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Four Times You May Not Want to Use a Credit Card

Written by Teri Cettina on March 19, 2015 in Credit  |   6 comments

Your credit card can be a great tool for building a credit history, but that doesn’t mean you need to use it for everything. In these four circumstances, you might be better off opting for a different form of payment.

Four Times You May Not Want to Use a Credit CardYour credit card can be a great tool for managing your money and building your credit history. In fact, the payment history on your credit accounts makes up 35 percent of your credit score, so a history of making timely payments can help establish responsible financial behavior.

But there are a few times when you may not want to use your credit card to pay:

1.Paying your mortgage.
If you’re trying to collect credit card rewards, it may seem like a good idea to put large, ongoing purchases such as your monthly mortgage payment on your credit card. However, it’s likely that your mortgage company will use a third-party processing company for payment, and it will charge you a credit-card convenience fee that essentially erases any rewards, says personal finance writer Liz Weston. Weston also discourages you from putting your mortgage payment on plastic if you’re having trouble affording it.

“If you don’t know when you can pay [your credit card] off, you could be digging yourself a deeper hole,” she says. Rather than putting on a credit card a mortgage payment you can’t afford, consider contacting your mortgage lender and explaining your circumstances. The lender may be able to work out a lower-cost repayment plan, notes Weston.

2.Paying college tuition.
Like mortgage lenders, colleges often charge significant fees for using a credit card to pay tuition, says Weston. The average convenience fee for the privilege of paying tuition by credit card was 2.62 percent in 2014, according to a CreditCards.com survey. This more than wiped out most rewards.

If you aren’t able to pay off your card in full, you could also pay a significant amount in interest. If you must borrow to pay for college, Weston suggests focusing on federal parent and student loans instead. “Federal student loans have relatively low fixed rates, many repayment options, plenty of consumer protections, and the possibility of forgiveness,” Weston says.

For example, the rate offered to undergraduates on federal student loans is 4.66 percent until July this year. Rates are fixed for the life of the loan.

3.Paying medical bills. Hospitals and other medical providers may encourage you to use a credit card to pay what you owe, but Weston suggests looking into other options first. Many medical facilities, especially hospitals, offer low or no interest payment programs, she says. You don’t necessarily need to be impoverished to qualify, Weston says.

4.Making tax payments: The IRS uses payment processors that charge from 1.87 to 2.35 percent of your tax bill to use a credit card, which exceeds many reward rates. As with other large bills, you also risk paying a lot of money in interest if you don’t pay off your credit card in full. Instead, Weston says to contact the IRS about a repayment plan. It offers many options that are lower cost than using credit cards, she says. For example, the interest rate the IRS charges on repayment plans for individuals is 3 percent, far less than most credit cards charge.

Though there are some expenses you may want to avoid charging, credit cards can be a great way to build up a credit history and earn useful rewards—when used responsibly. As you try to decide between paying with your credit card and negotiating payment terms with the companies you owe, weigh the risks (such as payment penalties) against the benefits (such as credit card rewards) to make the decision that’s best for you.

Teri Cettina is a mom of two daughters and freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and parenting topics. She blogs at Your Family Money. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. E.G. M. says:

    Add to those, making a credit card payment at any place that has been compromised and won’t guarantee that their system has been fixed.

  2. Dale says:

    Agreed. Write a check.

  3. D. Brown says:

    Thanks, very informative. I will relay this to my daughter who is currently paying on her college debt.

  4. Lostinseale says:

    I have 4 cards and I haven’t paid interest since 2010 while racking up points. If you can get a handle on it you can make it work for your benefit.

  5. John J. says:

    While credit card issuers must show the “pay off” period based on minimum monthly payment or another suggested level and the time it tales to pay off the card balance and the respective interest paid over that period of time to pay off.

    THE STUDENT Loan (Freddie Mae and the other Moehela) statement do not show anything like that on the statements.

    Thus you do not know the time frame for the pay off at minimum monthly payment or another recommended monthly payment.

    Cannot seem to get this info from them.

    Why do they not have to show this by law as the credit cards do?

    How can you get the history and pay off broken out by Principal vs Interest ?

    Thank you.

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