Balance transfer offers can save you money on interest and potentially speed up debt repayment if you’re able to qualify for a lower APR.
There’s just one thing to watch out for: balance transfer fees.
A balance transfer fee can add to your debt total, leaving you with more to repay. But if your credit card company is willing to cut a deal, you may be able to negotiate lower fees. These tips can help with minimizing balance transfer fees.
See related: Best balance transfer credit cards
What is a balance transfer fee?
A balance transfer fee is a charge the credit card company can apply for moving a balance from one card to another.
Balance transfer fees can be a percentage of the amount being transferred or a flat dollar amount. The typical percentage for balance transfer fees is 3%, though some credit card companies may charge 4% or 5%.
While less common, a handful of card issuers offer no-fee balance transfers.
Can you negotiate balance transfer fees?
The short answer is, it depends.
“Although cardholders are rarely successful at negotiating a lower balance transfer fee or getting it waived entirely, it is possible and some cardholders have reported success,” says Megan Horner, credit card expert at Finder.com.
It often depends on whether the card issuer is willing to reduce the fee to get your business. Credit card companies make money off balance transfer fees, other fees and interest so they may require some incentive to negotiate.
How to negotiate balance transfer fees
If you’re interested in testing your negotiation skills, these steps can help improve your chances of success.
1. Estimate balance transfer fee savings
Before approaching your credit card company about waiving or reducing the fee, calculate how much you’d pay with the standard fee. There’s a big difference, for instance, between a $25 fee and a $250 fee.
Then estimate how much you might be able to save on fees by trying to negotiate. Also, consider how much time you’ll have to pay off your balance before the promotional rate expires.
For example, say that Card A offers a 0% APR for nine months with no balance transfer fee. Card B offers a 0% APR for 18 months, with a 3% balance transfer fee.
Card A would make negotiating unnecessary. However, if you need the longest amount of time possible to pay off a balance transfer, Card B might be the better fit.
But with Card B, you’re taking a gamble on whether the credit card company will cut you a break on the balance transfer fee.
See related: 9 things you should know about balance transfer cards
2. Target your negotiation efforts
If you want to negotiate balance transfer fees, you’ll need to call the credit card company and talk to the right person.
“When you call, ask to speak with a supervisor since the first agent you speak with probably won’t have the authority to negotiate,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful.
Here’s where patience can be an asset since it may take multiple phone calls to move things along. You may also have better luck in getting a balance transfer fee waived or reduced if you can negotiate face to face.
“You might not realize it, but officers at local banks have the authority to waive fees in certain circumstances,” says Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right.
Whether this works for you or not depends on how motivated the bank is to keep you as a customer. For instance, Horner says that if you have a business credit card at a particular bank, it may have a stronger incentive to keep you as a customer and waive fees for a personal balance transfer.
3. Make your case for a balance transfer fee waiver or reduction
Your credit card company may need some convincing to agree to lower or eliminate balance transfer fees. Be prepared to make a strong argument for why they should play ball.
Your credit history could be a key bargaining chip.
“If you have an excellent credit score you can use it as leverage and point to your history of responsible card use,” says Horner.
If you haven’t checked your credit score lately, consider doing that before looking for a balance transfer deal. Keep in mind that a score of 740 or better is generally in the excellent range and should give you the best odds for success when negotiating balance transfer fees.
When you’re trying to transfer a balance to a card at the bank or credit union where you keep your checking and savings accounts, Allec says to research the competition first.
For example, if you know that a competitor bank or credit union charges a lower fee or no balance transfer fees at all, you could try and use that to persuade your bank to cut you the same deal.
What to do if you’re unable to negotiate balance transfer fees
If you’ve contacted your credit card company or bank and hit a dead end, there are still a few options for saving money on balance transfer fees.
“Likely, your best course of action is to open a balance transfer card with no balance transfer fees,” says Horner.
These cards currently have zero balance transfer fee and 0% APR promotions:
- Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Card*: Transfer balances with a $0 fee within the first 30 days of account opening (note that this offer expires June 30, 2021).
- SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card: Pay no balance transfer fee for the first 60 days after account opening.
These types of balance transfer promotions are readily available but don’t overlook unadvertised offers.
“Some banks will periodically run special deals where they allow low or no balance transfer fees for a 30-day period,” says Allec.
The catch is that these may be unadvertised until right before the promotion begins. Banks may also cap the number of customers who can take advantage of these special offers, so if you come across one, you’ll need to move quickly to cash in, says Allec.
See related: 8 steps to reducing credit card debt
Are balance transfer fees worth it?
The answer really depends on your goals.
If you place more importance on saving money on interest than paying the fee and you could save a considerable amount, a balance transfer fee could be worth it.
Consider how long you have to pay off the balance at 0% interest. If you could pay the balance in full before the promotional rate expires and the interest savings exceeds the fee, then it may be justifiable.
On the other hand, if a balance transfer fee would significantly add to your debt, then it may not make sense to pay one. Paying a fee could also be a waste of money if you’re unable to pay the balance off before the 0% intro rate ends.
How to avoid balance transfer fees
If you’re unable to negotiate balance transfer fees and you can’t find a card that doesn’t charge one, there are other options you might consider.
For example, you could apply for a debt consolidation loan in place of a balance transfer. There are pros and cons to this approach.
On the pro side, there’d be no balance transfer fee to worry about since you’re getting a loan to pay off the balances versus moving them from one card to another. Using a loan to consolidate credit card balances may also be more beneficial to your credit score than a balance transfer. It would significantly reduce your credit utilization ratio and potentially improve your credit mix, especially if you have no other installment accounts such as student or auto loans.
The biggest con, however, is that you’re less likely to find a debt consolidation loan with a 0% APR. So, you might be trading no balance transfer fee for a higher interest rate. And you may still pay an origination fee to get the loan.
Another option is to simply do nothing and keep your balance where it is. This might be something to consider if you’re working on improving your credit score to qualify for one of the no-balance-transfer-fee cards mentioned above.
If you decide to transfer a balance to a 0% APR card with or without a fee, make sure you have a strategy for paying it off. Most importantly, keep an eye on the calendar so you don’t risk triggering interest charges once the promotional period expires.
“The best thing you can do is pay down most or all of it while the introductory rate is still in effect,” says Steiner.