.79%||£111.60|
|nuba Transfer Credit Card MasterCard||42 months||3.29%||£131.60|
|Halifax Online 41 Month BT Credit Card MasterCard||41 months||2.59%||£103.60|
|Longest no fee introductory 0% BT cards||0% Intro BT offer||BT fee %||Cost of transferring £4,000|
|Halifax 0 pc Balance Transfer Fee Offer MasterCard||29 months||0.00%||Nil|
|Sainsbury's Bank No Balance Transfer Fee Credit Card MasterCard||28 months||0.00%||Nil|
|Bank of Scotland Platinum 24 Month BT MasterCard||24 months*||0.00%||Nil|
|*24 months fee-free also on offer from Barclaycard, Lloyds Bank, Tesco Bank and Virgin Money.|
|Cost assumes that the debt is repaid before the introductory deal ends|
As you can see, while 0% interest terms of 40 months+ may sound appealing, they may not actually be the most cost-effective choice; this means that, if you think you can repay your debt over a shorter time period, you'd be wise to consider fee-free options instead.
"It would be wrong to assume that the longest interest-free balance transfer cards on the market are the best for every borrower, as this entirely depends on how much debt a consumer has and how long they are prepared to have it hanging over their heads," said Rachel Springall, finance expert at moneyfacts.co.uk.
"Just because borrowers can apply for a 42-month interest-free balance transfer card, that doesn't mean it's the best choice for their circumstances. A borrower with a £4,000 debt could be charged as much as £131.60 to transfer to such a card. If they can afford to repay around £170 every month over two years, they could apply for a fee-free and interest-free balance transfer card instead.
"A handful of these fee-free and interest-free balance transfer cards offer interest-free periods of two years or more, which can be so useful for borrowers looking to save themselves from any unnecessary fees when switching debt."
Just consider the alternative – if you consistently move your debt from one card to another to gain a bit more time to repay the balance, you could be charged fees each time, and if you're not careful this could cost you dearly over the longer term, reducing the overall benefit. This is why fee-free deals should always be considered, particularly in the current climate.
"Household debt is expected to rise to a record high next year [according to the TUC], and some consumers may well be relying on their credit card for certain expenses," said Rachel. "This means that a plentiful number of borrowers sitting on interest-free deals might not be able to repay their debt before their deal ends. It's important for borrowers to prepare themselves for this scenario and work out the upfront cost of switching before they commit to another credit card; using a fee-free card could be ideal."
Use our credit card search tool to find the full range of 0% balance transfer deals on the market, and see if you can find a term and a fee that meets your requirements. Just make sure your credit score is up to the task.
Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time. Links to third parties on this page are paid for by the third party. You can find out more about the individual products by visiting their site. Moneyfacts.co.uk will receive a small payment if you use their services after you click through to their site. All information is subject to change without notice. Please check all terms before making any decisions. This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.