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What is a Credit Card Balance Transfer?

By Bryan Pedersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A credit card balance transfer occurs when a credit card holder opens a new credit card to pay off the old one. The debt and interest is then owed to the new company, who often provides a grace period where a smaller amount of interest is charged on the transferred balance. Finding two, one, or even zero percent interest may be possible. Oftentimes this introductory rate lasts for around six months to a year after the balance transfer takes place. Usually there is no fee for the transfer and anyone with a valid social security number and mailing address can take advantage of the option.

Purposes of Credit Card Balance Transfers

Balance transfers are one way to help card holders pay off credit card debt. Credit cards are a big business today, with many companies making a fortune off finance charges. The average annual percentage rate is about 16% on most credit cards. With that kind of interest, it can be difficult to pay down a credit card, because it is consistently charging interest and adding to the principal.

For a savvy consumer, a credit card balance transfer can be an excellent method of reducing debt. It leaves the person free to pay down the credit card balance without incurring additional interest charges. Using this strategy, a person could potentially open a new account that offers a balance transfer when the old one expires, transfer all of the balance to the new card, and begin a new grace period with low or non-existent finance charges.

While the credit card balance transfer benefits the consumer, it also benefits credit card companies. Another purpose of the balance transfer is to help financial institutions gain new customers. Many institutions offer free transfers and grace periods in order to earn more business and eventually more money.

Things to Consider

Making a balance transfer work is an excellent practice, but diligence is required. When transferring to a new institution, there may be some fine print attached with hidden charges, such as transfer fees, annual fees, and joining fees. Transfer fee amounts are often a percentage of the total balance transferred. Some transfer fees will be capped, usually around $50 or $60 US Dollars (USD), or it may be significantly higher.

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Discussion Comments
By anon310088 — On Dec 19, 2012

I use a credit card from citigroup. They offered a zero percent balance transfer, which I utilized. However, they are charging me 50 cents "minimal charge" because I have a recurring charge that I pay off in FULL even before the grace period ends on that particular recurring charge.

They tell me that the reason for that is because of the balance on the account from the 0 percent balance transfer? How is that legal?

By anon274166 — On Jun 10, 2012

I have no credit card but I am ordered to pay by credit card. How can I do this?

By anon245586 — On Feb 06, 2012

Can I transfer my credit account balance to my husband's new credit card?

By anon167453 — On Apr 12, 2011

I have a HSBC mastercard that has annual fee of $59. i want to get capital one no annual fee with higher limit. will my credit score be affected if i close the former one?

By anon156019 — On Feb 25, 2011

@48 anon121380: You fail to mention that there is sometimes a balance transfer fee cap of $50 or $75, so if you transfer, say, $5000 and the transfer fee cap is $50, you end up paying 1 percent interest and get the interest free months afterward, which makes it well worth it.

By anon151326 — On Feb 10, 2011

Why in the world would you tell people to close the old account when doing a balance transfer? That's the best way to ding your credit. Transfer the balance and make sure you are not exceeding the new credit card balance limit on the new card. And then keep the old credit card open. Just don't charge anything new on it.

By anon149071 — On Feb 03, 2011

i would like to transfer my current credit card debt to a 0 percent transfer to another card, but i cannot get accepted by any other credit card companies. does anyone know how to get around this?

By anon142468 — On Jan 13, 2011

Can i have help with this example please? Can i transfer £2000 from my royal bank of Scotland card to my newly opened 0 percent Barclays credit card? Then once the Royal Bank Card is cleared, then use that for something, then transfer it to the 0 percent barclays one again? Therefore all my debt is on the new 0 percent Barclays Card. Basically will the new card accept two different transfers from the same card within a few weeks of each other. Many thanks. Frank

By anon142290 — On Jan 12, 2011

I read through these and I'm not sure if I saw the answer. I closed a credit card account and I'm paying it down. I need to know if doing a balance transfer (of $700) to a company with a lower rate is a good idea?

By anon139114 — On Jan 03, 2011

How can I be charged a balance transfer interest charge every time I make a payment to bring down the balance on the credit card?

By anon121380 — On Oct 24, 2010

One other comment: I'm not very good at the math (future value of present money, etc.), but at least I can see that 0 percent interest for 6 months, with a 'one-time' fee of 4 percent is not much of a deal. What it really is is one month's interest at a 48 percent APR(!), and 5 months at 0.

So a credit card company charging a regular 16 percent APR (1.333 percent per month) - by charging you a 4 percent fee up front in effect is getting their 16 percent interest for three months, and you are getting three months free. Actually, they're getting more, when you consider they charge you the 4 percent up front. Some math expert could calculate exactly what you are being charged. My guess is you end up with maybe two months' interest free balance. Not such a big deal as they advertise.

By anon104716 — On Aug 17, 2010

Closing an account, while it may harm your score in the short term, is not a bad thing. Especially if you are having problems controlling its use, have hideous terms and can get better elsewhere, or have multiple accounts. Remember that having an account and not using it can be just as bad.

By anon102786 — On Aug 09, 2010

While I agree that closing paid accounts will adversely affect your credit score, I also understand why some financial advisers recommend doing so. A lot of people lack the discipline to resist the temptation of going back and using that card later on, while still paying off the card to which they'd transferred their balances. Thus, you could end up with twice the debt!

By anon100119 — On Jul 28, 2010

Do you have to close your old account? I would like to transfer my balance to avoid so much interest but I don't want to close my account.

By anon99093 — On Jul 25, 2010

"be sure to close your old account"-This is terrible advice! Closing accounts will hurt your credit score.

By anon97245 — On Jul 19, 2010

i want to transfer a credit card balance to a friend's card but i don't know how to do it. Can anyone help me?

By anon86492 — On May 25, 2010

conclusion: credit card companies are jerks that seem to be reducing your debt but don't actually. in fact, they end up increasing it!

By anon75551 — On Apr 07, 2010

Some are saying not to close your old credit card account after the transfer. But what if that company charges a monthly or yearly membership fee? Now you have to pay for a card you no longer use?

By anon70643 — On Mar 15, 2010

really i'm never getting one.

By anon63874 — On Feb 04, 2010

i have a card that is maxed out for $5,000. Can i balance transfer, on a new card that has only a $1,000 limit @2.9 percent?

By anon63053 — On Jan 30, 2010

i have debts on my four cards, for a total amount of 10,000. How can i put them on one card? Is that O.K., even that card has already a debt?

By anon61737 — On Jan 22, 2010

Closing your old credit card after a balance transfer is a horrible idea. Not only can that skew your debt to limit ratio (and lower your credit score) but it can shorten the length of your credit history if the credit card account was old (and lower your credit score).

There is no reason to close an old credit card account after a balance transfer!

By anon60068 — On Jan 11, 2010

what is a balance transfer in plain words? i have an hsbc card with 3500 limit. i used 2500 with a 16.9 percent apr now i am thinking to apply for sainsbury's cd with 15.9 percent. will that help me, and how?

By anon54647 — On Dec 01, 2009

Last year we had money transferred from our credit card to our checking account for 0 percent interest for a year. Is this also called balance transfer?

By anon47130 — On Oct 02, 2009

Will merging two cards from the same company affect the credit score? In this process one of the accounts will be closed. I did this once when i was offered 0% APR for 6 months, but that is completed on one of my cards. I got one more card from the same company and am willing to do the same to avoid APR on my old card. Please advise.

By anon46979 — On Sep 30, 2009

i do not have a debt, but i want to transfer a balance from bank of america to discover because i get the rewards from discover when i purchase something. will the transfer balance process affect my credit score?

By anon40473 — On Aug 08, 2009

Watch out! Some credit card companies like Capitol One, will invoice the balance transfer fees as purchases and charge you interest on that fee. There is nothing you can do about the interest or to pay the fee until the amount you transferred has been paid.

By anon39622 — On Aug 03, 2009

i opened 2 credit cards a year ago that I have 0 percent on for 12 months. I recently paid both of them off and they are at 0 balance. Should I close both of them? or one of them to improve my credit, or should I keep them open for a while with very little use, seeing as I just opened them only a year ago?

By ug301 — On Feb 02, 2009

Recently, I got a new credit card and transferred few balances to that on the phone.

I was in the impression that they will charge be a balance transferring fee of 3% ( or max of $75) for the total transfer I do, but they charged me 75 US$ for each transfer.

Just wondering what they did is correct?

Thank you

By anon24965 — On Jan 21, 2009

Will a consolidation credit card pay the cards with the smallest balances and lowest APRs first or do they have to make at least the minimum payment to each of the cards I transfer to it?

By anon24858 — On Jan 19, 2009

Is it possible to transfer the balance of an account that has already been closed for use by the credit card company itself? I lent my good credit so to speak to someone close to me and it blew up in my face leaving me with credit cards still carrying balances that I still have to pay every month, but were closed for use because of these bad marks on my credit report. I cannot refinance, but could I transfer these balances to a consolidation credit card for example?

By gco3787 — On Oct 02, 2008

I am planning to apply for a card that offers 0% interest on balance transfers and purchases for one year, plus no transfer fee. Perhaps this is a dumb question but the offers says that "For each billing period that your account is subject to a finance charge, a minimum total finance charge of $.50 will be imposed." Does 0% interest mean that my Finance Charge will be $.50, effectively zero? That is, is the "finance charge" = "interest", meaning both are zero? Or is a "finance charge" something in addition to "interest"?

By toshiba — On Sep 14, 2008

i have good banking with barclays they have sent me two check each of 5000 for balance transfer. i have another credit card from capital one with outstanding of 300 can i pay barclay 5000 to my capital one credit card.

By ConnieBrooks — On Aug 21, 2008

1) Do not close your old credit card accounts out. It will lower both the average age of your accounts (15% of your credit score), and your debt to credit ratio (30% of your credit score).

2) Yes, opening up a new credit card account lowers your credit score - but not by much. New accounts only make up ten percent of your FICO score.

3) Balance transfer as often as you must to get your total amount owed under 30% of the total amount you can borrow.

4) Transferring a balance effects your credit score several ways:

- You take a small hit because you opened a new account.

- Your score may increase because you now have an unused card with no balance. This actually makes it look like you owe less money (on your credit report) because you now have a higher available amount you can charge.

So, the best thing to do is to balance transfer at the best rates you can, *do not* close the old account out, and do not charge any more money on anything until you get your total balance down under 30% of your available credit (all cards included).

You can also get all three of your credit reports each year for free.

By anon13719 — On Jun 03, 2008

i have 2 cards that are offering 0% balance transfers. on one card i have a 0% apr on purchases that gets over next month. I have about 3000 on that card. On the other card i have about 4000 @ 9% apr. I am thinking of a BT to the card with 0% apr on purchases and then transfer the balance from that card to the card with 9% apr on purchases. That way I will have 0% interest on 7000 for about a year. Is this a wise move? Please advice.

By anon12834 — On May 14, 2008

You can txfr once every 6 months without damage to your credit score, but more than that may damage it.

I agree to keep credit cards open and that will improve your open credit to debt ratio, which will improve your score.

You will have to see what the card offers you, it may not be enough of a limit to cover your maxed out card, but shop around.

By anon7685 — On Jan 31, 2008

I am soooo not good at this stuff.

If I have a credit card that is pretty much maxed out, can I still transfer that? and can I transfer a few cards on to one other card?

By anon6374 — On Dec 27, 2007

I heartily disagree, olittlewood. I have three to four credit card accounts with half a dozen banks and have always utilized that 0% intro rate to ensure my payments go only toward paying down my balances. My score has never gone under 690 in 7 years. I recently asked Chase to combine all four of my credit lines on the one card that was offering a 0% balance transfer offer (with no fees) for 12 months. Setting up autopay when you get a new credit card makes things so much easier and insures no missed payments and great future offers.

By olittlewood — On Dec 09, 2007

be careful with this! getting in the habit of constantly transferring your credit card balance will desensitize you to having credit card debt and will eventually catch up with you on your credit score. your best bet is to research a good credit card that offers the lowest fixed rate, and PAYING IT DOWN! trust me, you'll feel much better!

By anon3126 — On Aug 12, 2007

Immediately closing a credit card will damage your credit. You'd be better to keep both credit cards but not use one of them.

By anon2616 — On Jul 18, 2007

how does transferring a balance from one card to another affect your credit score and credit report? (i.e., will your score go down?)

By anon838 — On May 06, 2007

so do you mean having 2 credit card account with "one company" may damage credit score?

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