Best 0% balance transfer credit cards

·10-min read
Two grey pots (Unsplash)
Two grey pots (Unsplash)

If 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 many 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 (September 2021) to round up some of the best deals. We looked at the best 0% balance transfer duration on cards that charge a fee, as well as those that don’t. We’ve also considered other criteria – more on this in our methodology, 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 you may be offered a shorter 0% balance transfer window and/or a higher representative APR (annual percentage rate). You may not even qualify at all.

Always use an eligibility checker to assess your chances of acceptance.

Note also that these deals are just an example of the wider market. And, while they are correct at time of writing, 0% balance transfer credit card offerings can – and do – change.

1. Virgin 29-Month Balance Transfer Credit Card

0% duration: 29 months

Transfer fee: 2.7%

Representative APR: 21.9% (variable)

Our verdict

This card from Virgin Money offers a joint leading 29-month interest-free window, which is guaranteed so long as you qualify for the deal.

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.

It also doubles up as a pass to Virgin Money customer lounges.

2. Halifax 29 Month Balance Transfer Credit Card

0% duration: 29 months

Transfer fee: 2.7%

Representative APR: 21.9% (variable)

Our verdict

As well as a 29-month 0% balance transfer offering, Halifax throws in nine months’ interest-free spending. It’s a handy perk in some scenarios but to get the best out of one of these cards, they should be used solely to clear existing debt.

The fee of 2.7% is reasonable, at £54 for a £2,000 transfer, although you may be offered less favourable terms depending on your application.

Transfers from one Halifax card to another are not permitted and you may not qualify for the advertised term or transfer fee.

If you still have debt on your card in month 29 and beyond, you’ll be charged interest at a representative 21.9% APR (variable).

3. Sainsbury’s Balance Transfer Credit Card

0% duration: Up to 29 months

Transfer fee: 2% (or 3% depending on your application)

Representative APR: 21.9% (variable)

Our verdict

While the 29 months interest-free period is joint leading, it’s by no means guaranteed. You may be offered a shorter 0% window of 21 months.

However, the card comes with other perks, which could prove 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.

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.

4. HSBC Balance Transfer Credit Card

0% duration: 29 months

Transfer fee: 2.75%

Representative APR: 21.9 (variable)

Our verdict

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 any outstanding balance remains.

Cardholders can take advantage of HSBC home&away, a revolving programme of discounts on things like car hire, meals out, hotel reservations and entertainment.

5. M&S Credit Card Transfer Plus Offer

0% duration: 29 months

Transfer fee: 2.75%

Representative APR: 21.9% (variable)

Our verdict

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 reasonable compared to the 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 the same card. But eligibility criteria may vary so always use a ‘soft search’ eligibility checker first to assess your chances of being accepted.

Best balance transfer cards with no fee

If you don’t need a long time to pay off your credit card debt, some providers offer shorter deals without charging a balance transfer fee.

Essentially, this is an opportunity to pay off your debt for free, so long as do it within the interest-free window and don’t accrue any more balance in the meantime.

Here are some of the best no-fee balance transfer credit card offers we found (September 2021).

1. Sainsbury’s Low Fee 19-Month Balance Transfer Credit Card

0% duration: Up to 19 months

Transfer fee: 0% or 1%

Representative APR: 21.9% (variable)

Our verdict

The balance transfer headline on this card is 19 months at 0% for no fee.

However, whether you qualify for these terms depends on your credit score and circumstances. You could be offered 12 months and/or a fee of 1% of the debt you transfer.

The card comes with Nectar perks, though. You can earn up to 7,500 bonus Nectar points (worth £37.50) on Sainsbury’s shopping in the first two months. After that you can earn 750 points for every £35 you spend in store up to 10 times.

You can also collect three points per £1 spent on Sainsbury’s shopping, Argos, Habitat or Tu Clothing when you use the card alongside your Nectar card.

2. Santander Everyday Credit Card

0% duration: 18 months

Transfer fee: 0%

Representative APR: 20.9% (variable)

Our verdict

Santander’s Everyday card offers a year-and-a-half at 0% with no balance transfer fee to pay, while the first three-months’ purchases also won’t attract interest.

You can also earn 15% cashback with Santander's Retailer Offers, with participating retailers including Costa and Just Eat.

After the 18 month promotional period, the card charges interest at a representative 20.9% APR (variable).

What’s our methodology?

When selecting the 0% balance transfer cards, we considered the following criteria:

  • 0% balance transfer duration (for fee-paying and non fee-paying cards)

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Whether terms are guaranteed if accepted

  • Representative APR (applies after the 0% period expires and to purchases)

  • Rewards, perks and benefits

Read on to find out more about balance transfer cards.

Frequently asked questions

How do 0% balance transfer credit cards work?

You switch the debt built up on another one or more credit cards – where typically interest is charged at around 18% to 20% (variable) – 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 eligibility criteria and credit checks by the provider, and agree to make monthly repayments.

How can 0% balance transfer cards help?

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 are the downsides of 0% balance transfer cards?

They require planning to clear the balance by the end of the interest-free period, and discipline not to add to your balance in the meantime (the 0% only applies to debt moved from other cards – not to new borrowing, unless specified).

This is particularly important to remember if you’re tempted to use the card for withdrawing cash. Doing so attracts hefty fees and interest. 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.

What happens when the 0% period expires?

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.

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