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Avoiding expensive interest charges by applying for a balance transfer card can help you pay down debt more quickly and get control of your finances. But before you jump in, it’s best to know exactly how a balance transfer works, how much you can transfer and which balance transfer card will work best for your situation.
Just make sure to have a plan and stick to it, because if your transferred debt isn’t paid off before a balance transfer card’s 0% introductory APR period expires, you’ll be back to paying interest at the regular APR for any remaining balance left on the card.
- How do balance transfers work?
- Is there a maximum balance transfer limit?
- Should you do a balance transfer?
- Best balance transfer credit cards
“Avoiding interest on a balance for a year or more can significantly reduce how much it costs and how long it takes to pay down your card debt, and that’s a really good thing,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards. “However, if you’re just shifting balances around to make room for more spending, that’s just asking for trouble.”
How do balance transfers work?
In short, a balance transfer is moving high-interest debt from one credit card to a card offering a 0% APR promotion for a specific period of time. Generally, you can expect to pay a balance transfer fee in the range of 3% to 5% of each amount transferred — though there are cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee. For example, if you transfer $1,000 to a card with a 3% balance transfer fee, the fee will be $30 and your total balance transfer amount will be $1,030.
It’s important to note that you can’t transfer debt between cards from the same issuer, so if you choose to apply for a new balance transfer card make sure that you choose one from a different issuer than the one from which you want to transfer the balance.
Some of the best balance transfer cards listed on our site offer 0% intro APR periods ranging from 12 to 21 months. This means that during your 0% intro APR period, 100% of your payment should go toward the principal of the debt, rather than the principal plus interest charges (provided you don’t add new charges to the card, which will be assessed interest).
Make sure to initiate your balance transfer promptly after opening your new credit card as some issuers limit the amount of time in which you can initiate a transfer to 60 days from account opening. In addition, make sure you know what your ongoing APR will be after the intro period expires.
What credit score is needed for a balance transfer card?
One of the most commonly used scoring methods for credit scores is the FICO® Score. Here are the ranges your FICO Score can fall into:
- Exceptional: 800+
- Very Good: 740-799
- Good: 670-739
- Fair: 580-669
- Poor: <580
Most balance transfer credit cards are aimed at applicants with at least a good/excellent credit score.
If you have poor or bad credit, you probably won’t be able to be approved for a balance transfer card.
How long does a balance transfer take?
You can generally expect a balance transfer to take around five to seven days, but there are situations where it could take two to three weeks. If a payment is due on the credit card from which you made the transfer, make sure to pay it until the balance has been moved to the new card, so you don’t get charged a late fee. On-time payments are the most important factor in building and keeping a good credit score.
Do balance transfers affect your credit score?
A balance transfer might hurt your credit score temporarily because you’re opening up a new credit card (which causes a hard inquiry on your credit report and lowers your average length of credit history) and if your transfer amount is close to maxing out the credit limit on your new card, your credit score will temporarily dive with the high credit utilization.
However, in the long run, a balance transfer can actually improve your credit score (provided you don’t close the old card or allow new purchases to add up on the old or new card). That’s because opening a new credit card gives you more available credit overall, and if you stick to a strict repayment plan and pay down your debt, you’ll be decreasing your utilization ratio. The impact of a hard inquiry only lasts a year, but stays on your credit report for two years.
How do balance transfer checks work?
From time to time, your credit card issuer may send you balance transfer checks in the mail. If you receive a balance transfer check and decide to use it, you can use the check to pay off other debts (such as high-interest balances on a different card or from a loan) and assume the debt on your credit card. Know whether you’ll be charged a balance transfer fee and for how much (typically between 3% and 5% of each amount transferred).
You should never confuse balance transfer checks with convenience checks, which are considered cash advances. You may also get convenience checks in the mail, but you shouldn’t use them — they may come with very high APRs and interest is assessed immediately.
Is there a maximum balance transfer limit?
It’s important to know that you won’t be able to do a balance transfer for more than your credit limit. For example, if you have $5,000 in debt that you want to transfer, but you are only granted a balance transfer credit limit of $3,000, plus any balance transfer fees, you’ll only be able to move a portion of that $5,000 to the new balance transfer card. Beyond that, specific issuers may have caps on how much of your credit limit you can use for a balance transfer.
Here are the balance transfer caps set by top card issuers:
American Express balance transfer limit
American Express allows you to transfer $5,000 or 75% of your credit limit, whichever is lesser. Terms apply. See americanexpress.com for more details.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with American Express.
Bank of America balance transfer limit
Bank of America makes most of your credit line available for a balance transfer, but leaves a slight buffer so that you don’t go over your limit once any fees are factored in.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with Bank of America.
Barclays balance transfer limit
If there’s a balance transfer offer available on your Barclays credit card, you’ll be able to transfer up to your credit limit minus the amount of the balance transfer fee. If you apply for a new Barclaycard offering a balance transfer deal, the maximum transfer limit is 90% of your credit limit.
Capital One balance transfer limit
When doing a transfer to a Capital One card, you’ll have to leave room for the balance transfer fee, but otherwise Capital One lets you transfer as much as your credit limit allows.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with Capital One.
Chase balance transfer limit
Chase allows you to transfer up to $15,000 or 95% of your credit limit, whichever is lower. The amount of the balance transfer fee counts toward that cap.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with Chase.
Citibank balance transfer limit
With Citibank, you can transfer as much as your available line of credit minus the amount of the balance transfer fee.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with Citibank.
Discover balance transfer limit
Discover allows you to transfer about 95% of your credit limit, in order to leave room for the balance transfer fee.
Read our guide on how to do a balance transfer with Discover.
Should you do a balance transfer?
When deciding whether a balance transfer is worth it, you should ask the following questions:
- How long do you need in order to pay off your debt?
- Do you have a good enough credit score to get a balance transfer card?
- How many credit cards have you opened recently?
The first question will help you decide which balance transfer card might be right for you. If you can pay off your balance in full within 12 months, a card that offers a shorter 0% intro APR period but charges no balance transfer fee could be a good choice. However, if you need longer than that to pay off your balance, a card that charges a balance transfer fee but offers a longer intro APR period might be better. Use our balance transfer calculator to estimate the numbers.
Check your credit score so you’ll get an idea of how likely you are to be approved for a balance transfer card. If your credit score is less-than-stellar, you might consider applying for a personal loan rather than a balance transfer card. You’ll still pay interest on a personal loan, but there’s a chance it may be a lower APR than what your existing credit card charges.
Finally, if you’ve opened several credit cards recently, know that you run the risk of being denied for a card offer. Issuers don’t like to see a lot of recent inquiries on your credit report because it could appear you’re desperate for credit, and thus present a higher risk of not paying off what you owe.
Best balance transfer credit cards
Based on our research of cards available through CompareCards, as well as top cards offered by major issuers, we’ve compiled a list of the top balance transfer deals available. Note that none of these cards charge an annual fee.
This card is a great choice for someone who needs a long 0% intro APR period to pay off debt. You get almost two years of no interest on balance transfers.
Balance transfer details:
- Intro Balance transfer APR: 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers. After, a 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable) applies.
- Balance transfer fee: Balance transfer fee – either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater..
While its 0% intro APR period isn’t quite as long as the Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever, the BankAmericard® credit card is another good choice for those who need a long time to pay off credit card debt. You can pay no interest for a year-and-a-half with this card.
Balance transfer details:
- Intro Balance transfer APR: 0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After, a 12.99% - 22.99% Variable APR applies.
- Balance transfer fee: Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
This card offers generous cashback rewards. Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Note that you should avoid making new purchases on your card until your transferred balance is paid off — but once you pay that off in full, you can find ongoing value in this card due to its cashback rate. Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
This is one of the few cards listed on our site that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee. And it also offers rewards, so once you’ve paid off your transferred balance, you can use it to earn Membership Rewards points. Earn 2x points at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), and 1x points on other purchases And you can earn 20% extra points when you use your card on purchases 20 or more times in a billing period.
American Express Membership Rewards® points can be redeemed for booking or upgrading travel, gift cards, paying with points when checking out, shopping at merchant partners, or transferring points to airline and hotel travel partners.
Balance transfer details:
- Intro Balance transfer APR: Intro 0% for 15 months. After, a 12.99%- 23.99% variable APR applies.
- Balance transfer fee: $0 balance transfer fee.
This is another card that charges no balance transfer fee. It doesn’t offer rewards, but after you’ve paid off your balance and demonstrated responsible behavior with the card, you can request a product change to a card such as the Chase Freedom®, which earns cash back.
Balance transfer details:
- Intro Balance transfer APR: 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months. After, a 16.49% - 25.24% variable APR applies.
- Balance transfer fee: $0 for the first 60 days that your account is open, after that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, Chase Slate®, Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever and the Chase Freedom® have been independently collected by CompareCards and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.