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Can Student Loans Be Discharged in Bankruptcy?

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Student loans are a large and growing problem.According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt totaled over $1.5 trillion as of June 2018, up from $1.15 trillion just five years earlier. Over 44 million Americans have some level of student loan debt, and 11.2% of that debt is either in default or at least 90 days delinquent.

It’s no wonder that so many people are struggling to pay bills and save for the future under the weight of their student loans.

If you’re struggling with student loan debt yourself, you’ve undoubtedly wondered how you can get relief. And if you’re really desperate, you may have even considered bankruptcy.

Student loans are more difficult to discharge through bankruptcy than other types of debt, but it isn’t impossible. This article will explain how it works, the steps you need to take in order to discharge your student loans in bankruptcy and alternative strategies you should explore first.

Can you file bankruptcy on your student loans?

While it is possible to file bankruptcy on your student loans and have the debt discharged, it’s a difficult process with strict requirements that can be challenging to meet.

The baseline requirement is proving to the courts that repaying your student loans presents an “undue hardship,” a standard that is interpreted differently depending on where you live and which court happens to hear your case.

“It’s a mushy set of criteria that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of uniformity,” said Adam S. Minsky, an attorney who specializes in helping student loan borrowers. “The cases that I’ve seen come out with favorable decisions tend to be older borrowers, borrowers who have very long periods of unemployment or underemployment, and sometimes there are health issues, injuries, disabilities, things like that.”

Why your student loans are unlikely to be discharged

In the 1970s, a popular narrative began to emerge in the media about borrowers who were taking out student loans to attend college and then playing the system to get them discharged after they graduated.

There was no real data to support this claim, but in 1976, Congress acted on it anyway and passed a law that made it almost impossible to discharge federal student loans until either five years had passed since default or you were experiencing undue hardship. The waiting period was extended to seven years in 1990. In 1998, it was simplified to require undue hardship without a time element.

Then, in 2005, Congress updated the law once more to subject private student loans to the same undue hardship criteria as federal student loans.

At this point most courts, though not all, use something called the Brunner test to evaluate undue hardship.

What is the Brunner test?

The Brunner test looks at three factors to decide whether a particular borrower is facing an undue hardship.

First, you have to demonstrate that you are not able to maintain a minimum standard of living while repaying your student loans.

“This is typically the easiest one to prove,” said Jay Fleischman, a student loan lawyer. “You’re not required to be living like a pauper, but by the same token it’s presumed that you’re not going to be living a life of opulence.”

Fleischman said that while every judge interprets this standard differently, things such as paid sports for your kids, private school instead of public school and excessive cable packages may be deemed unnecessary.

Second, you must show that your situation is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period through no fault of your own. That means that you can’t use your current income as an argument if there’s the opportunity to earn more elsewhere, and you can’t use extended unemployment if it either ended or is likely to end soon.

“It’s forward-looking criteria,” said Fleischman. “Courts will look at the marketability of your skills and the quality of the education you’ve received to determine your earning potential.”

Third, you must have made good faith efforts to repay your student loans prior to filing for bankruptcy.

“In some courts, for a federal student loan, that will mean that you’ve looked at one of the income-driven repayment (IDR) options,” said Fleischman. “For a private student loan, it might mean that you’ve attempted to rework your payments or tried for forbearance.”

Then there are some courts, specifically those in the 1st and 8th circuits, that don’t use the Brunner test at all.

“Some courts use what’s called ‘totality of the circumstances,’ which jettisons that three-part test in favor of looking at the totality of your situation,” said Fleischman. “It tends to be a slightly easier test but it’s not used very widely.”

At the end of the day, even when the Brunner test is used, the specific standards that need to be met to prove undue hardship are inconsistent and difficult to narrow down.

“What that test looks like and how it applies varies depending on where the borrower lives and what court they’re in,” said Minsky.

If you’re successful at proving undue hardship, the court can discharge your loans completely or grant a partial discharge. It can also simply change the terms of your loans to make them easier to pay, such as lowering the interest rate.

How to get your student loans discharged

If you believe that trying to get your student loans discharged through bankruptcy is the right move, here are the steps.

1. Hire a lawyer

While it is not absolutely necessary to hire a lawyer, Fleischman said that doing so is a good idea.

“If you’re going to file for bankruptcy to seek a discharge of those student loans, understand that it is very complicated and very skill-intensive,” said Fleischman. “An attorney will help you through that process.”

However, Fleischman also warned that you don’t get those attorney fees back if you are unsuccessful at getting your student loans discharged, which means that you need to be careful about taking on the extra expense when the odds of winning a judgment are low.

The National Consumer Law Center provides some resources to help you find an attorney.

2. File a bankruptcy case

If you do want to move forward, the next step is filing a bankruptcy case.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts provides guidance on the paperwork needed to file, and it also advises that you check with your local court to see if there are other local forms you need to file.

3. File an adversary proceeding

Once your bankruptcy case is filed, you then need to file a separate lawsuit within the bankruptcy court against the lender of your student loan. This lawsuit is called an adversary proceeding and it asks the court to find that repaying your student loans would present an undue hardship.

“When you’re dealing with student loans you’re actually dealing with two separate cases, one living within the other case,” said Fleischman, explaining how the adversary proceeding acts as a separate case within the broader bankruptcy case.

You must file a complaint in order to initiate an adversary proceeding. This complaint identifies the court in which it’s being filed, the parties to the complaint, a summary of the situation and reason for the complaint, and the specific relief you are seeking from the court.

The National Consumer Law Center provides a sample of what this complaint could look like.

4. Go through discovery

Discovery is the process of gathering evidence and exchanging information between parties to the lawsuit. It can be complicated, and it is one area where having an attorney can be a big benefit.

“Once you’ve filed the case with a summons and complaint, the lender has the opportunity to answer and to conduct discovery, as do you,” said Fleishman. “This could involve the exchange of documentary information, depositions, expert testimony and the like.”

It’s also worth noting that this process can be time-consuming and expensive. The National Consumer Law Center estimates that the entire litigation process can require a total of 40 to 100 hours, and according to Fleischman, you can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000, on top of attorney fees.

5. Proceed to trial and judgment

After discovery, the case goes to trial, evidence is presented from both sides, and the judge eventually makes a decision.

If you are not awarded a discharge, Fleischman said that you are allowed to appeal. But doing so is both rare and likely unsuccessful.

5 alternative ways to deal with your student loan debt

While bankruptcy can be an effective tool, and in some cases the best way to get out from under the weight of your student loans, it generally shouldn’t be your first option.

Here are five alternative approaches to consider before filing for bankruptcy.

1. Revisit your budget and spending habits

Given that you’ll have to prove to the court that your income isn’t enough to meet your expenses, it makes sense first to take a close look at your budget and figure out if there are any changes you can make that would help you afford your student loan payments.

“I always tell my clients to first look at their spending and determine where their money leaks are and try to plug those leaks,” said Fleischman. “Determine where your expenses can be reduced and start there.”

2. Consider IDR

If you have federal student loans, you may be eligible for IDR, in which your monthly payment is adjusted according to your income and family size. The less you make and the bigger your family is, the less you’ll have to pay.

There are downsides to IDR, such as the fact that you may end up paying more interest over time and that it may take longer to get out of debt. But if you’re truly unable to afford your monthly payment, those downsides may be worth the immediate relief.

3. Work toward loan forgiveness

One of the additional benefits of IDR plans is that they can eventually lead to loan forgiveness.

If you work for the government or a qualifying nonprofit, you may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which forgives your student loan debt tax-free after 10 years of eligible payments.

Otherwise, you may be eligible for forgiveness after 20 to 25 years, depending on the type of IDR plan in which you enroll. The amount forgiven would be taxable, but it could still provide significant relief.

4. Consider refinancing private student loans

Refinancing your private student loans could allow you to secure a lower interest rate and extend your repayment period, either of which could lower your monthly payment.

“You need to be careful about it because you want to make sure that you’re actually saving money instead of spending more,” said Fleischman. “But this may be a situation in which refinancing makes sense.”

Fleischman did warn against refinancing federal student loans, primarily because of the protections offered by the federal government. These protections are lost in refinancing.

5. Strategic default and settlement

In some cases, Fleischman argued, it might be a good idea to strategically default on private student loans in order to create a settlement opportunity.

“Settlement of any debt is seldom an option when you are paying the debt according to the terms and conditions of the loan,” said Fleischman. “It’s just not the way that business is transacted. In those situations, a strategic default may make some sense.”

Fleischman warned that there are negative consequences to default, such as the impact on your credit score, the collection actions that would be taken against you and the fact that there is no guarantee that you will be able to settle at all, nevermind along favorable terms.

But if you’re hoping for a settlement instead of entering bankruptcy, defaulting may be the best way to create that opportunity.

Proceed with caution

At the end of the day, the reality is that discharging your student loans through bankruptcy is a difficult and unlikely proposition.

That doesn’t mean that it should always be avoided, as there are situations in which it’s the right move. You just need to go into the process with your eyes wide open.

“Make sure that you investigate all of your other options first,” said Fleischman. “And if you are going into bankruptcy, make sure you understand completely what you’re getting into and that you have a realistic sense of what your opportunity for success is going to be.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt here

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Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – September 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

There are a lot of 0% APR credit card deals in your mailbox and online, but most of them slap you with a 3% to 4% fee just to make a transfer, which can seriously eat into your savings.

At MagnifyMoney we like to find deals no one else is showing, and we’ve searched hundreds of balance transfer credit card offers to find the banks and credit unions that ANYONE CAN JOIN which offer great 0% interest credit card deals AND no balance transfer fees. We’ve hand-picked them here.

If one 0% APR credit card doesn’t give you a big enough credit line you can try another bank or credit union for the rest of your debt. With several no fee options it’s not hard to avoid transfer fees even if you have a large balance to deal with.

1. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express – Introductory 0% for 15 Months on balance transfers and purchases, $0 balance transfer fee.

This offer edges out competitors with its 0% intro period and standout perks. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has increased value with an intro 0% for 15 Months on purchases and balance transfers, then 14.99%-25.99% Variable APR and a $0 balance transfer fee. (For transfers requested within 60 days of account opening.) In addition to the great balance transfer offer, you can earn rewards — 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 1x points on other purchases.

The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

2. BankAmericard® credit card –0% Introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer Fee

Cardholders can benefit from an 0% Introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles and an introductory $0 balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. Once the intro period ends, there is a 14.99% - 24.99% Variable APR. You can benefit from a $0 annual fee and access to your free FICO® Score.

The information related to BankAmericard® credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

When to consider a fee

While no-fee balance transfer cards are great, sometimes it may be worthwhile to consider a balance transfer card with a balance transfer fee. The fee will be a percentage — typically 3% or 5% — of the total amount you transfer, but cards that charge balance transfer fees often have longer intro periods. If you can’t afford the high monthly payments required to pay off your balance before the end of a 15-month intro period, a card offering a longer intro period — such as 18 months — can provide lower monthly payments while still allowing you to pay off your balance before the end of the intro period. Below, we provide an example that should help you decide when you should consider a fee.

For this example, we’re assuming $6,354 in credit card debt, which is the average balance Americans have, according to Experian’s 2017 State of Credit report.

By choosing the card offering an intro 0% for 18 months and a 3% transfer fee, you’ll only have to pay $364 a month to pay your debt and the balance transfer fee off in full during the intro period. That’s $60 less than the $424 monthly payment required by the card with an intro 0% for 15 months. Just beware that while you’re saving month to month, overall, you will end up paying about $190 more due to the balance transfer fee.

If you need a longer intro period and lower monthly payment, we recommend the Discover it® Balance Transfer which offers an intro 0% for 18 months on balance transfers (after that, 13.99% - 24.99% Variable APR) and has a 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months
Regular APR
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

3. Chase Slate® – 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months and 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer Fee

This deal is easy to find – Chase is one of the biggest banks and makes this credit card deal well known. The card offers a 0% intro apr on balance transfers for 15 months and an intro $0 on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. after that: either $5 or 5%, whichever is greater. You also get a 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months on purchases and a $0 annual fee. After the intro period, the APR is 16.99% - 25.74% Variable. Plus, you’ll receive monthly updates to your free FICO® Score and the reasons behind your score for free.’

The information related to the Chase Slate® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

4. Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union – 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union

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on Navy Federal Credit Union’s secure website

The Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union offers a 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers (after a 7.99% and 18.00% Variable APR). Note: This offer expires on Jan. 2, 2020. Since Navy Federal is a credit union, membership is required to open this card. You can qualify if you or one of your family or household members has ties to the armed forces, DoD or National Guard. Find out more about membership qualifications on Navy Federal.

5. Edward Jones World MasterCard® – Intro 0% for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers, NO FEE

Edward Jones World MasterCard®

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on Edward Jones’s secure website

You’ll need to go to an Edward Jones branch to open up an account first if you want this deal. Edward Jones is an investment advisory company, so they’ll want to have a conversation about your retirement needs. But you don’t need to have money in stocks to be a customer of Edward Jones and try to get this card. Just beware that you only have 60 days to complete your transfer to lock in the intro 0% for 12 billing cycles, and after the intro period a 14.99% Variable APR applies.

6. Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU – Intro 0% for 12 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU

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on First Technology Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Anyone can join First Tech Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $8, or the Computer History Museum for $15. You can apply for the card without joining first. The Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU offers an intro 0% for 12 months on balances transferred within first 90 days of account opening and does not charge balance transfer fees. After the intro period, an APR of 11.99%-18.00% variable applies. You also Earn 20,000 Rewards Points when you spend $3,000 in your first two months.

7. Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU – Intro 0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months*, NO FEE

Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU

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on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Anyone can join La Capitol Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Louisiana Association for Personal Financial Achievement, which costs $20. Just indicate that that’s how you want to be eligible when you apply for the card – no need to join before you apply. And La Capitol accepts members from all across the country, so you don’t have to live in Louisiana to take advantage of this deal on the Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU. The card offers an introductory 0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months within first 90 days of account opening*. After the intro period, a 12.25%-18.00% variable APR applies.

8. Visa® Signature Credit Card from Purdue FCU – Intro 0% for 12 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa® Signature Credit Card from Purdue FCU

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on Purdue FCU’s secure website

The card offers an intro of 0% for 12 months. After the intro period ends, 11.50%-17.50% Fixed APR applies. The Purdue Federal Credit Union doesn’t have open membership, but one way to be eligible for credit union membership is to join the Purdue University Alumni Association as a Friend of the University.

Anyone can join the association, but it costs $50. The good news is you can apply and get a decision before you become a member of the Alumni Association.

9. Premier America Credit Union – 0% Intro APR for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Premier Privileges Rewards Mastercard® from Premier America CU

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on Premier America Credit Union’s secure website

Premier America is unique because it has the Student Mastercard® from Premier America CU that’s eligible for the intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers, though credit limits on that card are $500 – $2,000. There is an 11.75% Variable APR after the intro period. There’s also a card for those with no credit history – the Premier First Rewards Privileges® from Premier America CU, with limits of $1,000 – $2,000 and a 19.50% Variable APR. If you’re looking for a bigger line, the Premier Privileges Rewards Mastercard® from Premier America CU is available with limits up to $50,000 and a 8.45% - 17.95% Variable APR.

Anyone can join Premier America by becoming a member of the Alliance for the Arts. You can select that option when you apply.

Other 0% intro APR cards to consider

10. Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU – as low as 0% intro APR for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU

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on Money One Federal’s secure website

Anyone can join Money One Federal by making a $20 donation to Gifts of Easter Seals. And you can apply without being a member. You’ll see a drop down option during the application process that lets you select Gifts of Easter Seals as the way you plan to become a member of the credit union. Credit lines for the Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU are as high as $25,000. After the as low as 0% intro apr for 6 months, there’s a 8.75% to 18.00% Variable APR.

11. Andigo Credit Union – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from Andigo

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on Andigo’s secure website

You’ll have a choice to apply for the Visa Platinum Cash Back Card from Andigo, Visa Platinum Rewards Card from Andigo, or Visa Platinum Card from Andigo. The Visa Platinum Card from Andigo has a lower ongoing APR at 11.65% - 20.65% Variable, compared to 12.24% - 21.24% Variable for the Visa Platinum Cash Back Card from Andigo and 13.65% - 22.65% Variable for the Visa Platinum Rewards Card from Andigo. So, if you’re not sure you’ll pay it all off in 6 months, the Visa Platinum Card from Andigo is a better bet.

Anyone can join Andigo by making a donation to Connect Vets for $15, and you can submit an application for the card without being a member yet.

12. ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card – Intro 0% for 6 first billing cycles on balance transfers, NO FEE

ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card

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on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

You don’t need to be a teacher to join this credit union. Just make a $5 donation to Mater Dei Friends & Alumni Association. The ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card has an ongoing APR of 10.25% to 17.95% Variable, so you can enjoy a decent rate even after the intro deal ends.

13. Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on ELFCU’s secure website

To become a member and apply, you’ll just need to join TruDirection, a financial literacy organization. It costs just $5 and you can join as part of the application process. The ongoing APR is 10.99% Variable which is lower than typical cards.

14. Justice Federal Credit Union – Intro 0% for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances, NO FEE

Student VISA® Rewards Credit Card from Justice FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on Justice Federal Credit Union’s secure website

If you’re not a Department of Justice, Homeland Security, or U.S. court employee (or a few others), you need to join a law enforcement organization to be a member of Justice Federal. One of the eligible associations for membership is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It costs $15 to join.

You can apply as a non-member online to get a decision before joining. And Justice is unique in that the Student VISA® Rewards Credit Card from Justice FCU is also eligible for the intro 0% for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. So, if your credit history is limited and you’re trying to deal with a balance on your very first card, this could be an option. The APR after the intro period ends is 16.90% fixed.

15. Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on Michigan State University Federal Credit Union’s secure website

There is the option to apply for the Cash Back Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card from Michigan State FCU or the Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU. The Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU has a lower ongoing APR at 9.90% APR - 17.90% variable, compared to the 13.90% APR - 17.90% variable APR for the Cash Back Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card from Michigan State FCU which can earn 1% cash back on all purchases. Anyone can join the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union by first becoming a member of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. However, this comes at a high fee of $30 for one year.

Are these the best deals for you?

If you can pay off your debt within the 0% period, then yes, a no fee 0% balance transfer credit card is your absolute best bet. And if you can’t, you can hope that other 0% deals will be around to switch again.

But if you’re unsure, you might want to consider…

  • A deal that has a longer period before the rate goes up. In that case, a balance transfer fee could be worth it to lock in a 0% rate for longer.
  • Or, a card with a rate a little above 0% that could lock you into a low rate even longer.

The good news is we can figure it out for you.

Our handy, free balance transfer tool lets you input how much debt you have, and how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It will run the numbers to show you which offers will save you the most for the longest period of time.

promo balancetransfer wide

The savings from just one balance transfer can be substantial.

Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt, you’re paying 18% in interest, and can afford to pay $200 a month on it. Here’s what you can save with a 0% deal:

  • 18%: It will take 32 months to pay off, with $1,312 in interest paid.
  • 0% for 12 months: You’ll pay it off in 28 months, with just $502 in interest, saving you $810 in cash. That even assumes your rate goes back up to 18% after 12 months!

But your rate doesn’t have to go up after 12 months. If you pay everything on time and maintain good credit, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to shop around and find another bank willing to offer you 0% interest again, letting you pay it off even faster.

Before you do any balance transfer though, make sure you follow these 6 golden rules of balance transfer success:

  • Never use the card for spending. You are only ready to do a balance transfer once you’ve gotten your budget in order and are no longer spending more than you earn. This card should never be used for new purchases, as it’s possible you’ll get charged a higher rate on those purchases.
  • Have a plan for the end of the promotional period. Make sure you set a reminder on your phone calendar about a month or so before your promotional period ends so you can shop around for a low rate from another bank.
  • Don’t try to transfer debt between two cards of the same bank. It won’t work. Balance transfer deals are meant to ‘steal’ your balance from a competing bank, not lower your rate from the same bank. So if you have a Chase card with a high rate, don’t apply for another Chase card like a Chase Slate® and expect you can transfer the balance. Apply for one from another bank.
  • Get that transfer done within 60 days. Otherwise your promotional deal may expire unused.
  • Never use a card at an ATM. You should never use the card for spending, and getting cash is incredibly expensive. Just don’t do it with this or any credit card.
  • Always pay on time. If you pay more than 30 days late your credit will be hurt, your rate may go up, and you may find it harder to find good deals in the future. Only do balance transfers if you’re ready to pay at least the minimum due on time, every time.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

MagnifyMoney

Advertiser Disclosure

Balance Transfer, Best of, Pay Down My Debt

Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – September 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

There are a lot of 0% APR credit card deals in your mailbox and online, but most of them slap you with a 3 to 4% fee just to make a transfer, and that can seriously eat into your savings.

At MagnifyMoney we like to find deals no one else is showing, and we’ve searched hundreds of balance transfer credit card offers to find the banks and credit unions that ANYONE CAN JOIN which offer great 0% interest credit card deals AND no balance transfer fees. We’ve hand-picked them here.

If one 0% APR credit card doesn’t give you a big enough credit line you can try another bank or credit union for the rest of your debt. With several no fee options it’s not hard to avoid transfer fees even if you have a large balance to deal with.

1. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express – Introductory 0% for 15 Months on balance transfers and purchases, $0 balance transfer fee.

This offer edges out competitors with the longest 0% intro period and standout perks. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has increased value with an intro 0% for 15 Months on purchases and balance transfers, then 14.99%-25.99% Variable APR and a $0 balance transfer fee. (For transfers requested within 60 days of account opening.) In addition to the great balance transfer offer, you can earn rewards — 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 1x points on other purchases.

The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

2. BankAmericard® credit card –0% Introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer Fee

Cardholders can benefit from an 0% Introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles and an introductory $0 balance transfer fee for the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. Once the intro period ends, there is a 14.99% - 24.99% Variable APR. You can benefit from a $0 annual fee and access to your free FICO® Score.

The information related to BankAmericard® credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

When to consider a fee

While no-fee balance transfer cards are great, sometimes it may be worthwhile to consider a balance transfer card with a balance transfer fee. The fee will be a percentage — typically 3% or 5% — of the total amount you transfer, but cards that charge balance transfer fees often have longer intro periods. If you can’t afford the high monthly payments required to pay off your balance before the end of a 15-month intro period, a card offering a longer intro period — such as 18 months — can provide lower monthly payments while still allowing you to pay off your balance before the end of the intro period. Below, we provide an example that should help you decide when you should consider a fee.

For this example, we’re assuming $6,354 in credit card debt, which is the average balance Americans have, according to Experian’s 2017 State of Credit report.

By choosing the card offering an intro 0% for 18 months and a 3% transfer fee, you’ll only have to pay $364 a month to pay your debt and the balance transfer fee off in full during the intro period. That’s $60 less than the $424 monthly payment required by the card with an intro 0% for 15 months. Just beware that while you’re saving month to month, overall, you will end up paying about $190 more due to the balance transfer fee.

If you need a longer intro period and lower monthly payment, we recommend the Discover it® Balance Transfer or the Wells Fargo Platinum card. The Discover it® Balance Transfer offers an intro 0% for 18 months on balance transfers (after, 13.99% - 24.99% Variable APR) and has a 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

The Wells Fargo Platinum card has an intro 0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers and has a 3% for 120 days, then 5% balance transfer fee. After the intro period, it has a 17.49%-26.99% (Variable) APR.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months
Regular APR
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

Wells Fargo Platinum card

The information related to Wells Fargo Platinum card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Intro Purchase APR
0% for 18 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers
Regular Purchase APR
17.49%-26.99% (Variable)
Annual fee
$0
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

3. Chase Slate® – 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months and 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer Fee

This deal is easy to find – Chase is one of the biggest banks and makes this credit card deal well known. Save with a 0% intro apr on balance transfers for 15 months and intro $0 on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. after that: either $5 or 5%, whichever is greater. You also get a 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. After the intro period, the APR is currently 16.99% - 25.74% Variable. Plus, see monthly updates to your free FICO® Score and the reasons behind your score for free.’

The information related to the Chase Slate® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

4. Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union – 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union

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on Navy Federal Credit Union’s secure website

The Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union offers a 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers (after a 7.99% and 18.00% Variable APR). Note: This offer expires on Jan. 2, 2020. Since Navy Federal is a credit union, membership is required to open this card. You can qualify if you or one of your family or household members has ties to the armed forces, DoD or National Guard. Find out more about membership qualifications on Navy Federal.

5. Edward Jones World MasterCard® – Intro 0% for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers, NO FEE

Edward Jones World MasterCard®

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on Edward Jones’s secure website

You’ll need to go to an Edward Jones branch to open up an account first if you want this deal. Edward Jones is an investment advisory company, so they’ll want to have a conversation about your retirement needs. But you don’t need to have money in stocks to be a customer of Edward Jones and try to get this card. Just beware that you only have 60 days to complete your transfer to lock in the intro 0% for 12 billing cycles, and after the intro period a 14.99% Variable APR applies.

6. Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU – Intro 0% for 12 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU

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on First Technology Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Anyone can join First Tech Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $8, or the Computer History Museum for $15. You can apply for the card without joining first. The intro 0% for 12 months and no transfer fee on balances transferred within first 90 days of account opening is for the Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU. After the intro period, an APR of 11.99%-18.00% variable applies. You also Earn 20,000 Rewards Points when you spend $3,000 in your first two months.

7. Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU – Intro 0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU

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on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Anyone can join La Capitol Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Louisiana Association for Personal Financial Achievement, which costs $20. Just indicate that’s how you want to be eligible when you apply for the card – no need to join before you apply. And La Capitol accepts members from all across the country, so you don’t have to live in Louisiana to take advantage of this deal on the Rewards Visa Card from La Capitol FCU. The introductory 0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months on balance transfers applies to balances transferred within first 90 days of account opening. After the intro period, a 12.25%-18.00% variable APR applies.

8. Visa® Signature Credit Card from Purdue FCU – Intro 0% for 12 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa® Signature Credit Card from Purdue FCU

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on Purdue FCU’s secure website

The intro 0% for 12 months offer is only for their Visa® Signature Credit Card – other cards have a higher intro rate. After the intro period ends, 11.50%-17.50% Fixed APR applies. The Purdue Federal Credit Union doesn’t have open membership, but one way to be eligible for credit union membership is to join the Purdue University Alumni Association as a Friend of the University.

Anyone can join the association, but it costs $50. The good news is you can apply and get a decision before you become a member of the Alumni Association.

9. Premier America Credit Union – 0% Intro APR for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Premier Privileges Rewards Mastercard® from Premier America CU

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on Premier America Credit Union’s secure website

Premier America is unique because it has the Student Mastercard® from Premier America CU that’s eligible for the intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers, though credit limits on that card are $500 – $2,000. There is an 11.75% Variable APR after the intro period. There’s also a card for those with no credit history – the Premier First Rewards Privileges® from Premier America CU, with limits of $1,000 – $2,000 and a 19.50% Variable APR. If you’re looking for a bigger line, the Premier Privileges Rewards Mastercard® from Premier America CU is available with limits up to $50,000 and a 8.45% - 17.95% Variable APR.

Anyone can join Premier America by becoming a member of the Alliance for the Arts. You can select that option when you apply.

Other 0% intro APR cards to consider

10. Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU – as low as 0% intro APR for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU

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on Money One Federal’s secure website

Anyone can join Money One Federal by making a $20 donation to Gifts of Easter Seals. And you can apply without being a member. You’ll see a drop down option during the application process that lets you select Gifts of Easter Seals as the way you plan to become a member of the credit union. Credit lines for the Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU are as high as $25,000. After the as low as 0% intro apr for 6 months, there’s a 8.75% to 18.00% Variable APR.

11. Andigo Credit Union – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from Andigo

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on Andigo’s secure website

You’ll have a choice to apply for the Visa Platinum Cash Back Card from Andigo, Visa Platinum Rewards Card from Andigo, or Visa Platinum Card from Andigo. The Visa Platinum Card from Andigo has a lower ongoing APR at 11.65% - 20.65% Variable, compared to 12.24% - 21.24% Variable for the Visa Platinum Cash Back Card from Andigo and 13.65% - 22.65% Variable for the Visa Platinum Rewards Card from Andigo. So, if you’re not sure you’ll pay it all off in 6 months, the Visa Platinum Card from Andigo is a better bet.

Anyone can join Andigo by making a donation to Connect Vets for $15, and you can submit an application for the card without being a member yet.

12. ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card – Intro 0% for 6 first billing cycles on balance transfers, NO FEE

ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card

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on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

You don’t need to be a teacher to join this credit union. Just make a $5 donation to Mater Dei Friends & Alumni Association. The ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card has an ongoing APR of 10.25% to 17.95% Variable, so you can enjoy a decent rate even after the intro deal ends.

13. Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers and purchases, NO FEE

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card

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on ELFCU’s secure website

To become a member and apply, you’ll just need to join TruDirection, a financial literacy organization. It costs just $5 and you can join as part of the application process. The ongoing APR is 10.99% Variable which is lower than typical cards.

14. Justice Federal Credit Union – Intro 0% for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances, NO FEE

Student VISA® Rewards Credit Card from Justice FCU

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on Justice Federal Credit Union’s secure website

If you’re not a Department of Justice, Homeland Security, or U.S. court employee (or a few others), you need to join a law enforcement organization to be a member of Justice Federal. One of the eligible associations for membership is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It costs $15 to join.

You can apply as a non-member online to get a decision before joining. And Justice is unique in that the Student VISA® Rewards Credit Card from Justice FCU is also eligible for the intro 0% for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. So, if your credit history is limited and you’re trying to deal with a balance on your very first card, this could be an option. The APR after the intro period ends is 16.90% fixed.

15. Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU – Intro 0% for 6 months on balance transfers, NO FEE

Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU

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on Michigan State University Federal Credit Union’s secure website

There is the option to apply for the Cash Back Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card from Michigan State FCU or the Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU. The Platinum Visa Card from Michigan State FCU has a lower ongoing APR at 9.90% APR - 17.90% variable, compared to the 13.90% APR - 17.90% variable APR for the Cash Back Platinum Plus Visa Credit Card from Michigan State FCU which can earn 1% cash back on all purchases. Anyone can join the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union by first becoming a member of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. However, this comes at a high fee of $30 for one year.

Are these the best deals for you?

If you can pay off your debt within the 0% period, then yes, a no fee 0% balance transfer credit card is your absolute best bet. And if you can’t, you can hope that other 0% deals will be around to switch again.

But if you’re unsure, you might want to consider…

  • A deal that has a longer period before the rate goes up. In that case, a balance transfer fee could be worth it to lock in a 0% rate for longer.
  • Or, a card with a rate a little above 0% that could lock you into a low rate even longer.

The good news is we can figure it out for you.

Our handy, free balance transfer tool lets you input how much debt you have, and how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It will run the numbers to show you which offers will save you the most for the longest period of time.

promo balancetransfer wide

The savings from just one balance transfer can be substantial.

Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt, you’re paying 18% in interest, and can afford to pay $200 a month on it. Here’s what you can save with a 0% deal:

  • 18%: It will take 32 months to pay off, with $1,312 in interest paid.
  • 0% for 12 months: You’ll pay it off in 28 months, with just $502 in interest, saving you $810 in cash. That even assumes your rate goes back up to 18% after 12 months!

But your rate doesn’t have to go up after 12 months. If you pay everything on time and maintain good credit, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to shop around and find another bank willing to offer you 0% interest again, letting you pay it off even faster.

Before you do any balance transfer though, make sure you follow these 6 golden rules of balance transfer success:

  • Never use the card for spending. You are only ready to do a balance transfer once you’ve gotten your budget in order and are no longer spending more than you earn. This card should never be used for new purchases, as it’s possible you’ll get charged a higher rate on those purchases.
  • Have a plan for the end of the promotional period. Make sure you set a reminder on your phone calendar about a month or so before your promotional period ends so you can shop around for a low rate from another bank.
  • Don’t try to transfer debt between two cards of the same bank. It won’t work. Balance transfer deals are meant to ‘steal’ your balance from a competing bank, not lower your rate from the same bank. So if you have a Chase credit card with a high rate, don’t apply for another Chase card like a Chase Slate® and expect you can transfer the balance. Apply for one from another bank.
  • Get that transfer done within 60 days. Otherwise your promotional deal may expire unused.
  • Never use a card at an ATM. You should never use the card for spending, and getting cash is incredibly expensive. Just don’t do it with this or any credit card.
  • Always pay on time. If you pay more than 30 days late your credit will be hurt, your rate may go up, and you may find it harder to find good deals in the future. Only do balance transfers if you’re ready to pay at least the minimum due on time, every time.

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Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

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