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Can you pay for college with a credit card?

Depending on what your college or university bursar's office allows, you may be able to pay your tuition with a credit card.

While you can get enhanced flexibility and may even earn rewards points by paying tuition with credit, you will likely have to pay fees and could end up spending much more on interest. Most financial experts would advise you that paying your tuition with credit cards should only be used a last resort as you work to negotiate payments directly with your college or university.

Can you use a credit card to pay for college tuition?

Some (but not all) colleges and universities allow students options for paying for college with credit cards. To find out if this is an option for your tuition payments, speak to your bursar's office and ask about any fees for using credit to cover your school costs.

Does it cost more money to make college payments with a credit card?

Unlike paying tuition via a checking account or with loans, paying for college with a credit card will likely incur fees from your school for the use of credit.

Accepting credit card payments costs money, and colleges and universities will often (though not always) pass these fees along to students. Your bursar's office will have detailed information about any fees you may be charged.

When evaluating the overall costs of college, the interest rates of credit cards will almost always be greater than student loan interest rates, making student loans a cheaper option to finance your schooling than credit cards.

Will paying for college with a card hurt your credit?

Paying tuition with a card can affect your credit-especially if you fail to pay what you owe on the card.

Putting large expenses on a credit card can influence your credit in the following ways:

  • Your credit utilization will increase. Paying tuition with a credit card without paying off the balance can lead your credit card debt to increase resulting in your credit score going down.
  • Your credit mix may be affected. Having only one kind of credit in your credit history may be a negative factor in calculating your credit score, so using credit instead of loans could lessen your credit mix.
  • Missed payments will hurt your payment history. If your tuition costs result in you missing credit card payments, your credit score will drop substantially. Because payment history accounts for a substantial amount of your credit score, missing even a single debt payment can dent your score.

Benefits of paying for college with a credit card

Relying on credit cards to pay tuition does have certain advantages for students:

  • You may gain repayment flexibility. Tuition or student loan bills generally require payment of a fixed amount each payment period (e.g., month or semester). Credit cards, on the other hand, can be paid off over a longer period of time.
  • You may be able to earn rewards. Putting a large balance on your card can net you rewards in the form of dollars, points or travel miles. At a typical rewards rate of 1.5% for purchases, for example, charging $10,000 in tuition to a credit card would earn you $150 in rewards.

Risks of paying for college with a credit card

Using credit cards to pay your tuition is not without risks:

  • Fees may exceed any rewards you earn. Fees are common when paying tuition with a credit card. It's rare to find a card rewards rate of more than 2%-but you are likely to pay at least this much to charge your tuition expenses to a card.
  • You are likely to pay more in interest than you would with a student loan. In 2019, credit card interest rates average about 17%. The rates for federal student loans for the 2019-20 school year, meanwhile, range from 4.5% to 7%.
  • You lose out on some features unique to student loans. There are multiple options available for repaying federal student loans such as repayment plans linked to your income, interest-only repayment or deferment. These options disappear when you charge tuition to a credit card.
  • You could put your credit at risk. Paying tuition with a credit card raises your credit utilization, which could lower your credit score immediately. And if you fail to pay your credit card debt, your score is certain to drop even further.

Paying college costs with a credit card

Paying college tuition with a credit card may be possible, if your college or university permits it. Yet you could end up spending much more in interest and paying hundreds of dollars in fees if you pay your tuition with a card. Learn more about the full costs of this tuition financing option by speaking to your bursar's office.