Is it Worth Paying a Fee to Earn Points on Rent?
TPG reader Justin sent me a tweet to ask about earning rewards for rental payments:
@ThePointsGuy — "Please help me settle a dispute with a friend: is it worth paying extra in rent on Venmo to earn points?"
Rewards credit cards are a great way to earn points and miles, and I try to maximize every dollar I spend by earning a return on all my purchases. However, some expenses (like rent and taxes) can't easily be paid with a credit card, at least not without incurring an additional fee. The question is whether those fees can be justified by the points and miles you gain. The short answer is yes, but it depends a lot on which points you're earning and how much you're paying for them.
Justin asked specifically about Venmo, which is a payment transfer service you can use to send money to pretty much anyone with a phone number or email address. Transfers from bank accounts are free, but Venmo adds a 3% fee to process payments from credit cards (and some debit cards). That means if you're using Venmo to make a credit card payment, then you need to earn more than 3 cents per dollar in travel rewards to come out ahead in the transaction.
Questions like this are why I put together my monthly valuations; if you have a sense of what your points and miles are worth, then you can decide whether paying a fee makes sense. In this case, you can see in my October valuations that none of the travel rewards listed are worth more than 2.5 cents apiece. Since Venmo payments don't fit into any bonus spending categories, you're unlikely to earn more than 3 cents per dollar worth of rewards. For example, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card earns a base rate of 5 points per dollar, but those points are only worth 0.4 cents apiece, for a total return of 2 cents per dollar spent. Clearly, in that case you'd come out behind using Venmo.
That said, there are scenarios where it's worth paying the fee even if you're losing out on a given transaction. For example, if you're running out of time to meet the spending requirement for a big credit card sign-up offer, it makes sense to pay a small amount in order to secure the larger bonus. Similarly, if you need to top off one of your loyalty accounts for a specific redemption and you don't have any other convenient options, it's worth paying a bit extra up front to get the flight or hotel room you want.
I usually get a modest return by using a card to pay taxes, and I've heard from plenty of readers who have come out ahead when paying for college tuition. The 3% charged by Venmo is on the high side, and generally I'd say it's unlikely to pay off, but you'll have to run the numbers and decide for yourself whether the fee is justified in your situation.
If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.