Balance transfer Q&A: “How long do balance transfers take?”
One drawback to credit card balance transfers is that they can take a while to process – they are usually not instant, even if you are approved instantly.
Unfortunately, once you accept a balance transfer offer, it could take several weeks for your new account to be set up and the balance transfer payment to be processed.
If you’re opening a new credit card and executing a balance transfer at the same time, which is pretty common, it’ll probably take a good two weeks for the payment to be made, although some issuers say three weeks or more.
It could take only a few days, but that will depend on the credit card issuer in question. If you’re transferring a balance to an existing credit card you have, it may be quicker, but there’s still no guarantee it will be fast.
If you ordered a balance transfer check, it’ll probably take a week or so to get the check, and additional time to deposit the check and have it clear.
Although, if you happen to get checks in the mail, it could only take a day or two to clear in your checking account.
This is probably your fastest option, though perhaps not the cheapest if there are better offers out there such as a no fee balance transfer.
Expect the Balance Transfer to Take a Few Weeks
Regardless, as a good rule of thumb, never assume a balance transfer will take less than a few weeks.
And because of the expected delay, it’s imperative that you continue to make minimum payments on your original credit card to avoid any late fees or credit score dings!
Never just assume the balance transfer payment will arrive before you old credit card due date!
Let’s look at an example of how long a balance transfer can take:
Balance transfer offer: 0% APR for 12 months, 13.99% thereafter
Existing credit card balance: $2,500
Old credit card due date: January 15th
Balance transfer amount: $2,500
Date balance transfer application completed: January 2nd
Date balance transfer payment applied: January 20th
In this example, your balance transfer request was completed on January 2nd for the full $2,500 credit card balance tied to your old credit card.
But the new credit card issuer will not make the balance transfer payment until January 20th, five days after your old credit card payment due date.
To avoid any late fees or penalties, you must make a minimum payment on your old credit card, despite the fact that the entire balance is expected to be paid off on January 20th.
This should make perfect sense because a balance transfer payment is just like any other payment, and if it comes late, a late fee is assessed. And if it’s not for the entire amount, interest will be due.
Prevent Overpayment and Reduce Balance Transfer Fees
One way you can prevent overpayment is to leave a small portion of the credit card balance with the original issuer. So instead of requesting the full $2,500, request something like $2,450.
That way you can make the $50 payment with the original credit card issuer if the due date happens to come before the balance transfer is completed.
You can even reduce balance transfer fees by transferring a smaller amount of money to the balance transfer credit card.
So if you have a $10,000 credit card balance, but know you can pay off $2,500 immediately, you can transfer $7,500 instead of $10,000, and save yourself some cash.
The average balance transfer fee is 3%, which would be $75 in balance transfer fee savings.
In conclusion, any type of balance transfer can take a considerable amount of time to be completed, so always keep track of your credit card payment due date(s).
An overpayment may be frustrating, but it sure beats a late fee, or worse, a credit score hit.
How Long Does It Take to Transfer a Balance With…
American Express – Typically 5-7 days, but can be as long as six weeks.
Bank of America – five days or less for existing cards, two weeks or longer for new applications.
Barclaycard – 10 days after new card is sent if applied for during application, or up to four weeks.
Capital One – 3-14 days.
Chase – Up to three weeks.
Citi – at least 14 days after your account is opened, possibly faster for existing card accounts.
Discover – 7-14 days, or longer if the issuer needs to be paid by check instead of electronically.
HSBC – four business days, apparently.
PenFed – balance transfers are usually processed 1-2 business days after they are submitted but the receiving institution has 30 days to deposit the payment. It’ll probably be a lot quicker than 30 days.
Santander – they don’t cover the timing of balance transfer requests.
U.S. Bank – no information is available on balance transfer timelines.
USAA – balance transfers generally take 2-3 business days when electronic payment is sent to your other creditors, or around 5-7 days if a paper check needs to be sent.
Wells Fargo – they don’t disclose, but presumably the typical waiting period.
My guess is a lot of these timelines are shorter than the weeks they often mention, but they probably don’t want to get your hopes up and/or have you miss a payment because you think the balance transfer will happen overnight.
(photo: Scott Akerman)