If you’re looking for a new credit card, it’s easy to get dazzled by the ever-lengthening balance transfer deals that have hit the market in the past few months.
Since the start of the year, a number of lenders have battled to offer the longest interest free period to customers who want to transfer their existing debts.
At the moment, both Barclaycard and Halifax offer cards with zero-interest periods of 22 months, thought to be the longest ever balance transfer period in this country.
But don’t solely be swayed by a new market deal, make sure it suits your needs.
Avoid the big transfer fees
Nerys Lewis, credit card analyst at Confused.com, says that the length of the balance transfer period is only one of the factors you should take into account. It is also important to look at the fees you’ll be charged for moving an existing debt to the new card.
Lewis says: “It’s not always appropriate simply to go for the cards that have the longest interest free balance transfer periods.
“There have been lots of rate changes recently, with the top few providers jostling for position, and it’s easy for customers to just automatically go for the card with the longest zero-interest period and not consider their options.”
Lewis points out that Halifax’s 22-month interest-free deal comes with a 3.5 per cent transfer fee. If you move £3,000 on to the card – the maximum allowed by this particular offer – it will cost you an extra £105.
The Barclaycard Platinum with the same length zero-interest period charges 2.9 per cent, which would add £87 to a £3,000 transfer.
Shorter deals, lower costs
But it’s worth working out whether you really need such a long period to clear your debt, says Lewis, so ask yourself honestly if you need 16 months for example, or 22 months to clear your debt.
“If you can pay off the balance sooner, then it’s worth trying to get the shorter periods as they tend to have lower fees,” she explains.
For example, the Barclaycard Gold offers just a 12-month interest free period, but imposes a fee of 2.5 per cent, equal to £75 on a £3,000 switch.
If you think you could clear your debt more quickly, Play.com’s card has a zero-interest period of six months, but a fee of just 1.5 per cent or £45 on a £3,000 transfer.
Tip: Before you pick a card, work out how much of your debt you can afford to repay every month, and this will give you an idea of how long an interest-free balance transfer period you actually need.
Making new purchases
Another issue is the rate that applies to new purchases made with your card: if you want to spend as well as benefit from an interest holiday on debt you’ve already amassed, the cards with the longest balance transfer periods may not be the most suitable.
For example, the 22-month balance transfer Barclaycard offers interest free spending for just three months. After that, the rate reverts to 17.5 per cent a year.
Many of the other top balance transfer deals offer no interest-free period on new purchases.
If you do want to spend, the Virgin Mastercard might be more suitable: it offers 13 months interest free on both transferred debts and new purchases, and there’s a 2.89 per cent fee on transfers.
The Natwest Platinum card has an 18-month interest free balance transfer period (with a 2.8 per cent fee) as well as a six months’ worth of spending at no interest.
Read more about balance transfer cards here.