When people think about applying for a new credit card, they often look at the welcome offers and the types of rewards that can be earned with everyday purchases. Sometimes you might need another perk, besides rewards, to make you click the “Apply Now” button. This might apply to you if you are carrying a balance on one of your current credit cards and are looking for a hand-up to help pay off the debt.
But, is it better to choose a balance transfer card or a rewards credit card? Applying for either type of credit card will count as a hard inquiry and affect your credit score, so you will want to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each credit card to help you make the best decision.
Advantages Of Balance Transfer Cards
While rewards credit cards might offer welcome offers of frequent flyer miles or complimentary hotel stays when you meet a spending minimum, balance transfer credit cards will not charge interest on balances transferred from other credit cards for a predetermined time period (typically 12 to 18 months). Your new credit card might charge a one-time fee of 3% to 5% of the balance transferred (credit cards need to make money somehow). But it’s still cheaper than the interest you are paying on your existing credit card.
These cards can be very advantageous if you have any type of credit card debt as you can make payments interest free for several months. This can be a great alternative to debt repayment compared to a high-interest personal loan. You should view the 0% APR as a “second chance” to getting debt-free and rebuilding your credit.
Disadvantages of Balance Transfer Cards
While balance transfer credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR, there are several drawbacks to these cards. Possibly the largest drawback is the APR after the 0% introductory period ends. If you cannot pay off your balance in full (or most of it), the interest rates on these cards can be noticeably higher than other rewards credit cards with interest rates as high as 23%.
If your balance is too high, it might be better to swap your credit card debt for a personal loan with a lower interest rate. Of course, the post-introductory rate will largely depend on the credit card and your credit score. Not all credit cards or credit scores are created equally. It might pay dividends to look at the interest rates and perks of the card after the introductory period.
If you have a high credit score and a low balance, it might be more advantageous to apply for a new credit card with a short introductory balance transfer period and a low-interest rate.
Caps on Transfer Amounts
Another downside of balance transfer credit cards is that some credit cards cap transfers to a certain dollar amount. For example, the Chase Slate limits balance transfers at $15,000 regardless of your credit limit. Depending on the balance amount you want to be transferred, you will need to verify if the prospective credit card will allow you to transfer your full amount.
A final downside of balance transfer credit cards is the lack of purchase rewards. Cardholders of balance transfer credit cards normally have to trade rewards for 0% APRs on outstanding credit card balances. This isn’t always the case as some balance transfer cards do offer purchase rewards. However, they are usually not as lucrative as those offered by rewards credit cards.
Advantages of Rewards Credit Cards
Rewards credit cards “reward” users for spending and making payments on-time. They might award cardholders with points or cash rewards. Plus, their welcome offers entice new applicants to spend a specific amount of money within the first two or three months of account opening to receive an additional bonus.
In one way, rewards credit cards are the complete opposite of balance transfer cards that offer a “second chance” to pay off their balances without interest. With both types of cards, credit card issuers make their money through transaction fees and balance transfer fees (even when the transferred balance is paid in full before the introductory period ends).
As many balance transfer credit cards do not offer purchase rewards, rewards credit cards are better for those that pay their bills regularly. They might also be a better option for somebody who has a small outstanding balance and has more to gain from long-term purchase rewards, even if it means paying interest on credit card debt. Your amount of debt might determine if short or long-term rewards are better.
Disadvantages of Rewards Credit Cards
One big downside of rewards credit cards is the relatively higher fees that are incurred with balance transfers. Credit cards need to make a profit to remain in business. That means they can only offer so many perks.
This is why most credit cards charge no interest for the first 12 to 24 months of account opening or offer purchase rewards. If rewards cardholders do not meet the payment deadlines, they do not earn rewards points on the outstanding balance.
Rewards credit card programs might also require a higher credit score than balance transfer cards. Each balance transfer and rewards program has different eligibility requirements. Some are more stringent than others. As a whole, balance transfer cards give credit card users a chance to catch up and rebuild their credit.
People with higher credit scores will qualify for rewards credit cards that offer better rewards and have lower interest rates than post-introductory APRs offered by balance transfer credit cards. If you have a history of credit card debt or low credit score, your application for a rewards credit card might not be a sure thing. The best place to get credit score information won’t hurt your credit but will also provide essential information.
Are There Credit Cards With Rewards and Introductory APRs?
Yes! There are a few credit cards that offer 0% APR on balance transfers for at least one year and rewards for everyday purchases. You may need a higher credit score to qualify for these cards, but they do exist. Our study of the best balance transfer credit cards to apply for in 2018 can be found here.
The Verdict on Balance Transfer Cards
Which type of credit card is better? It depends on your financial circumstances. If you have a manageable credit card debt of several thousand dollars that you can pay off within the 0% introductory period, a balance transfer card will be a better option. The interest-free payments will probably be a better “return on investment” than any rewards program.
Once you become debt-free, and if your credit score is high enough, you can always apply for a rewards credit card.