I paid off more than $10,000 of credit card debt in 3 years, and using balance transfer cards saved me another $3,000 in interest

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When I got my first "big girl" job out of college, I made the quintessentially millennial mistake of thinking my fairly average salary could buy me anything I wanted, just because it wasn't minimum wage.

As a newly certified grownup, I assumed it was only normal to sign a lease on a house with a big backyard, fill it with cute mid-range furniture and a whole wardrobe of new work clothes, and start going to bottomless brunch on a weekly basis.

A few years later, I was facing around $10,000 in credit card debt. I wanted to quit my job and move, but I knew I wouldn't be able to do that with five figures of credit card debt breathing down my neck, so I started looking for ways to pay off credit card debt quickly. Some casual internet research led me to the answer I needed: balance transfer credit cards.

How I chose a balance transfer credit card

Balance transfer credit cards generally offer an introductory 0% APR for a set period of time, and often no fee for transferring your balance on another card to this card instead. Then, you have that introductory period to pay off your balance without it earning any more interest, making the balance transfer card an option for people trying to dig out from underneath credit card debt.

I went with the Chase Slate, which offered 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 15 months (17.24% to 25.99% variable APR after). There are balance transfer credit cards out there with a longer introductory period, but I chose the Chase Slate because it came with a $0 balance transfer fee for the first 60 days, although the go-to balance transfer fee on the card is 5% of the amount transferred, with a minimum of $5.

Doing a balance transfer with the Chase Slate credit card

I was lucky enough to get approved for the card and offered a credit limit of $7,000, which would cover most of my debt. My credit score at the time was around 700, probably due to the fact that my debt-to-credit ratio was still pretty low. Also, I'd never missed a monthly payment.

I transferred $7,000 of my debt to my new Chase Slate for free and left the remaining $3,000 on my credit union credit card, the one of my cards with the lowest interest rate.

With 15 months to pay off my balance before my interest rate shot up to nearly 20%, I calculated that I'd have to make monthly payments of at least $467 to pay off the card in time, along with paying the minimum each month on my credit union credit card.

I started with monthly payments of $250 on my Chase Slate and figured I could increase them as I cut costs - but I never did. So as my 15 months came to a close, I still had a balance of about $3,000 on my Chase Slate, plus another $2,000 on my credit union credit card.

Doing a second balance transfer with the Citi Simplicity credit card

Luckily, I was approved for a second balance transfer credit card. This time I went with the Citi Simplicity because it came with the longest introductory period - 21 months. Unfortunately, I'd never had a credit card with Citi before, so they only approved me for a $2,700 credit limit, and I also had to pay a 3% balance transfer fee. I transferred the $2,700 from my Chase Slate and let them charge me interest on the remaining $300 before I paid it off the next month. My credit union credit card still had a $2,000 balance.

This time I committed to paying off the balance on time. I did the math and set the monthly payments on my Citi Simplicity and my credit union credit card on autopay.

Twenty-one months later, I was officially debt-free.

I made mistakes but still saved $3,000

I made a few mistakes - namely, not sticking to a plan to pay off my debt, and assuming I would be approved for a second balance transfer card with an adequate credit limit.

That being said, I got $10,000 worth of credit card debt paid off in three years, and I only had to pay $81 in balance transfer fees and just over $400 in interest, mostly on my credit union credit card. If I hadn't done a balance transfer at all, I would have spent over $3,000 on interest fees.

I never closed my balance transfer credit cards because keeping them open with $0 balances helps my credit score, although Chase eventually closed my Slate due to inactivity. More importantly, my credit score is inching its way toward 800, and I've stayed debt-free ever since.

Try the free CardMatch tool at CreditCards.com to find the right credit card to meet your goals »

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