At a Glance

Most credit card issuers will do a direct balance transfer from credit card to credit card, but some will occasionally offer a check instead. However, it’s not always as convenient as you may expect and can have some serious drawbacks to your credit if it’s not used wisely.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is a balance transfer check?

A balance transfer check is a paper check issued by one card issuer to another to transfer an outstanding balance over. These are used by someone looking to pay off debt by using a card that has a lower APR than their original credit card. 

How does a balance transfer check work?

Similar to the standard ACH transfer, balance transfer checks allow you to move credit card balances from one issuer to another. Some will come with the option to write the check out for cash but most will pre-fill the payee as the credit card issuer you’re transferring the balance away from, as well as a pre-filled amount that’s the balance that will be transferred. 

Risks of using a balance transfer check

While balance transfer checks are a great way to get your debt moved over to a lower APR card, there are some things you need to understand about using a check instead of an ACH transfer. 

1. Usage may count as a cash advance

Check your cardholder agreement before opting for a check, especially if it’s written out to cash, as this could be considered a cash advance and not a balance transfer. Cash advances tend to have much higher APRs that are charged immediately upon withdrawal, making any promotional rate you were hoping to get null and void. 

2. Upfront fee

The majority of balance transfers come with a pre-defined fee that’s usually a smaller percentage (typically around 3% – 5%) of the amount being transferred or a fixed rate of around $5 – $10. This fee will be applied automatically and be deducted from your total available credit.

3. Increase in utilization rate

Until the balance transfer completes you should expect to see a temporary dip in your credit score. This is due to the increase in your utilization rate on your credit report. Your score should go back up once your new statements clear on both credit cards, but it’s still something you need to keep an eye out for to ensure everything goes smoothly. 

4. End up paying interest

If you don’t pay your balance off before the promotional rate ends you’ll be charged a variable APR based on the current market rates, meaning you could be right back where you started and need to find another way to get out of debt. If you decide to utilize a balance transfer check you must make a plan to get the balance paid off before your promotional period ends. 

5. Doesn’t solve potential money issues

If you need to move an outstanding balance from one card to another it’s time to take a hard look at your spending habits. Being responsible with credit means being able to pay off your purchases quickly and seeing credit as a temporary loan and not as free money. If you transfer a balance and just end up spending more money, you’ll find yourself even further in debt faster than you think. 

When it is right to use a balance transfer check?

If you’re able to pay off the balance before the promotional rate ends and the check will not be considered a cash advance against your credit card, it’s usually a good idea to take advantage of the option to move your balances from one card to another. 

When does a balance transfer check not make sense?

If your total available credit on the promotional rate card isn’t high enough to make a significant dent in your outstanding balance it may not be worth the hassle. Also, if you’re not able to use this as a way to permanently get yourself out of debt, then only opening up a new credit card could be a way to get you even further into debt than before. 

Considerations before using a balance transfer check

Can you pay off the balance before the promotional rate expires? Any outstanding balances you carry will most likely be charged the market rate after the promotional period ends. 

What does the fine print say? Read the agreement before initiating a balance transfer to verify you’re receiving a promotional rate, and for the exact month and year your rate will expire. 

Is it a balance transfer check or a cash advance check? Cash advances work very differently than balance transfers and will often begin accruing a higher-than-normal interest instantly.

Which issuers offer balance transfer checks?

Most issuers prefer to use online balance transfer methods over cutting paper checks now, but Citi and Chase still seem to offer checks as an option. Bank of America also offers paper checks but treats them as cash advances, so it’s probably a better idea to initiate the transfer electronically instead. 

Alternatives to balance transfer checks

Balance transfer checks aren’t the only way to save money on interest for outstanding debt. Here are a few alternatives to consider.

1. New 0% APR credit card

0% APR cards are credit cards with promotional 0% interest rates. Some cards offer this for new purchases, while others offer it on balance transfers or a mix of both. Check the details to make sure you’re getting the right card for your needs.

2. Debt consolidation loan

Debt consolidation loans work by merging multiple outstanding balances into one fixed-rate loan. Debt consolidation loans are great when they offer interest rates lower than the variable APR your cards offer but should only be used if you can ensure you won’t use your newly-freed 

3. Debt management plan

Debt management plans are usually run by credit counseling agencies that will work with your credit card issuers and loan lenders to work out a repayment plan on your behalf. These are only really used when you’re facing being sent to collections or are trying to prevent declaring bankruptcy. Debt management plans may affect your credit score so it’s important to carefully consider your options.

4. Financial assistance

Some non-profits, local community groups, and even government agencies will offer financial assistance programs to those who are having trouble paying their bills, credit card debts, or medical debts. These are often on a first-come, first-served basis and will have income level requirements that generally favor those under the state or federal poverty line.


Technically you could use a balance transfer check to buy a car, but only if it’s made out to cash. Also, if it’s considered a cash advance you may end up paying more in interest than you would if you used an auto loan instead.

Not directly, but opening a new credit card solely for transferring a balance will impact your credit negatively because of the new hard inquiry that will be added to your report. Your score will also temporarily go down while both your new and old cards are reporting your outstanding balance, but this should go away once your next statements post.

Online balance transfers are completed within 5 – 7 business days, but paper checks will take longer to clear. Generally speaking, you can expect anywhere from a few days to several weeks for the transfer to complete, so be sure to plan and keep paying your old card until the balance clears.

The most common reason a balance transfer is denied is because your current outstanding balance is too high. Other reasons include your credit score or if the issuer is not currently offering balance transfers as an option. This is usually rare but was a fairly common problem during the COVID-19 pandemic when banks were lowering their risk for acquiring debt.