How Long Does a Credit Card Balance Transfer Take?

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A credit card balance transfer typically takes about five to seven days, but some major card issuers ask customers to allow up to 14 or even 21 days 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.

How Do Balance Transfers Work?

If you're wondering how balance transfers work, you're probably looking to move some of your high interest debt to a card with a lower interest rate. This is a common debt consolidation strategy and could help you save a significant amount of money in interest.

Credit card companies don't all approach balance transfers the same way. Some companies complete balance transfers electronically, while others issue balance transfer checks directly to you, the account holder, which you then mail to the cards you're paying off. Some credit card issuers may also allow you to transfer your debt from a student loan, a personal loan, an auto loan or a home equity line of credit.

American Express says that it typically takes anywhere from five to seven days for a transfer to be completed, but adds the process can take up to six weeks. Decisions about balance transfers are sent through the mail.

Discover says it typically processes balance transfers in seven days, or 14 days on new accounts. Discover also mentions that if the creditor needs to be paid by a check instead of electronically, the process can take even longer. The company recommends filling out a balance transfer application online to shorten the process.

For cards that operate on the Visa or Mastercard networks, the length of time for a balance transfer varies by the financial institution issuing the card. Capital One, for example, says that it usually takes three to 14 days for a transfer, but the time period depends on whether the transfer takes place electronically or by mail.

Furthermore, most credit card issuers will impose a balance transfer fee, typically 3% to 5% of the amount transferred.

Find balance transfer credit cards in Experian CreditMatch.

How Long Does the Process Take?

Many credit 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.

Average Length of Time for a Balance Transfer
American ExpressTypically 5 - 7 days, but longer under certain circumstances
BarclaysUp to 3 weeks, but typically much faster
Capital OneTypically 3 - 14 days
CitiTypically 2 - 21 days
DiscoverTypically 7 - 14 days
ChaseTypically 7 - 21 days

When Does It Make Sense to Transfer a Balance?

When you are able to receive a lower APR on your debt by transferring your balance, it's worth considering. For example, when a new account offers introductory financing with a 0% APR or a lower than standard interest rate, then it can make sense to do so—as long as you plan to pay off the balance before the introductory period ends. It can also be beneficial to transfer your balance to a new credit card with a standard APR that's less than your current card's rate. And if your credit has improved since you opened your last card, you may be eligible for a lower interest rate on a new account.

On the other hand, a balance transfer may not always be the right move. For example, if you're on track to pay off your balance within a few months, it may not be worth spending the 3% to 5% balance transfer fee just to receive a lower interest rate for a short period of time. Before you begin the process of performing a balance transfer, you may want to request a lower interest rate from your current credit card issuer.

In addition, if you think you might rack up additional debt on the card you pay off with a balance transfer, then a balance transfer may not be right for you. If your goal is to reduce your debt and the amount of interest you're paying, put the old cards in a drawer and commit to not using them at least until the transferred amount has been fully paid off.

How Do You Get a Balance Transfer Credit Card?

You must first identify a balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR introductory financing offer for balance transfers, or at least a card with a significantly lower APR than the card you're using.

You also have to be sure that you can qualify for the new card, based on your creditworthiness. Consumers who have good credit scores and pay their bills on time each month tend to qualify for cards with the best balance transfer offers.

Balance transfers offered by credit card issuers are temporary and range anywhere from six to 18 months. During that period, the interest rates could range from 0% to 4% or higher, depending on the credit card company. The credit card issuer will set the credit limit, which is also the maximum amount that can be transferred. This includes the fee the company charges to process the transaction, which is often a percentage of the transfer amount, such as 3% to 5%. For instance, if the balance transfer fee is 3% and the credit limit is $3,000, the maximum amount you can transfer is $2,910.

Consider all the features on new balance transfer cards you're considering, including the standard APR you'll pay once the intro balance transfer rate ends, fees you'll pay on the card (such as annual and foreign transaction fees) and card perks.

Keep in mind that it will take time for the new credit card issuer to send a payment to the card you want to transfer a balance from (or for them to send you the payment, which you'll send to your other card issuers). The entire process can take a couple weeks or more, so stick to your original monthly budget and be sure to continue paying the bills on your cards until the payoff is complete.

Find balance transfer credit cards in Experian CreditMatch.

Time Is Money

Unfortunately, it's impossible to predict exactly how long a balance transfer will take, but your card issuer should give you a good idea of how long the process usually is. By understanding how these transfers work, you can use your balance transfer to save money on interest charges while you pay off your balance even sooner than you might have thought.

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