Based solely on the first eight months of 2011, it is fair to say that no other year in recent history has offered anywhere near as much value to consumers in the market for 0% balance transfers.
The year began with credit card companies offering 24 month promotions that carried high 5% transfer fees as well as a single no fee balance transfer offer. In subsequent months, the longest balance transfer offers fell to 21 months, but fees on these cards also fell to 3%, making the somewhat shorter deals more attractive than the longest offers of the year.
A glimpse at average 0% APR balance transfer durations and transaction fees from September of 2010 provides a sharp insight into how much the market has evolved in the past year. During that period, the average length of 0% introductory periods was 10.73 months and average fees were 3.88%. The longest offer at that time was 18 months, but it carried a hefty 5% balance transfer fee – two full percentage points higher than what is charged on similar offers today.
In August of 2011, the average length of 0% APR balance transfer offers is 12.17 months, a 13% improvement versus last September. Balance transfer fees have fallen even more, declining by 16% to 3.28%. Rising introductory periods and falling fees have thus been a boon to consumers in 2011.
August’s Leading Balance Transfer Promotions
Citibank balance transfer offers have dominated the market since March of 2011 and this trend continues in August. On the Citi Platinum Select and Citi Diamond Preferred Card, Citi continues to offer 0% introductory rates on purchases and balance transfers for an industry leading 21 months. Both cards carry low 3% balance transfer fees.
A third Citi card, the Citi Dividend World MasterCard, offers a shorter 15 month 0% rate on purchases and balance transfers, but also provides a $100 cash back bonus to new applicants who spend $500 within three months of becoming a cardmember. This cash back perk can not only be viewed as a way to reduce balance transfer fees to zero on transfers of $3,000 or less, but also a way to get set-up with a card that will provide value once the 0% interest period terminates.
Discover, which got off to quick start in 2011 by offering a 24 month as well as a no fee balance transfer promotion, is still very much in the mix. They presently offer two versions of the Discover More card. The flagship offer provides a 15 month introductory period on balance transfers and purchases. A second version of that card offers a longer, 18 month introductory period on transfers, but a very short six month introductory period on purchases.
The Weaker Options
Not all credit card companies are actively competing in the balance transfer market. Capital One has one offer on their Platinum Prestige card that lasts approximately 15 months, but most other Capital One cards carry no balance transfer promotions. Chase has a few cards in the mix, including Chase Slate, though this offer has a tiered introductory period that lasts either 6 or 15 months, depending on a review of submitted applications.
Excluding Citi, Chase, Discover, and Capital One, the balance transfer market is about as weak as it has ever been. A sampling of offers from Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo and Barclays results in an average duration of 7.07 months and average fees of 3.7% – numbers that are more in line with credit crisis promotions than they are with the current market. And this figure doesn’t account for the absence of American Express, which abandoned the balance transfer market in early 2009.
Ultimately, consumers who can utilize offers from Citibank, Discover and the remaining banks with competitive offers are standing on solid ground. Those who need to transfer balances from these issuers are unfortunately in a poor position, as the cliff between the leading offers and typical offers from other major banks is precipitous.
For additional information or to find a balance transfer card that suits your particular needs, please see our balance transfer search assistant, a tool designed to help consumers isolate balance transfer offers that meet their particular needs.