Should you pay for college with a credit card? We’ll take a look at how to use a credit card to pay for college — and consider whether it’s a good idea.
Which Colleges Accept Credit Cards for Tuition?
Not all colleges and universities accept credit cards for tuition. However, there’s a good chance that a school does. According to a survey from CreditCards.com, 85% of the 300 largest U.S. schools accept credit cards.
However, there are thousands of other schools, so you might need to check with the bursar’s office before you finalize your plan to use a credit card.
But, even if you discover that a school accepts credit cards for tuition payments, should you pay for college with a credit card?
Can You Use a Credit Card to Pay College Tuition?
Using a credit card to pay for college is one of the discussions that comes up in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group. However, it’s not the right move for everyone — and the downsides of paying for college with a credit card might outweigh any benefits. Here’s what you need to know:
Pros of paying for college with a credit card
- Chance to earn rewards. If you have a rewards credit card, paying some or all of a tuition bill can mean big benefits. You might be able to get free airfare or cash back.
- Get a big signup bonus. Got a new card? You can earn that signup bonus in one fell swoop with a college tuition bill.
- Potential for 0% APR. Many cards offer a 0% APR deal when you get a new account. You can even save on interest if you use a special deal from a credit card.
- Meet a spending threshold. If your card comes with bonus rewards for reaching a yearly spending amount, using it to pay tuition can make sense.
Using a credit card to pay tuition can come with benefits if you’re careful and have a plan to pay off the debt quickly.
Cons of paying for college with a credit card
- Many schools charge fees. According to the CreditCards.com survey, 57% of the schools that accept credit cards charge convenience fees. So, if you’re not careful, the fee could actually be more than the value of the reward.
- High interest rate. According to WalletHub, the lowest credit card interest rate you can expect for excellent credit is right around 14.41%, on average. That’s a lot of interest to pay on tuition if you can’t pay it off during the 0% APR introductory period.
- Ding your credit score. If you miss a payment or pay late, it could negatively impact your credit score.
Federal student loans come with much lower regular interest rates, and more flexibility if you run into hardship. Even private student loans might offer better choices than using a credit card, depending on the situation.
Alternatives to Using a Credit Card to Pay Tuition
While student loans and scholarships are clear alternatives to using credit cards to pay for college, there are some other overlooked ways to pay for college that might offer another path.
Many people don’t think about federal work study programs, but these are possible ways to get work that allows you to cover some of your costs. Working as a regular employee for the school, perhaps in the admissions office, can also give you a chance to receive reduced tuition.
Finally, there are income share agreements available. A benefactor offers to pay for your schooling in return for a percentage of your salary for a set number of years after you graduate. Some schools, like Purdue, even offer these income share agreements as part of their financial aid choices. Do your research, but this might be a viable option.
Bottom Line: Think Twice Before Using a Credit Card to Pay for College
Are there rewards or benefits for paying college with credit cards? Sure. But should you pay for college with a credit card? Depends on your situation.
The reality is that how you pay for college depends a lot on your financial situation. If you can afford to pay off a credit card quickly, or if you have the money saved up and can get a big reward for paying tuition with a credit card, there are definite benefits.
However, if your school charges fees for accepting credit cards, or if you’re going to be stuck paying a high interest rate on the debt, it might not make sense to use a credit card when you have other options available to you.
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