How to do a Balance Transfer - 4 Simple Steps

Updated July 26, 2021

Balance transfers are a valuable tool if you're struggling to pay off credit card debt. A balance transfer credit card can help you pay off debt interest-free, thanks to generous introductory APR offers. 

There are some things you need to know if you're thinking about doing a balance transfer, such as how much interest you'll pay on your current card and how to choose the right balance transfer credit card.  

What is a Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is the process of moving outstanding credit card debt from one or more credit card accounts to another card. Consumers who have built up credit card debt on cards with higher interest rates use balance transfer offers to move the debt to a new card to lower their interest rate. 

Many credit card companies offer balance transfer credit cards that come with an introductory period with zero interest on the transferred balance. Introductory APR offers usually last between six and 18 months, but some can last as long as two years. Some cards come with extra perks like waived balance transfer fees, typically 3% to 5% of the transferred balance. 

Using a balance transfer allows consumers to transfer over existing credit card debt and pay it off over an extended period without worrying about expensive interest charges each month. 

How to do a Balance Transfer

Balance transfers aren't hard to complete, but there are some steps you should take to have a successful transfer. Here are four simple steps to take to do a balance transfer.

1. Do Your Homework

Before you even look for a balance transfer card, familiarize yourself with your current credit cards and balances. You should also note your current card's interest rate so you can calculate whether getting a balance transfer card makes sense. 

2. Apply for a Balance Transfer Card  

Once you know where you stand, you can start to look for the best balance transfer card to fit your needs. If you find a balance transfer card that works, make sure you meet the card's credit requirements and apply. 

3. Transfer Your Balance to the New Card

Once you're approved for a balance transfer card, you can start transferring over existing card balances. The transfer process varies between different cards, so check with your card issuer for how to process it. 

You will need account information for any cards with balances you are transferring, including account numbers, card issuer name and address, and the total transfer amount. The transfer process can take up to 14 days. Continue to pay your monthly credit card bill until the balance transfer is complete and the balance is moved over to the new card.

If you end up transferring a little too much because you had to make a payment while you were waiting for the balance transfer to go through, you'll be issued a credit from the original card. 

The opposite is also true. If you continue to use the card, or fees and interest are applied to the balance after you've requested the transfer, you may still have a balance on the old card you'll need to pay off. 

4. Pay Off Your New Card Balance 

After the transfer is complete, work hard to pay off your card balance before the introductory period ends. Calculate how much you need to put down on your card to pay it off in time. You don't have to use the entire intro period either. You can pay extra each month to pay the card off quicker. 

Making new purchases on your card may delay paying off the card. Also, new purchases may fall outside of the intro APR offer, which means you could pay interest charges on those purchases.

Pros and Cons of Doing a Balance Transfer

While balance transfers can be a godsend for individuals dealing with mounting credit card debt, they are far from perfect. Here's a look at some of the pros and cons of doing a balance transfer.

Pros

  • You can save money on interest 

  • You can consolidate credit card debt

  • Some balance transfer cards also earn rewards

Cons

  • Some cards have high balance transfer fees

  • Balance transfers don't always save money

  • Requires discipline to pay off the balance before the low-rate introductory period ends

What to Look for In a Balance Transfer Card

Balance transfer credit cards are a helpful tool, but not all of them are created equal. Keep these factors in mind when researching the best balance transfer card for you. 

Introductory offer length: Most balance transfer cards offer at least six months of 0% intro APR, but some come with offers as long as 18 to 24 months. 

Balance transfer fees: The balance transfer fee often determines whether a balance transfer is worth doing or not. The difference between no fees, 3% fees, and 5% fees can be huge, especially on large balances. 

Ongoing interest rate: Once the introductory period ends, you will go back to paying interest if you carry over a balance month to month. Don't glance over the ongoing APR rate while looking at other card perks. 

Credit requirements: Like other credit cards, you'll need to meet specific credit requirements to qualify for a balance transfer card. Check your credit score before applying for a new card to help narrow down what cards make sense for you.

Top Balance Transfer Credit Cards

The best balance transfer credit cards typically offer extended introductory periods of no interest along with a host of other card benefits like cash back perks and more. Here's a look at the top balance transfer credit cards available right now. 

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

This no-fee Citi credit card comes with a 0% introductory APR offer of 18 months on balance transfers ($5 or 3% balance transfer fee, whichever is greater) and new purchases. After the intro period, the ongoing variable APR is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.

Learn more about the Citi Diamond Preferred Card here

Citi® Double Cash Card

Another Citi credit card offering a long intro APR offer is the Citi Double Cash Card. The card comes with an introductory 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers. Ongoing variable APR afterward is 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness. 

You can also earn up to 2% cash back on all purchases with this no-fee card -- 1% cash back when you make purchases and another 1% cash back when you pay them off. 

Learn more about the Citi Double Cash Card here

Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card

Another solid balance transfer card, Discover it Cash Back comes with 0% intro APR for 14 months on balance transfers and purchases. After the intro period ends, the ongoing variable APR is 11.99% to 22.99%, based on your creditworthiness. 

The card also has no annual fee and earns 5% cash back on quarterly rotating spending categories. Plus, Discover matches all of your cash back earnings at the end of the first year. 

Learn more about the Discover it Cash Back Credit Card here

Ask an Expert
All of our content is verified for accuracy by Rachel Siegel, CFA and our team of certified financial experts. We pride ourselves on quality, research, and transparency, and we value your feedback. Below you'll find answers to some of the most common reader questions about How to do a Balance Transfer - 4 Simple Steps.

Do Balance Transfers Hurt Your Credit Score?

Balance transfers themselves won't hurt your credit score. Using a balance transfer to pay off debt may actually help boost your score. 
 
However, any time you open a new credit card, there's a hard credit inquiry performed by the card issuer before you are approved. A hard credit inquiry can have a negative impact on your credit score, especially if you have several inquiries within a short period. 

Is it a Good Idea to Transfer Credit Card Balances?

As with most financial decisions, it's important to do the math to determine if it's worth doing a balance transfer. While you may not pay interest on your balance for up to 18 months or more, a 3% to 5% fee could end up being more than what you would have paid in interest on the original card during the same time frame. 

How much you would pay in fees depends on the card you choose and how much it charges in fees. If the math works out in your favor, it could mean saving hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest. Maybe even more important, a balance transfer could allow you to get from under credit card debt. 

Rachel Siegel, CFA
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Rachel Siegel, CFA is one of the nation's leading experts at ensuring the accuracy of financial and economic text.  Her prestigious background includes over 10 years creating professional financial certification exams and another 20 years of college-level teaching.

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