Paying your college tuition with a credit card.

Over the past two years I have been taking classes full time at Skyline College, otherwise known as University of San Bruno, and have paid for all of my tuition so far using a credit card. Since my classes are only about $46 a unit, that makes it pretty easy to pay off my card every time I pay for tuition. Now that I have completed my 60+ units to transfer to San Francisco State University, it will most likely be much tougher to pay off my tuition charges that same month. So how do I pay my increased tuition fees and avoid the high interest from credit cards?

0% Introductory Cards:

One way you could pay your tuition and not pay any interest for the first year or so would be to open a card with a long 0% introductory period. Some cards even offer up to 21 months of 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers. There will most likely be a balance transfer fee of 2-5%, but if you just pay your tuition with this card directly, there will be no fee and you can reap the benefit of the 0% introductory rate. This however, is against my travel hacking oath I took “Thou shalt not make a purchase without accruing travel points”, or something like that. Which leads me to my next strategy.

Balance Transfers:

Since my tuition per semester is going to increase by a few thousand dollars, it will be much harder to make a one time payment to avoid the high interest on my travel rewards card, like my Sapphire Reserve. My strategy is to open a new card with a nice signup bonus, and then make my tuition payment of a few thousand dollars, then transfer the balance onto one of my cards with an introductory 0% interest rate or balance transfer check with the same 0% interest. I will eat the balance transfer fee of 2-5% depending on which card I use, because the rewards I get from the signup bonus will be of more value, and therefore worth it.

It would be easier to make three monthly $1,000.00 payments, than to make a single $3,000 payment in one month, which is why I will be using this strategy over the next two years. Since I have to pay my tuition anyways, I might as well get something out of it (besides an education)!

Tuition Payment Plans

Most universities offer some sort of installment payment plan, which could be beneficial to students. However, if you plan to pay with a credit or debit card, SF State (and possibly other’s) charges a 2.75% fee. There are a few other options to pay without paying the fee, but that would defeat the purpose of getting some much needed travel points through a credit card signup bonus.

Now, the only way to make it worth it would be to find a credit card that will offer only a 2% transfer fee. Otherwise, you could just make the installment payments with the university and save a few bucks in fees. The only card I have that offers a 2% transfer fee is with my Chase United card. They offer balance transfers all the time if you have enough credit to cover the transfer.

Only problem is: Most banks don’t let you transfer from one card to another within the same issuer. So you have to be careful about where you first place your debt. Since I am way over 5/24 rule, I will be working on signup bonuses for non-Chase cards, so this actually works for me to save .75%. Winning!

Best Balance Transfer Cards:
  • Citi Diamond Preferred
  • Citi Simplicity
  • Discover It
  • Chase Slate

Sometimes, cards will send you balance transfer checks, which would work too. Just make sure the fee is less than what you would pay with the university.

In the end:

If you are going to pay for tuition, might as well put it on a credit card a accrue some points or cash back. I personally will be using it to work towards signup bonuses on some cards to get the most out of it. Even with the 2% or more fee tacked on, it’s worth it in the end.