As a student loan borrower, you’ve probably felt the pinch of those monthly payments and wondered if there’s a better way to deal with your education debt. Maybe you’ve even pondered whether you can pay student loans with a credit card.
Well, can you really pay student debt with a credit card? In fact, the answer depends on factors like who services your loans and what kind of card you have. Read on to learn more about paying student loans with a credit card, plus — more importantly — what to consider before you go down that route.
Can you pay student loans with a credit card?
While making payments toward your student loans using a credit card might seem like a great idea, the truth is that many federal loan servicers and private lenders don’t offer this option.
I remember when I got my first rewards credit card and thought it would be a brilliant idea to use it for my hefty loan payments — I dreamed about racking up airline miles.
But alas, federal loan servicer Nelnet does not allow borrowers to pay student loans with a credit card. I was bummed, to say the least, as I thought I might be able to score a free flight or cash back while paying off my massive student debt.
Private student loan borrowers might be able to pay student loans with a credit card, but they could have to fork over a fee to do so. College Ave Student Loans, for example, allows borrowers to make a one-time payment online using a credit card.
That’s where Plastiq comes in. It claims to be the only company to allow you to use a credit where it’s not typically accepted — in exchange for a 2.5% fee. If you made a student loan payment of $393, for example, you’d have to pay Plastiq a commission of almost $10, eating into (and perhaps erasing) your card’s potential rewards.
Another thing to note: Plastiq only allows you to use Visa, Mastercard and Discover for student loan payments — so American Express customers are out of luck.
Why you might not want to pay student loans with a credit card
Keep in mind that just because you can pay your student loans with a credit card doesn’t mean you should. It’s crucial to consider fees that may be tacked on if you pay with a credit card, whether they’re charged by your lender or a third-party provider like Plastiq.
Consider some of these other reasons not to pay student loans with a credit card:
Federal student loan interest rates are typically between around 5-8%, whereas credit card interest rates often surpass 15.00%.
Even if you wanted to use an introductory 0% APR on a balance transfer credit card offer to save money on interest, that rate would only be available for a limited time. Once the promotion is up, the interest rate could easily be double the rate on your student loan or more.
And the worst part: Because your student loan payment already includes interest charges for the month, carrying a balance on your credit card and paying interest on it means you are paying interest on interest!
Finally, if you pay student loans with a credit card, you won’t be able to enroll in autopay with your lender and score the industry-standard 0.25% rate reduction.
The amount of debt you owe in relation to available credit makes up 30% of your FICO credit score. This number is also known as your credit utilization ratio.
Even if you pay off your credit cards in full each month, your credit could be at risk if your ratio is high at the time they’re reviewed each month.
That’s because using all of your available credit is seen as a red flag to lenders. Typically, experts recommend using less than 30% of your credit limit. So if you have a $10,000 credit limit, it’s best to keep your balances below $3,000.
Another thing to consider is that you once you make student loan payments with your credit card, you might create a routine that isn’t sustainable.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your student loans, you can typically be granted deferment or forbearance. However, using a credit card instead means that if you hit troubled times, you could be in debt on both your credit card and student loans.
One more reason you might not want to turn to credit cards for your school debt is that there are many other options that might be a lot easier on your finances, especially if you have federal loans.
Here are some other loan-management strategies to explore:
- Student loan forgiveness: Investigate your eligibility for federal, state and employer-offered repayment assistance programs that could wipe away part or all of your debt.
- Income-driven repayment: You could decrease your monthly payments on federal loans by switching to an income-driven plan. And if you’re struggling with your private loans, ask your lender if you could adjust your repayment plan or perhaps postpone payments using a form of forbearance.
- Student loan refinancing: You could reduce your monthly dues on federal and private loans by consolidating them together with a bank, credit union or online lender. Just be sure you won’t miss those federal loan protections that will be lost when you refinance.
Should you pay student loans with a credit card?
If you’re still considering paying student loans with a credit card, first make sure you can answer yes to both of these questions:
- Do your credit card’s rewards outweigh the fees of your lender (and third-party payment provider), plus the loss of an autopay rate reduction?
- Can you easily zero out both your loan and card balance each month?
You also have to be willing to pull the plug on using your card as soon as it becomes apparent that you don’t have enough cash in your bank account to completely pay off your monthly card balance. At that point, you’d want to review your other options to postpone or lower your loan loan payments.
Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry: Paying via your checking account will keep your student loan repayment on track and stop credit abuse before it occurs.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of October 1, 2020.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 7/31/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
5 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 10/15/2020 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.98% APR to 8.55% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.99% APR to 8.77% Fixed APR with AutoPay.