Dollars & Sense

Does a balance transfer affect your credit score?

Balance transfers are an excellent way to consolidate your debt and pay it off as quickly as possible. But, it does have positive and negative impacts on your credit score. Despite some minor negative impacts, balance transfers can immensely transform your credit score. Here’s how:

How does a balance transfer negatively affect your credit score?

A balance transfer can cause a dip in your credit score in the short run. When you apply for a balance transfer, lenders conduct a hard inquiry to determine if you’re a capable borrower. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for about two years. Several hard inquiries show you’re seeking credit from too many sources, which could indicate you may not be a reliable borrower. This differs from a soft inquiry, which is when you check your credit or a lender is trying to pre-approve you. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score.

Balance transfers can also lower your credit score by reducing the average age of your accounts. If you have three cards with an average account age of 48 months, and you decide to open a balance transfer card as your fourth, the average age of your accounts would lower, which could drop your score.

This has a minimal impact on your credit score, but it’s still critical to be aware of. It’s imperative to keep old, unused accounts open to maximize the average age of your accounts. But, if an old account has a high annual fee that you can’t afford, then it might be in your best interest to close it—weigh the pros and cons before closing the account.

How does a balance transfer positively affect your credit score?

Despite some hindrances, a balance transfer can considerably raise your credit score. Balance transfers reduce your credit utilization rate, which is the percentage of available credit that you’re using.

Low rates show that you’re not accumulating debt. Ideally, you want your credit utilization rate to be below 30%. For example, if you have multiple credit accounts and move the balances to a single account, your credit utilization rate shows as 0% on the old accounts. It’s crucial to take advantage of the 0% APR period so you can pay off your debt as soon as possible. This will then decrease your credit utilization rate over time.

Your credit utilization rate accounts for 30% of your FICO® Score, which is the score most used by lenders.

What should I do after I apply for a balance transfer?

After you’ve applied for a balance transfer, avoid applying for more credit. Limit the number of hard inquiries on your credit report as much as you can, and only apply for loans unless they’re necessary.

Don’t make purchases with your balance transfer card. The sole purpose of your card is to pay off debt, not accumulate more. When you add to that debt, it makes paying your balance during the 0% APR period more challenging. Create a budget to cut out unnecessary expenses and avoid accruing more debt.

Lastly, set up auto payments to ensure you’re paying your credit card bill on time each month. This boosts your credit even more—payment history accounts for a large portion of your FICO® Score. Choose a specific amount to transfer from your checking account to pay your bill. It should be enough to pay off your card within your 0% APR period.

Balance transfers can do wonders for your credit score, despite some drawbacks. When you use a balance transfer card responsibly, your credit score can grow in the long run. Check your spending habits, stick with your budget, and you’ll be debt-free in no time with a credit score on the rise.

If you’re ready get your finances in order, try a balance transfer.

Playlist