Credit Cards

Can a Credit Card Balance Transfer Impact Your Credit Score?

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  • Balance transfers allow you to move an unpaid balance from one credit card to a new card with a low or 0% interest rate.
  • In some cases, a balance transfer can positively impact your credit scores and help you pay less interest on your debts in the long run.
  • However, repeatedly opening new credit cards and transferring balances to them can damage your credit scores in the long run.

If you're struggling to repay multiple balances on high-interest credit card accounts, a balance transfer could help get your debt under control. However, opening a new credit card, even for debt consolidation reasons, can impact your credit scores.

When managed carefully, a balance transfer may boost your credit scores. But this isn't always the case, so it's important to understand the ins and outs of balance transfers before you apply.

What is a balance transfer?

Balance transfers allow you to move an unpaid balance from an existing high-interest credit card to a new card with a low or 0% interest rate. The principal amount of your debt remains the same. However, the new account allows you to save money on interest payments moving forward.

Some credit card companies, though not all, charge a fee for balance transfers. This may be either a fixed amount or a percentage of the balance you're transferring. In most cases, the promotional interest rates offered for balance transfers are only temporary, and the interest rate may increase after the introductory period ends.

Balance transfers can be helpful in many situations. If you're paying off debts on multiple cards, a balance transfer offers the opportunity to consolidate what you owe to just one account. Balance transfers can also reduce what you have to pay in interest, even if only temporarily, and allow you to pay down the principal balance of your debt much faster than you could normally.

Can a balance transfer help raise my credit scores?

In some cases, a balance transfer could positively impact your credit scores by helping you pay off your debts faster than you would be able to otherwise. However, this requires you to diligently work toward paying down your debts after the balance transfer has taken place. It's also important to remember that you don't have just one credit score. Consumer reporting agencies use different scoring models, so your credit scores may vary depending on the source.

If you're considering a balance transfer, the following steps may help keep your credit in good shape throughout the process:

  • Do your research and pick just one card with a low interest rate. When you apply for a new credit card, the issuer performs a hard inquiry into your credit history. A hard inquiry can temporarily decrease your credit scores. However, opening a new card can also improve your credit utilization rate, which is the amount of credit you use compared to the total credit available to you. Applying for just one new card with a low introductory interest rate may reduce your credit utilization rate, which in turn may help counteract the negative impact that opening a new credit card can have on your credit scores.
  • Keep your existing lines of credit open. The mix of credit you have and the average age of your accounts both factor into your credit score calculations. So, it's good to avoid closing any existing credit accounts when you open a new card to transfer a balance.
  • Actively try to reduce your debt. The biggest advantage of transferring an existing balance onto a low-interest credit card is that it can help you get a handle on your debt. Pay off as much of your debt each month as your budget allows and try to exceed the minimum payments consistently. If you're diligent, a balance transfer can help you to work toward becoming debt-free.

Can a balance transfer lower my credit scores?

It may sound like a good idea to keep transferring your balance to a new card to avoid paying interest altogether. However, repeatedly opening new credit cards and transferring balances to them can damage your credit scores in the long run.

A lender or credit card company will review your credit report as part of the application process for a new account. Each request is recorded on your credit report as a hard inquiry, which creates a timeline of when you've applied for new credit and may stay on your credit report for two years. Too many hard inquiries too close together might suggest to lenders that you're applying for more credit than you can pay back. So, having too many hard inquiries on your credit report may harm your credit scores.

Also keep in mind that balance transfers are not always free. Fees can add up over time, thus reducing the net savings you receive with a lower interest rate.

If used correctly, balance transfers can be a useful tool for debt consolidation and management. They may even improve your credit scores. But it's important to do your research first and be aware of the negative effects that a balance transfer could have on your credit scores.

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