How to Transfer Credit Card Balance: A Short Guide

Written By
G. Dautovic
Updated
October 19,2022

People with outstanding debts might consider switching cards in search of better interest rates and benefits.

It makes sense that if you’re in debt, you’d want to know how to transfer your credit card balance from a high-interest card to another, more lenient one to save money where you can. But what are the advantages and possible risks of doing so? 

After all, it would be a shame if, instead of solving the problem, you just end up in an even worse situation with your credit card issuer than you were in before. Also, don’t hold your breath - credit card balance transfers are far from miracles.

Just like paying off expensive car loans or house mortgages, it can take time, patience, and, most of all, discipline to get the result you want when using balance transfer credit cards.

What Are Credit Card Balance Transfers?

A credit card balance transfer is when you transfer money from one credit card to another. Typically, you’d attempt this if your current interest rate is massive and you want to reduce it. 

There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, being able to meet your minimum payment isn’t always enough to cover your past expenses. Interest rates vary wildly between cards, too.

So, if you have a solid plan for paying off your debt and a lower interest rate could help you accomplish it, then a balance transfer request is a good place to start.

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What Are the Benefits of a Balance Transfer?

In a 2021 survey, 78% of respondents said the most significant benefit of transferring a credit card balance is that it helps pay off existing debt and reduce high-interest credit card debt.

However, in the same survey, more than 55% of people said they don’t plan to transfer credit, even though they have outstanding debt. 

This hesitance is the result of many misconceptions, among them that transferring debt and moving your existing balance to another card will affect your credit score.

Free credit scores from the major credit bureaus are not hard to obtain these days, so it’s easy to check whether and how balance transfers will affect your credit rating. In reality, the effect is minimal, so you can still save potentially thousands of dollars on interest.

How Do Balance Transfers Work?

Balance transfers are primarily about using one card to pay off the debt you have on another. Some credit card companies offer introductory deals to encourage you to transfer. For only the price of a balance transfer fee - which usually ranges from 3% to 5% - you could get interest-free payments for up to 18 months with a new credit card.

You should be looking for a better deal than you had before, so search for offers that include a promotional period during which you can enjoy a 0% APR credit card and a low intro balance transfer fee. 

From there, your new credit card issuers will make a payment to your previous ones, bringing your remaining balance on the old card to zero. Your outstanding debt will now be on your new balance transfer credit card.

What Should I Pay Attention to?

When trying to figure out how to transfer a credit card balance, you should pay attention to a couple of things.

First, you need to find the best balance transfer card for your situation. This could be tricky, as most balance transfer cards offer similar deals, and there are a ton of them on the market.

Make sure you double-check the cardholder agreement to see what the regular interest will be once the introductory period is over. You’ll also want to know the balance transfer fees and any other account-opening costs. 

Read what the lenders offering balance transfer cards require carefully: there could be a very high foreign transaction fee, special conditions applied to the introductory APR period, and other sneaky interest charges that will inflate your annual fee and monthly payment premiums.

You might also want to consult a balance transfer calculator before making any decisions. This simple tool will help you work out how long you’ll need to pay off your debt.

Once you know what balance transfer cards charge, you can look for the best one in terms of available credit limit and APR grace period. The right balance transfer card will give you a generous enough promotional interest rate (ideally, zero) to pay off high-interest debt before the full interest kicks back in.

Lastly, but most importantly, you need to create a debt payoff plan. You should structure your debt so that you can pay it off within a reasonable timeframe. 

Otherwise, you’ll just be postponing the inevitable: not utilizing your intro balance transfer APR to get rid of the transferred balance for good and letting your debt grow uncontrollably.

How to Transfer Your Balance to Another Credit Card?

The actual process is relatively simple, but it can take a painfully long time, so be prepared.

First, you want to find the card to which you wish to transfer your balance. This could be any card of your choice but note the transfer card’s credit limit. It might be lower than what you actually need, especially if you’re looking to transfer balances from multiple credit cards.

Once you’ve taken your pick from the best balance transfer cards you can find, simply follow the creditor’s instructions. Each of them has its own way of managing balance transfers and rules on the types of debt that you can transfer. We’ve listed the most common options below.

Transfer Online

You can do the transfer yourself online through your account with your creditor. This is the standard solution if the balance transfer is to an existing credit card, and it’s probably also the fastest, especially when transferring balances from multiple cards.

Typically, if the balance is transferred to such a card, it takes less time than it would if you were to open a new one. This is great for a balance transfer offer that covers multiple credit accounts. 

In this scenario, you’d provide your new credit card company with your old account information. The company would take it from there and transfer the credit card balance from your old account.

If your existing cards don’t really offer much in the way of saving money or you’re not satisfied with the credit limits offered, it’s best to move to a new balance transfer card.

Balance Transfer Checks

If you don’t want to transfer money from credit card to credit card, some lenders can offer an alternative - checks which you can use to cover multiple balances and personal loans.

Many companies will let you fill these checks out by yourself, but you should be careful with this. Make sure the checks you fill in for yourself are not, in fact, cash advances of any kind so as to avoid potential confusion.

Transfer via Telephone

Another form of balance transfer lets you handle everything via phone. This option is pretty straightforward and similar to the first one: all you have to do is supply the new creditor with your former account details via phone, and the company will handle the rest.

How Long Does a Balance Transfer Take from One Credit Card to Another?

While there is no rule of thumb as to how long this process will take, many balance transfer cards will have transferred balances within seven days. If you need more precise information, here is a table featuring some of the bigger issuers and their timeframes:

Bank of America 5-14 days
U.S. Bank Up to 14 days
American Express 5-7 days
Capital One 3-14 days
Chase Up to 21 days

After the Transfer

The biggest mistake you could make would be to take one of the balance transfer offers, get the transfer(s) done, but then continue with your old approach and keep your credit utilization ratio too high. Now that you know how to transfer a credit card balance, here are some tips on changing your habits so you won’t need to do so again.

Tip 1: Make sure that $0 means $0.

Residual debt - by which we mean late fees or last-minute interest fees - can catch you unaware and be an unpleasant surprise on your next credit report. Keep an eye on your old account for a month or two after the transfer to pay off any new balances that may show up.

Tip 2: Set up Automatic Payments.

Automatic payments are fantastic for people who struggle to organize their finances. If you have a problem making payments before their due date, make sure you automatize at least some minimum payments in the future after you transfer balance from one credit card to another. 

Most balance transfers are a temporary solution, and the only way to make your balance transfer work for you long-term is to stick to good financial habits even after settling your debts.

Tip 3: Have a Backup Plan.

Bad things happen. You could lose your job just to face a colossal interest rate on your principal balance when the 0% APR period on your personal loan is over.

In some situations, these post-introductory interest rates could negate all the savings you’ve managed to make and can pressure people into risking their credit score by getting a cash advance or payday loan from a shady source.

It’s advisable to have the option of transferring to at least one other 0% APR card in the worst-case scenario.

FAQ

Is it a good idea to do a balance transfer?

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Transferring your credit card balance simply for the sake of buying time to “get rich enough to pay off all your debt” isn’t a good idea.

However, with a proper payoff plan, it’s another story entirely. If you’re determined to make every payment and keep your spending under control, transferring credit card balances to another card could be the solution you’ve been looking for.

How do you transfer balance from one credit card to another?

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Once you’ve set up a 0% APR credit card to which you’d like to transfer your balance, you should consult your creditor’s instructions. You’ll have to provide your new creditor with the information they need to be able to cover your debt with the previous creditor before transferring your balance to a new card.

Normally, this will be handled by using balance transfer checks, via phone, or simply through your online account. However, you can always set up a meeting and check how to do a balance transfer properly with your creditor.

Do balance transfers hurt your credit score?

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Not really. It may seem like they will strike a big blow and lower your credit score, but in reality, the impact is minuscule. It all depends on how you handle the whole process.

For example, once you make sure the original card is paid off, try to keep the account open for a while instead of closing it immediately.

When you transfer balance on credit cards, what happens?

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From the moment you transfer your credit card balance to a new card, your old credit card balance should be $0, and your old balance will appear in full on your new card. Once you start using your new card, make sure you establish good habits by keeping up with your regular payments. Setting up autopay is one way to do this.

Is there a downside to balance transfers?

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If you decide to seriously tackle your debt and follow through with a well-devised plan that caters to your own needs, then there shouldn’t be any major downsides. 

When researching how to transfer a credit card balance, many people are concerned about this issue, but with proper handling of the situation, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Does a balance transfer count as a payment?

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Yes, a balance transfer counts as a payment. To make the process happen, your new credit card company will have to issue a payment to the old one, using your credit card number as a reference. This is the same process you would use to make other payments with your card.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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