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The process of completing a balance transfer can range from several days to up to six weeks depending on the credit card issuer. Some issuers have electronic balance transfer processes, which are typically faster, and some require working by mail, which can take longer.
Balance transfers are one way you can pay down your debt sooner by moving the balances on an existing card—or multiple cards—to a credit card with a lower interest rate.
Since more of your payment goes toward the debt, you can pay down your debt sooner and, in turn, improve your credit scores. Another advantage is that because more than one balance can be transferred onto a new card, you will only have one payment to manage each month.
How Long Does a Balance Transfer Take?
Many credit companies will state how long the balance transfer process takes on their website. If the information is not available online, call customer service.
Average Length of Time for a Balance Transfer
|American Express||Typically 5 - 7 days, but longer under certain circumstances|
|Barclays||Up to 3 weeks, but typically much faster|
|Capital One||Usually 3 - 14 days|
|Citi||2 - 21 days|
|Discover||Typically 7 - 10 days|
|Chase||Approximately 7 - 21 days|
How Does a Balance Transfer Work?
Some credit card companies complete balance transfers electronically while others issue balance transfer checks to you directly, then you can mail the check to your credit card company.
American Express says on its website 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.
Based on Discover's website, its balance transfers are processed in seven to 10 days. It also states that there's no guarantee that timeframe will apply to applicants.
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 that is issuing the card. Capital One, for example, states on its website that it usually takes three to 14 days for a transfer, but the time period depends on whether the transfer will take place electronically or by mail.
How Do I Qualify for a Balance Transfer Card?
Consumers who have good credit scores and pay their bills on time each month tend to qualify for balance transfers. 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 also 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.
It will also take time for the new credit card issuer to send a payment to the card you want to transfer a balance from. The entire process can take a couple weeks or more, so stick to your original monthly budget. (Read more here for all the details about how a balance transfer works.)
Potential Downsides of Balance Transfers
As with any financial move, it's important to assess your overall debt situation before making a change. While balance transfers are advantageous if you are saddled with large amounts of credit card debt with high-interest rates, also consider the following:
- Pay attention to any promotional or introductory interest rates on credit cards and how long they last. If you are unable to pay off the balance transfer debt during the promotional period, you could end up paying more in the long run since the remaining debt will likely face a higher interest rate. You may encounter credit card balance transfer fees. Make sure to read the details and fine print before moving forward with a transfer to ensure those fees are accounted for in your overall calculations.
- Avoid accruing more debt on the card that has been paid off. If you transfer debt and then keep spending on your existing card, you'll dig yourself further into a hole. Create a budget and stick to it.
- Don't stop making payments to the cards you are transferring balances from until you can confirm via your online account that the balance transfer has occurred. Missing a payment can result in having to pay a late fee, and if you are more than 30 days late, your credit scores could get dinged.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on December 14, 2018, and has been updated.