Singapore Balance Transfer Guide: What It Is + Top Picks

Best Credit Card Balance transfer

Credit card debt in Singapore grew by 15.8% in the first quarter of the year, reaching $14.6 billion, According to recent data from The Straits Times.

The Business Times suggests that such debt often arises from unavoidable circumstances like health crises or unemployment rather than excessive spending. 

Balance transfers offer a viable solution by allowing the transfer of high-interest debt to cards with lower rates, thus significantly cutting interest costs and easing debt repayment. 

This article will explore how balance transfers can streamline debt management, highlight top options in Singapore, and provide tips to sidestep common pitfalls.

What Is a Balance Transfer?

A balance transfer involves moving high-interest credit card debt to another credit card with a lower interest rate, often with a promotional 0% interest period. This financial strategy helps consolidate debts, making them easier to manage and reducing the amount paid in interest.

Balance transfers are exclusively available for credit cards only. Basically, you utilize the available credit limit from your existing credit line or credit card account. If you have an outstanding personal loan with the same creditor, you cannot use balance transfers to lower your interest. Depending on your bank, any of their credit lines might be eligible for balance transfers.

How Balance Transfers Work

Usually, banks will charge a one-time percentage fee for zero-interest accounts. Most balance transfer accounts offer a 6-12-month repayment period. Typically, banks and lending institutions offer balance transfer services to eligible borrowers.

Let’s take a look at this real-life scenario:

Consider Jane, who has accumulated S$8,000 in credit card debt due to unexpected medical expenses and job loss. By transferring her debt to a card with a 0% interest rate for 12 months, she can significantly reduce her monthly payments. During this period, her monthly payments might be as low as 1% of the outstanding amount, or S$50. 

This gives her the breathing room needed to stabilize her finances and pay down her debt without accruing additional interest.

However, after the promotional period, any remaining balance will revert to a higher interest rate, potentially as high as 30% p.a. This means Jane needs to repay the remaining balance by the end of the 12th month to avoid high interest charges.

Benefits of Opting for a Balance Transfer

Reduced Interest Payments

One of the primary benefits of a balance transfer is the potential for significant savings on interest payments. By moving your high-interest credit card debt to a card with a lower interest rate or a 0% promotional rate, you can focus on paying down the principal amount faster without accumulating additional interest.

Simplified Debt Management

Balance transfers also simplify debt management by consolidating multiple credit card debts into a single account. This reduces the number of monthly payments you need to keep track of, making it easier to manage your finances and stay on top of your repayment schedule.

Quickly Shift Debt To Low-Interest Loans/Cards

A high-interest rate is the fastest way many customers increase their debt.

A balance transfer to a low-interest loan or credit card can give you a breather, allowing you to reach a faster repayment break-even point and completely paying off your debt.

While it’ll cost you a one-time processing fee, it can be worth it for the reduced time you’ll need to pay.

Potential Savings with Balance Transfers

Scenario Without Balance Transfer With Balance Transfer
Total Debt $5,000 $5,000
Annual Interest Rate (APR) 20% 0% (for 12 months)
Monthly Payment $100 $100
Interest Paid in 12 Months $1,000 $0
Principal Paid in 12 Months $200 $1,200
Remaining Debt After 12 Months $4,800 $3,800

Balance Transfers vs. Other Debt Solutions

When considering balance transfers, it’s important to compare them with other debt solutions like personal loans and debt consolidation. Each option has its own set of advantages and best-use scenarios.

At a Glance

Criteria Personal Loans Balance Transfers Debt Consolidation
Definition An unsecured loan that allows the funds to be disbursed to your bank account of choice Involves moving high-interest credit card debt to another credit card with a lower interest rate, often with a promotional 0% interest period. A form of personal loan that enables the borrower to roll multiple debts into a single loan with one payment amount. 
Approval Process 1 Hour 1-3 weeks A few days to a week
Approved Loan Amount Six Months Your Monthly Salary Usually 1-3% of your outstanding monthly balance Can consolidate all existing debts into one loan
Monthly Repayment Amount Fixed monthly payment. Early repayment may incur charges Flexible as long as you pay the minimum monthly repayment amount every month Fixed monthly payment. Early repayment may incur charges
Interest Rate 4% Maximum Interest Cap 0% interest rate on the first year. Varies in the following years (for services beyond 12-month repayments) Interest rates range from around 4% to 36%
Processing Fee Up to S$60 or 10% of the loan only Around 1-4.5% of your balance or higher Varies by lender; often includes an upfront fee
Loan Tenure 12 Months Subject to Money Lender’s Terms and Conditions 3-18 months 1 to 5 years
Best For Individuals needing a larger sum of money with a longer repayment period Consolidating multiple high-interest credit card debts into one manageable payment Consolidating multiple, various types of debts like medical bills and credit cards into a single loan with a structured repayment plan

Financial experts at NerdWallet recommend choosing a 0% APR balance transfer card if you need a longer period to pay off your balance. However, if you can clear the balance within a few months, it might be better to stay with your current card.

Best Balance Transfers in Singapore 2024

Banks Fees 6-Month Balance Transfer 12-Month Balance Transfer
Standard Chartered Interest rate + processing Fee 0% yearly + 2.5% fee 0% yearly + 4.5% fee
EIR (p.a) 3.10% 4.86%
Citibank Interest rate + processing Fee 0% yearly + 2.5% fee 0% yearly + 4.5% fee
EIR (p.a) 5.81% for credit card5.72% for Ready Credit 7.87% for credit card7.58% for Ready Credit
UOB Interest rate + processing Fee 0% + 2.50% fee 0% yearly + 4.28% fee
EIR (p.a) 5.34% for UOB credit cards5.20% for UOB CashPlus 4.95% for UOB credit cards4.69% for UOB CashPlus
OCBC Interest rate + processing Fee 0% + 2.50% fee 0% yearly + 4.00% fee
EIR (p.a) 5.34% 4.63%
HSBC Interest rate + processing Fee 0% + 2.50% fee 0% yearly + 4.88% fee
EIR (p.a) 5.47% 4.88%
DBS Interest rate + processing Fee 0% + 2.50% fee 0% yearly + 4.50% fee
EIR (p.a) 5.27% (Cashline)5.34% (Credit Card) 5.06% (Cashline)5.20% (Credit Card)

How to Apply for a Balance Transfer

Applying for a balance transfer involves several straightforward steps:

  1. Check Eligibility:
    • Must be at least 21 years old and residing in Singapore.
    • Singaporeans and PRs need a minimum annual income of S$30,000.
    • Foreigners must earn at least S$42,000 and may need to provide a work pass.
  2. Gather Required Documents:
    • Identification (NRIC or passport).
    • Proof of income (recent payslips, CPF statements, or tax returns).
    • Recent credit card statements from the cards you’re transferring the balance from.
  3. Compare Offers: Look for promotional interest rates, typically 0% for a set period. Note balance transfer fees (usually 1-5% of the transfer amount) and repayment terms.
  4. Submit Application: Apply online or at a bank branch, providing details about your debt and the amount you wish to transfer.
  5. Await Approval: The review process might take from a few days to weeks, checking your credit history and income.
  6. Complete the Transfer: Upon approval, the bank will handle the transfer to pay off your existing debt.
  7. Start Making Payments: Make regular payments according to the new terms to maintain the promotional rate and avoid penalties.

Pitfalls to Avoid with Balance Transfers

Effectively managing debt through balance transfers involves being mindful of potential pitfalls to maximize benefits and minimize risks:

1. Mismanaging the New Credit Line

Transferring a balance can lower interest payments but not eliminate debt. Misuse, such as continuing to use old credit cards, can lead to more debt. 

For example, John transferred $5,000 to a card with 0% interest but accumulated an additional $2,000 by continuing to use his old card.

Tip: Freeze old credit cards and focus on repaying the new balance during the promotional period.

2. Misunderstanding the Terms

Balance transfer terms can be complex. Misunderstanding them can lead to unexpected costs. Always read the terms carefully, noting the length of the promotional period, post-promotional interest rates, and associated fees. 

Advice from Ari Page, CEO of Fund&Grow: “Ensure you can transfer the balance within the promotional period to avoid interest charges.”

3. Failing to Make Payments on Time

Missing payments can cause you to lose the promotional interest rate, significantly increasing your debt.

Solution: Set up automatic payments or reminders to ensure timely payments.

4. Ignoring the Balance Transfer Fee

Balance transfers usually incur a fee of 1-5% of the transferred amount. Overlooking this can diminish overall savings.

Example: Transferring $10,000 with a 3% fee adds $300 to your debt.

Strategy: Include the transfer fee in your cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the interest savings outweigh the fees.

Managing Debt After a Balance Transfer

Successfully managing debt after a balance transfer is crucial for taking advantage of lower interest rates and moving efficiently towards debt freedom. Here’s a strategic approach to ensure effective debt management:

  • Create a Repayment Plan: To ensure effective debt management, begin by creating a repayment plan. Calculate the total amount transferred and determine monthly payments by dividing this total by the number of months in the promotional period. Also, set a payment schedule by marking due dates and amounts on your calendar.
  • Automate Your Payments: Automate payments to ensure you never miss a due date. This helps you avoid late fees and maintain your promotional interest rate.
  • Cut Unnecessary Expenses: Track spending with an expense tracker app, focusing on essential expenses and reducing non-essentials like dining out and entertainment. Establish a budget that allocates a larger portion towards paying off your debt.
  • Use Windfalls Wisely: Apply any unexpected financial gains such as bonuses, tax refunds, or gifts to reduce your balance transfer debt, significantly shortening the time needed to become debt-free.
  • Plan for the Post-Promotional Period: Save in advance to cover any remaining debt after the promotional period ends. Consider another balance transfer to continue benefiting from lower interest rates, or if another transfer isn’t feasible, consolidate the remaining debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate.
  • Monitor Your Progress: Regularly review your debt repayment progress to stay on track. Adjust your plan as needed based on changes in your financial situation. Check your credit card statements monthly and, if possible, increase your payments to clear the debt faster. Celebrating small milestones along the way can help keep you motivated.

Conclusion

Balance transfers are an effective strategy for managing and reducing high-interest credit card debt, offering significant interest savings and simplifying debt management. Adhering to terms and planning for the post-promotional period is crucial to maximize the benefits of a balance transfer.

Key Takeaways:

  • Balance transfers help consolidate multiple credit card debts into a single account, simplifying the repayment process.
  • This consolidation can lead to easier financial management and fewer monthly payments to track.
  • It’s crucial to understand the terms of the balance transfer, including the promotional period and any associated fees.

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