13 expenses that you should not put on your credit card

May 29, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It can be tempting to use a credit card to pay for expenses you normally wouldn’t (or couldn’t) pay for with cash or a debit card. But, whether you’re working to get out of debt or simply want to stay out of it, it’s best to avoid using your credit card for anything you can’t pay off before you begin accruing interest.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the following purchases absolutely should not be put on a credit card. After all, here at The Points Guy we are all about earning rewards. But, we’re also all about using credit cards responsibly. You’ll generally only want to put the following types of purchases on a credit card if you pay off your statement balance in full each month or if you have a 0% APR offer and will be able to pay off your balance before the promotional period ends. You should consider whether any additional charges you’d incur for using a credit card are worth the rewards you’d earn.

Now, let’s dive in and consider some potentially troubling credit card purchases that you may want to avoid.

New to The Points Guy? Sign up for our daily newsletter and check out our beginner’s guide.

In This Post


(Photo by Natee Meepian/EyeEm/Getty Images
(Photo by Natee Meepian/EyeEm/Getty Images)

If you owe taxes to the federal government, you can pay using various methods for no additional fee. For example, you won’t need to pay any processing fees to pay your taxes if you mail a check or use Direct Pay from a bank account.

You can also pay your taxes with a credit card. But, you’ll pay a fee between 1.87% and 1.99%, depending on the processing service you choose. Although no credit card bonus categories cover tax payments, some everyday spending credit cards may provide a high enough return to justify using a credit card – assuming you can pay off your balance before accruing interest.

If you won’t be able to pay your balance before accruing interest, it may be better to use one of the options provided by the IRS, such as enrolling in a payment plan, asking for an offer in compromise or requesting that the IRS temporarily delay collection until your financial situation improves.

Related reading: Paying taxes with your credit card

Medical bills

When you receive a medical bill, it can be tempting to simply put it on a credit card to consolidate your debt. It’s possible to earn ample points and miles on healthcare spending. But, if you won’t be able to pay your balance in full before you start accruing interest, you should consider your options before charging these expenses to your credit card.

First, check that the medical bill is correct and any insurance you have has been factored in. Then, if you aren’t able to pay the bill outright, it may be worth calling the number on your bill to discuss your options. You may be able to negotiate a lower payment or a payment plan that will charge you less interest than your credit card APR. Some medical providers may even be willing to set up an interest-free payment plan.

Related reading: Best credit cards for paying your medical bills


(Photo by Steve Debenport / Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Debenport/Getty Images)

Some schools accept credit cards, often charging a fee. If you’re able to pay your credit card balance off in full before you start accruing interest, paying tuition with a credit card can be a great way to rack up rewards. Otherwise, you’ll want to consider other options.

Many schools offer monthly payment plans as well as merit and need-based scholarships. You may also be able to apply for a student loan with low interest rates — but you’ll want to pay this loan off before the interest rate increases.

Related reading: How college students can maximize travel rewards credit cards

Student loans

If you took out student loans to pay for college, you may now be facing a large amount of debt that continues to accrue interest. You typically can’t use a credit card to pay your student loan payments directly with the student loan servicer or lender. And, even if you can use a credit card, you may face transaction fees or cash advance fees. Likewise, you could use a third-party payment service such as Plastiq, but these services also charge transaction fees that may outweigh any rewards you’d earn.

So, if you want to use a credit card to pay your student loans, you should consider the fees involved in doing so. Also, make sure you’re able to pay off your credit card in full before you start accruing interest on the balance. Alternatively, you may be able to refinance and consolidate your student loans to obtain a lower interest rate, especially if you have good credit. Or, you may want to consider whether your student loan is eligible for income-driven repayment, deferment or forbearance.

Related reading: 5 tips for paying off student loans

Monthly rent or mortgage payments

POTOMAC FALLS, VA - FEBRUARY 16: Townhouses in the Great Falls Chase neighborhood of Potomac Falls, Virginia on Sunday, February 16, 2020. (Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

It is rare to find a way to pay your rent or mortgage without paying additional fees. Although some tenants were recently allowed to pay their rent with a credit card without additional fees due to the coronavirus outbreak and associated financial hardship, this isn’t normal.

Instead, you’ll usually need to use a third-party service provider if you want to pay your rent or mortgage with your credit card. You can usually expect to pay a fee of 2.5%-3% for this service. So, even if you can pay off your statement balance in full before you begin to accrue interest, the rewards you’d earn may not justify the fees you’d incur.

Related reading: Paying rent and mortgages with a credit card

Cash advances

Although many credit cards advertise that you can withdraw money from an ATM using your card and send you convenience checks, you’ll usually pay a cash advance fee when you use these services and will not earn points. You will start accruing interest — oftentimes at a high APR — as soon as you get a cash advance.

So, you should avoid cash advances. If you need cash now, better options include using your debit card to withdraw money, borrowing money from a friend or family member or making a purchase with your credit card rather than cash.

Large purchases that put you close to your credit limit

Someone checking their credit score on a smart phone
(Photo by cnythzl/Getty Images)

Credit cards can be useful for making large purchases, especially if you have access to a 0% APR offer. But, one downside to making a large purchase using your credit card is that you’ll increase your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is your current amount owed over your current available credit. Generally, you should keep this ratio below 30%.

So, when you make a large purchase that puts you close to your credit limit, your credit utilization will increase, which may cause your credit score to decrease. Of course, if you pay off your credit card balance quickly, the long-term effect on your credit score will generally be insignificant. But, you also face an increased risk of going over your credit limit as your balance approaches your credit limit.

Impulse splurges

Unaccounted-for splurges are an easy way to end up with a higher credit card bill than you expected. Impulse splurges will involve different types of purchases for each of us, such as sporting equipment, clothing, shoes or trips. If you have the finances to cover these splurges, they may be just an inconvenience to your budget.

But, if you’re short on money or already in debt, impulse splurges can cause you issues and should be avoided. To reduce impulse splurges, you may want to make a budget, avoid shops or situations that usually lead to impulse purchases and only provide yourself a set amount of cash each month for fun purchases and splurges.

Gambling expenses

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The primary issue with using a credit card for gambling is that your use of the card will likely be coded as a cash advance. This is because most credit cards consider gambling charges to be a cash equivalent, regardless of whether you use your credit card to fund online gambling or at a casino to withdraw cash. As discussed earlier, cash advances usually incur fees and you’ll start accruing interest immediately on the amount of the cash advance. So, you’ll generally want to bring cash or use your debit card to fund any gambling you plan to do.

It’s also worth mentioning that it can be easy to get caught up in the gambling experience and spend more than you can afford. So, it’s best to set a maximum that you will spend while gambling and stick to this limit — and simply not gamble if you’re unable to stick to your limit.

Related reading: TPG’s guide to Las Vegas casino loyalty programs

Wedding expenses

Weddings are one type of event where some consumers are willing to drop a lot of money. But, you won’t want to put your wedding expenses on a credit card if you won’t be able to pay it off before you start accruing interest.

Assuming you have the savings or income to pay off your wedding expenses, one method of funding your honeymoon is to use the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. With this method, you use the Capital One Venture to pay for wedding and honeymoon expenses and then use the rewards earned to offset your travel expenses.

You could also consider saving up or having a lower-cost wedding. Or, if you are starting a new, higher-paying job after your wedding, you could use a 0% APR credit card to pay for wedding expenses and then pay off the card before the end of the 0% APR period.

Related reading: Maximizing points and miles when planning your wedding and honeymoon

Vacation expenses

travel booking, hotels and flights reservation on the screen of computer
(Photo by anyaberkut/Getty Images)

Vacations can be a good way to recharge and reconnect, but they can also get expensive. You shouldn’t pay for your vacation using a credit card if you won’t be able to pay off the balance before you begin accruing debt.

Instead, you could take a vacation on a budget or take a less-expensive staycation. Or, you could save up points and miles earned on everyday purchases to take a vacation once your balance is high enough to cover most expenses.

Vehicle purchase

If you want to purchase a vehicle, it can be tempting to use a credit card for some or all of the vehicle purchase to earn rewards. But, you’ll only want to use a credit card if you’ll be able to pay off the balance before you start accruing interest. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying an interest rate many times higher than what it would cost to finance the vehicle.

Discretionary spending

(Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)

Whether you’re looking at a new TV or a luxury vacation, you should avoid putting discretionary purchases on a credit card if you won’t be able to pay off your credit card balance in full. Instead, it’s better to save up the money you need before making the purchase. This way, you can avoid paying interest on your balance while you work to pay off the expense.

Of course, once you have the necessary money saved up, you can put your purchase on a credit card to earn rewards. Just be sure to pay your balance in full when you pay your credit card bill.

Related reading: 7 ways to improve your finances in 1 week

Bottom line

Credit cards can provide valuable rewards that can put cash back in your wallet or that can fund amazing trips. But, if you’re paying interest on your credit card balance, these rewards won’t be worth the interest you’re paying. So, a general rule of thumb — especially for non-essential purchases and purchases that can be financed at less-expensive rates through other means — is to only use your credit card if you’ll be able to pay off the balance in full before you start accruing interest.

Featured image by Poike/Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.