With so many great credit card offers out there, it’s no wonder those potential rewards can sound tempting to you. Perhaps you’ve even considered paying your tuition with a credit card to earn rewards like cash back or airline miles.
But, while it may sound like a good idea on paper, it’s not so easy in practice. The drawbacks may, in fact, outweigh the benefits if you pay tuition with a credit card. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Benefits if you pay tuition with a credit card
We all know getting a degree can be expensive. One year at a 4-year public university cost $9,410 on average for in-state students, while a year at a 4-year private university will set you back $32,405.
By placing such a large expense on a credit card, the potential rewards are significant.
For example, if you have a card that offers 1% cashback on all your purchases and you charge $9,000 for tuition costs, you could earn $90 in rewards. That’s a big bonus for a transaction you would have made anyway.
Beware credit cards and processing fees
While earning rewards can sound like a great idea, pulling it off can be difficult.
Many colleges and universities will add a processing charge to your bill if you opt to use a credit card. So when you pay your tuition, hidden costs in the form of fees could pop up.
According to a recent survey from CreditCards.com, 85 percent of the 300 largest U.S. private, public and community schools accept credit cards for tuition payments. Of those, more than half charge a fee for the convenience of using plastic.
Meanwhile, that same survey also found that the average credit card processing fee is 2.62 percent. Which is most likely high enough to wipe out any reward benefits you would have earned.
For example, if your tuition was $9,000 and the school added the average 2.62 percent processing fee, you would end up paying an additional $235.80. That’s more than double what you would’ve earned in cash-back rewards.
If you’re considering paying tuition with a credit card, it’s best if you attend one of the few schools that do not charge a fee. Check with your financial aid office to see if your school is one of them.
Consider the interest charges on credit cards
Even if your school is one of the few who doesn’t charge a processing fee, there are other downsides to paying tuition with a credit card.
Compared to other payment options like student loans, credit cards are much more expensive. Especially if those credit cards carry an interest rate higher than 15.00% APR.
While you may want to use a credit card to pay for tuition, doing so can cause you to get overwhelmed with debt. Once interest starts building, it can be hard to dig yourself out of credit card debt.
Additionally, if you don’t pay off your tuition charge in full by the next month, you could end up racking up interest charges. And, in the process your tuition payment could balloon in size. Talk about a lose-lose scenario.
Impact on your credit score
Credit card reporting agencies like TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax look at your credit utilization to determine your credit score. That means they look at how much of your available credit you use each month.
When you make a huge purchase, like a tuition payment, you use up a huge percentage of your credit line. That move can reduce your overall credit score. Which, in turn, can make it harder to get a good interest rate on an auto loan or even get approved for an apartment.
If you pay tuition with a credit card, you could hurt your future financial credit standing.
There are other options
Again, paying tuition with a credit card only makes sense if you go to a school that does not charge a fee. And, if you can afford to pay off the balance quickly.
However, if your situation doesn’t meet either of those criteria, you are probably better off paying for school in another way.
While student loans sometimes get a bad rap, they are much more cost-effective than a credit card. With interest rates usually between four and eight percent, you will incur less debt from interest. Credit cards don’t even come close to those interest rates.
Student loans also offer easier repayment terms. Rather than worrying about paying off your credit card by the next statement period, you can have ten years or more to pay off your student loan debt.
Additionally, with a student loan, you can often defer payments until after graduation. With a credit card, you have to start making payments right away, even if you’re in school full-time and unemployed.
If you are looking for ways to pay for school but don’t qualify for federal student loans, you can still get help covering the cost of college through private student loans.
Private student loans can cover your school costs when federal student loans or grants are not an option.
In the end, if you need money to pay for college and are thinking of using a credit card to fill the gap, make sure you compare offers from private lenders to find the best one for your financial situation.
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