Charge! From everyday purchases to splurges, consumers often turn to credit cards. Some Americans even reach for the plastic to pay the rent. But is paying rent by credit card a good idea? Is it even allowed? The answer to both questions: It depends.
By late 2020, there had been as much as a 70% increase in the number of people paying rent by credit card, compared with the year before, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
And in light of pandemic pressures, landlords around the country had begun waiving or reducing fees for using credit cards to pay rent.
Let’s address questions and look at pros and cons of charging the rent in any economic climate.
Do Landlords Allow Payment by Credit Card?
For renters tempted to reach for the plastic, the first likely question is whether this mode of payment is even accepted. The answer will depend on the landlord, though many do not allow it.
The reason: Accepting credit card payments incurs fees for the merchant.
When people make a purchase on a credit card—whether they’re buying household items, a car, or paying the rent—they are essentially taking out a loan from their credit card company, which advances the money to the merchant (or in the case of rent, the landlord or property management company).
The customer pays the credit card company back when the bill comes due. If paid on time, the merchant essentially bears the cost of such a loan.
Credit card transactions are subject to fees that are set by the financial institution that issues the card, the companies (like Visa and Mastercard) that partner with the financial institution, and the processor responsible for securing and carrying out the credit card transaction.
The fees depend on a number of things, including the merchant’s total sales volume and how credit cards are processed.
Businesses that process between $10,000 and $250,000 in credit card payments annually pay between 2.87% and 4.35% per transaction, according to Square.
This means that if a tenant were to charge $1,000 in rent, the landlord would net about $957 to $971, unless the cost of credit card processing was extended to the renter in the form of a surcharge.
To avoid the bite, some landlords do not permit credit card payments for rent at all.
Even when a landlord does not allow people to pay rent with a credit card, there may be workarounds via third-party apps that charge renters a fee to convert their credit card payment into an acceptable payment form. The fee can range from 2.75% to 3%, and the landlord often has to agree to the arrangement.
Pros of Paying Rent With a Credit Card
There’s a famous old saying “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” But there are some scenarios when charging the rent might make sense.
Rent schedules are typically fairly rigid, with payment due at the same time each month. Though this regular schedule can be a boon for budgeting, it can be challenging for gig workers or anyone else with irregular pay periods that don’t line up with when rent is due.
But if a cardholder charges the rent, that money becomes due only when their credit card bill is due, providing greater flexibility on the actual payment date.
There is one key caveat for individuals leveraging credit card rent payments so they can pay on a date of their convenience:
In addition to any potential surcharges imposed by a landlord, making late credit card payments can result in interest charges, late fees, and even a hit to one’s credit score.
As such, individuals may want to leverage credit cards for flexibility only if they are sure they’ll have the money available when their credit card payment becomes due.
Benefits, Including Cash Back
While there are many basic credit cards on the market, there are also credit card products that reward people for spending—in the form of cash back, points that can be redeemed toward travel and other perks, and other benefits.
The cost of housing consistently ranks as Americans’ greatest annual expenditure (based on percentage of total annual spending), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those with reward cards, this means paying rent by credit card can represent the greatest opportunity to rack up spending and earn those perks.
But it’s important to do the math. Third-party fees or credit card payment surcharges can cancel out any benefit a cardholder may earn, or even ultimately cost more if fees are greater than the reward offering.
Cons of Paying Rent With a Credit Card
Charging the rent can be a risky proposition. Regularly paying the rent by credit card because of a lack of money on hand can be a sign something is wrong financially, whether because of emergency circumstances or poor budgeting.
If you regularly charge the rent out of necessity, it merits taking a closer look into the root causes and how they may be addressed in your monthly budget.
But there are additional reasons why paying rent with a credit card may not be a good idea.
It May Cost More
As discussed, some landlords and third-party payment companies may tack on a surcharge for credit card payments.
Let’s say the surcharge is 3%, or an extra $30 on $1,000 in monthly rent. While that may not sound like much, it adds up to $360 a year, money some individuals may prefer to spend elsewhere.
Landlord surcharges are not the only thing that can make it more expensive to pay rent by credit card. When cardholders pay by the due date, they are only on the hook for the amount they agreed to pay. But making a credit card payment even a day late can increase the total amount due, thanks to interest charges. And the later the debt—in this case rent—is paid, the greater the interest charges will be.
Though interest rates vary by credit card, they are often higher than other lending products like personal loans.
The average credit card annual percentage rate exceeded 20% in early 2021. Worse, the interest compounds, so each month that cardholders do not pay off the rent in full, they will incur interest on both the balance and interest that has accrued.
It Can Affect Credit Score
Your credit score reflects your creditworthiness, or the risk you pose to lenders. The number (300 to 850 for the FICO® Score and VantageScore models) affects how likely it is for you to be approved for another credit card, or a mortgage or other loan, and the interest rate you will have to pay.
Regularly missing credit card payments will negatively affect your score. Because rent tends to be a significant expenditure, you’ll want to ensure that you will have the funds on hand to pay the balance in full if you choose to charge the rent.
But even on-time payments can affect a credit score. Scores are based in part on an individual’s credit utilization ratio—the proportion of credit being used relative to the total available amount.
When it comes to credit utilization, the lower the better. Individuals with high credit utilization are at risk of hitting their credit limit (which can also ding their credit score).
With rent making up such a high proportion of the average individual’s expenditures, such payments can significantly increase their total credit utilization.
Is it a good idea to pay rent with a credit card? If all of the numbers make sense, it could be. Can you pay rent with a credit card? Sometimes. If paying with plastic is tempting, your choice of card can make a big difference in the ultimate benefits you receive.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
*See Pricing, Terms & Conditions at SoFi.com/card/terms
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.