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High credit card debt and unexpected expenses can be daunting. To simplify the process, it’s important to research payoff options available to you that best fit your lifestyle.

One lesser-known option is a balance transfer check. This blank check allows you to borrow cash or credit from your credit line and is most often used to pay off credit card accounts or consolidate debt.

“Credit card companies send blank [balance transfer] checks to customers to entice them to consolidate debt or lower their interest rate,” says Kayse Kress, financial planner at Physician Wealth Services. “Transferring credit card balances can be a tricky game and might not be as good of a deal as it sounds.”

Is a balance transfer check a good idea?

Balance transfer checks may be a common occurrence in your mailbox, especially if you own a secured card. As Kress points out, these checks can appear to be helpful but often charge additional fees and high interest once deposited into your account.

If your balance transfer check doesn’t offer a decent interest rate or introductory zero percent period, you’ll want to avoid it altogether. Balance transfer credit cards are a better option in most cases and can offer you longer interest-free periods.

When to use a balance transfer check

If you have debt, a balance transfer check may not be your best choice. On the other hand, a balance transfer check can help you cover an upcoming purchase if you’re already debt-free and the check doesn’t include extra fees.

“If using the check does not have an additional balance transfer fee, or if you know this strategy can help you pay off a credit card balance more quickly, it can be something to consider,” says Kress.

How to request a balance transfer check

Obtaining a balance transfer check varies based on your credit card issuer. An issuer may preemptively send you a balance transfer check in the mail or you may need to go online or call to request one. In some cases, issuers may not offer balance transfer checks at all.

We broke down how three large credit card issuers handle balance transfer checks here:

Issuer Chase Bank of America Citibank
BT check policy Request a balance transfer check online or over the phone Request up to three balance transfers at once Receive a balance transfer check from Citi in the mail
Transfer amount No more than $15,000 within a 30-day period Total amount requested can’t exceed your credit limit Total amount requested can’t exceed your credit limit
Additional notes Balance transfer checks are treated the same as a direct deposit cash advance You cannot request a check online or over the phone

The bottom line

Balance transfer checks can be helpful when an unexpected purchase comes up and you need cash quickly, but we suggest a balance transfer card in most circumstances. Most balance transfer checks come with dicey fine print, high interest and lack zero percent introductory grace periods.

If you’re interested in obtaining a balance transfer card to pay off your debt, read our expert recommendations on the best balance transfer credit cards of 2019.