How to use a balance transfer check and what to watch out for.
Have you wondered why you got a blank check from a credit card company? Before you take these to the bank, learn more about what these balance transfer checks mean and how to use them.
What are balance transfer checks?
The credit card company wants you to take balances from other debt and will make you an offer on new balance transfer credit card.
Is this a good deal? It could be. By using these checks, you agree to open the company’s card and transfer a credit card balance to it. Balance transfer checks usually include promotional amounts and term length. They often boast APRs starting at 0% — depending on your creditworthiness.
How can you use a balance transfer check?
If you have a balance with another credit card and are paying a high APR each month you could benefit from a balance transfer check. Use the check by filling it out for the balance on your high-APR credit card or to yourself for a cash advance. This transfers your debt to the check issuer for better terms or APR.
Pro tip:If you’re unsure whether a check is going to act as a cash advance with high fees, call the bank that sent it to you. Better to find out before you cash it!
Is using a balance transfer check a good deal?
Balance transfer checks can be a good deal if the rates are lower than what you’re paying. Here what to look for:
- Length of introductory period. Introductory windows vary based on the lender and your creditworthiness. Shop around for one best for you. Perhaps a shorter window is all you need to pay off a smaller balance.
- Intro APR. This APR differs from lender to lender. Some offers can be as low as 0%, but they can go as high as 4% based on your creditworthiness.
- Revert APR rate. After the introductory period is over, the provider applies what people call a revert APR rate to any remaining balance. If you know you’ll still have a large balance, it may help to look for a balance transfer card with a lower APR.
Why am I getting this offer?You may notice that balance transfer credit card offers always come from a different bank than your current card provider. Balance transfer checks are a benefit that providers use to earn your business from competitors.
Balance transfer checks vs. convenience checks
If you get a check in the mail from your bank or credit card, it could be a convenience check. These are used to make purchases or as cash advances instead of using a credit card. But be careful — they often don’t come with any APR benefit. They can accrue the same high rate as taking out a cash advance will — sometimes as high as 24%. You could also be charged a convenience fee as high as 4% of the check amount.
Balance transfer checks usually offer some sort of incentive — lower APR or longer terms and no fees. And they often come from a bank or credit card that you don’t already have a balance with.
Which is better really depends on your situation. If you’re working on building your credit and can’t qualify for another credit card, using a convenience check may suit you. Though you could pass on the checks, save on fees and simply use the card for a purchase. Balance transfer checks are better if you want to change credit cards to get a better APR or extended time to pay off a balance.
What to look out for
- Change from intro APR to a higher one. Once your intro APR window closes, you’ll revert to a higher APR. Any balance you haven’t yet paid off begins earning interest just as it would with any other credit card.
- You’ll pay for cash advances. Balance transfer checks that act as a cash advance carry a higher interest rate.
- Transaction fees and finance charges may apply. You could be on the hook for transaction fees of as high as 5% of the borrowed amount.
How to stop these offers from coming
Balance transfer checks can be tempting and have potential to get you into financial trouble. They also can lead to fraud if someone finds them and cashes them in your name. Always shred these checks if you don’t plan on using them.
If you’re not interested in balance transfer checks clogging up your mail box, tell the credit card company to stop sending them. Send the credit card issuer a secure online message, mail or call them directly. If it’s a local bank, walk into the branch and request that you no longer get its promotional mail.
Looking into the different types of balance transfer cards and comparing them against balance transfer checks can make a big decision that much easier. A balance transfer check allows you to convert some of your credit into cash to pay another lender, but that money isn’t free. There’s still a time limit to the 0% APR and minimum payments to be made, and it still shifts that credit balance over to the card you wrote the check from.
Balance transfer calculator
Your current credit cards:
Card that you are transferring to:
Intro Term (months)
Balance Transfer Fee
Your monthly repayment
At this rate, you will not pay off your debt.
At this rate you will pay off your debt during the card's intro period
At that rate you will not pay off your debt. You will need to make higher repayments.
Months that it will take you to pay off your debt:
With a balance transfer
Without a balance transfer
Money saved transferring debt to a balance transfer card:
Savings = $1,000