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Moving a high-interest balance to a low-interest or 0% APR credit card by doing a balance transfer can be a great way to save on interest charges. The process is relatively simple, too. But it's not instant. From beginning to end, a balance transfer can take a few weeks.
Before you start, you'll need to have a card to which you can move your balance. Specifically, you're looking for one with an introductory 0% APR or low-interest offer on balance transfers; low or no balance transfer fees; and no annual fee. For recommendations, check out NerdWallet's picks for best balance transfer and 0% APR cards.
Once you have your balance transfer card ready to go, here's what to do.
1. Request a balance transfer
Typically, the first step of doing a balance transfer is getting in touch with the issuer of the card to which you're moving debt and providing some information about the balances you want to move. Effectively, you're saying, "Here's this debt. Can I move it to this account?"
Cards have certain rules about what types of debt you can transfer. For example, same-issuer transfers generally aren’t allowed; you can’t move a balance on one Chase card to a different Chase card.
Some common ways to request a balance transfer:
Online. Generally, you can log onto your account and request a balance transfer through the issuer's online portal. Be prepared to provide information about the debt you're looking to move, including the issuer name, the amount of debt and the account information. With some credit cards, you can request balance transfers while filling out the application before you're even approved.
Phone. You can call your issuer to request a balance transfer. As with online balance transfers, come prepared with information about the debt you're looking to move.
You might be able to skip this process by using a convenience check from your issuer. Some issuers mail these checks with special interest rate promotions to cardholders, and sometimes these count as balance transfers. You can use these to pay off credit card debt on another account. Before using these, read the terms and make sure you understand the rates and fees associated with the offer.
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2. Wait for the transfer to go through
It can take two weeks or longer for an issuer to approve and complete a balance transfer request. That means you may have to make another monthly payment on that old debt you're trying to move.
With major issuers, balance transfers are generally done directly. That means the issuer that's offering you the balance transfer terms will post a payment directly to your old account for the amount approved. Then, that payment amount — plus a balance transfer fee, usually 3% to 5% of the amount transferred — will show up as an outstanding balance on the new account.
You might not get a notification when your balance transfer goes through, so it's up to you to check in on your old account regularly and make sure that all payments are made on time.
3. Pay off your balance
Once your balance has been moved to a new credit card, you'll start paying it down according to the terms on the new card.
For example, if the card offers an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers, you'll be able to make interest-free payments during the promotional period. After the promotional period ends, the regular interest rates will kick in. But these will apply only to the remaining balance and you won't get hit with retroactive interest charges, as you might with a deferred interest offer on a store card.
While it's possible to do one balance transfer after another, balance transfer fees can make this an expensive and unsustainable option in the long run. Paying off the balance during the promotion, if you're able to do so while meeting all your other financial obligations, can help you lock in your savings.