If you want to transfer a balance from a high-interest credit card to another card with no or lower interest, a balance transfer check can help. But balance transfer checks come with both benefits and potential drawbacks. Here’s how to decide if a balance transfer check is right for you.
From time to time, your credit card company may send you balance transfer checks in the mail. These promotional offers might look appealing if you want to snag a lower interest rate on an existing credit card balance.
If you’ve received a balance transfer check or you’re interested in getting one, these tips can help.
See related: Best balance transfer credit cards
A 7-step guide to balance transfer checks
1. What is a balance transfer check?
A balance transfer check is a paper check you can use to transfer balances between credit cards.
“Credit card companies issue blank balance transfer checks in hopes that their customers will move an owed balance from a competitor’s credit card to their credit card account,” says Ryan Inman, founder of Financial Residency and Physician Wealth Services. “The idea is that the company issuing the balance transfer check will gain interest and potential fees from the customer.”
You don’t necessarily need to be a customer of the credit card company mailing out balance transfer checks to receive them. They can also be mailed out to prequalified customers, says Larry Duffany, a Ramsey Preferred financial coach and founder of Raising Hope.
In that scenario, the credit card company that sent you the check is hoping to attract your business using a 0% or low introductory APR offer.
2. How do balance transfer checks work?
With online transfers, you tell your credit card company how much you want to transfer and from which account. The credit card company handles the mechanics of moving the balance.
With a balance transfer check, you’re essentially using that check to pay off another credit card.
“You simply write a check as you would for any payment,” says Debbi King, personal finance expert and founder of The ABCs of Personal Finance. “When the old credit card company cashes the check, the funds will be charged to the new credit card company in addition to a fee – anywhere from 3% to 5%, usually.”
- Say you owe $5,000 to American Express and you receive a balance transfer check from Citi.
- You’d write out a check to American Express for $5,000.
- Once it’s received, your account is credited for that amount.
- Meanwhile, you now owe Citi $5,000 for the transfer, along with any balance transfer fee due on the transaction.
Some balance transfer checks may also give you the option to write the check out for cash. You could then use the money to pay off debts other than credit cards.
See related: What is a balance transfer? And is it a good idea?
3. What to consider when exploring using a balance transfer check
If you’re interested in taking advantage of a balance transfer check, it’s helpful to evaluate it the same way you would any other balance transfer or promotional financing offer.
“Always read the fine print,” says Inman. “The credit card issuing the check might be offering 0% interest on that balance transfer, but it might come with a stiff fee for moving the balance.”
If a balance transfer check lands in your mailbox, take care to check both the introductory APR and the regular APR for balance transfers, along with the terms of the promotion to see how long of an interest-free period you’ll enjoy.
Inman recommends crunching the numbers to determine whether a transfer makes sense in terms of potential interest savings and how much you’ll pay if there’s a fee involved.
“Your interest rate on the remaining transferred balance might actually be higher than the original card, putting you in a worse situation,” he says, if you’re not able to pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends.
As far as the balance transfer fee goes, there are some cards that offer no balance transfer fee promotions.
- The Chase Slate Card* offers an introductory 0% APR for 15 months with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made within the first 60 days. After the promo period ends, the card has a regular variable APR of 14.99%-23.74%.
- Amex EveryDay Credit Card* offers an intro 0% APR for 15 months and no balance transfer fee. The balance transfers must be made within the 60 days. After the promotional period expires, a variable regular APR of 12.99%-23.99% follows.
Some no-fee balance transfer fee offers may not extend to balance transfer checks so it’s important to know what you’re paying up front.
4. How to get a balance transfer check
If you’d like to get a balance transfer check, you could wait for your credit card company to mail one to you, or you could call and request one.
Keep in mind that some credit card companies don’t issue balance transfer checks. American Express and Capital One, for example, offer balance transfers exclusively online.
The list of credit card companies that offer balance transfer checks includes:
- Bank of America
- U.S. Bank
Discover offers cash checks but these are treated as cash advances, not balance transfers.
5. When to get a balance transfer check
Deciding when to get a balance transfer check means examining what the pros are for you specifically. Nadia Malik, personal finance expert and founder of Speaking of Cents, says there are three reasons to consider a balance transfer check:
- You’re certain that you have enough time to pay the balance in full before the 0% APR period ends.
- You have the option of making the check out to yourself to get cash quickly.
- You want to transfer balances other than credit cards, such as a personal loan.
“Balance transfer checks can help you in debt consolidation and paying off existing accounts with low or no interest, which is ideal if you’ve racked up a lot of debt,” says Malik.
There’s one thing to keep in mind, however, when writing out balance transfer checks to cash. Instead of being treated as a balance transfer, your credit card company may view those transactions as cash advances. In that case, you’d be subject to a cash advance APR and a cash advance fee, with interest accruing on the balance right away.
Balance transfer checks can help you in debt consolidation and paying off existing accounts with low or no interest, which is ideal if you’ve racked up a lot of debt.
6. When not to get a balance transfer check
King says one of the most important requirements for getting a balance transfer check is a commitment to paying off the balance on time.
“In many cases, you can save a ton of interest by taking advantage of 0% offers,” she says. “However, if you aren’t serious then you’re paying out additional fees that should be going toward your debt.”
In other words, a balance transfer check shouldn’t be used as a procrastination tool. It’s also entirely possible that a balance transfer check could make it easier to accrue more debt.
“The debt relief that’s offered by the transfer may lull people into a false sense of comfort that may tempt them to charge again,” says Duffany. “What’s needed is not always a new loan but a new way of relating to money.”
Even if that’s not an issue, you might want to pass up using a balance transfer check from a competing credit card company if the card you’re required to open lacks appeal beyond a 0% APR promotion. For example, if the card has a high annual fee it could end up costing you money, rather than saving it.
7. Alternatives to a balance transfer check
If you’re looking for ways to consolidate debt, there are other opportunities besides balance transfer checks. Malik says to consider these options for combining debt at a low interest rate:
- Home equity loan
- Home equity line of credit
- Unsecured personal loan
- 401(k) loan
Each has its own pros and cons. With a home-equity loan, for example, the pro is a fixed interest rate while the con is that you’re effectively using your home as collateral for consolidating debt. A 401(k) loan means you’re borrowing money from yourself at low rates, but you could be shortchanging your retirement in the meantime.
Comparing all the avenues for managing debt can help you decide which one makes the most sense.
*Information about the Amex EveryDay card and Chase Slate card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy. See similar balance transfer credit cards