Credit Card Arbitrage: Making Money from Balance Transfer
Using it wisely, you can make hundreds or even thousands of dollars from credit card arbitrage. Here’s how you can profit from free loans from credit card companies.
A couple of days ago, I received an email from Mike regarding my credit card arbitrage:
I was just wondering how you were able to get 100 K onto your credit cards (cash advances??) … I transfer every $ from my credit card bills (i buy everything i can with credit) to a 0% card then put that cash (that i would have used to pay my credit card bills) into a high yield savings, but that limits me to whatever i can purchase for the month, i would like to quickly utilize all of my 25K worth of credit (on credit cards currently owned), rather than only 1-2K per month which is too slow when 0% APR only lasts for 12 months.
First of all, it’s a misperception that you have to have a balance in order to make the transfer. No, you don’t have to. The money can go to any where that accepts check payment as long as the credit card company can issue you a check. However, it’s important you should be able to get the money you transferred once the check payment is made so you can save it in your bank account and earn interests. That’s the whole purpose of the game.
Before I go ahead with how I play the credit card arbitrage game, here’s a word of caution: Credit card arbitrage is not for everybody. If you can’t resist the temptation to spend thousands of dollars *easy money*, it’s not for you. If you have history of late in making payment, it’s not for you either. You don’t want to get into a deeper trouble by trying to make a small profit.
OK, now the complete process of making money from balance transfer:
1. Get a credit card with 12-month 0% APR balance transfer promotion
If the only purpose of getting a new card is to use the interest free period to make money, then length of the promotion period is the key. There are many cards offer a 12-month period with 0% introductory rate. Any period that’s shorter than 12 months is less desirable, unless you can use the card even without the 0% rate. For existing cards, however, a shorter term such as 9 months or 6 months is acceptable, but you need even larger amount to make up the fees. The shortest term I had was 4 months.
2. Request a convenient check to transfer balance
Not all issuers send out convenient checks right after the card is issued. If the promotion period starts from the time a balance is transferred, you can wait till the condition is right (such as the interest rate of your savings account if you expect it to go up in the coming months). I know Discover Card’s promotion starts when the card is issued. If that’s the case, do the transfer immediately after receiving the card.
To expedite the process, call the issuer when the card arrives and request a convenient check. It’s better to get a blank check, but there are credit card company requires your name and the amount you want to transfer be printed on the check before they can send it to you. Once the check is in, just deposit the money into your bank account.
3. Or make the transfer over the phone
If you feel comfortable, you also initiate the transfer on the phone and have the money sent to your bank account directly (you have to provide your bank’s routing number and your account number). I did that a couple of time with Bank of America and Chase which already have my bank information from the online bill pay.
Things will a lot easier if you transfer the money right to your bank account, but that’s not always the case. For instance, last year Discover insisted I can only use the money to pay balance on another credit card. If this is what’s happening, it’s less desirable but still doable if you have cards that can issue refund for over payment. Check out my previous post on how to use Citi card to transfer balance.
4. Consolidate credit limits to get the most out of the deal
It would be impossible for me to have $100K in balance transfer without some consolidations. If you have multiple accounts with the same issuer, you can get the most out of the deal by consolidating your existing credit limits. All you need to is call the credit card company and tell them to move credit lines from this and that card to the card with 0% offer. Just move the credit lines, but don’t close the accounts as they are likely to be older than the card you just got. When the game is over, you can always move the lines back to those cards if you wish. I have done credit consolidations before and it’s quite easy to do.
5. Don’t spend the money and don’t buy stocks with the money as well
Nobody can predict where the market will be one year from now. If you don’t have other funds to cover the balance when the transfer expires, you will have to sell your stocks which could be losing money at that time. Just save the money in a high yield savings account. There are plenty of online savings accounts offer 5+% interest rate. Keep the money in liquid accounts so you can have an easy access. In case something unexpected happens (like late in making payment), you can pay the money back right away.
6. Pay more than the minimum on time every month
If you are late in making minimum payment, even once, you are screwed. So make sure you give enough time to let your payment hit the card ahead of the deadline. And paying the bill online instead of mailing a check can reduce the risk of late payment. In addition, adding $10 more to the minimum payment is always a good practice.
7. Confirm the payoff date
Call the issuer one month early to confirm the last day the balance has to be paid off to avoid any financial charge. Don’t just assume the date on the offer letter is the deadline. Also, since transferring money via ACH usually requires at least three business days before the fund settles, give yourself enough time to arrange the money and pay off the entire balance without any delay.
Finally, there are a couple of items that you should be careful when playing the credit card arbitrage:
- Think twice before getting a new card for balance transfer if the fee depends on the amount transferred (such as the 3% fee that Citi charges). The profit will be eroded even if you can get 5+% return from a savings account.
- Make sure there’s no balance from purchases on the card before making the transfer. Since any payment you make will be automatically used to pay balance with the lowest interest rate, the charge from your regular purchase will started to accumulate interests until you pay off the entire balance, including that from 0% transfer. Edit: And don’t use the credit card until the balance transfer money is paid off either for the same reason (Thanks Tim ).
- Read carefully the deadline on your offer letter. If it says something like “the billing cycle includes August 31, 2008,” then August 31, 2008 is NOT the deadline to pay off the balance and avoid financial charges. Depending on the date of your billing cycle, you may have to give the money back well ahead of August 31, 2008. Call the issuer to confirm the deadline.
Looking for good credit cards to play the arbitrage game? Check out my coverages on
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