Using a credit card to pay for university

Can you tap or swipe to pay for your studies? Possibly.

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Colleges and universities depend on your tuition. Which means they sometimes offer multiple ways for you to pay for it. Direct deposits from both Canadian or international banks are common — but can you pay with a credit card?

The answer: It depends on your school. Here’s what to look out for when considering paying with plastic.

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Can you pay for university or college with a credit card?

It’s hard to find colleges and universities in Canada that accept credit card as a form of payment. However, you may be able to pay through a third party payment site — but you’ll typically face a convenience fee.

A convenience fee is usually around 2-3% of the total transaction cost, and as the name suggests, it’s charged for the convenience of paying with plastic. While that doesn’t sound like much, it could hurt: On a $5,000 tuition bill, you could pay around $150 just in credit card fees. Merchants charge a convenience fee because they pay a fee of 2-3% of the purchase to their bank — so they are passing this fee on to you.

Contact the registrar’s office at your university or college to find out if you can pay with a credit card — and how much you can expect to pay on top of your tuition.

Alternatives to using a credit card to pay tuition

Instead of using a credit card, you may be able to use these methods for paying your tuition:

  • Direct deposit (This is often the only method of payment offered by many universities across Canada)
  • Cheque
  • Cash
  • Money order

Use your credit card through payment services

If your college or university doesn’t allow you to use a credit card to pay for tuition, you may have luck with a payment service. Plastiq, for example, collects your credit card payment and forwards a cheque or a direct payment on your behalf to your school.

Payment services generally charge a 2% to 3% fee for credit card transactions, and you’ll need to factor in up to seven days for your school to receive your payment. If you earn cash back or rewards points, make sure they are worth more than the amount you spend on any fees.

Why you should and shouldn’t pay for school with a credit card

Paying for your tuition with a credit card could be a viable option. Typically, the key factor is whether your school adds a credit card convenience fee or not.

Consider paying for college via credit card if:

  • Your school accepts credit cards. It’s hard to find a university or college that accepts credit card payments in Canada, however if you do find one, it could be a great way to rack up rewards points or cash back.
  • Your school doesn’t charge extra fees. Plastic is a convenient way to pay for many purchases. If your college or university doesn’t add a convenience fee, using your credit card could be a great option.
  • You’re trying to meet your credit card’s minimum spend requirement for a signup bonus. Many signup bonuses require a minimum spending of thousands of dollars. Since tuition is a significant expense, using your card to pay for it could help get you reach the bonus. Just make sure that credit card fees don’t eat up what you’ll earn in cash back, points or miles.
  • You want to pay off your tuition over a short period of time. Consider using your credit card if you plan on paying the balance off quickly, whether thats one month or a few months. You’ll want to avoid incurring interest by leaving the balance to accumulate over several months.

Avoid paying for college via credit card if:

  • Your school charges convenience fees. If your university or college charges a convenience fee to use your credit card, you might want to look into other payment options.
  • You won’t be able to pay off your credit card bill. If you need a few months or even years to pay off your tuition, you’ll want to use another payment option. Personal loan and student loan interest rates tend to be much more competitive than the rates you’d find with credit cards.
  • Your school doesn’t accept credit cards. If your school doesn’t accept credit cards and your only option is to use a service like Plastiq (where you’ll incur fees), you may want to use a different payment option.
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