Can you buy artwork with a credit card?

Dec 8, 2019

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The art community is ever-changing and consistently exploring new ways to exhibit all aspects of the human experience. For many, collecting art is an investment into the local or international art community as well as your own financial portfolio. Depending on the artist, medium and subject, it’s not uncommon for art collectors to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on certain art pieces, such as the now-viral banana art installation from the 2019 Art Basel art fair in Miami.

Typically, high-value artworks are paid for via wire transfer or check, but there have been some instances in the past of people earning credit card rewards by swiping to pay for their newest art piece. Is this a feasible payment option?

The short answer is that it’s complicated.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Generally, whether you can use a card will depend on the individual gallery and seller. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

It makes sense why you would consider using a credit card to purchase some artworks. If your credit limit is high enough and you have the money ready to pay off that bill, why not use the opportunity to rack in a ton of points or miles?

However, using a credit card at a gallery or art auction isn’t as simple as using it at your favorite retailer. Each gallery and seller is a bit different, so there isn’t a unilateral process for how payments are accepted. Whether or not you can use a card to purchase art will likely vary from seller to seller.

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I spoke with an art administrator (who asked to be kept anonymous to respect the privacy of her employer and its clients) who has worked at multiple galleries across the U.S. in different roles. She explained that some galleries will reject all card payments outright while others will allow them on a case-by-case basis.

For example, one New York art gallery she has worked at in the past didn’t advertise on invoices that credit cards were an accepted method of payment, but there were a few instances when gallery management allowed collectors to use credit to pay for less expensive pieces.

Whether or not you’ll be able to use yours will likely depend on a few factors. Galleries, auctions and individual sellers may have different payment processing systems. One gallery may use a system that limits how large of a payment can be put through at once. Furthermore, a point of sale (POS) system might charge a gallery or seller an astronomical credit card processing fee. While some galleries may pass that cost along to the collector, others might absorb it themselves. In that case, even if the client can theoretically can put a larger invoice on a credit card, a gallery may not allow it because the fees are too high.

9 Things to Consider When Choosing a Credit Card for Large Purchases

Generally speaking, the higher the cost of the artwork, the less likely that you’ll be able to use a card as payment.

Matt Schodorf, owner of Schodorf's Luncheonette, swipes a credit card on the Square Stand at his restaurant, of which he owns in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles on June 5, 2013. The Square Stand rings customers up on Squares applications. Merchants fed up with the clunky system they have for processing credit and debit card payments are moving increasingly to credit card swiping machines that plug into mobile pads. And Square and PayPal are launching initiatives in the hopes of getting their slice of the action. This is one of 13 establishments nationwide who have this technology, two in California. (Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
It never hurts to ask if a gallery or seller accepts credit cards.  (Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Other situational factors may also contribute to whether you are allowed to put an art piece on your credit card. If a gallery is trying to push a sale for any particular reason, they may be more inclined to allow credit cards to be used. However, if you’re bidding against four other collectors for the same piece, the gallery may not be willing to accept your bid if it will end up costing them more in payment processing fees than the other buyers.

This might start to change over the next few years, as younger generations who are used to using alternative payment options instead of wire transfers and cash start to dip their toes into the art collecting industry, and as online art selling becomes more accessible.

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For example, you can visit a site called Artsy to buy fine art online. You can browse from a wide variety of mediums, participate in auctions and more all from the comfort of your couch. Right now, the payment process on Artsy works similar to how it would in person at a gallery, with your options and associated fees varying from seller to seller. But as this type of service becomes more widespread and popular, it might become more common for credit cards to be accepted, even for larger pieces.

Bottom line

Whether you will be able to use a credit card to purchase art is pretty hit or miss. Different galleries and sellers will each have their own policies for whether they accept credit cards. If you have the funds, credit limit and option to use a credit card, it makes sense to use a large art purchase to earn points or cash back. However, you shouldn’t bank on that being a potential option.

When looking for high-value artwork, be prepared to pay via wire transfer (which is the most common method of payment for most galleries), check or potentially even cash. But don’t be afraid to ask if using a credit card is an option. You might just end up walking away with a new art piece to add to your collection and enough points for that first-class award flight you’ve had your eye on.

Read more: The best credit cards for purchasing a car

Featured image by Ståle Grut on Unsplash.

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