Everything you need to know about balance transfer checks

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If you want to consolidate and pay off your credit card debt quickly, a balance transfer credit card can help you get the job done. The best balance transfer cards offer a 0 percent introductory APR on transferred balances for a year or more, giving you time to pay off your debt without accruing interest on your transferred balance.

So does a balance transfer check work the same way as a balance transfer credit card?

Yes and no. Balance transfer checks can help you pay off credit card debt, but they don’t always come with the same perks as a top balance transfer credit card. Plus, not all credit card issuers offer balance transfer checks. For example, if you want Chase balance transfer checks, you can request them online or over the phone. However, if you want Capital One balance transfer checks, you’re out of luck.

Let’s take a closer look at how balance transfer checks work, how to request one and whether using them to pay off debt is a good idea.

What is a balance transfer check?

A balance transfer check is a paper check provided by a credit card issuer. As the name implies, a balance transfer check allows you to transfer a balance from one credit card to another. Instead of making a direct online transfer, you’ll write a check against one credit card so you can pay off another credit card’s balance.

How do balance transfer checks work?

Balance transfer checks work a lot like balance transfer credit cards. Both transfer checks and balance transfer cards allow you to transfer a balance from one credit account to another. In both cases, the amount you transfer cannot exceed your balance transfer card limit. This means that the balance you transfer to your credit card cannot take you over your total credit limit on that card.

Here’s an example of how to use a balance transfer check:

Credit Card A comes with free balance transfer checks. You decide to use one of your balance transfer checks to pay off a $1,000 credit card balance you’re currently carrying on Credit Card B. You make your balance transfer check out for $1,000 and use it to make a payment against Card B.

At that point, Card B’s balance is cleared out—but Card A has $1,000 added to its balance (plus any associated balance transfer fees) since you just used a balance transfer check to borrow $1,000 from Card A to pay off Card B.

That’s how a balance transfer check can help you consolidate your debt and manage your credit card balances. If Credit Card A offers lower interest rates than Credit Card B, transferring a balance to Credit Card A could save you a lot of money in interest charges.

Things to consider before using a balance transfer check

Both balance transfer checks and balance transfer credit cards often come with balance transfer fees. This means you’ll pay a fee for every balance you transfer, often in the form of a percentage of the transferred balance. Most balance transfer credit cards charge fees that range between 3 percent and 5 percent, which means you’ll pay between $30 and $50 in fees for every $1,000 you transfer. Balance transfer checks can have significantly higher balance transfer fees than balance transfer cards, so it’s important to consult the fees section of your credit card agreement before using them.

Another reason to read the fine print before using a balance transfer check is to find out your balance transfer APR and whether you’ll get to take advantage of any introductory APR promotions. While the best balance transfer credit cards offer a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for a year or more, not all balance transfer checks offer the same benefit. If your balance transfer checks don’t include a 0 percent intro APR period, you’ll start paying interest on your balance as soon as it is transferred.

You should also make sure you’re dealing with a balance transfer check and not a convenience check, which allows you to take out a cash advance against your credit card. While you can use a cash advance to pay off credit card debt, convenience checks typically come with high APRs and significant cash advance fees. Knowing the difference between a balance transfer check and a convenience check can help you avoid making an expensive mistake.

How to request a balance transfer check, by issuer

Each credit card issuer has its own method of issuing balance transfer checks. Some credit card issuers, such as Citi, preemptively mail balance transfer checks to eligible cardholders. Other issuers allow you to request balance transfer checks—if you want Chase balance transfer checks, for example, you can request your checks online or over the phone.

In some cases, issuers may not offer balance transfer checks at all. Neither Capital One nor American Express currently offers balance transfer checks, although both issuers still allow cardholders to complete a balance transfer online.

Here’s how three major credit card issuers handle balance transfer checks:

Issuer Chase Bank of America Citibank
Balance transfer check policy Request a balance transfer check online or with a customer service specialist 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

Is using a balance transfer check right for you?

If your balance transfer check offers benefits on par with today’s best balance transfer credit cards, then using it to consolidate debt and pay off old balances can be a good idea. On the other hand, balance transfer checks that come with high fees and high balance transfer APRs are rarely your best choice—especially because there are likely many balance transfer credit cards offering lower fees and better terms.

Alternatives to balance transfer checks

Balance transfer checks aren’t your only option for paying down credit card debt. If you’re not interested in using a transfer check or balance transfer card to pay off debt, you might want to consider other popular debt repayment methods, such as the snowball method or the avalanche method. You could also use a low-interest personal loan to pay off your credit cards or work with a credit counseling service to learn how to create a budget, consolidate your debts and more.

Want more debt guidance? Use Bankrate’s credit card debt resources to discover tools that can help you manage your debt, including debt repayment calculators, advice on whether to pursue debt settlement and tips on how to repair your credit.

The bottom line

Balance transfer checks can help you consolidate your credit card debt and pay off old balances—but not all offer the same terms as today’s top balance transfer cards. In some cases, using a balance transfer check to pay off debt will be less cost-effective than applying for a balance transfer credit card.