What are balance transfer checks?

Written by
Geoff Williams
Terms apply; see the online credit card application for full terms and conditions of offers and rewards.

At CardRatings.com we discuss the most up-to-date news and trends within the credit card space. Since we first pioneered the concept of online credit card reviews in 1998, our team of financial experts has provided comprehensive and unbiased credit card reviews for more than 175 cards, plus hundreds of additional resource articles to help educate everyday cardholders so they can feel more confident about their card choices. All our content is written and reviewed by industry experts. Though our content may occasionally contain references to products from our partners, we maintain strict editorial integrity and advertiser relationships and compensation never influences ratings, reviews or featured products. The difference between editorial content and advertising must always be clearly stated. Learn more.

Balance transfer checks are paper checks that let you transfer credit card balances from one account to another. They are also sometimes used for other types of loans. As loans, you never want to cash these checks impulsively without thinking through your intentions first.

How do you use balance transfer checks?

Balance transfer checks are used when making a balance transfer – that is, transferring a balance from one account to another. Balance transfer checks are an alternative for those who don’t want to complete balance transfers online. Credit card issuers may send you balance transfer checks as part of a promotional offer, or upon your request. Sometimes, the check you receive may already be filled in with the necessary information, otherwise, simply fill out the check with your information, including the amount you want to transfer and the details of the existing credit card account, and mail it to the address specified by your new credit card issuer. Through this, you’ll pay off the old credit card, and now you’ll owe this new credit card the same amount of money, plus a potential balance transfer fee, which is often 1% to 5% of the amount you’re borrowing.

That may sound foolish – pay off one credit card, only to owe another one the same amount plus a balance transfer fee. But, of course, the reason people do this is that usually there’s a promising deal involved, such as an introductory 0% APR. If you transfer a balance from one account with a high APR to a new account with 0% APR, you’ll have until the promotional period expires to pay off that balance interest free. These offers usually last a year or more, giving you ample time to pay down debts. Just remember to pay off or down as much of your debt as possible before the introductory period expires, as regular APR will apply to any balances left. If you don’t have a serious game plan in place, you could end up finding yourself in deeper debt than when you started before the transfer.

Balance transfer checks vs. convenience checks

Balance transfer checks and convenience checks are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different aspects of credit card transactions. Convenience checks, also sometimes known as credit card checks or courtesy checks, are checks issued by credit card companies that allow you to access your credit card’s line of credit. These checks are linked to your credit card account and can be used to make purchases or, yes, to conduct balance transfers.

That said, balance transfer checks are designed specifically for transferring existing balances from one card to another. They are often used to consolidate debt or take advantage of a low promotional APR. Convenience checks, on the other hand, can be used for various purposes including making purchases, and paying bills, and again, yes, to conduct balance transfers. In short, convenience checks provide flexibility in how you access your credit line.

You’ll want to be very careful before you use a convenience check, though. On one hand, if you’re cash strapped, and your credit card – or some financial institution you’ve never heard of, but you’ve Googled or Binged it, and it seems reasonably legit – is offering you money, it may be hard to refuse it. But unlike a balance transfer check, which generally is going to offer you a loan for a low and enticing APR, convenience checks often have high interest rates. Credit card checks are essentially cash advances, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

And cash advances are a really expensive way of borrowing money. You may be struggling with cash flow right now, but a convenience check loan may mean you’re going to be struggling with cash flow for a long period of time, down the line.

Which credit card issuers offer balance transfer checks?

Many credit card issues offer balance transfer checks, but some of the banks that do it most frequently are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Chase and Discover.

All credit card issuers handle balance transfers a little differently. You’ll want to comparison shop if you’re thinking of getting a balance transfer credit card.

Pros and cons of balance transfer checks

There are several pros and cons of balance transfer checks that you’ll want to think about before cashing one.

Pros of balance transfer checks:

  • A cheaper way to pay off debt. A balance transfer can make paying off an unpleasant debt, more pleasant – if the balance transfer offer is 0% APR or is something significantly lower than the interest rate you’re currently paying, you stand to save a substantial amount of money.
  • A faster way to pay off debt. If interest isn’t accruing for six to 21 months or whatever balance transfer billing cycle you’re working with, you may be able to pay off the debt faster. Because if you’re paying off a $2,000 debt, if things work the way they should, every month, it’s getting smaller, since there’s no or little interest involved.
  • It can make debt feel more manageable. If you do more than one balance transfer, and especially if all the debt you transfer is to an account with a low or no interest rate – for a period of time, anyway – you may simply feel far more organized and prepared to conquer your debt.

Cons of balance transfer checks:

  • Balance transfer fee. While a balance transfer check can be a great way to pay off debt cheaply, there is that balance transfer fee that you need to be aware of. It’s usually 1% to 5% of the money you’re transferring (3% seems to be the most common number you’ll run into). Three percent of, for instance, a $10,000 balance is comparably small ($300), but that’s still something to consider. It’s important to note, however, that you’ll probably encounter this fee whether you’re transferring a balance by check or online.
  • You could find yourself in deeper debt. So you’ve transferred debt from Credit Card A to Credit Card B. Now you have to make sure that you pay off Credit Card B – and if you’re going to still use Credit Card A, you need to pay that off every month, too. If you wind up maxing out Credit Card A and struggle to pay off Credit Card B, you can see the problem.
  • That introductory interest rate won’t last forever. You don’t want to get lulled into a false sense of security that you’ll pay off, say, $5,000 in 21 months. That would still be $238 in monthly payments to get it paid off in time. You really do want to have a plan to pay off your debt, if you transfer a lot of money with a balance transfer check, because that promotional period will eventually expire, and you’ll face the card’s regular APR on whatever unpaid balance remains once it does.  
Geoff Williams
CardRatings Contributor

Geoff is a freelance journalist and has been since the 1990s. He specializes in personal finance and small business issues and has seen his work published with numerous news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney.com, Reuters, The Washington Post and Consumer Reports. He also...Read more

Featured Partner Cards:


The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.