Average balance transfer fees fell by almost 5% in June and the length of 0% balance transfer offers surveyed increased by nearly 3%, bringing this average above 12 months for the second time in 2011. Despite these positive developments, the breadth of the balance transfer market remains thin. As has been the case throughout 2011, historically exceptional balance transfer offers from Citibank and Discover are skewing what is otherwise a relatively weak marketplace for consumers.
The Good News On Balance Transfers
Consumers who do not currently have Discover or Citi credit cards are in an excellent position to capitalize on the industry leading 0% APR balance transfer offers currently being offered by these companies. Citi balance transfer promotions currently dwarf the competition. The Citi Platinum Select, Citi Diamond Preferred and Citi Simplicity cards all offer consumers 0% rates on balance transfers and purchases that last 21 months. These offers are three months longer than the next longest offer available and come with below average 3% balance transfer fees.
Discover balance transfer offers, which include an 18 month and 15 month promotion, improved significantly in June as Discover reduced the balance transfer fee on these offers from 4% to 3%. The appropriately titled Discover More – Long Duration Balance Transfer credit card is Discover’s longest balance transfer offer, with an 18 month 0% rate. A downside to this card, however, is a relatively short 6 month introductory rate on purchases. Because this rate structure is far from ideal for consumers who will be making both purchases and balance transfers, the flagship Discover More Card is likely Discover’s best current offer. It provides a 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months.
Other than Citi and Discover, Capital One is the only major company with an above average balance transfer card. Their Platinum Prestige Card currently offers a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for approximately 15 months. The Chase Slate card can technically be lumped here as well. Many consumers can get a 15 month 0% rate with Chase Slate, though some applicants may be approved and only offered this rate for a mere 6 months.
Balance Transfer Market Problems
While Citi, Discover, Capital One and, to a certain extent, Chase are offering at least one balance transfer card with an above average 0% introductory list, most other banks are being far less generous. Bank of America, for example, only advertises a 0% introductory rate for balance transfers on one card on www.bankofamerica.com. This offer carries a 4% balance transfer fee and lasts either 9 or 12 months, based on their assessment of an individual’s application.
The story at Wells Fargo is similar. There are presently three balance transfer credit cards advertised on www.wellsfargo.com. These cards carry extremely short 6 month introductory periods and still charge the same 3% balance transfer fee collected by Citi and Discover on offers that are nearly a year shorter in duration.
At U.S. Bank, the balance transfer options are even worse. Like Wells Fargo, they offer 0% rates for 6 months, but charge exorbitant 4% transfer fees. Because of the dearth of quality offers available from these banks, the average length of balance transfer offers would drop to a mere 9 months if Citi and Discover cards were excluded from calculations.
Predicting the direction of the balance transfer market has become a difficult task lately, though one thing is for sure: the best balance transfer offers are unlikely to get better than they are today. A more pronounced slump in the economy, which is more probable this month than it was in May, could lead banks to pull back on the longest offers. However, a weak economy also means that the Federal Reserve will continue to keep rates low, which could provide a buffer against a sharp drop in offer quality.
In addition to these headwinds, less intense competition among card companies could also spell trouble for consumers if it leads banks to roll back the length of 0% introductory offers. Nevertheless, the primary issue for consumers seeking balance transfers today is the fact that only two companies are offering exceptional deals, leaving those who already carry credit card debt on Citi and Discover cards with decent, but less than optimal balance transfer options.
For additional information on current offers, please see the 0% APR balance transfer section of our website where you can compare offers and apply online.