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When Should You Consider Bankruptcy & How to File

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Updated – November 14, 2018

If you’re drowning in debt and having trouble keeping up with your payments while still handling your living expenses, you may have at least begun to consider filing for bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy is meant to give people in serious financial distress some relief and a chance to start over. By the time most people get to that point, they’ve probably tried many other methods for managing their debt.

Bankruptcy certainly has its benefits, potentially allowing you to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

But there are a lot of things to consider before making a decision, from the negative consequences of filing to whether bankruptcy would even provide relief for your specific situation.

“For most folks that come in, this is the last option,” said John Colwell, a San Diego, Calif.-based bankruptcy attorney and President of National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy. “I know I’m like the dentist. People really don’t want to be sitting in front of me.”

This is a big decision that requires a significant amount of due diligence before moving forward. While it’s important not to take bankruptcy lightly, it may be the best way for people to get back on their feet.

So how do you know if bankruptcy is the right way to relieve your debt? In this post, we’ll go over some of the key points to help you get started.

The basics of filing for bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal procedure to discharge debt built up by someone who either will not be able to repay those debts or does not have the means to repay debts owed currently. There are two notable forms of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a debtor’s nonexempt assets are sold and the proceeds are used to pay debts. An individual must pass a means test before they can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to ensure that the court would not be abusing the bankruptcy law by granting one. We will talk more about the means test below!

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a “wage earner plan.” To qualify, an individual must have a steady income. This allows them to pay back all or part of their debts by developing a repayment plan. The plans last between three and five years.

In most cases, bankruptcy does not protect you from any future debts incurred. It also will have an effect on your credit score and remains on your credit report for 10 years with Chapter 7 and seven years with Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may lose assets such as your house or your car depending on how much equity, if you’re able to exempt your equity and if you’re current on your payments.

Are You Eligible?

As stated above, there are two types of bankruptcy for individuals: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

There are some significant differences between the two programs, but here’s a high-level summary:

  • Chapter 7 allows you to completely discharge your debts, with some exceptions (such as student loans, certain tax obligations, and child support). But you may be obligated to sell some of your property to settle some of your debt obligations.
  • Chapter 13 allows you to create a payment plan to repay some or all of your debts over a 3-5 year period. So your debts are not discharged, but you will also not be obligated to sell any property in order to make your payments.

Either one could be more or less beneficial depending on the specifics of your situation. But the very first question is whether you qualify for either one, and each has its own set of criteria.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy has what’s called the “means test”, which is meant to ensure that only people who truly can’t afford their debt payments are allowed to file. There are two different wants to pass it, and therefore qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy:

  1. If your monthly income is less than the median monthly income in your state for your family size, you pass. You can find current median income numbers by family size here.
  2. If you don’t pass #1, you’ll have to go through a complex calculation to see whether your disposable income after subtracting out certain expenses is enough to satisfy your debt obligations. At this stage it would probably be best to talk to a professional who could help you navigate the process.

Eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a little more straightforward. Here’s how it works:

  1. As opposed to Chapter 7, you need to prove that your disposable income is high enough to afford a reasonable repayment plan.
  2. Your secured debt (mortgage, auto loan) can’t exceed $1,149,525, and your unsecured debt (credit cards, medical bills, etc.) can’t exceed $383,175.
  3. You must have filed both federal and state income taxes each of the last four years.

There are some other requirements for each, but those are the major ones. Assuming you qualify for at least one of them, there are a few other things to consider.

What Kinds of Assets and Liabilities Do You Have?

Depending on the specifics of your financial situation, one type of bankruptcy may be preferable to the other. Or it may be that neither would actually be particularly helpful.

As an example, neither type of bankruptcy would likely help you all that much if your primary debts are student loans. They wouldn’t be discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And while your required payments might be reduced over the 3-5 year repayment period in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, once that was over you would have to continue paying them back as usual.

The type of assets you own and their value also matters, particularly if you’re going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy. During that process, your bankruptcy trustee is allowed to sell your property in order to settle your debts, but certain property is protected.

For example, your house and car are protected up to certain limits. Employer retirement accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are fully protected, while IRAs are protected up to about $1 million. But other accounts, such as checking, savings, and regular investment accounts may not have the same protections.

The rules here vary by state, and having a strong understanding of which assets you might be able to keep and which you might end up losing will help you make your decision.

When to file bankruptcy

According to Colwell, filing for bankruptcy needs to be “worth your while,” meaning it should give you relief from your debts to ensure you don’t find yourself in a similar situation in the near future. That means that if you have major expenses that you are about to incur, you should wait to file until after you have incurred them so they can be included in the bankruptcy settlement. This is especially important when it comes to filing bankruptcy due to medical bills.

However, with a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can seek court approval to include new debt that you’ve incurred post-filing into your payment plan.

In general, though, there are aspects of your financial situation that signal when it’s time to consider bankruptcy. If you can’t pay your bills (and you don’t see that changing anytime soon) and your debt continues to pile up, bankruptcy is probably worth considering.

Here are other red flags to look out for:

  1. Debt collectors are calling. If you’re behind on your bills to the point that you’re hearing from debt collectors, it may be time to consider bankruptcy. This is especially true if you’re being sued by debt collectors.
  2. You’re in danger of losing your home. If you’re at risk for losing your house to foreclosure, filing bankruptcy can help you get caught up on your payments and keep your home. With Chapter 13, you’re given the chance to keep your home by creating a plan to repay your outstanding debt.
  3. You’re using loans to pay your bills. Using short-term high-interest loans such as payday loans can get you in trouble. With these loans, people borrow against their next paycheck. “People get caught in the trap and it starts rolling over from paycheck to paycheck to paycheck,” said Colwell. Title loans are another form of small loan where a vehicle is used as collateral; these loans can be problematic for someone already in financial distress.
  4. You’re liquidating your retirement assets. Retirement money is exempt in a bankruptcy, meaning trustees can’t use it to repay lenders. So in most cases, it doesn’t make sense to burn through your retirement money to pay debts. “I hate that with a passion,” Colwell said. “It’s your retirement money, what are you doing?!”

How to file for bankruptcy

Most initial consultations with lawyers are free of charge. At these meetings, you’ll walk a bankruptcy attorney through your financial situation and your reasons for wanting to pursue bankruptcy.

There are also ways for individuals to file for bankruptcy on their own, known as filing pro se. Court employees and bankruptcy judges can’t give out legal advice to people in their courts, so if you go that route, you will be on your own. To file yourself, you should be familiar with the United States Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the local rules of the court.

Unless you have a strong understanding of legal issues and have the time to handle the paperwork, it’s probably best to use a lawyer — that’s because making a mistake can impact your rights, according to the U.S. Courts. You’ll also need the capacity to fill out a lot of paperwork, Colwell also noted.

If you use an attorney, they should be able to provide services including:

  • Advising you on whether to file a bankruptcy petition and under which chapter to file.
  • Telling you whether your debts can be discharged.
  • Advising you on whether or not you will be able to keep your home, car, or other property after you file.
  • Advising you of the tax consequences of filing.
  • Advising you on whether you should continue to pay creditors.
  • Helping you complete and file forms.

How to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves the sale of all of your nonexempt assets to pay back your creditors. This is the most common kind of personal bankruptcy, accounting for more than 60 percent of all non-business bankruptcies in 2017. The process usually takes about four to five months.

Filing for Chapter 7 will wipe out your allowable debt (such as as credit card, medical and personal loan debt), but the bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years.

The first step is to take a mandatory credit counseling course from a government-approved organization, within 180 days of your filing date. Upon completion, you can decide if you still feel it appropriate to move forward with a bankruptcy, and move on to the next step.

At this point, you, or your attorney, would file your petition and other additional forms with the court. Along with your filing petition, the forms include a list of your creditors, a summary of your assets and liabilities, lists of property (both exempt and non-exempt) and any documentation needed for your “means test.” There are also companies that will send you a packet of all relevant documents, for a small fee.

At this point, you will be subject to the “means test.” If the debtor’s current monthly income is more than the state median, the means test is applied. Abuse is determined if the debtor’s monthly income over five years is either more than $12,850, or more than 25% of the debtor’s nonpriority unsecured debt of at least $7,700.

A trustee is then appointed to review the paperwork and take nonexempt property; you will also have to submit your most recent tax return to the trustee.

The next step in the process is a meeting of creditors, known as a “341 meeting.” At the meeting, you will answer questions about your finances and bankruptcy forms under oath. Creditors are allowed to attend the proceedings if they choose.

It is now decided if you are eligible to file for Chapter 7. At this stage, secured debts are determined: they can be repossessed by the creditor, you can redeem it by paying back what it’s worth or you can reaffirm the debt, which removes that debt from the bankruptcy filing and allows you to pay it back when the bankruptcy is over.

You will have another course to attend that will include information on developing a budget, using credit and managing money — afterward, your debt will be discharged.

Cost: A Chapter 7 bankruptcy needs to be paid for upfront by the debtor. It is generally a flat rate and may be contingent on the complexity of your debt structure as well as the market in which the attorney is operating.

How to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will last between three and five years, from start to finish. These processes are long and complex, so it’s strongly recommended that you use a lawyer. If you have a steady income, Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep property, like a house or car, that you might otherwise lose in Chapter 7. Chapter 13 develops a three-to-five year repayment plan for your debts.

The first step is to take a credit counseling course. Afterward, you or your attorney will prepare and file a bankruptcy petition and paperwork that includes a list of your creditors, a summary of your assets and liabilities and your Chapter 13 repayment plan; you will also need to provide your most recent tax returns.

The court will later appoint a trustee to administer your case and a stay on collections will take effect — this means that certain creditors won’t be able to proceed with lawsuits against you, call you for repayment or garnish your wages. You’ll begin making payments for a month after you file the paperwork. In addition, like Chapter 7, Chapter 13 also requires a 341 meeting.

You or your lawyer must attend a confirmation hearing where objections to your plan either by the trustee or the creditors will be addressed and eventually your plan for repayment will get confirmed.

Your creditors will also file proof of claim so that they can get repaid; it is at this point that you can object to the claim if you feel it is unfair.

The repayment period begins when you start to comply with your plan’s requirements and payments; this is the longest portion of the bankruptcy. If required by your plan, you may also have to submit documents to the court like income and expense statements.

Exactly as in Chapter 7, you’ll have another course to attend that goes over budgeting, using credit and managing money. Afterward, your debts may be discharged and your case closed.

Cost: There are two ways an attorney can charge you for handling your Chapter 13. It may be a “no look” fee, a flat fee set up by the district in your state, or they can bill you hourly. Your payment to your attorney can be worked into your Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Conclusion

Filing for bankruptcy is a big decision, and in the end you’re the only one who will know what’s right for you.

Bankruptcy can be not only a long process, but also a very emotional one for those seeking to discharge debts.

Do your research, evaluate all of your options, and then make the decision that most helps you reach your personal goals.

Looking into your options sooner rather than later may help you shore up your financial future and lose less in the long term.

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.

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The Most (And Least) Charitable Places in the U.S.

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 of our network partners.

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In order to find the most charitable places in America, researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas.

Giving to charity is a good thing, generally speaking. Not only may you support a cause you care about, but it could help lower your tax burden if you itemize deductions.

However, despite these benefits, our researchers found that certain places in the U.S. are more charitable than others. They compared 2017 itemized tax returns and analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas to determine which places in the U.S. were the most charitable.

Key findings

  • Ogden, Utah, is the most charitable place in the U.S., followed by Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis.
  • In Birmingham, more than 89% of tax returns itemized deduction donations to charity.
  • Southern metro areas tended to be the most charitable. Seven of the top 10 most charitable places are in the South.
  • Religious centers tended to be more charitable than non-religious. The religious South and Utah tended to be the more charitable, while the less-religious Northeast tended to score the worst in our metrics. One obvious explanation for this is that church donations are tax-deductible for people who itemize.
  • Springfield, Massachusetts was the least charitable metro area in the study. People itemizing their tax returns there gave just 2% of their income.
  • Springfield’s neighbors were also stingy when it came to giving to charity. Worcester came in second-to-last. Here, tax returns with itemized deductions showed an average of 1.8% of income donated to charity.
  • The poorest who gave to charity tended to be the most generous, although the poorest tended to donate the least often, a fact that has not changed over time. According to 2016 data, Americans who earned at least $1 but less than $10,000 donated 14% of their income on average, though just 58.5% of them had charitable deductions.
  • The rich are more likely to have charitable deductions but tend to give a smaller portion of their income.

Rankings: The most charitable U.S. metro areas

This map shows how the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. ranked according to the percentage of people who took charitable donation deductions on their tax returns in 2017. Areas represented by a blue dot are the most charitable, while those represented with orange dots are the least charitable. Purple and red dots represent areas that fall in the middle of our rankings.
The most charitable metro areas are located in states that are known for being heavily religious — Utah and the Bible Belt in the Southeast. The Northeast tends to be less religious and is blanketed with metro areas that have low donation rates.

Utah is a standout state when it comes to charitable giving, with two metro areas in the top 10. Ogden claims the top spot, and Salt Lake City comes in sixth place. Most of the rest of the top 10 is made up of metro areas in the Southeast: Birmingham, Ala. (second), Memphis, Tenn. (third), Atlanta (fourth), and Augusta, Ga. (fifth).
Springfield, Mass., is at the very bottom of our list rankings, with Worcester, Mass., following in the 99th slot. The rest of the bottom five includes: Scranton, Penn. (98th), Allentown, Pa. (96th), and Providence, R.I. (95th). Portland, Ore., represents the west coast as the 97th least charitable metro area on the list.

How charitable Americans are at different income levels

The following graphic shows how rates of charitable giving differ at various income levels. Each blue bar shows the percentage of tax returns on which itemized charitable donations were claimed at each income level. Each purple bar shows the average percentage of one’s income those charitable donations make up in each income bracket.

Overall, 81.9% of people itemized charitable deductions on their tax returns, and those donations make up an average of 3.4% of their income. Those who make more money tend to give to charity more often. Of people making $200,000 or more per year, 91% claim charitable deductions, while only 58.5% of those making less than $10,000 do so.

It’s not those who make the most who give the biggest portion of their income to charity, though. Those who make less than $10,000 a year give the biggest portion of their earnings (14%). Americans who make $100,000 to $199,000 give the smallest proportion of their income at just 2.7%.

Changes in charitable giving by year

In order to determine how charitable Americans are over time, we looked at charitable donations over a 12-year span. The following graphic reveals charitable giving as a percentage of income across various income levels.

Overall, the average percentage of income that’s claimed as a charitable donation has remained at fairly consistent levels between the years of 2004 (3.6%) and 2016 (3.5%). It dipped to a low of 3% in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.

Lower income brackets tend to have more ups and downs in charitable giving. In 2004, those making $5,000 or less donated an average 19.4% of their income to charity. But in 2007 and 2012, that average dropped to 14.6%.

Those in the highest income bracket on the graph ($10 million or more) made a significant jump in charitable donations in the last two years we analyzed, with their charitable donations going from 7% to 9.1% of their income.

5 tips if you’re donating to charity

While your intentions to donate to charity may be purely altruistic, if you’re making them, you may as well get credit for them if you can. Here are five things to keep in mind when making charitable contributions:

  • Research charities before donating. Sites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar provide information about charity missions, as well as how they operate and spend money.
  • Ask for verification of an organization’s tax status before donating. In order for your donation to be tax deductible, it must be made to an organization that qualifies under IRS guidelines as tax-exempt.
  • Remember: You can only claim charitable donations if you itemize your taxes. You won’t qualify for a deduction if you take the standard deduction. If your deductible expenses including charitable donations are greater than the standard exemption ($24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for single taxpayers in 2019) then itemizing can save you money. (If you’re unsure whether itemizing your taxes makes sense, you may need to seek out a pro.)
  • Request and keep your receipts. While you don’t need to submit them with your tax return, if you ever get audited, you want to have them on hand.
  • Keep these two dates in mind. Remember that even though taxes must be filed by April 15 each year, charitable deductions must be made by the end of the calendar year (December 31) in order to be claimed on your taxes for that year.

Methodology

In order to find the most charitable places in the U.S., researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas. Specifically, we compared them across the following three categories:

  • Percent of itemized returns with charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
  • Percent of adjusted gross income given to charity. This is the total deducted amount from charitable donations divided by total adjusted gross income for itemized returns. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
  • Average itemized charitable donation. This is the total amount donated to charity divided by the number of returns deducting charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.

We then created a score averaging the three percentile ranks each metro scored in each metric. Each metric was given the same weight. For the over-time data, we looked at the percent of adjusted gross income given to charity for each income bracket from 2004 to 2016.

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Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards: Intro 0% APRs up to 21 Months

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If you’re carrying a balance on your credit card, you’re not alone. Fifty-nine percent of Americans carry a balance month-to-month, with the average balance $6,354 per cardholder, according to a study by CompareCards. Carrying a balance from one month to the next is never ideal, but it can happen to the best of us.

If your balance is incurring high interest charges, you should consider transferring your debt to a balance transfer card. These cards offer no or low interest and can save you a substantial amount of money. There’s often a 3%-5% balance transfer fee, but it can be worthwhile — just do the math to make sure by using this balance transfer calculator.

Most balance transfer cards require good or excellent credit, so you may not qualify depending on your credit score. It’s a good idea to check your credit score before you apply for a card, so you know which cards provide you with the best approval odds. LendingTree, our parent company, lets you view your credit score for free and provides insight into what affects your score and outlines steps you can take to improve it. If your score prevents you from qualifying for a balance transfer card, you can explore taking out a personal loan instead.

We’ve selected the best balance transfer cards from our database of over 3,000 credit cards, so you can find the card that best fits your needs — whether it’s a card with a long intro 0% APR period, no balance transfer fee, or a low promo APR for several years.

Longest balance transfer offers

When you’re looking to transfer a large balance, it may be in your best interest to choose a balance transfer card with a long intro period. Most balance transfer cards have intro periods of 12 or 15 months, but that may not be enough time to pay off your debt. Consider cards offering no interest for 18 or 21 months.

Here are some of the best cards:

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

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The information related to Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms Apply.

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Intro Purchase APR
0%* for 12 months on Purchases*
Intro BT APR
0%* for 21 months on Balance Transfers*
Regular Purchase APR
16.49% - 26.49%* (Variable)
Annual fee
$0*
Balance Transfer Fee
5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good
The Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever offers the longest balance transfer period: intro 0%* for 21 months on balance transfers*. This provides you with nearly two years to pay off transferred balances without incurring any interest charges. In addition, this card comes with an intro 0%* for 12 months on purchases*, which is helpful if you plan to use this card for more than just a balance transfer. After the balance transfer and purchase intro periods end, there’s a 16.49% - 26.49%* (Variable) APR). Just know, this card has a higher balance transfer fee than most cards at 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

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Rates & Fees

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Discover it® Balance Transfer

Regular APR
13.74% - 24.74% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 6 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Balance Transfer Fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good
The Discover it® Balance Transfer offers three months less than the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever, with an intro 0% for 18 months on balance transfers (after, 13.74% - 24.74% Variable APR). However, this card has a lower 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)* that can save you more money if you’re able to pay of transferred balances during the intro period.

The Discover it® Balance Transfer stands out from other balance transfer cards by offering a rewards program: 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically. While this is a great perk, don’t let this distract you from your primary goal — getting out of debt, not earning rewards, so it’s best not to rack up new charges on a balance transfer card.

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. Terms Apply.

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Regular Purchase APR
17.24%-26.74% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 18 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers
Annual fee
$0
Balance Transfer Fee
3% for 120 days, then 5%
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good
The Wells Fargo Platinum card also offers an intro 0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers, but this applies to new purchases as well. After the intro period ends, a 17.24%-26.74% (Variable) APR for purchases and balance transfers applies. The balance transfer fee is 3% for 120 days, then 5%. While this card has no rewards, you can receive cell phone protection up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when your monthly cell phone bill is paid with your card.

No balance transfer fee cards

If you want to maximize savings with a balance transfer, you should consider cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee. These cards can save you the typical 3%-5% fee most balance transfer cards charge. Just know, cards with no balance transfer fees often have shorter intro periods of 15 months or less. You can read our roundup for an extensive list of no balance transfer fee cards.

Here are some of the best cards:

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is a well-rounded card that offers an intro 0% for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases (after, 14.99%-25.99% Variable APR). In addition to the intro periods, you can benefit from a rewards program tailored to U.S. supermarket spenders where you earn 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 1x points on other purchases.

The intro offers, coupled with the rewards program make The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express the frontrunner among balance transfer cards. This card presents cardholders with the unique opportunity to transfer a balance and make a large purchase during the intro period without incurring interest, and earn rewards on new 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.

Chase Slate®

The Chase Slate® offers the same 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months and 0% intro apr on purchases for 15 months as the previous two cards. After the intro period ends, there’s a 16.74% - 25.49% Variable APR. This is a no-frills card that won’t earn you rewards or noteworthy perks, but can help you get out of debt.

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

Low rate balance transfer cards

If you think it will take longer than 21 months to pay off your credit card debt, you might want to consider a low rate balance transfer card. Rather than pay a balance transfer fee and receive a promotional 0% APR, these cards offer a low interest rate for three years or more. The longest offer can give you a low rate that only goes up if the prime rate goes up. If you can’t get that offer, there is another good option offering a low rate for three years.

Variable Rate Credit Visa®Card from UNIFY Financial CU

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Variable Rate Credit Visa®Card from UNIFY Financial CU

Regular Purchase APR
8.24%-17.49% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Intro BT APR
N/A
Balance Transfer Fee
$0
If you need a long time to pay off debt at a reasonable rate, and have great credit, it’s hard to beat this deal from Unify Financial Credit Union. The Variable Rate Credit Visa®Card from UNIFY Financial CU offers an ongoing 8.24%-17.49% Variable APR. Plus, there’s no balance transfer fee.

Note: Membership to Unify Financial Credit Union is required to open this card, but anyone can join through one of their affiliate partners, the Surfrider Foundation or Friends of Hobbs, at no additional charge.

Prime Rewards Credit Card from SunTrust Bank

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on SunTrust Bank’s secure website

Prime Rewards Credit Card from SunTrust Bank

Regular Purchase APR
12.99%–22.99% Variable
Intro BT APR
3 year introductory offer at Prime Rate (currently 5.50% variable APR) on balance transfers made in the first 60 days after account opening.
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
Earn 1% Unlimited Cash Back on all qualifying purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee
None for all balances transferred within 60 days of account opening, then $10.00 or 3% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater
The Prime Rewards Credit Card from SunTrust Bank offers a 3 year introductory offer at Prime Rate (currently 5.50% variable APR) on balance transfers made in the first 60 days after account opening. After, 12.99%–22.99% Variable APR. There’s also an intro balance transfer fee: None for all balances transferred within 60 days of account opening, then $10.00 or 3% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater. Beware, the low variable APR doesn’t apply to new purchases, and new transactions will incur a 12.99%–22.99% Variable APR.

Balance transfer card for fair credit

Aspire Platinum Mastercard® from Aspire FCU

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on Aspire Federal Credit Union’s secure website

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Aspire Platinum Mastercard® from Aspire FCU

Regular Purchase APR
9.90% - 18.00% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 6 months
Intro BT APR
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months
Annual fee
$0
Balance Transfer Fee
$5 or 2% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater
Credit required
fair-credit

Average

If your have fair credit, you may qualify for the Aspire Platinum Mastercard® from Aspire FCU. On their site, Aspire states a “fair to good credit score [is] required.” This is good news for people with less than stellar credit. However, the balance transfer offer is significantly lower than cards for good or excellent credit — 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 6 months (after, 9.90% - 18.00% Variable APR). Regardless, six months is better than nothing. And, with careful planning, you can pay off transferred balances during the intro period.

Note: This is a credit union card, so membership is required. Anyone can become a member of the Aspire Federal Credit Union by joining the American Consumer Council at no additional cost.

Learn more

Checklist before you transfer

Never use a credit card at an ATM

If you use your credit card at an ATM, it will be treated as a cash advance. Most credit cards charge an upfront cash advance fee, which is typically about 5%. There is usually a much higher “cash advance” interest rate, which is typically above 20%. And there is no grace period, so interest starts to accrue right away. A cash advance is expensive, so beware.

Always pay on time

If you do not make your payment on time, most credit cards will immediately hit you with a steep late fee. Once you are 30 days late, you will likely be reported to the credit bureau. Late payments can have a big, negative impact on your score. Once you are 60 days late, you can end up losing your low balance transfer rate and be charged a high penalty interest rate, which is usually close to 30%. Just automate your payments so you never have to worry about these fees.

Get the transfer done within 60 days

Most balance transfer offers are from the date you open your account, not the date you complete the transfer. It is in your interest to complete the balance transfer right away, so that you can benefit from the low interest rate as soon as possible. With most credit card companies, you will actually lose the promotional balance transfer offer if you do not complete the transfer within 60 or 90 days. Just get it done!

Don’t spend on the card

Your goal with a balance transfer should be to get out of debt. If you start spending on the credit card, there is a real risk that you will end up in more debt. Additionally, you could end up being charged interest on your purchase balances. If your credit card has a 0% balance transfer rate but does not have a 0% promotional rate on purchases, you would end up being charged interest on your purchases right away, until your entire balance (including the balance transfer) is paid in full. In other words, you lose the grace period on your purchases so long as you have a balance transfer in place.

Don’t try to transfer between two cards of the same bank

Credit card companies make balance transfer offers because they want to steal business from their competitors. So, it makes sense that the banks will not let you transfer balances between two credit cards offered by the same bank. If you have an airline credit card or a store credit card, just make sure you know which bank issues the card before you apply for a balance transfer.

Comparison tools

Savings calculator – which card is best?

If you’re still unsure about which cards offer you the best deal for your situation, try our calculator. You get to input the amount of debt you’re trying to get a lower rate on, your current rate, and the monthly payment you can afford. The calculator will show you which cards offer you the most savings on interest payments.

Balance transfer or a loan?

A balance transfer at 0% will get you the absolute lowest rate. But you might feel more comfortable with a single fixed monthly payment, and a single real date your loan will be paid off. A lot of new companies are offering great rates on loans you can pay off over 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. You can find the best personal loans here.

And you might find even though their rates aren’t 0%, you could afford the payment and get a plan that takes care of your debt for good at once.

Use our calculator to see how your payments and savings will compare.

Questions and Answers

It depends, some credit card companies may allow you to transfer debt from any credit card, regardless of who owns it. Though, they may require you to first add that person as an authorized user to transfer the debt. Just remember that once the debt is transferred, it becomes your legal liability. You can call the credit card company prior to applying for a card to check if you’re able to transfer debt from an account where you are not the primary account holder.

Yes, you can. Most banks will enable store card debt to be transferred. Just make sure the store card is not issued by the same bank as the balance transfer credit card.

As a general rule, if you can pay off your debt in six months or less, it usually doesn’t make sense to do a balance transfer.

Here is a simple test. (This is not 100% accurate mathematically, but it is an easy test). Divide your credit card interest rate by 12. (Imagine a credit card with a 12% interest rate. 12%/12 = 1%). In this example, you are paying about 1% interest per month. If the fee on your balance transfer is 3%, you will break even in month 3, and will be saving money thereafter. You can use that simplified math to get a good guide on whether or not you will be saving money.

And if you want the math done for you, use our tool to calculate how much each balance transfer will save you.

With all balance transfers recommended at MagnifyMoney, you would not be hit with a big, retroactive interest charge. You would be charged the purchase interest rate on the remaining balance on a go-forward basis. (Warning: not all balance transfers waive the interest. But all balance transfers recommended by MagnifyMoney do.)

Many companies offer very good deals in the first year to win new customers. These are often called “switching incentives.” For example, your mobile phone company could offer 50% off its normal rate for the first 12 months. Or your cable company could offer a big discount on the first year if you buy the bundle package. Credit card companies are no different. These companies want your debt, and are willing to give you a big discount in the first year to get you to transfer.

If you transfer your debt and use your card responsibly to pay off your balance before the intro period ends, then there is no trap associated with the 0% APR period. But, if you neglect making payments and end up with a balance post-intro period, you can easily fall into a trap of high debt — similar to the one you left when you transferred the balance. As a rule of thumb, use the intro 0% APR period to your advantage and pay off ALL your debt before it ends, otherwise you’ll start to accumulate high interest charges.

Balance transfers can be easily completed online or over the phone. After logging in to your account, you can navigate to your balance transfer and submit the request. If you rather speak to a representative, simply call the number on the back of your card. For both options, you will need to have the account number of the card with the debt and the amount you wish to transfer ready.

You will be charged a late fee by missing a payment and may put your introductory interest rate in jeopardy. Many issuers state in the terms and conditions that defaulting on your account may cause you to lose out on the promotional APR associated with the balance transfer offer. To avoid this, set up autopay for at least the minimum amount due.

No, you can’t. Balances can only be transferred between cards from different banks. That includes co-branded cards, so be sure to check which issuer your card is before applying for a balance transfer card — since you don’t want to find out after you’ve been approved that both cards are backed by the same issuer.

Many credit card issuers will allow you to transfer money to your checking account. Or, they will offer you checks that you can write to yourself or a third party. Check online, because many credit card issuers will let you transfer money directly to your bank account from your credit card. Otherwise, call your issuer and ask what deals they have available for “convenience checks.”

In most cases, you cannot. However, if you transfer a balance when you open a card, you may be able to. Some issuers state in their terms and conditions that balance transfers on new accounts will be processed at a slower rate compared with those of old accounts. You may be able to cancel your transfer during this time.

Yes, it is possible to transfer the same debt multiple times. Just remember, if there is a balance transfer fee, you could be charged that fee every time you transfer the debt. Also, don’t keep on transferring your debt without making payments because you won’t accomplish much.

You can call the bank and ask them to increase your credit limit. However, even if the bank does not increase your limit, you should still take advantage of the savings available with the limit you are given. Transferring a portion of your debt is more beneficial than transferring none.

Yes, you decide how much you want to transfer to each credit card. For example, if you have $3,000 in debt, you can transfer $2,000 to Card A and $1,000 to Card B.

No, balance transfers are excluded from earning any form of rewards whether it’s points, miles or cash back.

No, there is no penalty. You can pay off your debt whenever you want without a penalty. It’s key to pay off your balance as soon as possible and within the intro period to avoid carrying a balance post-intro period.

Mathematically, the best balance transfer credit cards are no fee, 0% intro APR offers. You literally pay nothing to transfer your balance and can save hundreds of dollars in interest had you left your balance on a high APR card. Check out our list of the best no-fee balance transfer cards here. However, those cards tend to have shorter intro periods of 15 months or less, so you may need more time to pay off your balance.

If you are running out of time on your intro APR and you still have a balance, don’t sweat it. At least two months before your existing intro period ends, start looking for a new balance transfer offer from a different issuer. Transfer any remaining balance to the card with the new 0% intro offer. This can provide you with the additional time needed to pay off your balance. Ideally, look for a card that has a 0% intro APR and also no balance transfer fee.

This post contains links to CompareCards, similar to MagnifyMoney, is also owned by our parent company, LendingTree.

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Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

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