guide to performing a balance transferUpdated: Sept. 28, 2018

In theory, balance transfers are a simple concept: move your balance from one credit card to another. In practice, though, there are a lot of variables to think about. Will you have to pay a balance transfer fee? What if you don’t get approved for a credit limit high enough to cover the entire balance you want to transfer? Does your new credit card provider have specific rules about how much can be transferred or what kind of balances you can transfer? Because the rules can differ from provider to provider, we decided to write a detailed guide on how the process works with each one to ensure that performing a balance transfer is smooth sailing.

The hard rules of balance transfers

Before we dig into the details of each provider’s balance transfer process, it’s important to discuss the handful of things are almost always true when it comes to balance transfers.

  • Banks and credit card issuers rarely allow a balance transfer between two cards issued by them. So, for example, you aren’t going to be allowed to move your existing Discover card balance to a new Discover card.
  • While you can technically perform a balance transfer with the majority of credit cards, you typically won’t want to unless doing so is going to save you money. That’s why it’s wise to shop around and find a card with a 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers that fits your needs and qualifications. Need some help locating the perfect card? Our free Balance Transfer Calculator can help you connect with the perfect card for your transfer amount, monthly payment and credit level. It will even calculate how much your balance transfer fee will be and how long it’ll take you to pay off the balance.
  • While the average time quoted by most issuers for completing a balance transfer is 5 to 7 business days, it can take up to 6 weeks in some circumstances, so you will need to continue paying the minimum balance on your old card until the transfer has successfully gone through. Otherwise, you could find yourself paying penalties or dealing with other unwanted circumstances.
  • Only the primary account holder can perform a balance transfer, not authorized users, though whether you can transfer a balance that is not in your name is largely dependent on your credit card issuer’s rules.
  • When deciding on an amount to transfer, keep in mind that you may have to pay a balance transfer fee (typically equal to 3% to 5% of the total amount you’re transferring), so you should factor that in when making your request. If the new card’s credit limit is $2,000 and you want to transfer $2,000 but there’s a 3% balance transfer fee, you might wind up getting denied (or only allowed to transfer part of the balance) because the total amount that is supposed to go on your card is actually $2,060.
  • Some credit card providers offer checks for customers to use for completing balance transfers or other transactions. These are most commonly known as convenience checks, but they are called by different names by some providers. It’s important to make sure that if you use a check from your credit card provider to complete a balance transfer, that you understand what APR and fees are involved, as some will allow you to use a check in place of a card-to-card balance transfer with the same terms while others treat them as a different kind of transaction (e.g., a cash advance).

Performing a balance transfer, issuer by issuer

To give you the gist of how a balance transfer works for each of the providers whose credit cards we review at NextAdvisor, we scoured their FAQs and cardmember agreements to give you some insight into how the process works with each of them. We broke it down into what kinds of balances can be transferred (while previously we’ve reported that only credit card balances can be transferred, we discovered that more and more providers are allowing balance transfers to be used to cover all kinds of uses), how much you’re allowed to transfer, how long a transfer will take on average and anything else pertinent to would-be balance transfer seekers.

American Express

What you can transfer: Only balances from credit cards that have not been issued by American Express or its affiliates.

How much you can transfer: You can request transfers that constitute up to 75% of your available credit limit or $7,500, whichever is less. You also can’t transfer any amount under $100.

How long it will take: Typically, it takes between 5 to 7 days, but American Express states that in some cases, it could be up to 6 weeks before a transfer is processed.

Other things to know: American Express does not provide checks for customer use, so it’s not possible to perform a balance transfer in that manner. This, combined with the fact that you can only transfer credit card balances, means American Express cards aren’t ideal if you want to transfer anything other than a credit card account balance.

Bank of America

What you can transfer: Only balances from credit cards that have not been issued by Bank of America or its affiliates.

How much you can transfer: Up to 3 balance transfer requests can be submitted at a time, however, the total requested amount must not exceed your credit line. If so, Bank of America may send a full or partial payment to your creditors in the order you provided their information.

How long it will take: Most transfers through Bank of America take 2 to 4 business days, but if your account is brand new, it will take at least 2 weeks (or 14 days) for the request to process.

Other things to know: You can elect to request a paper check or cash deposit into your bank account, drawn against your credit line. This is helpful if you want to transfer the balance of a non-credit card debt, though it’s important to note that this option is considered a direct deposit cash advance, which Bank of America considers different than what it refers to as a same-day cash advance. Thus, it may be eligible for promotional rates, but you should remember that it likely won’t be the same as any promotional balance transfer rates your account has, and will therefore not be the cheapest option.

Barclays

What you can transfer: Balances from credit cards that have not been issued by Barclays or its affiliates, as well as loan balances.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long will it take: Generally up to 5 days, though if you have a new account, Barclays says it might take up to 4 weeks for the transfer to process.

Other things to know: Barclays terms and conditions were pretty bare, so there’s really nothing else to note here.

Capital One

What you can transfer: Balances from accounts that have not been issued by Capital One or its affiliates, as well as personal, auto and student loan balances.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long it will take: You must have an account for at least 10 days before you can request a transfer. Once requested, transfers will process in 3 to 14 days.

Other things to know: Capital One offers its customers an Interest Saver Payment option which includes the minimum monthly payment as well as any non-promotional balances (e.g., purchases, fees, finance charges and cash advances) to help ensure that you won’t pay interest on purchases you make while you’re carrying the balance from a balance transfer. It’s also possible to use what Capital One calls an Access Check for a balance transfer, but they aren’t always available to every cardholder.

Chase

What you can transfer: Balances from most accounts that have not been issued by Chase or its affiliates — this is not limited to credit cards or loans, as Chase provides balance transfer checks as an option for completing your transfer.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit or $15,000, whichever is less. Your balance transfer requests in any 30-day period cannot exceed $15,000, according to Chase’s FAQs.

How long it will take: Most transfers will process within 1 week, but it’s possible for it to take up to 21 days in some cases.

Other things to know: As noted above, Chase sometimes sends customers balance transfer checks, which can be used to pay off a non-credit card balance, cashed or even used to transfer funds into a checking account. It’s important to consider any potential added fees or APRs associated with these if you elect to use one.

Citi

What you can transfer: Pretty much anything, so long as it is not an account with Citibank (a NextAdvsior advertiser) or any of its affiliates. Citi even allows you to transfer balances that aren’t in your name, a rarity for credit card issuers.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long it will take: Requested transfers won’t be processed any earlier than 14 days after opening your account, and it can take between 2 to 4 days if the transfer is electronically conducted or 7 to 10 days if a check is sent.

Other things to know: Transfers can be requested through your account, and you can also get a check in the mail or direct deposit into your bank account, all of which are eligible for promotional offer rates.

Discover

What you can transfer: Balances from credit card accounts, loans, medical bills, etc. There’s also an option to have the balance transfer amount deposited into your checking account, so you can use the money for just about any expense while taking advantage of any promotional offers. Note that credit card and loan accounts with Discover or its affiliates are not eligible.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long it will take: Generally up to 7 days, though new account owners won’t see their balance transfer request process until at least 14 days.

Other things to know: The direct deposit option, according to Discover’s FAQs, is available on a promotional basis, so it may not always be available.

HSBC

What you can transfer: Balances from credit card accounts that have not been issued by HSBC or its affiliates.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your Initial Balance Transfer Limit, which is an amount set by HSBC that is less than your total available credit to ensure that any fees related to the transfer will not exceed your credit limit.

How long it will take: Up to 14 days.

Other things to know: If you request more than your limit, HSBC may reduce the amount instead of canceling the balance transfer request.

U.S. Bank

What you can transfer: Balances from credit card accounts that have not been issued by U.S. Bank.

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long it will take: Up to 2 weeks.

Other things to know: U.S. Bank sometimes provides what it calls promotional checks for use to complete a balance transfer, which may or may not correspond to your card’s existing promotional rates and terms.

Wells Fargo

What you can transfer: Balances from accounts (including credit cards, loans and more) that have not been issued by Wells Fargo or its affiliates (including Wachovia).

How much you can transfer: Any amount up to your available credit limit.

How long it will take: Generally up to a week or two.

Other things to know: Wells Fargo sets its balance transfers up as fairly flexible, advertising that they can be used for a myriad of purposes including covering bills, personal expenses, emergencies and even large purchases like home improvements — though it’s important to consider whether a personal loan might not be a better fit for some of these things.

While these are the basics of balance transfers across the array of providers whose cards we review, you should always read carefully through the terms and conditions of any credit card before you apply — and read your card member agreement after you’re approved — since each credit card offer is a little bit different. When in doubt, the best rule of thumb is to contact the issuer directly and ask whatever questions you have. It’s also worth repeating again that the real value of a balance transfer is the money and hassle it can save. That’s why it’s wise to choose a card with an offer that works for you. You can learn about the best balance transfer credit cards out there by reading our reviews. Also, be sure to take advantage of our free Balance Transfer Calculator to find the right card for your transfer amount, monthly payment and credit history.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.