The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Thursday, June 30, 2022

15 Best Credit Cards for Paying Tuition

Best Credit Cards For Paying Tuition

credit card advice

Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank

Eric Bank has been covering business and financial topics since 1985, specializing in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences. In addition to his work on CardRates.com, Eric has appeared regularly on Credible.com, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Get.com, Zacks, Chron and dozens of other outlets. A former software engineer, Eric holds an M.B.A. from New York University and an M.S. in finance from DePaul University.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

You can pony up your tuition in many ways, including a student loan, a 529 plan, even cash. Credit cards may not immediately spring to mind when mulling over how to pay your tuition, but you might be surprised that, under the right conditions, using credit cards can be a savvy move.

In this article, we’ll review the best credit cards for paying tuition, one of which may be the perfect choice to have in your pocket for your appointment with the bursar.

0% Interest | Signup Bonus | Student Offers
FAQs & Methodology

Best Cards with 0% Interest for Paying Tuition

These cards offer new cardmembers a 0% APR for an introductory period following account opening. Using one makes good sense if you can pay most or all of the balance before the period ends.

Any balance remaining after the introductory period expires will incur interest at the card’s regular APR, which is why it’s critical to compare interest rates before applying.

  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.74% - 24.49%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
15.74% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers new cardmembers a promotional APR (0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months) after opening the account. In addition, you can earn an introductory bonus when you meet the very attainable time frame and purchase requirements.

The card also lets you earn cash back on every purchase. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card has no annual fee, no redemption minimums, and no reward expiration while the account remains open.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

0% INTRO APR RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.74% - 24.49%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
15.74% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ card gives new cardmembers a promotional APR (0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months) after opening the account. In addition, you can receive a cash back bonus when you exceed a set spending limit during the first three months. This card has no annual fee.

0% INTRO APR RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 16.49%-26.49% variable APR after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

After opening your account, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers an introductory purchase APR of 0% for 15 months.

The card pays you cash back on all purchases. The card charges no foreign transaction fees, no annual fee, and your cash back rewards don’t expire while the account remains open.

0% INTRO APR RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), plus 1% on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 16.49% - 26.49% variable APR after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card gives new cardmembers a promotional APR — 0% for 15 months — to pay off your tuition over time.

This no-annual-fee card offers benefits such as virtual card numbers, no foreign transaction fees, and special access to events.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

0% INTRO APR RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • Redeem cash back in any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • NEW Intro APR: Get a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 13.49% to 24.49% Standard Variable Purchase APR applies, based on credit worthiness.
  • No annual fee.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good

The Discover it® Cash Back card offers new cardmembers a promotional APR on purchases. The cash back you earn with the card never expires while the account is open, and you can redeem your rewards at any time, in any amount.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card Review

at Bank Of America'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

  • Enjoy a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Introductory 0% APR for your first 15 billing cycles for purchases and balance transfers made within 60 days of account opening (balance transfer fee applies), then a variable APR applies
  • Preferred Rewards members earn 25% - 75% more cash back on every purchase
  • $0 Annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 billing cycles
0% for 15 billing cycles
14.24% - 24.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a promotional 0% APR on purchases after opening the account. Your cash back is worth 25% to 75% more when redeemed through Preferred Rewards.

0% INTRO APR RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
16.49% - 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers an introductory APR — 0% for 15 months — to new cardmembers. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card charges no annual or foreign transaction fees. You can transfer your miles to 15+ travel partners or use them for travel without any blackout dates.

Best Cards for Paying Tuition to Earn a Signup Bonus

Signup bonuses incentivize you to obtain a card and then use it right away. You earn the bonus by spending a set amount on purchases during the first three months.

If you’re going to pay some or all of your tuition with a credit card, you may as well use one with a generous signup bonus. These cards all offer large bonuses that can make a substantial dent in your tuition and help ease some of the financial pain.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.74% - 23.74% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card rewards you a hefty sum of introductory bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases (including tuition) during the first three months after opening the account. Those points are worth a large chunk of change, especially toward travel when redeemed at Chase Ultimate Rewards, where points are worth 25% more for certain redemptions.

You can transfer your points one for one to Chase’s airline travel and hotel partners. This is a premium card and it charges an annual fee.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through our Partner Lounge Network
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card gives you a one-time signup bonus when you meet a purchase threshold in a set time frame from when you first receive your card. These bonus miles add up to serious travel rewards.

You can transfer your miles to more than a dozen travel partners or redeem your miles for travel with no blackout dates. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card gives you a credit to reimburse up to $100 for TSA Preè or Global Entry fees.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • New Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on air travel and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
$550
Good/Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® points you earn are worth 50% more when redeemed at Chase Ultimate Rewards® for travel and hotel expenses.

Additionally, the card gives you a $300 credit each year to reimburse travel expenses. This premium travel rewards card charges a hefty annual fee.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
  • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.74% - 21.74% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card points you earn are worth 25% more if you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel-related purchases.

The card provides 3X points on combined purchases, up to $150,000 per year, on selected expenses, including social media advertising, internet, cable, phone, travel, and shipping. All other purchases earn unlimited 1X points. This card has an annual fee.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring.
  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.
  • No Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
N/A 12 months
13.99% - 19.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card gives you a cash back bonus when you meet a set purchase threshold in the first three months of your account opening. This no-annual-fee card gives you 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent each year on purchases at office supply stores and for phone, cable, and internet services.

Best Student Cards for Paying Tuition

It’s not unusual for students to have poor or limited credit. Fortunately, these three cards are optimized for students, which comes in handy if your parents aren’t paying all your tuition costs.

These cards offer one or more features that can at least partially offset your tuition and/or interest costs.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 23.49% applies.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
14.49% - 23.49% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card provides a promotional APR on new accounts. Not only is there no annual fee, but there are also no late fee on your first late payment and no APR change for paying late.

Students will earn cash back rewards with this card that never expire.

Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • No annual fee and build your credit with responsible use.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.49% - 23.49% applies.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 6 months
10.99% Intro APR for 6 months
14.49% - 23.49% Variable APR
$0
Fair/New to Credit

The Discover it® Student chrome offers tiered cash back rewards on gas and restaurant purchases each calendar quarter (up to the quarterly limit).

New cardmembers receive a promotional APR, and like the previously mentioned Discover student card, statement credit is awarded when students refer their friends who get approved for the card.

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One provides an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases and charges no annual fee. Moreover, you can boost your cash back rate to 1.25% for the month by paying your bill on time.

Timely payments build your credit because the card reports your payments to one or more of the major credit bureaus. In addition, you can receive a higher credit limit if you make your first five monthly payments on time.

Can You Use a Credit Card to Pay Tuition?

There is a mixed picture regarding tuition payment via credit card. Most public colleges and community colleges accept credit cards for tuition purposes, but many private colleges do not.

However, some top private schools accept credit cards for tuition, including Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Rice, and Wellesley. You can use your credit card at virtually all post-secondary schools to pay for other expenses, such as books, supplies, meal plans, fees, and more.

It’s important to carefully consider whether using your credit card for tuition is your best option.

Pros: 

  • You can earn a signup bonus potentially worth hundreds of dollars.
  • Many cards provide a year or more of 0% APR to new cardmembers, which saves you the cost of interest.
  • You can earn rewards in the form of cash back, points, or miles.
  • Some cards offer cash back matches or enhanced redemption values.

Cons: 

  • Credit card APRs are higher than student loan APRs. According to U.S. News, the average minimum and maximum credit card APRs for consumers with fair credit are 24.96% and 25.81%, respectively. The averages for student credit cards are a minimum of 16.54% and a maximum of 24.25%. Compare that to the APR of 4.53% for undergraduate federal student loans.
  • Most colleges will charge a fee, usually 2.5% to 3%, when you use a credit card to pay tuition. You’ll want to compare the fee against the card’s regular and bonus rewards.
  • Your credit card spending limit may be too low to cover the cost of tuition.

This last point deserves discussion. If your tuition cost exceeds your card’s spending limit, you may want to consider using multiple cards — if you can qualify for them. If you do use multiple cards, you may want to consolidate the balances afterward.

Several of the cards in this review offer new cardmembers a 0% APR for balance transfers (fees apply, usually around 3%). Balance transfers make monthly payments more convenient and may reduce your minimum payment amount.

Do You Earn Rewards for Paying Tuition?

Tuition can cost thousands of dollars, so it would be nice to reap some rewards when paying it. The cards in this review offer a variety of rewards for paying tuition.

Our top choice for cards offering an introductory 0% APR on purchases is the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. The current introductory period is 0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months after opening the account. This gives you some time to pay as much of the card balance as possible without the drag caused by interest.

How to Earn a Signup Bonus

Another popular reward for new cardmembers is a signup bonus. Our choice in this category is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card. It currently provides bonus points if you spend the required amount on purchases during the first three months that are redeemable for cash. If you redeem these points for travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, the monetary value is even higher.

Naturally, you need to time your application for a bonus reward card so you receive the card just prior to your tuition due date. If you happen to have good to excellent credit, you may consider getting multiple new cards with generous introductory bonuses. This will maximize your total bonus, and you can then choose to consolidate your balances through a 0% APR transfer.

If your credit is thin or poor, your only option may be a student credit card. Our winner in this category is the Discover it® Student Cash Back card.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back provides new cardmembers an introductory APR and bonus cash back on quarterly rotating merchant categories that you activate, up to the quarterly limit.

How Does the Tuition Tax Credit Work?

A tax credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. Compare this to a less-valuable tax deduction, which reduces your taxable income. You must multiply a tax deduction by your marginal tax rate to compute the tax savings. Clearly, a credit is worth more than an equal-sized deduction.

The federal government offers two tuition tax credit programs. The first is the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit reimburses eligible students for qualified education expenses, up to $2,500 a year.

The credit pays 100% of the first $2,000 in qualified education expenses and 25% of the second $2,000. To qualify, students must:

  • Be working toward a degree or other education credential.
  • Be enrolled at least half time.
  • Not have claimed previous AOTC credits for more than four tax years.
  • Have qualified expenses that include tuition, enrollment fees, and required course materials.
  • Not have finished four years of higher education.
  • Have no convictions for felony drug crimes.
  • Not have a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $90,000 for single filers or $180,000 for joint filers.

Alternatively, eligible students can apply for a Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) to cover tuition and other qualified expenses. The credit is worth up to $2,000 per year.

You can use it if you are an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student, or you pay qualified education expenses for a dependent or third party. There is no restriction on the number of years you can apply for this credit.

To receive the LLC, you must:

  • Be taking courses at an eligible institution.
  • Be taking post-secondary-school courses or courses to gain a job.
  • Be enrolled for at least one course per year.
  • Have qualified expenses that include tuition and fees.
  • Not have a MAGI in 2020 exceeding $68,000 for single filers or $136,000 for joint filers.
  • Not have claimed the AOTC for the same year.

To claim either credit, you must file Schedule 3 of Form 1040 and Form 8863, Education Credits.

Ranking Methodology

Our list of the best cards for paying tuition considers various factors that are important when making a large purchase on a credit card, such as a promotional 0% interest rate, signup bonus offered, rewards earning rates, and the ongoing APR of each card. CardRates’ reviews undergo a thorough editorial integrity process to ensure that content is not compromised by advertiser influence.

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