The start of the New Year has brought about a number of significant changes to 0% balance transfer credit card offers. On the average, the length of balance transfer offers slightly increased in January while balance transfer fees slightly decreased. The longest available balance transfer offer continues to last 24 months and a number of other cards are available with 0% rates that last 18 months. However,  the best balance transfer offer in January is likely a special limited time 0% APR no fee balance transfer from Discover, the first fee-free balance transfer deal marketed online in over two years.

The Longest 0% Balance Transfer Offers in January

This month, Citibank ended the 24 month balance transfer deal previously available with the Citi Platinum MasterCard. However, a new limited time 24 month balance transfer from Discover recently became available. Unfortunately, while this offer matches the length of the previous offer from Citibank, it does carry a 5% balance transfer fee.

The Citi Platinum MasterCard‘s new 18 month balance transfer offer is the second longest 0% offer available and continues to carry a low 3% balance transfer fee. The Chase Slate card also increased the length of the 0% APR it is offering on both purchases and balance transfers to, “up to 18 months.” Slate’s 18 month 0% rate on purchases is the longest currently available. However, there is a caveat. Applicants who are deemed to have average credit may be approved for Chase Slate, but only offered a 0% rate for 6 months. Thus, while applicants who have good to excellent credit and want the longest 0% rate on purchases can benefit from this card, those who are on the border between good and average credit run the risk of getting a much shorter 0% rate.

The Best Balance Transfer Offer in January

Although it is not the longest offer, the Discover No Fee Balance Transfer card is likely the best balance transfer card on the market today. This card provides a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for 12 months and, as the name implies, charges no balance transfer fee.

The lack of a balance transfer fee can substantially increase balance transfer savings. For example, every $1,000 transferred to a card with a 3% fee costs $30, while $1,000 transferred to a card with a 5% fee costs $50. With this no fee balance transfer, a person transferring $3,000 can save $90 to $150 on fees in addition to what can be saved on interest during the course of a 12 month 0% period – typically about $100 for every $1,000 transferred from a card with a 15% interest rate.

Average Online Balance Transfer Offers in December

As in the preceding months, Citibank and Discover continue to provide the most generous balance transfer offers. Discover now offers consumers the widest range of balance transfer options, as it added both a 24 month and a no fee card to its existing lineup, which also includes an 18 month card. Discover’s new 24 month balance transfer offer helped increase the average online balance transfer length to 11.61 months in January from 11.47 in December. While this month’s increase in the average is relatively small, average balance transfer duration is up nearly a month since September of 2010.

Balance transfer fees also continued to decline, as the average fees among surveyed cards dropped from 3.5% to 3.36%. Again, while this month over month drop is relatively small, the long term trend is extremely positive, as balance transfer fees are now a full 1/2% less than they were last September.

Apart from the aforementioned offers from Discover, Citi, and Chase, Capital One is the only other major credit card company with an above average 0% deal- a 0% for 15 months on balance transfers and purchases available on the Capital One Platinum Prestige card.

Most other major credit card companies continue to offer relatively lackluster balance transfer promotions. A handful of Bank of America cards available online, such as the BankAmericard Visa, offer 0% rates that last either 9 or 12 months and carry 4% balance transfer fees. With these offers, the length of the balance transfer is not determined until after an application is submitted. This means it is possible to end up with a balance transfer that is two months less than average and carries a fee that is 20% higher than average if you don’t qualify for the longest rates.

Wells Fargo, US Bank and Barclays also continue to offer lackluster balance transfer deals. Wells Fargo has a pair of cards online that offer 0% rates that only last six months and carry 3% transaction fees. At US Bank and Barclays, six month balance transfers carry 4% transaction fees. These are the least attractive offers currently available.

Final Thoughts

After three months of constant increases in the length of balance transfer offers, January is the first month since September where some companies are showing signs of pulling back. Discover’s no fee and 24 month balance transfer offers helped improve the overall averages, but both offers are only available until February 28th. Once they expire, a return to the normal, 12 month balance transfer offers that have dominated the past five years may be in store.

For additional information on credit cards mentioned in this article or to apply for a credit card offer, please see the 0% APR Balance Transfer comparison section of Smart Balance Transfers.

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