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What Is a Balance Transfer and Should I Make One?

By Becca Stanek · August 25, 2022 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is a Balance Transfer and Should I Make One?

When debt accumulates on a high-interest card, interest starts to add up as well, making it harder to pay off the total debt — which, in turn, can become a credit card debt spiral. If you end up with mounting debt on a high-interest credit card, a balance transfer is one possible way to get out from under the interest payments.

A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer your existing credit card debt to a card that temporarily offers a lower interest rate, or even no interest. This can provide an opportunity to start paying down your debt and get out of the red zone. But before you make a balance transfer, it’s important that you fully understand what a balance transfer credit card is and have carefully read the fine print.

How Balance Transfers Work


The basics of balance transfer credit cards are fairly straightforward: First, you must open a new lower-interest or no-interest credit card. Then, you’ll transfer your credit card balance from the high-interest card to the new card. Once the transfer goes through, you’ll start paying down the balance on your new card.

Generally, when selecting to do a balance transfer to a new credit card, consumers will apply for a card that offers a lower interest rate than they currently have, or a card with an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR). Generally, you need a solid credit history to qualify for a balance transfer credit card.

This introductory period on a balance transfer credit card can last anywhere from six to 21 months, with the exact length varying by lender. By opening a new card that temporarily charges no interest, and then transferring your high-interest credit card debt to that card, you can save money because your balance temporarily will not accrue interest charges as you pay it down.

But you need to hear one crucial warning: After the introductory interest-free or low-APR period ends, the interest rate generally jumps up. That means if you don’t pay your balance off during the introductory period, it will start to accrue interest charges again, and your balance will grow.

Cash in on up to $300–and 3% cash back for 365 days.¹

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Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

What to Look For in a Balance Transfer Card


There are a number of different balance transfer credit cards out there. They vary in terms of the length of no-interest introductory periods, credit limits, rewards, transfer fees, and APRs after the introductory period. You’ll want to shop around to see which card makes sense for you.

When researching balance transfer credit cards, try to find a card that offers a 0% introductory APR for balance transfers. Ideally, the promotional period will be on the longer side to give you more breathing room to pay off your debts before the standard APR kicks in — one of the key credit card rules to follow with a balance transfer card.

You’ll also want to keep in mind fees when comparing your options. Balance transfer fees can seriously eat into your savings, so see if you qualify for any cards with $0 balance transfer fees. If that’s not available, at least do the math to ensure your savings on interest will offset the fees you pay. Also watch out for annual fees.

Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to take the time to read the fine print and fully understand how a credit card works before moving forward. Sometimes, the 0% clause only applies when you’re purchasing something new, not when transferring balances. Plus, if you make a late payment, your promotional rate could get instantly revoked — perhaps raising your rate to a higher penalty APR.

Recommended: Can You Buy Crypto With a Credit Card

Should I Do a Balance Transfer?

Sometimes, transferring your outstanding credit card balances to a no-interest or low-interest card makes good sense. For example, let’s say that you know you’re getting a bonus or tax refund soon, so you feel confident that you can pay off that debt within the introductory period on a balance transfer credit card.

Or, maybe you know that you need to use a credit card to cover a larger purchase or repair, but you’ve included those payments in your budget in a way that should ensure you can pay off that debt within the no-interest period on your balance transfer card. Again, depending upon the card terms and your personal goals, this move could prove to be logical and budget-savvy.

Having said that, plans don’t always work out as anticipated. Bonuses and refund checks can get delayed, and unexpected expenses can throw off your budget. If that happens, and you don’t pay off your outstanding balance on the balance transfer card within the introductory period, the credit card will shift to its regular interest rate, which could be even higher than the credit card you transferred from in the first place.

Plus, most balance transfer credit cards charge a balance transfer fee, typically around 3% — and sometimes as high as 5%. This can add up if you’re transferring a large amount of debt. Be sure to do the math on how much you’d be saving in interest payments compared to how much the balance transfer fee will cost.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Balance Transfer Card vs Debt Consolidation Loan

Both a personal loan and a balance transfer credit card essentially help you pay off existing credit card debt by consolidating what you owe into one place — ideally at a better interest rate. The difference comes in how each works and how much you’ll ultimately end up paying (and saving).

A debt consolidation loan is an unsecured personal loan that allows you to consolidate a wider range of existing personal debt, including credit card debt and other types of debt. Basically, you use the personal loan to pay off your credit cards, and then you just have to pay back your personal loan in monthly installments.

Personal loans will have one monthly payment. Plus, they offer fixed interest rates and fixed terms (usually anywhere from one to seven years depending on the lender), which means they have a predetermined payoff date. Credit cards, on the other hand, typically come with variable rates, which can fluctuate based on a variety of factors.

Just like balance transfer fees with a credit card, you’ll want to look out for fees with personal loans, too. Personal loans can come with origination fees and prepayment penalties, so it’s a good idea to do your research.

One alternative to a
balance transfer credit card
is a personal loan with SoFi.


How to Make a Balance Transfer

If, after weighing the pros and cons and considering your other options, you decide a balance transfer credit card is the right approach for you, here’s how you can go about initiating a balance transfer. Keep in mind that you’ll need to have applied for and gotten approved for the card before taking this step.

Balance-Transfer Checks


In some cases, your new card issuer will provide you with balance-transfer checks in order to request a transfer. You’ll need to make the check out to the credit card company you’d like to pay (i.e., your old card). Information that you’ll need to provide includes your account information and the amount of the debt, which you can determine by checking your credit card balance.

Online or Phone Transfers

Another way to initiate a balance transfer is to contact the new credit card company to which you’re transferring the balance either online or over the phone. You’ll need to provide your account information and specify the amount you’d like to transfer to the card. The credit card company will then handle transferring the funds to pay off the old account.

The Takeaway

Whether you should consider a balance transfer credit card largely depends on whether the math checks out. If you can secure a better interest rate, feel confident you can pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, and have checked that the balance transfer fees won’t cancel out your savings, then it may be worth it to make a balance transfer.

You could also consider a credit card that allows you to avoid fees and earn rewards that you can then use toward paying off your debt. With the SoFi credit card, cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1 For a limited time, new credit card holders† who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/22.

Take advantage of this offer by applying for a SoFi credit card today.


1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
*You will need to maintain a qualifying Direct Deposit every month with SoFi Checking and Savings in order to continue to receive this promotional cash back rate. Qualifying Direct Deposits are defined as deposits from enrolled member’s employer, payroll, or benefits provider via ACH deposit. Deposits that are not from an employer (such as check deposits; P2P transfers such as from PayPal or Venmo, etc.; merchant transactions such as from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.; and bank ACH transfers not from employers) do not qualify for this promotion. A maximum of 36,000 rewards points can be earned from this limited-time offer. After the promotional period ends or once you have earned the maximum points offered by this promotion, your cash back earning rate will revert back to 2%. 36,000 rewards points are worth $360 when redeemed into SoFi Checking and Savings, SoFi Money, SoFi Invest, Crypto, SoFi Personal Loan, SoFi Private Student Loan or Student Loan Refinance and are worth $180 when redeemed as a SoFi Credit Card statement credit.

Promotion Period: 4/5/2022-12/31/2022. SoFi reserves the right to exclude any Member from participating in the Program for any reason, including suspected fraud, misuse, or if suspicious activities are observed. SoFi also reserves the right to stop or make changes to the Program at any time.

Eligible Participants: All new members who apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card, open a SoFi Checking and Savings account, and set up Direct Deposit transactions ("Direct Deposit") into their SoFi Checking and Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi Credit Card members who set up Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi members who have already enrolled in Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account prior to the promotion period, and who apply and get approved for a SoFi Credit Card during the promotion period are eligible. Existing SoFi members who already have the SoFi Credit Card and previously set up Direct Deposit through SoFi Money or SoFi Checking & Savings are not eligible for this promotion.

New SoFi Checking and Savings customers and existing Checking and Savings customers without direct deposit are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 30-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. Entry into the Program will be available 4/5/22 to 5/31/22. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 2.00% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on all account balances in their Checking and Savings accounts (including Vaults). Members without direct deposit will earn 1.00% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. Rate of 2.00% APY is current as of 08/12/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1

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