How Long Does a Balance Transfer Take?

Quick Answer

A balance transfer can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the credit card company, but they're typically done within five to seven days. Knowing what to expect can help you ensure that you stay caught up on payments.

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A credit card balance transfer typically takes about five to seven days, depending on the card issuer, but some financial institutions ask customers to allow up to six weeks to complete the transaction.

If you're considering getting a new balance transfer credit card and want to make sure you know how long the transfer will take as well as whether you should even make a transfer in the first place, read on.

What Is a Balance Transfer?

A balance transfer generally involves moving a balance from one credit card to another, usually to take advantage of a lower interest rate or even an introductory 0% APR promotion.

Credit card companies don't all approach balance transfers the same way, though. Some companies complete balance transfers electronically, while others issue balance transfer checks that are tied to your account. Some credit card issuers may even allow you to transfer your balance from other types of debt, such as personal loans or auto loans.

Balance transfers are a common debt consolidation strategy and could help you save a significant amount of money in interest. With or without an introductory rate, however, card issuers usually charge a fee of 3% or 5% of the transaction amount.

For example, if you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 20% interest rate, and you were to transfer it to a card with a 0% APR promotion for 18 months and a 3% transfer fee, you could pay off the balance interest-free, including the $150 fee, during the 0% APR period with a monthly payment of roughly $286.

In contrast, if you were to put that payment toward your current card, it'd take you 21 months to pay it off, and you'd pay about $960 in interest.

How Long Does a Balance Transfer Take?

Many credit card companies will state how long the balance transfer process takes on their website. If the information is not available online, you can call your card issuer's customer service department. Here's what to expect based on the card to which you're transferring a balance.

Average Length of Time for a Balance Transfer
American Express Typically five to seven days, but can take up to six weeks in certain circumstances
Bank of America Typically two to 14 days
Barclays Up to four weeks
Capital One Typically three to 14 days
Chase Up to 21 days
Discover Typically four days but newly opened cards take 14 days before a balance transfer will begin processing
U.S. Bank Up to 14 days
Wells Fargo Up to 14 days

When Does It Make Sense to Complete a Balance Transfer?

A balance transfer can be a great way to consolidate high-interest credit card debt, but it's not for everyone. Here are some situations where it might make sense:

  • You have good credit and can qualify for a 0% intro APR balance transfer promotion.
  • The card you're transferring to has a much lower APR.
  • You have a plan to pay off the full balance—or at least a large chunk of it—before the 0% APR promotional period ends.
  • You don't plan to add more credit card debt while you're paying down your balance.
  • You're developing good credit habits, so you can avoid falling back into debt in the future.

On the flip side, it might not make sense to do a balance transfer in the following situations:

  • You struggle to stick to a repayment plan on a credit card.
  • Your credit score isn't high enough to qualify for a 0% introductory APR promotion.
  • You have other cards with a lower APR.
  • You're on track to paying off your balance within a few months and don't want to open a new account or incur a balance transfer fee.
  • Adding a new card to your wallet could exacerbate problems with overspending.

It's also important to note that even if you qualify for a good balance transfer credit card, if you have a lot of credit card debt, the new card may not have a high enough limit to cover the full balance. In this case, you can still save money by transferring, but the repayment process will be a bit more complicated.

How to Choose a Balance Transfer Credit Card

There are a lot of different credit cards out there that offer low or even 0% APR promotions on balance transfers. Here are some variables to consider when determining which balance transfer credit card is the best for you:

  • Length of the promotion
  • Variable APR after the promotional period ends
  • Amount of the balance transfer fee
  • Other features, such as rewards and benefits
  • APR offer on purchases
  • How much debt you want to transfer

Some cards may offer longer 0% introductory APR periods, but they might not offer other benefits, so you won't get much value out of them after you finish paying off your debt. Other cards may offer rewards, intro bonuses and even other benefits, but their intro 0% APR period may be shorter.

Consider how much debt you have and how long it'll take to pay it off, along with each card's additional features, to determine the right fit for you.

Build Your Credit to Qualify for Better Cards

The best credit cards for balance transfers offer introductory 0% APR promotions, but they're generally not available to consumers with fair or poor credit.

If your FICO® Score is below 670, you may have a hard time qualifying. Check your credit score and review your credit report to get an idea of your overall credit health and to understand which areas of your credit file you can address.

This may involve paying down some of your balances, getting caught up on missed payments, disputing inaccurate credit information and more. The important thing is that you learn how your actions impact your credit score and start taking steps to improve it.

This process can take time, though, so create a plan to tackle your credit card debt in the meantime.