Can I get a balance transfer with a poor credit history?
"I want to do a 0% balance transfer but all the credit cards I look at seem to need applicants with an 'excellent' credit history and mine's not so great.
What can I do?"
It's an irony of balance transfer offers, which after all are meant to alleviate the sting of credit card debt, that people who have had debt problems in their past may struggle to have their applications accepted.
On the other hand, it's a myth that there's only 'good' and 'bad' credit: rating is a sliding scale and lenders judge applications on a number of different criteria.
As a result, there are options available for those with a less than excellent credit history, depending on what kind of issues we're talking about (see the next section) and how they're dealt with (see the final section).
Poor credit history: but why?
There are many reasons that a credit history might be considered to be poor: from serious debt problems in the past to a simple lack of borrowing history.
All these problems can affect any applicants ability to get a credit card, and in particular a coveted life of balance or 0% balance transfer, to some extent.
As an applicant, the only defence is a good offence: owning up to yourself as to what the problems are and then strategically applying to the cards most likely to say yes. To the owning up!
Bankruptcy or CCJs less than 12 months ago
If it's been less than a year since a bankruptcy was discharged or a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for debt was taken out, it's currently not possible to get any balance transfer deal that we know of.
Those in this situation may be better served by seeking independent help with the debt; certainly they'll have to wait to do a balance transfer.
However, many people in the same situation do look for credit cards at this stage. See our full guide here for more information about credit cards for those bankrupt or repaying past debt.
Bankruptcy or CCJs more than 12 months ago
As bankruptcy, CCJs or other serious debt problems recede into the past, however, balance transfer options do become available.
Those cards are rare beasts, however. Skip down to our strategy section for more on how to track one down.
Missed repayments / little borrowing history
Less serious problems like one or two missed payments may cause lenders to view an application less favourably but bear in mind that minor problems can often be outweighed by a strong overall history of meeting financial commitments.
A lack of borrowing history might be more of an issue for new lenders. In that case, poor history balance transfer cards might be a better route.
Credit cards that ask for good credit history often also have a minimum annual salary requirement.
Again, however, it's not true of every card: some lenders set their minimum salary requirements as low as £5,000 and others don't set a minimum at all, though bear in mind in both cases applicants that can show they will be able to repay will have a clear advantage.
None of the above
Worried about credit damage caused by something not mentioned above?
It might well be worthwhile to try and pinpoint what the problem is, and taking steps to fix it if possible, before looking at specific cards.
Balancing poor history: applying strategically
We think anyone applying for any credit card should make sure they're applying for the right card and pay close attention to their own recent credit history.
Those things are especially important for those with poor credit looking to apply for a balance transfer, one of the most competitive parts of the market.
Choosing where to apply
When choosing where to apply there are three things worth bearing in mind.
1. Home is where the deals are
Existing customer balance transfer offers, also known as 'unofficial' balance transfers, aren't advertised on any comparison site or, actually, advertised anywhere at all.
These deals are only available from banks where the applicant has an existing relationship - say, a mortgage, a current account or another credit card - and entirely at that bank's discretion.
Balance transfers only work because credit card providers are willing to take on debt in return for future business so these deals won't be available from the provider of the credit card debt that needs to be moved to a 0% deal, even if they're different parts of the same company.
Find out more about these deals in our full guide to unofficial transfers here.
Even when applying for a new advertised product, it could pay to go to a known provider.
When card providers consider an application they'll use as much information as they have available to them.
Applying with a card provider that already holds some verified personal information might give an application an edge.
2. Application criteria matter
Few credit cards still get away with just a few words on 'good history' as their application criteria, especially those targeted at the poor history end of the market.
More often, they'll advertise minimum salary requirements and, often, very specific advice on past debt problems.
For example, as we noted above, very few card providers will accept applicants who have been declared bankrupt or had a CCJ for non payment of debt bought against them in the past twelve months and they are likely to make this rule explicit.
3. Search thoroughly for options
Our comparison table of balance transfer deals, which includes application criteria can be found here.
Like most sites, we keep the balance transfer and poor credit sections separate so it might be worth checking both.
Not listed but possibly of interest is the Capital One Balance credit card (cost of credit) which has a 0% balance transfer offer and is available to those with 'average to good' credit history (further criteria through the cost of credit link).
Recent history: choosing when to apply
Many people don't realise that they might have a problem with their credit history until they have a card application rejected.
If an application is rejected, caution is advised when continuing to make applications.
Making an application for credit leaves a 'footprint' on a credit file that potential lenders view unfavourably and searches generally take three months to be removed from a credit file.
For more on this as well as more tips on making a cautious application see our full timing guide.
Can't get a balance transfer? Other options
Sometimes the deals just aren't out there and those struggling with credit card debt are wise to take an approach other than a balance transfer to get rid of high cost borrowing.
Help with budgeting to pay off high cost debt is available and it's free: see our debt help guide for more information.
For more on dealing with debt on your own see this guide.