So, let’s say you have a credit card with a high interest rate, along with a high balance that sends a chill down your spine. What if you can’t pay it off soon?
The existing balance will keep accruing interest charges, and you’ll end up paying more and more the longer it takes to eliminate. You’ll take one step back for every two steps forward.
You might be ready for a balance transfer: That balance can be moved away from the card with the high APR to a different credit card, with a lower interest rate (preferably 0%). There’s typically a transfer fee, but not always.
The process is simple:
- Check the details on the card with the high-interest balance
- Decide how much you can (or want) to transfer
- Apply for a new credit card and request a transfer (or use a preexisting card)
- Confirm the results of the transfer
There are two basic ways to do this: You can either request a balance transfer as you apply for a new card, or request a balance transfer to a card you already have (if the issuer gives you that option).
Either way, it’s pretty easy, and most people who’ve used them agree that balance transfers are a smart move. But it’s also a big financial step, so maybe you’d like to know more about how to do a balance transfer before authorizing who knows what with your credit cards. Smart move! It’s good to be prepared.
1. Check the Details on the Card with the High-Interest Balance
Have the following details handy for the credit card with the balance you want to transfer. To find them, you can log in to your account online or call your issuer.
- Interest rate
- Credit card account number
- Name of the credit card issuer (Bank of America, Capital One, etc.)
You’ll want your balance and interest rate so you know how large of a transfer to request, and to ensure you’ll be getting a lower rate with your balance transfer card.
The credit card account number will identify the specific account involved. And, in some cases, you may need the name of your card issuer as well.
Some credit card companies even allow bank balance transfers. These are just like any other balance transfer, except the funds from the balance transfer card go to a bank account instead of another credit card or loan.
This is like getting cash from your credit card, but at an interest rate, and for a transfer fee. If you have a 0% APR offer and no transfer fee, it’s a pretty good deal if you need a loan (much better than a cash advance). Just be sure to pay it back before your regular APR kicks in.
2. Decide How Much You Can (or Want) to Transfer
You can transfer all or a portion of your card balance. In most cases, it probably makes sense to transfer the entire card balance, or as much as possible.
You’ll be limited by the credit line of your balance transfer card, and some cards have transfer limits as well. (Chase cards, for example, typically have a balance transfer limit of $15,000.)
If you’ll be applying for a new balance transfer card, you may not know how big the credit limit will be. In that case, you’ll have to request the transfer and wait to see the limit you’re approved for, and how much will be transferred.
If you already have the card, you’ll be able to see exactly how much credit line you have available for transfers.
3. Apply for a New Credit Card and Request a Transfer (or Use a Preexisting Card)
There are a few important things to know about the card you’ll be transferring a balance to:
- Credit limit: If you’re applying for a new card, you usually won’t know this until you’re approved
- Balance transfer APR: Lower is better, and 0% is the best
- Balance transfer APR period: If you’re using an introductory or promotional balance transfer offer, take note of how many months it lasts
- Balance transfer fee: Most cards have this, but not all
- Balance transfer limit: Only some cards have a specific balance transfer limit
These details will help you decide how much you can transfer, how much it will cost, how long you’ll get to pay at the given APR, and, ultimately, if this transfer offer is a good deal for you. (Will you pay less over time? If yes, then it’s probably a good deal, other things being equal.)
If you’ll apply for a new card, you can typically request balance transfers during the application process. Just provide whatever details are required in the “Balance Transfer” section of the application. In some cases you may only be asked how much you want to transfer; the issuer will ask for the rest of the details if you’re approved for the card.
You can also apply for the card, wait to get it, and then request a balance transfer. If you’ll be transferring a balance to a card you already have, things are a bit easier. Log in to your account online, and find your balance transfer offer(s). If you can’t find them online, call your issuer for help.
All you have to do is select the offer you want, and then follow the prompts to provide the required account details. You should be able to see exactly how much you can transfer given your credit limit, and any fees. Or, call an agent who can walk you through the process.
Not sure what card to use? Find the right balance transfer card for you and then come back. And check out cards without balance transfer fees, too. The best balance transfer card offers have 0% rates and 0% transfer fees as well, so you can move your balance for free and pay it off interest-free. Cha-ching!
4. Confirm the Results of the Transfer
Balance transfers can take some time. Depending on the credit card issuers involved, your transfer could take a few days to a few weeks.
With some issuers, you can check the status of a pending balance transfer online. It may appear among your pending transactions. Otherwise, you’ll need to call customer support.
Once the transfer posts to your account, confirm that the transferred balance and any fee are both correct. When your next credit card statement comes, check the interest rate on the transferred balance (some issuers may let you do this online, too).
Want some quick facts about balance transfers?
Keep in mind that different issuers have different balance transfer policies. Before applying for a new card or requesting a balance transfer, check the fine print so you understand the terms and fees.
Depending on the issuer:
- You can typically transfer multiple balances at once, from several accounts onto one card.
- You typically can’t transfer balances between cards from the same bank.
- You may have a window (like three months) after opening a new account during which you can request balance transfers at a low introductory APR (like 0%).
- Likewise, you may have no balance transfer fees for a certain period of time after opening a new credit card account (see cards with no transfer fees).
- If your 0% balance transfer rate expires, the issuer may offer additional promotional rates later on, often at or near 0% (potentially including cards that never had 0% rates, too).
A balance transfer can affect your credit in a variety of ways, largely depending on whether or not you opened a new credit card in the process.
I Transferred My Balance — Now What?
Now it’s time to pay down your balance and work toward being debt-free. As you make progress you may see your credit scores improve over time, a nice bonus.
The fact that you transferred a balance away from your old card doesn’t mean you should close it. In fact, keeping the account open will likely benefit your credit history, helping you bolster your creditworthiness more and more over time.
If you used a 0% balance transfer offer: aim to pay off the balance by the end of the promotional or introductory period. Divide the balance by the number of months in the period, and make that your monthly payment on time every time. (Hint: consider dividing by one fewer month to make sure you pay it off on time).
If you didn’t use a 0% balance transfer offer and are carrying a balance at interest: Make the largest monthly payment you can manage, and pay off the balance as soon as you can to reduce the amount of interest you’re charged.
We don’t recommend carrying a credit card balance, but if you have no choice, it’s better to carry debt at a lower rate. So a transfer like this can still save you money in the long run, even if you can only afford to make the minimum payment.
The Short Version
- You can transfer a balance away from a high-interest credit card to one with a lower APR, helping you save money over time
- You can apply for a new balance transfer card, or use an offer from a card you already have, and just follow the instructions
- You can transfer all or a portion of your card balance. In most cases, it probably makes sense to transfer the entire card balance, or as much as possible