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Credit card to pay for college

Using a credit card to pay for college

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

Colleges and universities depend on your tuition. Which means they’re often offer multiple ways for you to pay for it.

Checks are a mainstay — 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.

Can you pay for college with a credit card?

Many colleges accept credit cards for tuition payments. If you’re lucky, your school could even accept Visa or Mastercard without a fee.

Unfortunately, a good number of them will add a 2% to 3% surcharge for the convenience. 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.

Contact the bursar’s or registrar’s office at your 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.

Why your college adds a credit card surcharge

It’s usually free for consumers to pay with a credit card. But anyone accepting a credit card payment must pay a fee of 2% to 3% of the purchase to their bank.

This includes your school, which could end up as millions of dollars in credit card fees for high-cost tuition. Rather than eat these fees, your college may pass them on to you.

Alternatives to using a credit card to pay tuition

Instead of using a credit card, consider these methods for paying your tuition:

  • Direct deposit
  • E-check
  • Personal check
  • Cash
  • Money order or cashier’s check

A money order costs about a dollar, and you can get one at grocery stores or your post office. Visit your local bank for a cashier’s check, which can cost $10 or more.

Use your credit card through payment services

If your college doesn’t allow credit cards for tuition, you may have luck with a payment service. Plastiq, for example, collects your credit card payment and forwards a check 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.

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

Paying college tuition with a credit card could be a viable option. Typically, the key factor is whether your college adds a credit card surcharge.

Consider paying for college via credit card if:

  • Your college doesn’t charge extra fees. Plastic is a convenient way to pay for many purchases. If your college doesn’t add a surcharge, feel free to use your credit card.
  • You’re trying to meet your credit card’s minimum spend for a signup bonus. Many signup bonuses require a minimum spending of thousands of dollars. Because college tuition is a significant expense, using your card to pay for it could help get you closer to a 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 time. Consider using your credit card if you plan on paying tuition over a few months. If you do, put together a solid pay off your debt.
  • Your credit card offers rewards. If your college doesn’t add a convenience fee, you could scoop up big rewards from paying your tuition.

Rewards math: Paying tuition with a credit card

If your school charges credit card processing fees, it can be difficult to come out ahead on rewards.

Let’s say you earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases:

  • On $5,000 tuition, you’ll earn $5,000 x 1.5% — or $75 cash back.
  • But if your school adds a 2.5% surcharge, you’ll pay $5,000 x 2.5% — $125 in fees.

The math’s pretty rough there. But what if your school doesn’t add a surcharge?

  • On $5,000 tuition, you’ll earn $5,000 x 1.5% — again, $75 cash back.
  • But you’ll pay $0 in credit card fees.
  • Which means you’ve made out with a $75 bonus scot-free.

The takeaway? If your school doesn’t charge processing fees, you could have a very good reason to pay with plastic.

Avoid paying for college via credit card if:

  • Your college charges credit card fees. These fees will be a huge burden on top of your already costly tuition.
  • You want to pay off your tuition over a long time. Credit card interest can get very expensive the longer it accumulates. If you don’t have the money to pay tuition now, consider a student loan — it’s much cheaper in the long run.

Compare credit cards

Rates last updated June 22nd, 2018
Name Product APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Intro APR for Balance Transfer Annual fee Product Description
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months
$0
Earn 15000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Deserve® Classic Card
24.49% variable
$39
Designed to help build credit history with no deposit required and access to benefits.
Apply now Read review
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 statement closing dates (with whichever is greater, $10 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn more cash back for the things you buy most.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of a statement credit.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
16.49% variable
0% Intro APR for first 15 billing cycles (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$495
Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
Apply now Read review
Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of your account opening, and an additional 30,000 points when you spend a total of $30,000 on purchases within the first year of your account opening.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
23.9% variable
$75 annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
With this card you get a 23.9% variable APR.
Apply now Read review
The First Access VISA® Credit Card
29.99% variable
$75 annual fee for the first year ($48 thereafter)
Access credit even if you have poor or limited credit history.
Apply now Read review
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
16.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles (with the amount of each transfer, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$995
Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
Apply now Read review
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$450
Earn 50000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Credit One Bank® Visa® with Free Credit Score Tracking
17.49% to 25.49% variable
$0 to $75 first year annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV, terms apply.
Apply now Read review
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$95
Earn 15000 Membership Rewards Points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it's automatic. No minimum to redeem for cash back.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$95
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Quicksilver® from Capital One®
14.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Chase Freedom® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
16.49% to 24.49% variable
$0
20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
Chase Slate® Credit Card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with $0 for transfers in first 60 days. Then $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Jumpstart your financial fitness! 60 day introductory balance transfer offer, save on interest, and get your free monthly credit score.
Venture® from Capital One®
14.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
14.49%, 18.49%, or 24.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater: $10 or 4% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases. See Rates and Fees
Apply now Read review

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Megan Horner

As the assistant publisher of credit cards at finder.com, Megan is passionate about helping you compare and find the best credit cards for your situation, whether that is earning great rewards or improving your credit score. In her previous position, Megan worked as an assigning editor at Credit Karma, where she focused on editing and publishing educational articles on credit cards. Megan started her career as a writer at a comparison website, so she has a longstanding background in surfacing the best deals and helping people make decisions. In her spare time, Megan likes to hike, camp, surf, and read.

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US Credit Card Offers

Important Information*
Deserve® Classic Card
Deserve® Classic Card

APR

24.49
variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™

APR

16.49
variable

Annual fee

995 For the first year
More info
The First Access VISA® Credit Card
The First Access VISA® Credit Card

APR

29.99
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card

APR

23.9
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
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