guide to performing a balance transferUpdated: August 13, 2019

Credit card debt can be daunting — especially if your debt is on a card with a high-interest rate. To sidestep acquiring additional debt from interest, consider completing a balance transfer.

Balance transfer cards are a great financial tool that allow you to transfer what you owe from one or multiple credit cards onto a card offering an introductory interest rate. This can help you save on interest expenses and allocate more of your funds to paying off your debt.

Balance transfers are a simple concept: move your balance from one credit card to another. Here’s everything you need to know to help you find a great balance transfer card and successfully complete your transfer.

Why use a balance transfer?

Balance transfers allow you to move debt from one or more credit cards to another, most commonly to one with no interest or a lower interest rate. This can save cardholders who carry a balance of significant sums.

By transferring debt to a balance transfer credit card, cardholders can focus on paying down their credit card debt over an introductory zero percent APR offer period, typically ranging between 12 and 21 months.

Depending on the card you could have a year to almost 2 years to pay off your debt without paying anything in interest. With the right plan in place that’s plenty of time to make a dent in what you owe and get on top of your finances.

Balance transfer credit cards: Pros and cons

Balance transfer credit cards help save cardholders from accruing interest with long introductory APR offers, yet in most cases, you’ll have to pay a balance transfer fee.

These fees often range between 3 and 5 percent of the amount transferred, with minimum fees of $5 or $10. If you have a large enough balance to pay off, these fees can be pricey.

Some cards, such as the Chase Freedom, offer an introductory balance transfer fee for the first few months of card membership. With the Chase Freedom, you’ll owe a 3 percent balance transfer fee ($5 minimum) if you transfer a balance within the first 60 days your account is open. After 60 days, you’ll owe 5 percent of the amount transferred with a $5 minimum.

How to complete a balance transfer

To get a jump start on any credit card debt you may have, start by researching the best balance transfer card for your lifestyle.

Find the right card

It’s important to consider cards that will benefit you long after your balance has been paid off. In doing so, you’ll prevent the temptation to cancel the card later (which may ding your credit utilization ratio and overall credit score).

It’s important to find a card that will give you enough time to pay off what you owe or make a significant dent in your balance. Forming a plan from the outset to determine how you will budget to pay off your debts will help you be realistic when looking for a balance transfer offer and ultimately succeed in paying off what you owe.

We’ve outlined a few top balance transfer credit cards available based on introductory APR offers, rewards rates, go-to APRs and balance transfer fees:

Card name Balance Transfer offer Rewards rate Go-to APR Balance Transfer fee
Citi Simplicity Card Zero percent intro APR for 21 months N/A 16.74 percent – 26.74 percent variable 5 percent of the amount transferred or $5, whichever is greater
BankAmericard credit card Zero percent intro APR for 18 billing cycles on amounts transferred within the first 60 days N/A 15.24 percent – 25.24 percent variable 3 percent of the amount transferred, $10 minimum
Discover it Balance Transfer Zero percent intro APR for 18 months 5 percent cash back on rotating bonus categories after activation (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter); 1 percent on everything else 14.24 percent – 25.24 percent variable Intro fee of 3 percent of the amount transferred; up to 5 percent fee on future transfers (see terms)

Budget for the fees

When you decide on a card that works best for you, determine how much you’ll need to pay every month in order to dwindle your debt by the end of the card’s introductory APR offer. Don’t forget to factor in any balance transfer fees the card may have.

For example, if you transfer $3,000 in debt to the Discover it Balance Transfer card, which offers a zero percent introductory APR for 18 months (14.24 percent – 25.24 percent variable APR thereafter), you’d pay just under $167 a month for 18 months.

If you transfer your balance within the introductory period, you’d owe 3 percent of $3,000 for your balance transfer fee, or $90.

Apply and contact your new issuer

After you’ve applied for your balance transfer credit card, initiate a transfer by contacting your new issuer.

Most issuers allow you to request your transfer over the phone or online. Specific contact information can be found on your new credit card issuer’s website.

Typically, your issuer will need your old card’s account information along with the amount you’d like transferred to your new card. Don’t forget to continue paying off your old card until the balance transfer has been confirmed — most transfers take around two business weeks.

Pay down your balance

Once you have your new card, pay off the highest amount of debt that you can handle each month.

Missing payments or paying less than the amount required may not seem like a big deal at first, but the point of an introductory APR period is to pay off your balance before being charged interest.

The rules of balance transfers

There are a few hard rules to bear in mind with balance transfers:

  • Some credit card issuers rarely allow a balance transfer between two cards issued by them.
  • While the average time quoted by most issuers for completing a balance transfer is 5 to 7 business days, in some circumstances it can take up to 6 weeks, so you will need to continue paying the minimum balance on your old card and keep checking 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.
  • 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).

Guide to 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:

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.

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 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 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.

The bottom line

Balance transfers can help you take charge of your debt and save money on interest in the process. To start tackling your credit card debt, keep the following points in mind:

  • Find the right card for your lifestyle based on the length of the card’s introductory APR offer, any balance transfer fees and how it can benefit you after you’ve paid off your debt.
  • Determine how much you’ll need to pay off every month with the balance transfer card of your choice and remember to factor in the balance transfer fee.
  • Once you apply for the balance transfer card of your choice, contact your new issuer to initiate the transfer. Don’t forget to continue paying off your old card until the transfer is complete.
  • Keep on top of your payments to ensure you pay off your debt before your introductory APR period ends.

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.