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Considering the average Class of 2017 college graduate left school with $39,400 in student loans, it’s not surprising that some might dream up creative ways to pay them back. While some graduates opt to join government-backed programs like income-driven repayment, others pick up part-time work and side hustles to demolish their loans at record speed. Another option involves paying student loans with a credit card, and like other ways to deal with loans, this strategy comes with risks and downsides.
The first question you’re probably asking is an obvious one. “Can you pay student loans with a credit card — even if you want to?”
The answer depends on your student loan issuer, the type of student loans you have and how resourceful you are. Student loan companies that service federal student loans are unable to accept credit cards as payment, but you may be able to pay federal loans with a credit card using a third-party company. Private student loan servicers may be more inclined to accept credit cards as payment, but you will need to call your provider and ask if they offer a way to pay with credit online.
Why pay student loans with a credit card?
So, you may be able to pay student loans with a credit card, but should you? Before you decide, consider the advantages.
You could earn rewards
One advantage of paying student loans with a credit card is the fact that you can rack up rewards in the process. While there aren’t any cash-back credit cards that offer bonus points for student loans, a card like the Chase Freedom® would let you earn 1% back for each dollar you spend and 5% back on your first $1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter (then 1%). This card also comes with no annual fee.
Of course, the big caveat here is that you’ll only end up “ahead” in the rewards game if you pay your credit card bill in full each month without paying any interest. If you plan to carry a balance on your credit card, you will lose money in the end — even after earning rewards. Considering the average credit card interest rate is now over 17% and rewards credit cards don’t pay out anything close to that amount, there is no exception to this rule.
Transfer a balance to get 0% APR
Another possible way to get ahead paying your student loans with a credit card is with a 0% APR credit card like the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This card currently comes with 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for a full 15 months (then 16.24%-26.24% variable). A 3% balance transfer fee also applies to balances transferred within the first 15 months. As a side note, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card also offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and a $150 welcome bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within three months of account opening.
If your student loan servicer allowed you to pay your student loans directly with a credit card, using the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card would allow you to secure 0% APR on the loans you pay for 15 months. Plus, you could earn rewards in the process.
Score a sign-up bonus
Also consider the prospect of paying student loans with a credit card to score a big sign-up bonus. This can be a lucrative game since many cards offer an initial rush of points when you meet a minimum spending requirement within a few months.
Take the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example. This card is offering a $500 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 within three months of account opening. There is a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.
How to pay student loans with a credit card
We already noted how you may be able to pay some private student loans directly with a credit card — even if your loan servicer doesn’t offer the option on their website. If you’re unsure about the payment methods your loan servicer offers, just call them up and ask. If you can pay your loans with a credit card directly, also make sure to check whether you’ll have to pay a fee.
If you have federal student loans, you will have to use a third party like Plastiq.com to pay with a credit card. Once Plastiq.com receives your payment, they will mail your student loan servicer a check in the amount you specified. Please note, however, that using Plastiq.com isn’t free. The service tacks on 2.5% for every bill you pay.
Paying student loans with a credit card: Pros and cons
Using a credit card to pay student loans can be advantageous, but there is plenty that can go wrong. Here are the main pros and cons to be aware of:
- You could earn rewards by paying student loans with a credit card
- A balance transfer card could help you avoid interest on purchases and/or balance transfers for 12-21 months
- Sign-up bonuses can help consumers earn more points quickly
- Paying by credit card can offer more convenience and flexibility than other forms of payment, such as writing and mailing checks
- When you pay student loans with a credit card, they become credit card debt
- If you pay federal student loans with a credit card through a third party, you will lose out on federal loan protections such as deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment options
- The average credit card APR is over 17% whereas most federal student loans and many private loans charge less than 7%
- If you don’t pay your credit card balance in full each month, the interest you earn will erase most (if not all) of the benefit
- Third-party companies that let you pay loans with credit charge fees. Plastiq.com, for example, charges a 2.5% fee for third party payments.
Consider risks, rewards and responsibility
If you’re eager to pay your student loans with a credit card, make sure you have your ducks in a row first. If you’re using a credit card to rack up rewards, you need to be prepared to pay your bill in full each month to avoid paying interest. If you want to pay loans with a balance transfer card to avoid interest for a limited time, you need to make sure you can pay your full balance off during your card’s introductory offer.
If this sounds too risky to you, also note that some rewards credit cards let you pay student loans with points you earn through regular spending. This strategy lets you funnel the rewards you earn toward your student loans without the risks or costs of paying student loans with a credit card.