Can you pay student loans with a credit card?

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It’s possible to make your student loan payments with a credit card, but you’ll likely have to use a third-party service to do so. Still, the potential for rewards is there, and there are other benefits to be gleaned when you pay your bills with plastic.

Just remember that, when you pay bills with a credit card, you’re subjecting yourself to forking over significantly more interest over time. Where many student loans (including both federal loans and private student loans) come with interest rates below 5 percent, the average credit card interest rate is over 16 percent.

The risks of paying student loans with a credit card

Using credit to cover regular expenses can pay off, but there are risks involved. Here are the major downsides you should know about before you pay your student loan bill with a credit card.

Losing money to fees

Most credit card issuers don’t let you pay your student loans directly with a credit card. As a result, you’ll have to get creative when it comes to paying with plastic, and you may have to use a third party to facilitate the transaction. Third parties charge fees, which can add to the amount you owe and wipe out any benefit you get from not paying directly.

Racking up considerable debt

If you rely on credit too much, you could wind up racking up credit card debt that won’t go away. Since the average credit card APR is high, you have the potential to start a debt spiral that could be difficult to stop.

Potential damage to your credit score

Your credit utilization rate makes up 30 percent of your FICO score, and running up debt on revolving accounts you have (like credit cards) can cause this rate to go up quickly, meaning your credit score might drop.

Missing out on tax deductions and benefits

Paying your federal student loans directly also comes with benefits you could lose out on if you pay your loans off with a credit card. You can deduct student loan interest up to $2,500 on your federal income tax returns, reducing your overall tax burden. You may not qualify for this deduction if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds certain limits set by the IRS. Speak with an accountant before giving up this potential deduction by transferring your loan to a credit card, since interest payments on personal credit cards aren’t tax deductible.

Losing consumer protections for federal student loans

Federal student loans also carry some protection against difficult financial circumstances such as deferment or forbearance. If you can’t pay your loan, you can also change your repayment plan. As an alternative for federal student loans, an income-based repayment plan offers variable payments based on your income, which is great for new graduates who are job hunting or taking advantage of the gig economy while they look for work in their field of study.

Potential benefits of paying with a credit card

The benefits of paying your student loans with a credit card can vary from person to person, but here are the main advantages to consider.

Earn rewards on your spending

When you pay student loans and other bills with a credit card that earns rewards, you get the chance to rack up points and miles on those purchases. Just remember that any fees you pay will eat away at the rewards you earn.

Buy time before your payment is due

Paying with a credit card can buy you some more time until you need to make a payment, which can be helpful during times when money is tight.

Secure zero percent APR for a limited time

If you can snag a zero percent intro APR, paying eligible student debt with a credit card may help you save money on interest. If you use the credit card to pay your student loan then pay off the balance during the intro APR period, you might save some money.

How to pay your student loans with a credit card

Although there are plenty of disadvantages, at the end of the day, credit cards can be used to cover student loans and other bills you can’t traditionally cover with credit. However, there are some added steps you’ll have to take.

Here are some of the ways you can pay student loans with a credit card:

Use a third-party payment system like Plastiq.com

If you want to cover your upcoming loan bill with a credit card, you can use a third party company like Plastiq.com to pay with a credit card. This digital service lets you use a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover card at places that don’t normally take plastic. But you’ll pay a fee (up to 2.85 percent) for using the service. Once Plastiq receives your payment, they will mail your student loan servicer a check in the amount you specified. (Note: with the fee on every payment, you’ll have to earn more than that in rewards to end up “ahead.”)

Get convenience checks from your card issuer

If your student loan provider doesn’t accept credit cards directly, you might be able to use convenience checks from your credit card issuer, which are treated like a cash advance but operate much like a regular bank check.

You can call your credit card issuer and request convenience checks, which they will mail to you. Like any other check, you simply fill in information like the recipient’s name (your loan provider), payment amount, date and your signature, then mail the check to your student loan provider. Your provider cashes it and it shows up as a charge on your credit card statement.

Conversely, you can also use your credit card to take out a cash advance, then use that money to pay your student loan bill.

Just remember there are hefty fees involved in taking out a cash advance, either through an ATM or those handy convenience checks. Not only that, but cash advances typically come with a higher interest rate, making this option even more expensive (and less attractive).

Best credit cards for paying student loans

There are a lot of “gotchas” to beware of when you pay your student loans with a credit card, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use this strategy to your advantage from time to time. Here are the top credit cards for covering your student loans this year.

Longest zero percent intro APR offer

Wells Fargo Platinum card

  • Zero percent introductory APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for the first 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 16.49 to 24.49 percent
  • No annual fee
  • Get access to your FICO score from Wells Fargo
  • Qualify for cellphone protection, auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance and other perks

The Wells Fargo Platinum card is best for people who don’t care about rewards but want to save money on interest for as long as possible. You’ll get zero percent intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers with this card for a full 18 months, and there’s no annual fee.

The information related to the Wells Fargo Platinum card has been collected by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

Best for rewards

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • Earn a $200 bonus when you spend $500 on purchases within three months of account opening
  • Earn 1.5 percent back on all your purchases and 5 percent back on grocery store purchases your first year (up to $12,000, excluding Walmart and Target)
  • No annual fee
  • Zero percent APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 23.74 percent

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is an ideal card for student loans if you want to have your cake and eat it, too. This card lets you earn a generous sign-up bonus as well as rewards on all your spending, and you won’t even pay interest on purchases for the first 15 months.

Building a plan

If you’re ready to take the risk and earn the rewards of paying your student loan with a credit card, you’ll need a plan. First, get copies of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports and fix any mistakes to improve your odds of credit approval. Then, check your credit score to see where you stand and review the cards offered in your credit range.

Take a look at credit cards with zero percent introductory APR offers to reduce your interest payments when you pay your student loans with your new credit card. You’ll typically need a good-to-excellent credit score to qualify, but if you do, many cards in this niche also let you rack up points or cash back.

Once you’ve been approved for your new card, initiate your student loan payment several days before the due date. Payments by convenience check or Plastiq might take longer than a direct payment. Follow up to make sure the payment process went off without a hitch.

Finally, work out a budget to pay off your credit card during the zero percent introductory APR period. You may want to take your cash back rewards and apply them to your statement balance to pay off your debt faster.

Bottom line

While technically you can pay your student loans with a credit card, that doesn’t mean you should. It’s usually best to skip credit cards unless you have the cash to pay your balance in full each month, so strive to avoid this option if you can. If you’re struggling with your student loan payments, also keep in mind that there are alternatives to consider. You could switch your repayment plan or even refinance your student loans to secure a lower interest rate, a lower monthly payment or both.