Paying for College with a Credit Card Could Really Cost You
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Paying for College with a Credit Card Could Really Cost You

College is already expensive —$41,000 a year, on average, for tuition, fees, room and board — but if you decide to charge it to your credit card, it could cost a lot more.

The average convenience fee that colleges charge you for using your credit card while paying tuition is 2.62 percent, according to a report out Tuesday. 

Over four years, that equals an additional $3,154 to attend the average private college, $2,327 on average for out-of-state public college tuition and $932 on average for in-state tuition at public institutions.

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“It rarely makes sense to pay for college tuition with a credit card,” Matt Schulz,’s senior industry analyst, said in a press release. “Even if you earn frequent flier miles or cash-back rewards, the convenience fee will almost always be higher.”

Nearly 70 percent of private universities and a full 90 percent of public ones charge convenience fees. (By contrast, just 12 of the 100 largest community colleges that accept credit cards for tuition payments charge such fees.) Those charges are only one potential added cost of paying for tuition with a credit card. Finance charges and penalties for late or missed payments could add hundreds or thousands of dollars more.

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Schools generally charge convenience fees to pass along the costs of working with credit card companies. The City University of New York’s Queensborough Community College, for example, has charged a convenience fee (currently at 2.65 percent) since 2008 because the charges for processing credit card transactions became so expensive that they cut into CUNY’s operating budget — and, in turn, the funds available for academic programs and services for all students.

Northwestern Michigan College charges a 2.75 percent fee, which it says goes “to provide better security of personal information, provide more efficient processing of student refunds, and lower the school’s cost of credit card transactions,” according to its website. With convenience fees, students cover the costs of those transactions. 

"Colleges and universities that ban or discourage credit cards for tuition payments cite processing costs as the primary reason," according to the report. The cost of processing card payments depends on a school's agreement with its bank, but for some large school systems, the cost can run into the millions.

The highest convenience fees were found at Western Kentucky University, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. All charged 2.99 percent.

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