What is a balance transfer fee?

Woman wondering what is a balance transfer fee while she is lying down on a couch with her laptop and credit card.Image: Woman wondering what is a balance transfer fee while she is lying down on a couch with her laptop and credit card.

In a Nutshell

A balance transfer fee is the cost some cards charge, often between 3% and 5% percent, when you transfer your debt from one card to another. By taking the time to shop around, you may be able to find cards with $0 transfer fees — but keep in mind that those are rare, and are often tied to a limited window for the transfer itself.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

A balance transfer fee is a fee that’s charged when you transfer credit card debt from one card to another.

It’s usually around 3% to 5% of the total amount you transfer, typically with a minimum fee of a few dollars (often $5 to $10). The fee is charged by the company that issues the credit card you transfer the debt to.

A balance transfer can help you take advantage of lower interest rates — a move that can save you money on interest charges. This can be a great tool to pay down debt. But it’s important to weigh how much you’ll save on interest payments against how much you’ll pay to complete the transfer if there’s a fee.

Keep reading to learn about the potential costs of a balance transfer, as well as some different options you may have.

How does a balance transfer fee work?

A balance transfer fee is the cost some cards charge, often between 3% and 5% percent, when you transfer your debt from one card to another to help consolidate debt and pay off your cards faster.

Timing can play a big part in how much you pay to transfer a balance. The card you’re transferring your debt to may charge a balance transfer fee. But there are balance transfer credit cards that waive the balance transfer fee if you make the transfer within a certain time frame.

A great way to save money with a balance transfer is with a card that offers…

  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers
  • $0 intro balance transfer fee
  • No annual fee (which can be a cost factor if you’re getting the card just for the balance transfer)

Unless you get a card that ticks all of these boxes, you’ll have to do some math to make sure this balance transfer can actually help you save money.

Is a 3% balance transfer fee good?

The cost of a balance transfer fee all depends on the terms set by your credit card company and the amount of debt you transfer. Often this amount falls somewhere between 3% and 5%, depending on the lender.

Say you want to transfer a $2,000 balance to a card with a 3% balance transfer fee. This means your balance transfer fee would come out to $60. For a $12,000 transfer, your fee would be $360.

You can also use the calculator from the section above to see just how much a balance transfer card could save you based on your current balance, interest rate, monthly payments, balance transfer fee, and the 0% APR window.

Can you avoid balance transfer fees?

The only sure way to avoid balance transfer fees is to see if any balance transfer cards are available that have waived the fee entirely. You might also be able to find cards with intro balance transfer fee offers. Keep in mind that the $0 transfer fee might only apply for a certain time frame, so be sure to read carefully and find exactly when you’ll need to request the balance transfers for the offer to apply. Often this window will be in the first few months after you’ve received the card.

Next steps

As you’re looking to transfer your current credit card debt to a new credit card, make sure to look for a card with a low balance transfer fee. Or even better, look for one with none at all, at least during the introductory period.

Ultimately, each credit card will have unique terms and requirements. Be prepared to shop around. Taking time to find the best balance transfer card for you can be worth the hassle. It’s also worth considering other potential options for debt consolation so you can weigh all of your options as you work toward your debt-free goal.

About the author: Sarah C. Brady is a San Francisco–based financial consultant, workshop facilitator and writer. In addition to writing for Credit Karma, Sarah writes for Experian, LendingTree, Magnify Money, MSN News and more. In her … Read more.