A credit card balance transfer can take as long as 3 weeks-or as little as a few days. Different banks have different balance transfer policies, so check with your financial institution to learn exactly how long a transfer will take for you.
How do balance transfers work?
Transferring a balance from a credit card or loan to another credit card may save you money in interest charges over the life of the original debt. The balance doesn't shrink or disappear when you transfer it, but by lowering your interest rate for a period of time, you can get yourself more time for you get a handle on your debt.
Typically, to make a balance transfer, you will contact the card issuer taking on the debt and provide them with account details and the amounts you would like to transfer from other cards. Once approved, the card issuer will add the requested balance transfer amount to your card's balance and will pay off the debt on the other cards. In some cases, banks or card issuers will provide you with a balance transfer check so you can pay off your balance directly.
Most balance transfers will charge a fee for the transfer, which is either a set rate or a percentage of the amount you transfer. You can sometimes find a balance transfer offer with no balance transfer fee.
When do balance transfers make sense?
A balance transfer can save you money on interest if:
- The balance transfer card has a lower rate than your existing card or loan. Balance transfers only make sense if you can reduce your interest rate (also known as annual percentage rate, or APR). Aim to find a balance transfer credit card with a very low or zero rate, such as these balance transfer cards from Citi.
- You can pay off the transferred balance before a new balance transfer card's interest rate goes up. While balance transfer cards often have extremely low introductory rates, these rates usually expire after a certain amount of time (typically from 6 to 18 months). When your interest rate is at 0%, you should aim to pay down your debt as much as possible so you can avoid the interest charges that will be applied when the introductory period ends.
- The fee charged for the transfer does not cancel out your interest savings. Banks generally charge fees for balance transfers: 3-5% of the transferred balance is typical. Do the math to be sure this fee doesn't wipe out what you can save in interest charges.
How long does it take to process a balance transfer?
Citi takes between 2 and 21 days to process balance transfers and you can expect a similar range for most credit card companies that accept balance transfers.
Strategies to streamline the balance transfer process
Most of a balance transfer happens behind the scenes-that is, between banks. Still, you can take steps to facilitate balance transfers by supporting your banks through the process. Here's what you can do to make a balance transfer land as fast as possible:
Understand your credit profile
If you're getting a new balance transfer credit card, it's helpful to know your credit score before you shop around. With your credit score in hand, you can see which balance transfer cards are more likely to be approved for, so you can hone in on the card you want.
Take a look at your pre-approved offers
Another way to assess your eligibility is to take a look at any pre-approved balance transfer offers you have received online or in the mail.
Budget the transfer against your credit limit
Your bank won't let you transfer more than your card's credit limit-and may even cap the transfer amount below this level. Find out how much you are allowed to move before you request a balance transfer.
Gather your financial information
When you submit a request for a balance transfer, you'll need the name of your existing bank, your account number and the amount you want to transfer. Having this information in hand helps ensure your order is processed as quick as possible.
Try to get the transfer handled electronically
Some banks offer electronic transfers by default, while others will mail a paper check. Electronic transfers, in contrast to checks, are often quicker-as long as your banks support them.
What to do if your balance transfer is taking longer than you expect
If a balance transfer is taking longer than you expect, your first step should be to contact the bank that issued your balance transfer card. It's their responsibility to pay off your original balance and apply that amount to your card.
You may also want to engage your original bank-the one from which you transferred the balance-to confirm that the other bank has contacted them.