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Balance transfer credit cards: Features and benefits.

Scared to open your credit card statements? Forgot which card's maxed out and which one's paid off? It's time to apply for a balance transfer credit card. Balance transfer credit cards let you consolidate your debt while helping you save on interest charges. And at LowestRates.ca, finding the best balance transfer credit card has never been easier.

Below is a table comparing the key features of some of our favourite balance transfer cards this year.

Card

SimplyCash Card from Amex™.Scotiabank Value® VISA.No-Fee Scotiabank Value® VISA.

Rewards

Earn 2.5% cash back for the first 3 months, and 1.25% cash back thereafter.

Interest-free grace period of at least 21 days on purchases.

Interest-free grace period of at least 21 days on purchases.

Balance transfer rate

1.99%

0.99%

3.99%

Standard Interest Rate

19.99%

12.99%

16.99%

Annual Fee

$0

$29

$0

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Your balance transfer card questions, answered.

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How do balance transfer credit cards work?

With a balance transfer credit card, you can transfer debts from your existing credit cards to a single low-interest card. After all, some balance transfer credit cards have introductory interest rates as low as 0%.

And getting started is easy: use funds from your balance transfer card's credit line to pay off the high interest rate balances on your other credit cards.

Credit card balance transfers can be a great way to reduce debt quickly. You can dedicate a larger portion of your monthly payments to principal rather than interest charges.

Who should apply for a balance transfer credit card?

Canadians who find themselves mired in high interest credit card debt. With a balance transfer card, you can pay off your existing credit card debt with funds from your new card. Just transfer your balances and focus on paying off your card during the introductory period.

Of course, balance transfer credit cards only work if you're committed to paying down your debt. That's why these cards are best for those who know how to use a credit card responsibly, make their payments on time, and are ready to get their finances back in order.

Can anyone get a balance transfer credit card?

Balance transfer credit cards tend to only be available to those with reasonably good credit scores — usually 680 or higher.

Applicants often have significant debt (which they'll likely transfer to their balance transfer credit card), but they need to have a decent credit history and the means to pay off their card in a timely fashion.

To qualify for most balance transfer credit cards, you usually need a minimum household income ranging anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000 per year.

How exactly do I transfer my balances?

Step 1: Fill out the balance transfer portion of your application. You can designate what credit cards you want to pay and the amount of the balances you wish to transfer.

Step 2: Once you have your balance transfer credit card, you can write a cheque from the card or call the credit card company to make a transfer. You just need the account numbers from your old credit cards and the balance amounts you want to transfer.

Step 3: Any time you complete a transfer, check with your previous credit card provider to make sure your balance has been paid in full and to verify that you won't continue to incur interest charges.

How do I decide which balance transfer credit card to get?

  1. Look for a great interest rate on your balance transfers. Most cards have rates as low as 1% or 2%. Lately, some credit cards have even been offering 0% interest on transfers.
  2. Find a credit card that offers those low rates for a reasonably long introductory period. Most balance transfer credit cards offer low introductory interest rates for at least 6 months. The longer the low rate introductory period, the more time you have to pay down your balance before your card resets to a higher rate.
  3. Look at the annual fee. In general, balance transfer credit cards are designed to attract new customers, so they charge very low annual fees.
  4. Compare rewards features. Some balance transfer credit cards offer solid rewards programs on top of great rates on balance transfers.

What's the best way to take advantage of my balance transfer credit card?

Simple — use your balance transfer credit card to pay off your debts before the introductory period expires. Here's a simple way to create a payment plan: take the amount of debt you're transferring and divide that figure by the number of months the introductory period lasts.

For example, if you're transferring $6,000 of debt and your introductory period lasts 8 months at 0% interest, divide $6,000 by 8. In this scenario, you need to make monthly payments of $750 (plus any extra fees) to pay off the balance transfer card before your interest rate resets.

What drawbacks do balance transfer credit cards have?

If you miss even one payment on a balance transfer credit card, your interest rate will reset to a much higher rate, effectively negating the main appeal of the card. In fact, you could end up with more debt than you started with.

Most balance transfer cards also levy extra fees and surcharges on transfers. For example, if you want to transfer $2,000 to a card with a 2% surcharge, you would have to pay an additional $40 on the transaction.

Make sure these charges aren't excessive. In general, cards with fees above 2% or 3% of the total transfer amount are uncompetitive and should be avoided.

Can I use a balance transfer credit card to earn interest?

Yes. Some balance transfer cards let you deposit funds from the card's credit line into an investment vehicle of your choice. So instead of paying off other credit cards, you can transfer funds into a savings account or another vehicle. The gap, or 'spread,' between the introductory interest rate on the balance transfer and the return you earn on your savings account or investment is yours to keep.

But while this may sound good, the gap between the introductory rate and what you could earn in a savings account isn't usually enough to justify the hassle, and deploying a transfer into riskier investments, like stocks, can easily backfire if those securities fall in price. Plus, if you miss a payment, your interest rate will reset, turning those easy profits into painful and unnecessary losses.

Compare balance transfer credit cards today

So why get a balance transfer credit card? It can help you save money on interest charges and gives you the time you need to get your finances in order. Remember to shop around for the right card and make sure you pay off your transfers as quickly as you can.

Compare all the best balance transfer credit cards today at LowestRates.ca.

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