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Credit cards can offer many benefits, including rewards, purchase protections and the option to pay off your balance over time. However, sometimes using a credit card isn't the best option, either because you'll have to pay extra fees or because there are better alternatives.
1. Rent or Mortgage Payments
Paying your rent or mortgage with a credit card isn't always an option—landlords tend to prefer checks, cash or even Venmo payments. But review the terms carefully if your landlord accepts credit cards or if you try to use a third-party service.
There could be a payment processing fee, which is often around 3% of the payment amount, and your landlord might pass on the extra costs. These fees can quickly add up, especially because housing is a major expense for most households. And even if you earn rewards, you'll probably wind up spending more in fees than you earn.
Some utility providers also charge processing fees if you pay your bill using a credit card. The fee is often only a few extra dollars. But you may be able to easily avoid it if you make one-time or automatic payments directly from your bank account instead of your credit card.
3. Income Taxes
Income taxes can also be a major expense for some people, particularly if you earned income as a contractor or small business owner and didn't pay enough quarterly income taxes. The IRS has a list of approved payment processors you can use to pay your taxes with a debit or credit card. And the site lists processors' fees—there's even a chart showing the fee based on your payment amount and the processor you choose.
As of August 2023, the fees range from 1.85% to 1.98% for credit card payments. If you can't afford your tax bill right now, getting a low-rate personal loan or starting a payment plan with the IRS might be a better option than paying the fee plus taking on high-rate credit card debt.
However, if you can afford to pay off the balance in full and won't accrue interest, paying with a card might net you some rewards. For example, some of the best cash back cards offer 2% cash back on every purchase—slightly higher than the credit card processing fees.
4. Medical Bills
Medical bills are hard to plan for and can be surprisingly expensive. Paying with a credit card might seem like a good option, and there are medical credit cards specifically for covering these types of bills. However, unless your card has an intro 0% annual percentage rate (APR) offer, you might accrue a lot of interest while paying off the balance.
Promotional interest offers aside, the high balance could also increase your credit utilization ratio and hurt your credit score. If you struggle to make your bill payments on time, the credit card issuer can report the late payment to the credit bureaus once you're 30 days past due.
Trying to negotiate the medical bills and then getting a payment plan with the medical provider may be a better option. Nonprofit hospitals also offer free or discounted services to qualifying patients through charity care programs, but they won't necessarily tell you about the programs unless you ask.
One advantage of keeping your medical debt off your credit card is that medical bills otherwise generally don't affect your credit scores. Even unpaid bills that get sent to collections won't appear in your credit report for a full year—and medical collections for under $500 don't get added to your credit report at all. Older medical collection accounts on your report will also be removed once you pay off the debt.
5. Cash Withdrawals
You can use your credit card to get a cash advance at an ATM, using a convenience check, from a bank teller or sometimes via your card's app. It can be a quick and easy way to get extra cash to cover bills. However, cash advances should generally be a last resort.
When you get a cash advance, you may need to pay an additional cash advance fee. Cash advances also often have a higher APR than purchases or balance transfers, and interest starts accruing on the cash advance immediately, even if you regularly pay your credit card bill in full.
6. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Payments
However, you may be charged around 3% of the transaction amount for each transfer. Card issuers also might treat the transaction as a cash advance, which means you won't earn rewards and will be charged the extra fees and interest mentioned above. To avoid the fees and interest, link and use your bank account instead.
7. Online Bets
Online sports betting and gambling have grown in popularity recently. Whether you can use your credit card may depend on where you live and your card issuer. But even when it's an option, using your credit card can be risky because you're potentially taking on high-interest debt to place a bet. Card issuers also might consider these transactions cash advances.
Some colleges and universities accept credit cards for tuition, school fees and other higher education costs. But the added payment processing fees might make using a card a bad idea.
Instead, look into different forms of financial aid, including federal student loans or scholarships. And if you or your child don't qualify for federal financial aid, review the options for regaining eligibility and getting more help in the future.
You may be matched with this and other cards at Experian CreditMatch™
Get the Best Credit Card for Everything Else
Using a credit card doesn't always make sense, but there are times when it's the best option. Credit cards can offer rewards and various cardholder benefits, such as extended warranties, purchase protections and zero liability for unauthorized transactions.
While there isn't a best card for every person or circumstance, some cards are better than others. You can use Experian CreditMatch™ and get matched with credit card offers based on your credit profile. Then compare the terms, pros and cons of each card to see which one will work best for you.