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How to Do a Balance Transfer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Rebecca Lake • June 13, 2024

A man and woman checking their credit card information to initiate a balance transfer to a new card.

A credit card balance transfer allows you to move existing amounts to a new card, ideally at a lower interest rate. Transferring credit card balances could make sense if you’re trying to get a better handle on debt or simplify monthly budgeting.

Balance transfer credit cards usually allow you to take advantage of a 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR) for a set time before the regular APR kicks in. Your APR is the total cost of borrowing money annually, including your interest rate and any fees your credit card company charges.¹, ²

Locking in a low APR can help you pay down what you owe faster since more of your payment goes toward the principal balance. And paying a 0% APR can save you money on interest during the period that the promotional rate applies.

Sound good? We’ll walk you through how to do a balance transfer and when to consider it.

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1. Verify your current balance and interest rate

Reviewing the details of your credit card debt can give you an idea of how much you’ll benefit from a balance transfer. Specifically, you’ll want to look at two details:

  • How much you owe
  • Your current APR

You should be able to find this information by checking your latest credit card statement or calling your credit card company.

When applying for a balance transfer card, you’ll need to know how much you owe so you can add the amount to your application. You’ll also want to know what APR you’re paying to make sure the new balance transfer credit card is a better deal.

2. Choose a balance transfer credit card suitable for your needs

Once you know how much you want to transfer, it’s time to look for a balance transfer card. The card you choose determines the balance transfer fee you’ll pay and how long you’ll have to pay off the balance before the regular APR kicks in.

Balance transfer fees may be a flat dollar amount or a percentage of the transferred amount. A typical fee range is $5 to $10 or 3% to 5%, whichever is greater. So, a $10,000 balance transfer could cost you $300 to $500 in fees.³,

Here are some of the most important things to consider as you compare credit card transfer balance offers:

  • Introductory APR (also called the promotional rate)
  • Promotional rate period and how long you’ll have to pay down the balance interest-free
  • Balance transfer fees
  • Regular APR (that applies once the promotional rate period ends)

Review the terms and conditions carefully to ensure you understand what you’re agreeing to if you decide to move forward with a balance transfer to consolidate debt. If you have questions about something you don’t understand, call the credit card company for clarification.

3. Apply for a balance transfer card

If you’ve selected a balance transfer card, the next step is to apply. There are several ways you can apply for a balance transfer:

  • Online through the card issuer’s website
  • Through the card issuer’s mobile app
  • Over the phone with a customer service representative
  • Using a balance transfer check

On the application, you’ll need to tell the credit card company the amount you want to transfer and the account number for the card. You’ll also need to fill in your personal information, with details like your:

  • Name
  • Address and phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number

Keep in mind that applying for a new balance transfer card will trigger a hard credit check, which can trim a few points off your credit scores.

4. Move the balance to the new card

How does a balance transfer work? In a nutshell, you tell the new credit card company how much you want to transfer and from which account. The credit card company does the rest.

You don’t have to do anything other than provide information to initiate a balance transfer. The new credit card company will communicate with your current credit card company to arrange for the amount you’ve indicated to be transferred.

Note that a balance transfer isn’t the same as using a credit card to pay a credit card bill. That’s something credit card companies generally don’t allow you to do.

5. Allow time for the transfer to process

Once you submit your balance transfer application, the credit card company begins working to finish the process. So, how long do balance transfers take?

There’s no fixed answer, as every credit card company handles them differently. You could wait anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the balance to be moved from your old card to your new one.

If it’s been a few weeks and you’re not seeing any movement on the balance, you can call the credit card companies to ask what might be causing the delay. In the meantime, you’ll want to continue making any required payments toward the balance to avoid a late payment fee.

6. Settle the transferred balance

Once the balance transfer goes through, you can work on paying down what you owe. The simplest way to do this is to take the balance you have to pay and divide it by the number of months until the promotional APR ends.

For example, if you transferred $10,000 with a 21-month 0% APR offer, you’d need to pay $476 and change each month to clear the balance. If you have a 12-month balance transfer offer, you’d need to bump that to $833 per month instead.

Reviewing your budget can help you decide what’s doable. If you don’t budget regularly, reviewing your checking account statements makes it easier to see where your money goes each month.

Should you consider a balance transfer?

What is a balance transfer designed to do? Put simply, it’s meant to help you move balances from one card to another to get a lower interest rate.

Whether you should transfer a balance depends on your situation. These tips can help you decide.

  • Check the credit score requirements. As mentioned, applying for a balance transfer card will trigger a hard credit pull. Checking the minimum credit score requirements of a card you’re eyeing can gauge your likelihood of being approved.
  • Add up the fees. Balance transfer fees are added to the amount you transfer, leaving you more debt to pay back. So, instead of paying off $10,000, you might pay back $10,500, assuming a 5% balance transfer fee. Finding a low-fee or no-fee balance transfer card can help you maximize your savings.
  • Weigh the timing. The upside of a balance transfer offer is that you can pay off your debt interest-free. The downside is that the 0% APR won’t last forever. So, you’ll need to review your budget to ensure you can pay the transfer off before the promotional rate ends to avoid interest charges.
  • Plan to put your cards away. Transferring a balance to save on interest can backfire if you charge up new balances on your old cards. Before you move ahead with a balance transfer, ask yourself if you can commit to avoiding new debt while paying down what you owe.


Do your balance transfer research

Now that you know how to do a balance transfer, it’s up to you to decide if it’s the right move. Comparing balance transfer card offers and estimating your potential interest savings are the next steps to take if you’re ready to ditch your debt for good.

Looking for more credit card tips? Learn the difference between a charge card and a credit card.

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¹ Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's "Credit cards key terms" as of May 30, 2024:

² Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Credit cards key terms as of June 4, 2024:

³ Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's "What is a balance transfer fee? Can a balance transfer fee be charged on a zero percent interest rate offer?" as of May 30, 2024:

⁴ Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's "Credit card agreement database" as of May 30, 2024:

⁵ Information from MyFICO's "Credit Checks: What are credit inquiries and how do they affect your FICO® Score?" as of May 30, 2024:

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