The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Saturday, June 15, 2024

How Do Balance Transfers Work? + 5 Top Offers (June 2024)

How Do Balance Transfers Work
Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank
Eric Bank

Eric Bank is an M.B.A. who has covered financial and business topics since 1985, appearing regularly on Credible, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Zacks, Chron, and dozens of other outlets. Eric specializes in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences, particularly in the world of personal finance. Eric holds a Master's in Business Administration from New York University and a Master's in Finance from DePaul University.

See full bio »

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

See full bio »
Advertiser Disclosure

Perhaps you’re looking for a way to reduce the amount you’re paying out each month toward debts and you find yourself wondering, “How do balance transfers work?” If you’re indebted to multiple lenders, oppressed by high interest rates, or simply looking to make your debt payments simpler, it could be worth it to make a balance transfer. This puts all your financial eggs in one basket, and can also give you a temporary reprieve from high interest rates. You’ve got to time it right, though, to get the most benefits and skip the potential costs.

When done the right way, a balance transfer can give your credit score a boost — but first, you have to understand how it works and how it can work for you. Read on to learn more about balance transfers or use the links below to skip ahead to a particular area of interest:

What is a Balance Transfer? | How to do a Balance Transfer | How It Affects Credit
How Fees Work | Best 0% APR Cards (3) | Do’s & Don’ts

What is a Balance Transfer?

A balance transfer is the movement of a debt balance from one creditor to another. This is typically a transfer to consolidate your credit card balances and other debts to a single credit card. The transfer is straightforward and can be set up when you first open the new credit card account or anytime thereafter. You still owe the money, but now the debt resides in one place instead of many.

A balance transfer typically offers the following benefits:

  • Lower interest rates. This is especially true if the new account offers low or 0% introductory rates and your old debt was saddled with high interest rates.
  • A lower total monthly minimum payment. This means more of your money can go toward overall debt reduction, as opposed to interest.
  • Simplified bill paying. By transferring multiple accounts, you’re reducing your number of monthly bills.

Something to keep in mind is that you aren’t limited to transferring only credit card debt – many credit cards allow you to also transfer balances from mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and other debts by issuing you checks that you can use to transfer your non-credit-card balances.

How to Do a Balance Transfer in 5 Steps

Below are five steps for completing a balance transfer:

  1. Research the best zero-balance-transfer credit cards currently available for someone with your credit score. We provide five good options below.
  2. Apply for the card that seems like the best choice. You’ll need to evaluate fees, introductory periods, and interest rates.
  3. Specify your transfers from existing cards by entering the existing credit card numbers and account balances when you apply online. The issuer of the new credit card will approve and transfer these balances when it issues the new card.
  4. Notify the new card issuer via its website or over the phone and request the additional transfers, if necessary.
  5. Request checks tied to your new credit card and use them to transfer non-credit-card balances to your new credit card.

Most of this can be done easily online, but if you prefer to speak with a representative, you can call the issuer directly for personalized assistance. The balance transfer process can usually be done in a fairly short amount of time.

Compare the Top Balance Transfer Cards

How Balance Transfers Affect Your Credit

A balance transfer may affect your credit score, for better or for worse. That’s because several factors are used to determine your credit score:

  • Payment history (35% of score): How well have you handled credit in the past, including missed payments, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.
  • Amounts owed (30%): Your score partly depends on what percentage of your available credit is being used. If you open a new card and do a balance transfer without creating new debt, your credit score might increase as your percentage of credit used declines. For this reason, you shouldn’t close old credit cards — even if you no longer plan to use them. If you pile on more debt after performing a balance transfer, your credit rating could fall.
  • Length of credit history (15%): Credit bureaus like to see a long credit history in which you’ve acted responsibly. This is another reason not to close a credit card after transferring away its balance.
  • New credit (10%): Opening a new credit card, even if it’s just for the purpose of doing a balance transfer, will usually slightly depress your credit score for a few months.
  • Credit mix (10%): A mix of credit card debt and installment loans will generally raise your credit score. If you use a balance transfer to pay off an installment loan, you may paradoxically cause yourself to be viewed as a riskier borrower.

All of these factors combine to create your current credit profile and can affect each individual differently.

Balance Transfer Fees: How Much Are You Really Saving?

To know whether you will save money by doing a balance transfer, you have to compare the interest you would’ve paid by keeping the old balance versus how much you’ll pay in interest and fees for transferring the balance. This depends on the introductory and subsequent rates for the new card — and how quickly you intend to pay off the account balance.

The fee structure of a credit card that you would use for balance transfers has a few components:

  • A transfer fee of 3-5% of the amount transferred. Some cards waive this fee for an introductory period.
  • An annual fee. Not all cards charge one, and you may get the first year’s fee waived, but you could have one each year thereafter.
  • An interest rate on transferred balances. Frequently this is 0% during an introductory period of anywhere between 6 to 18 months, depending on the card.
  • An interest rate on new purchases and cash advances. These might be quite low during the introductory period but could rise substantially afterward.

If you can’t pay the balance off before the higher rates kick in (after the introductory period expires), you might not be saving much money.

Best “0% APR” Balance Transfer Cards

A good balance transfer card offers a 0% APR on transfers during the introductory period, which varies by card. Usually, the best cards with the longest introductory periods are reserved for consumers with excellent credit ratings. In terms of FICO scores, which range from 300 (worst) to 850 (best), an excellent credit score is 720 or higher.




  • 0% Intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening. After that the variable APR will be 18.24% - 28.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
  • No Annual Fee - our low intro rates and all the benefits don’t come with a yearly charge.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% 12 months on Purchases
0% 21 months on Balance Transfers
18.24% - 28.99% (Variable)
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

Discover it® Chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website




  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match for all new cardmembers–only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers. Then 18.24% to 28.24% Standard Variable APR applies, based on credit worthiness.
  • Redeem your rewards for cash at any time.
  • Discover could help you reduce exposure of your personal information online by helping you remove it from select people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the mobile app.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms and conditions apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
0% Intro APR for 18 months
18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR




  • Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time. Plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 19.24% - 29.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
19.24% - 29.24% (Variable)
Excellent, Good, Fair

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

+View more 0% balance transfer cards

5 Balance Transfer Do’s and Don’ts

A balance transfer doesn’t guarantee you better financial standing. You need to know how to do it right to get the most benefits. Here are five tips and best practices for transferring balances:

1. Do Keep Your Old Card Open

Having older accounts helps support your credit score. Also, by keeping a dormant account alive, you won’t unnecessarily decrease the total amount of credit available to you, which can hurt your credit utilization percentage if you close the account.

2. Don’t Be Tempted by Your New Available Credit

Just because you have more credit available from your new credit card account, don’t feel compelled to use it. It defeats the benefits of a zero-balance transfer if you end up deeper in debt with more interest to pay each month.

3. Do Pay Your Balance Before the Introductory Period Ends

A zero-balance transfer card charges 0% interest during the introductory period. After this period, the interest rates go up. You want to maximize your payments during the introductory period so that you have little or nothing left over that will cost you interest expense.

4. Don’t Max Out the New Card

If you transfer the entire credit limit to your new card, your credit utilization on that card will be 100%. As we explained above, high credit utilization percentages hurt your credit ratings.

5. Don’t Be a Repeat Offender

If you’re considering a second or third balance transfer, then you’re not paying off your debts. Rather, you’re just rolling your original debt from Card A to Card B and then to Card C. Lenders will view you as a risk, and likely not approve any additional credit for you.

Do Your Homework Before Transferring Your Balance

A balance transfer, if used wisely, can improve your credit score and your financial profile. You need to consider all fees, interest charges, and introductory periods when deciding which new card to get and how much debt you wish to transfer. If you mishandle a balance transfer card, you may end up going deeper into debt, hurting your credit rating, and increasing your monthly interest payments.

Now that you know how a balance transfer works, you’re ready to turn this newfound knowledge into savings by picking out the right card and following our best practices for a proper balance transfer. Borrow responsibly!

Advertiser Disclosure is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation for referrals for many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across (including, for example, the order in which they appear). does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.