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The Secret Method I Used to Pay Off $5,000 in Credit Card Debt

When my fiancé presented me with an engagement ring, I was thrilled. We celebrated with champagne and called our friends and family to share the good news. But even on that special day, a part of me felt embarrassed and ashamed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the credit card debt I’d accumulated over the last few years and how I didn’t want to bring that burden into my marriage.

As a single woman living in New York City, I tried my best to live within my budget, but when I looked at the numbers my occasional splurges on plane tickets, new shoes, or drinks with friends all added up to a whopping $5,000 in debt. I was making payments every month, but with interest I was barely making a dent.

I knew I wanted to pay off the debt before our wedding, but I also didn’t want to wait forever to get married! So I spoke to a financial advisor who gave me some great advice that I’ve since shared with other friends who’ve found themselves in the same place. Here’s what she had to say:

Step 1: Look for a card offering a long 0% intro APR balance transfer, then transfer your balance to it.

The card I’d used to pay for new dresses and weekends away had a 21% APR, which meant that even though I was making $200 payments every month, up to $90 of it was going to interest (and the banks’ pockets!). So the first thing my financial advisor suggested was to find a new card offering a long 0% promotional period, and to transfer my balance to it.

I’d heard about hidden fees and costs associated with balance transfers, so at first I was wary of that approach. But after doing some research I found the Chase Slate, which offers 15 months of 0% intro APR, no balance transfer fees, and no annual fees. With no catches, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose and so I transferred my balance right away.

Step 2: Take advantage of the 0% period to pay down your balance.

Now came the true test! How much progress could I make on my credit card balance before my wedding, which was set shortly after the promotional period on my new card ended? Since I was no longer paying so much toward interest, I was actually seeing a significant decrease in my balance with the same $200 payments I was making before.

But because I was determined to get rid of the debt before saying “I do,” after a few months I decided to shift some things around in my budget and make slightly larger payments for the remainder of the promotional period ($350 rather than $200). That meant that by the time my husband and I walked down the aisle, I had a new spring in my step. I was finally debt free!

I’m so glad I followed my financial advisor’s tip and found a card with 0% intro APR. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for similar offers to share with friends and family. Here are a few of my favorites:

My 4 Favorite 0% Intro APR Balance Transfer Cards:

The No Transfer-Fee Card

The Chase Slate® is tied as our highest-rated balance transfer card, and for good reason. It charges no fee for transferring your balance to it in the first two months, no annual fee, and no interest on balances transferred for a full 15-month 0% intro APR period. This makes it a phenomenal tool to gain control of your credit card debt, as you can make a costless balance transfer, then use the 15-month interest grace period to pay down your balance.

The Verdict: If you don't need the entire 18 months offered by the BankAmericard, this can be efficient since it doesn't have a balance transfer fee. No transfer fee and no annual fee, combined with the 0% intro APR means that this is really free money for the 15 month term, no catches.

Most Appropriate For: Those who want a no-fee way to stop paying interest, and possibly pay off the cards during that breather. Those with good rather than excellent credit.

Least Appropriate For: Those who pay off their balances every month would be better served getting a card paying high rewards. Note that the 0% transfer fee is an introductory offer, so be sure to transfer your balance in the first 60 days, or there will be a fee.

Recommended credit:  Just Good. The Chase card has the most lenient credit requirements of our top balance transfer cards.

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The Ultra-Long 0% Intro APR Card

The BankAmericard® Credit Card is tied as our highest rated balance transfer card, featuring an unbelievable 18 billing cycles (months) 0% APR intro period. This means that if you were to roll your balance over onto the card today, you wouldn't have to pay interest until well into 2018. The card does charge a 3% balance transfer fee (or $10, whichever is greater), but if you’re looking to avoid paying any interest on your credit card balances for as long as possible, the BankAmericard could be your card.

The Verdict: Getting a loan this cheaply for this long is pretty amazing. If you're carrying a balance, and realistically you know you will have to carry that balance for a while, this card becomes a no-brainer. As an example, assume you have a $10,000 balance on your current cards at a 18% rate. Over the 18 billing cycle (month) term, you would have paid $3,098 in interest.* Switching to this card would cost $300 in fees, but then nothing the rest of the way, for a net savings of $2,798. Not bad, you could do a lot with that extra cash.

Most Appropriate For: Those who have large balances and want as much interest-free time as possible to pay the principle down.

Least Appropriate For: Those who pay off their balances every month or every few months.

Credit Required: Good to Excellent

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The Cards With Long 0% Intro APR AND Cash Rewards Programs.

Pros: Chase's new Freedom Unlimited card is essentially an improved version of the old Freedom. They bumped the base cash back rate all the way up to an industry leading 1.5%, and pay that full 1.5% on all spend, with no limit or spend category restrictions. Unlike most other high paying cash back cards, you don't have to worry about categories or have to activate anything. You'll receive the full 1.5% back as you make your spend, on all spend, automatically. In addition, Chase  is temporarily offering a cash bonus to new card-members. If you charge $500 on it in the first 3 months, you'll earn a $150 cash bonus. Finally, Chase is also offering new card-members 15 months of 0% interest for the first 15 months of using the card to make new purchases. So during that period, you can use the card without paying any interest on balances you tally, while still earning cash back. The card requires good, not excellent credit, making it easier to get in.

Cons: Charges a 5% balance transfer fee. This is on the high side, so we recommend looking at the Slate or BankAmericard if your goal is to transfer a balance. The Freedom Unlimited should be viewed as a cash back card.

The Verdict: One of the strongest cards available to those with good (but not perfect) credit. The card combines industry leading cash back rates (1.5% on everything) with a strong 15 months of 0% interest on new purchases combined with a $150 cash bonus when you use the card to make $500 in spend in the first 3 months.

Most Appropriate For: Those with good credit seeking a daily-use card offering great cash back rewards and 0% intro APR. Best for new charges.

Least Appropriate For: Balance transfers, as it charges the 5% fee while offering no more free term than the Slate (which has no transfer fee).

Credit Required: Good to Excellent

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Pros: Capital One's Quicksilver card makes things simple: you earn 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, with no limit and no category restrictions or games. We included the card in our balance transfer list because it offers 0% intro APR 9 months  on all balances transferred.

Cons: Does charge a 3% balance transfer fee. Requires good credit to get in.

The Verdict: If you're looking to transfer a balance and make some purchases, you can use this card to avoid paying interest during the intro period AND earn cash rewards.

Most Appropriate For: Anyone who might make some large purchases in the near future, or regularly charges a lot on their cards. Making the charges on the Quicksilver  would earn cash back but not require any interest during the intro period.

Credit Required: Good to Excellent

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Comparing The Best Intro APR Cards

                                                                                                                                           
Card Name Purchase APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer APR Credit Needed Features Our Rating & Bottom Line  
BankAmericard® Credit Card
11.74% - 21.74% Variable APR on purchases $0 0% Intro APR on balance transfers made in the first 60 days for 18 billing cycles.
3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers
Good/Excellent 0% Introductory APR for 18 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days Our Rating:
4.7 out of 5

The perfect card for those seeking a simple yet convenient-to-use credit card
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Chase Slate ®
  0% for first 15 months, then 15.49% - 24.24% (variable) $0 0% for first 15 months, no transfer fee Good/Excellent $0 introductory balance transfer fee during first 60 days your account is open; 0% intro APR on purchases and transfers Our Rating:  
5 out of 5
A great card for less than excellent credit, while offering solid features like $0 transfer fee & 15 months 0% APR
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Chase Freedom UnlimitedSM
 0% for the first 15 months, then 15.74%-24.49% Variable$00% for 15 months
            fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Good/Excellent$150 bonus after spending $500 in first 3 months; 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limits or category restrictionsOur Rating:
4 out of 5
Excellent combination of cash back rewards and 0% intro APR; $150 bonus opportunity
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Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Card
0% intro APR 9 months, then 13.49% - 23.49% (variable) $0 0% intro 9 months, then 13.49% - 23.49% (variable)
fee of 3% of the amount of each transfer
Good/Excellent 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limits or category restrictions Our Rating:
4 out of 5
This is a great card for making purchases. Simple cash rewards program comes out among tops in industry
More Details
 

* Savings calculation: Credit Card Balance * (1+Average Card Rate/365)^639 days – Balance Transfer Fee - Average Household Credit Card Balance
Balance transfer fee is minimum of 3% or $10

** Monthly interest calculated on $10k balance at 18% as: 10000*(1+(0.18/360))^365-10000)/12