How to do a balance transfer in 5 steps

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A balance transfer can be a valuable tool if you’re struggling with high-interest debt. Many credit card issuers offer cards with introductory interest-free APR periods and these offers allow you to transfer various debts to a new credit card and use the 0 percent intro APR period to pay down what you owe. Once you know how to do a balance transfer, you can begin paying down your credit card balances instead of racking up high-interest debt every month — and you might even be able to pay off your transferred balances in full. 

How do you transfer a credit card balance? If you are tired of struggling with debt, a balance transfer could be exactly what you need — and you can get the job done in five easy steps. Here’s how to transfer credit card balances to help you pay off debt.

  1. Take a close look at your debt and decide how to transfer your credit card balances
  2. Compare balance transfer credit cards
  3. Choose your ideal balance transfer credit card and apply
  4. Transfer your balances from one card to another
  5. Create a debt payoff plan

1. Take a close look at your debt and decide how to transfer your credit card balances

A balance transfer credit card will benefit you most if you have high-interest debt and need time to pay it off. Before you get started, however, it makes sense to take a close look at all your debts to see how much you owe.

Review your credit card balances as well as any other high-interest loans you have. From there, make a list of each debt you owe along with its respective interest rate (APR).

In some cases, you’ll be able to transfer all of your current credit card balances onto a single balance transfer credit card. In other cases, your credit card balances may exceed your balance transfer card’s credit limit. Since going over your credit limit has serious consequences, you’re going to need to decide which balances to prioritize. 

This is why you want to keep track of each balance’s APR — because when you’re asking yourself how to transfer your balances from one credit card to another, it’s a good idea to transfer your highest-interest balances first.

You’ll also want to get an estimate of your credit score to make sure you’ll qualify for a balance transfer card. This is because most of the best 0 percent APR credit cards are only available to consumers with good or excellent credit, or FICO scores of 670 or higher. If your credit score is less than good, you might still be able to find a balance transfer credit card, but it might have a lower credit limit or a shorter intro APR period.

2. Compare balance transfer credit cards

Once you have a good idea of where you stand with your debts, it’s time to start searching for balance transfer credit cards to see how they stack up. One big advantage that comes with looking for a balance transfer card is the fact that you can conduct your search for the year’s best balance transfer offers online.

What to look for when comparing balance transfer cards:

  • APR (annual percentage rate): Most balance transfer cards offer 0 percent interest for 15 to 21 months, but make sure to check and compare at least a few offers. Also, note each card’s ongoing APR since your interest rate will reset once your intro APR offer ends.
  • Balance transfer fee: Some balance transfer cards charge an upfront fee of 3 percent to 5 percent of your balance. This means that if you transfer $10,000 in credit card debt to a balance transfer card, you’ll pay an extra $300 to $500 for the privilege.
  • Length of intro APR offerBalance transfer offers don’t last forever. Ideally, you should look for a card that gives you a 0 percent APR for as long as you need to pay off your debt.
  • Annual fee: Most balance transfer cards don’t charge an annual fee, but make sure to check.

Want to know how to do a balance transfer without paying balance transfer fees? Take a look at our list of no-fee balance transfer credit cards. A handful of credit cards don’t charge any balance transfer fees, although these no-fee transfers often come at the cost of a shorter introductory APR period. Weigh the pros and cons carefully before making your decision.

3. Choose your ideal balance transfer credit card and apply

Comparing balance transfer cards online is the best way to find the ideal offer for your needs. Fortunately, you can apply for a balance transfer card online just as easily as you searched for and compared offers. You’ll need to provide some basic personal and financial data such as your name, your address, your Social Security number and your income.

In some cases, you can begin the process of transferring balances from one card to another as part of your application. The balance transfer credit card application may ask you which balances you are planning to transfer onto the card, so make sure you have that information ready. Keep your credit card account numbers and balances easily at hand, and make sure you know which balances you plan to prioritize during the transfer process.

After you apply for your new balance transfer card, you can typically get an answer in minutes. If you aren’t notified of your approval right away, you may have to wait for an email from the credit card company. Learning that your credit card application is “pending” or “under review” can be nerve-wracking, but be patient — in most cases, you’ll hear back from your credit issuer in just a few days.

4. Transfer your balances from one credit card to another

Once your application for your balance transfer credit card is approved, it’s time to transfer the balance from one credit card to another. While each credit card issuer’s balance transfer process is slightly different, in most cases you’ll be able to transfer your balances in one of two ways — either over the phone or online.

Make sure to gather all the information you’ll need to transfer your balances over before you start the process. Details to gather include your credit card account numbers, bank names and addresses, as well as your current balances.

Then, begin the balance transfer process. You may have already started this process when you applied for your balance transfer credit card — if the credit card application asked you which balances you’d like to transfer onto the card, you’ve already done what you need to do to get your balance transfer started. Otherwise, you can log into your online account or call the number on the back of your credit card to begin transferring your balances. 

In most cases, it’s very easy to transfer a balance from one credit card to another. All you’ll need to do is provide basic information about the credit cards you plan to transfer the balances from, including the card numbers and the amounts you’d like to transfer to your new credit card. If you need additional help learning how to transfer a credit card balance, review your credit issuer’s online resources or call customer service for assistance.

Depending on your balance transfer credit card’s credit limit, you might not be able to transfer all of your outstanding credit card balances at once — so make sure you know which balances you’d like to transfer first. Consider starting with the balances that have the highest interest rates, especially if those are some of your largest outstanding balances.

Keep in mind that balance transfers take time. It can take anywhere from a week to a month for your balance to be transferred. Once your balances have been moved over to your new 0 percent APR credit card, make sure to follow up with your old cards and loans to make sure they show a $0 balance before you stop making payments on them.

5. Create a debt payoff plan

Now that you have your 0 percent intro APR period with your balance transfer card, it’s up to you to put that time to good use. Fortunately, having some time without any interest being charged puts you in a great position to eliminate your debt at record speed.

Take some time to sit down with your monthly bills, your bank statements and credit card bills, and your pay stubs to create a simple, pen-and-paper monthly budget. Figure out if there are any areas in your spending you could cut, at least temporarily. Ask yourself how much money you can throw at your balance each month — the more money you can put toward your balance, the faster you’ll get out of debt.

Want another good reason to throw as much money toward your balance as possible? Remember that each dollar you pay during your 0 percent APR period has a bigger impact since none of your money is going toward interest payments. The more you can pay now, the less debt you’ll have to repay later.

Note: Old habits die hard and it will be extremely difficult to get out of debt if you keep adding to the pile. For that reason, we suggest you stop using credit cards altogether while you focus on your debt repayment plan. Put your credit cards away in a sock drawer or another safe place for now. Once you’re debt-free, you can consider using them again.

What to do when the intro APR offer ends

While balance transfer offers can help you save money on interest while you pay down debt, it’s important to know how balance transfer work because they eventually come to an end. At that point, your credit card’s interest rate will reset at the normal variable APR, which could be on the high end.

If you’re out of debt when your 0 percent APR offer is over, your best bet is using credit cards with extreme caution. Only charge purchases you can afford to pay off each month, and always pay your credit card bill early or on time. If you continue using credit cards without a plan to pay them off, you could easily wind up in debt again.

If you still have debt when your 0 percent APR offer ends, you have a few choices. You can continue paying as much as possible to erase your debt as fast as you can, but you could also seek out another balance transfer credit card and start the process over. Just remember that transferring balances to score a 0 percent APR a second time will likely involve another balance transfer fee.

Knowing how to transfer balances can help you manage your debt, pay down outstanding amounts and save money on interest charges. Once you understand how to transfer a balance from one credit card to another, you can begin the process of using balance transfer credit cards to your advantage — and if you use your balance transfer credit cards responsibly, you can improve your credit score, build a positive credit history and work toward a debt-free life.

How to do balance transfers with different issuers