Canada’s best balance transfer credit cards 2022
If you carry a balance on a regular credit card, chances are you’re paying around 20% in interest. At that rate, it can become difficult to keep up with the payments and your debt can spike—fast. Moving your credit card debt to a balance transfer credit card can help you pay off the principal more quickly by giving you access to a lower regular interest rate. Many balance transfer cards offer a welcome bonus with an extra-low (and sometimes 0%) rate for a limited time. Check out our picks for the best balance transfer credit cards in Canada.
At a glance: With a regular interest rate of 12.99% and a 0% balance transfer rate for a full year, the MBNA True Line Mastercard offers a lot of runway to bring down your debt. This card doesn’t charge an annual fee, both for you and up to nine additional users.
- Annual fee: $0
- Interest rates: 12.99% on purchases, 24.99% on cash advances, 12.99% on balance transfers
- Balance transfer offer: Get a 0% promotional annual interest rate (“AIR”) for 12 months on balance transfers within the first 90 days of opening the account.
- Pay for purchases of more than $100 in monthly installments using the MBNA monthly payment plan.
- Get 10% off the base rates for Budget and Avis car rentals in Canada, and 5% off the base rates when you rent internationally.
- Add up to nine additional users for free.
- Even though the balance transfer interest rate is 0% for 12 months, there is a balance transfer fee of 3%, meaning that you pay $30 for every $1,000 transferred.
- Card doesn’t include insurance or other perks.
CIBC Select Visa Card
At a glance: The CIBC Select Visa Card offers an attractive 13.99% interest rate, even on cash advances, and it has a 10-month balance transfer offer of 0% interest and a low 1% balance transfer fee. A handful of other perks, like common carrier accident insurance and discounts on gas, round out the package.
- Annual fee: $29 (rebated for the first year)
- Interest rates: 13.99% on purchases, 13.99% on cash advances, 13.99% on balance transfers
- Balance transfer offer: Get 0% interest for up to 10 months with a 1% transfer fee. For the first year, you’ll also get an annual fee rebate.
- When you link this card with Journie Rewards, you can save up to $0.10 per litre on gas at participating Pioneer, Fas Gas, Ultramar and Chevron gas stations.
- Transfer money internationally with CIBC Global Money Transfer and pay no transfer fees.
- Includes $100,000 of common carrier accident insurance.
- Get up to three additional cards for free.
- The included travel insurance is incomplete, so you may have to buy additional coverage.
At a glance: For those already banking with Scotiabank, the Scotiabank Value Visa offers an enticing balance transfer option. The annual fee is a manageable $29, and it’s waived for the first year and waived altogether for those who have the Preferred or Ultimate banking package. The 12.99% interest rate is among the lowest around, making it suitable for consolidating your debt.
- Annual fee: $29 (waived for the first year)
- Interest rates: 12.99% on purchases, 12.99% on cash advances, 12.99% on balance transfers
- Balance transfer offer: Get 0% interest on cash advances for the first six months, plus no annual fee for the first year. Offer ends April 30, 2023.
- Additional benefits: Get a 25% discount on rental cars at participating Avis locations
- Pay off purchases of $100 or more with no-interest monthly installments, along with a low installment fee (varies by plan), as part of the Scotia SelectPay program.
- Get a 25% discount on rental cars at participating Avis locations.
- Don’t pay the annual fee if you have a Preferred or Ultimate banking package with Scotiabank.
- Supplementary cardholders are free, so your friends or family can also take advantage of a low interest rate.
- You can’t earn cash back or rewards with this card.
- There is little in the way of extras.
At a glance: BMO’s Preferred Rate Mastercard comes with a low regular interest rate of 12.99% and an annual fee of only $20, which is waived for the first year—and waived every year for cardholders with a BMO Performance chequing account. The balance transfer offer isn’t as strong as others on this list, but can still save you money compared to a regular card. Circus fans will love the discounts at Cirque du Soleil.
- Annual fee: $20 (refunded in the first year)
- Welcome offer: Earn a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 2% transfer fee for the first 9 months.
- Interest rates: 12.99% on purchases, 15.99% on cash advances, 12.99% on balance transfers
- Balance transfer offer: 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers in the first 9 months; 2% transfer fee
- Additional benefits: Extended warranty, purchase protection, and Zero Liability protection; discounts on Cirque du Soleil admission
- The $20 annual fee is super affordable and is waived for the first year. If you have a BMO Performance chequing account, it’s waived every year.
- Cardholders can buy discounted Cirque du Soleil tickets.
- Add one additional cardholder for free.
- Doesn’t include travel insurance.
- You can’t earn rewards or cash back.
- The balance transfer offer isn’t as strong as some others available.
At a glance: With no annual fee, an accessible $15,000 annual income requirement and a promotional interest rate of 0.99% on balance transfers for your first nine months, the BMO CashBack is perfect if you’re in a low income bracket and want to get a handle on your credit card balance. This card can even put some money back in your pocket.
- Annual fee: $0
- Welcome offer: Get 1,500 bonus Air Miles ($150 value) and a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 9 months (a 2% transfer fee applies).
- Interest rates: 20.99% on purchases, 22.99% on cash advances (21.99% for Quebec residents) and 22.99% on balance transfers
- Balance transfer offer: 0.99% interest on balance transfers for your first 9 months; 2% transfer fee
- Additional benefits: Members receive 25% off National and Alamo car rentals; get a discount of 15% off admission to Cirque du Soleil shows touring Canada and 20% off resident shows in Las Vegas; includes Zero Liability protection and MasterCard Identity check for online purchases
- The regular cash back rate on groceries is 3%, which is the highest in Canada for a no-fee card. Recurring bill payments earn at 1% cash back, and the base earn rate is 0.5%.
- Use your cash back as a statement credit, or a deposit into your BMO chequing, savings or InvestorLine account, and rewards never expire.
- Add a second cardholder for free.
- There is a balance transfer fee of 2%, meaning that for every $1,000 transferred, you’ll pay a one-time fee of $20.
- This card doesn’t come with much in the way of extras or perks.
What is a balance transfer?
A balance transfer is the transfer of debt from one credit card to another. Although a cardholder can transfer their debt for a variety of reasons, the goal is usually to cut down on the amount of interest charged and to pay off the loan faster.
As most everyday-use credit cards command an interest rate of around 20%, your principal debt load can bloat quickly. By transferring debt to a card with a lower interest rate, you’ll incur lower interest charges—so more of your money goes to the principal balance.
Important things to know about balance transfer credit cards
Balance transfers can be an effective way to consolidate and address debt. There are seven things to consider before you apply for a balance transfer card.
- Shop around for the rate, timing and terms that suit you best
If you’re trying to eliminate credit card debt, your best bet might be a balance transfer credit card. These cards come with promotions that let cardholders pay very low interest (sometimes as little as 0%) for a limited time (like six or 10 months). These offers can be a really effective way to bring down your debt fast, if you are disciplined about making regular payments and are not racking up a lot of new purchases. The card you choose will depend largely on what’s available when you’re looking, how long you think you’ll need to pay off your debt, and the card’s other terms.
- Make sure you’re eligible for the balance transfer
Balance transfer promotions are only valid when moving debt from a credit card at one bank to a card at another bank. It will not work between two cards from the same bank.
- Timing is everything
Balance transfer promotions are available at the time that you make your application or sometimes shortly thereafter. Be strategic about when you apply, and make sure you’re prepared to make the transfer. That means having the credit card company name, your name as it appears on the card, the debt total and the credit card number.
- Remember that balance transfer promotions don’t last forever
The low, single-digit rates available on balance transfer credit cards are limited-time offers. Once the promotional period is over, the cards’ regular interest rates will kick in, which will affect your monthly payments. How you handle this will depend on the amount of debt you have and how quickly you plan to pay it off. But, in general, the best strategies include paying off the balance before the balance transfer offer ends and picking a card with a low regular interest rate. This way, you’ll save money on interest even if you still owe after the offer period.
- Make your minimum payments
Even when taking advantage of a balance transfer offer, you must make at least the minimum payment on the card, on time, each month. If you don’t, that super-low promotional interest rate can quickly be discontinued and the standard interest rate will kick in almost immediately. In other words, only take advantage of a balance transfer offer if you have the cash on hand to make at least the minimum payment each month and you’re in the right financial mindset to take on debt repayment.
- Balance transfer fees
Some—but not all—cards charge a fee for balance transfers. This fee is expressed as a percentage of the total amount you want to move, and it usually ranges from 1% to 3%. So, for example, if you’re looking to transfer $1,000 in debt to a card with a 3% fee, your opening balance will be $1,030. The additional cost may well be worth the money you’ll save at the new lower interest rate. But keep your eyes open for fee deals: Occasionally, a card will run a promotion where the balance transfer fee is waived.
- Separate your expenses
If you charge a new purchase to your balance transfer card, this spend will be charged at the card’s regular interest rate if you don’t pay on time, not the promotional rate that’s applied to the balance you’ve transferred. This might not seem like a big deal, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to find a card with a lower regular rate, but there’s an additional catch: Most credit cards apply payments to debt marked at the low or promotional rate first, which means your high-interest purchases are sitting there longer, racking up interest. If you’re trying to pay down debt, this only compounds the problem. It’s good practice to leave your balance transfer card at home and use a different financial product (like debit, cash or even a different credit card) for new purchases.
Do you earn cash back on balance transfers?
Like cash advances or purchases of money orders, balance transfers are not considered to be purchases, so in general, they’re not eligible for cash back rewards. There may be some rare exceptions with certain promotional offers, but these are few and far between. That said, the interest saved by moving your debt to a card with a lower interest rate will far outweigh the value of most cash back returns.
How does a balance transfer credit card impact my credit score?
When you apply for any credit card, you receive a hard credit inquiry that can temporarily bring your credit score down a few points. This includes balance transfer cards. However, this is not a reason to avoid applying.
If you’re looking into a balance transfer credit card, it’s likely because you’ve got some outstanding credit card debt. Moving that debt in order to reduce it will have a positive, lasting impact on your credit score in the medium to long term.
The lower interest rate means more of your money goes to paying down the balance, so you can reduce your debt load faster. A smaller debt load can improve your credit score because it lowers your credit utilization—a major credit score factor that measures the ratio between the balance and the total credit limit. Say you owe $600 on a credit card with a limit of $2,000. Your credit utilization would be 30%. Having a credit utilization score of 30% or lower is considered good.
When you consider everything, the damage your debt load does to your credit score far outweighs the small and temporary effect on your credit score caused by a credit card application. When it comes to debt, always look for the longer-term solution.
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For the best balance transfer credit cards 2022 ranking, we categorized credit cards based on their limited-time balance transfer rates. Our rankings also took into account fixed annual interest rates on balance transfers and purchases, purchase protections and annual fees.
‡MoneySense.ca and Ratehub.ca are both owned by parent company Ratehub Inc. We may be partnered with some financial institutions, but this does not influence the “Canada’s Best Credit Card” rankings. You can read more about this in our Editorial Code of Conduct.
This article was originally published on Feb. 19, 2019, and has since been updated.