Balance Transfer Day: Not a Slam Dunk for Consumers

PHOTO: December 11, 2011 is Balance Transfer Day.PlayGetty Images/OJO Images
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You know, when I first heard that December 11 was Balance Transfer Day, I applauded the spirit of the day. I want consumers to get the lowest interest rates possible when they're in debt. And just to be clear, the best balance transfer offers involve a zero percent introductory APR (interest rate) for a specific amount of time. The time period ranges from six months to about 21 months, currently.

But what doesn't click here is that a balance transfer takes a little time, not to mention a lot of research. It's not like walking onto a car lot and looking for the one that has all the features you want. If you don't find your perfect car, you can always order one to your specifications.

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You can't just order your own perfect balance transfer offer. And even though there are plenty of balance transfer offers out there right now, you can't randomly choose one. You have to find an offer that matches your credit standing, which means you need to know what your FICO score is. You also have to find a card that has a go-to interest rate (your interest rate after the zero percent intro rate ends) that you can live with if you don't pay off the balance within the zero percent intro period.

Now, the idea is probably that you apply for a card that day. Just be aware that offers are constantly changing, so it's silly to wait until December 11 if you've got a good one in hand today. On the flip side, you might have to look for several weeks—or even longer—until the best offer for your circumstances becomes available.

Here are a few more wrinkles that keep me from embracing Balance Transfer Day:

1. An AP story by Candice Choi reports that Michael Germanovsky, the creator of the Facebook page for Balance Transfer Day, is an editor at, a website that profits when you apply for a credit card. The ties to the credit card site should have been disclosed. The Facebook page calls on people to Occupy Credit Card Companies. Kind of ironic since one of the reasons banks are being demonized is for a lack of transparency.

2. The AP story also points out that Balance Transfer Day sounds suspiciously like Bank Transfer Day, which was a movement to take your money out of big banks and move it to credit unions. That was a cause that I supported. I don't like it when word play feels like manipulation. - This isn't really sticking it to the banks. In fact, many banks will profit from the influx of new transfers from the elite group of borrowers who will qualify for the offers.

3. Consumers who do qualify for the offers will certainly benefit. But for the really good deals, you need excellent credit, which is a FICO score around 750. In another ironic twist, today's post on the Balance Transfer Day Facebook page is about how this day is for the 99 percent. Only 40 percent of the population has a FICO score of 745 or higher. The majority—and the ones who probably need it the most—will not qualify for the best offers.

4. Consumers who attempt to get cards they can't qualify for could see their credit score go down. It's important to know what your score is so you don't get roped into applying for a card that's currently beyond your grasp.

5. In order to transfer your entire debt to another credit card, you have to get approved for a credit limit that's high enough to accommodate the debt. If you have a $10,000 balance you want to transfer, you'll need an excellent score to qualify for a high credit limit.

Okay, so enough already with the "fake" days. Social media has the power to create a movement. Sometimes it's in your best interests, but sometimes it's not. It's so easy to get caught up into wanting to tell banks where they can stick their interest rates. Trust me, I've been in debt and I know the feeling.

Let's just all make sure that we make the right decision for ourselves regardless of what day it is. You'll get out of debt by empowering yourself with knowledge and then making decisions based on your own timetable, not someone else's.