Sending a Kid to College? 8 Credit Card Tips That Can Help

By Chanelle Bessette Personal Finance NerdWallet.com

It’s no secret that college can be expensive and that parents often incur major costs to send their children there. It’s not just tuition. Purchasing additional supplies — books, laptops, electronics, furniture, groceries and more — can lead to some hefty charges for mom and dad.

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Here are eight credit card tips that can help you optimize your back-to-school shopping when you send your child off to college in the fall.

1. Explore cards with long 0% APR periods

For big-ticket items like laptops and furniture, consider opening a credit card that will let you pay off those purchases without interest during the card’s promotional period. Be sure to confirm that the card doesn’t just defer interest until the end of the introductory annual percentage rate, or at least determine whether that’s an option you’re OK with.

2. Get some of that money back

A 2% flat rate cash-back credit card might not sound like big money, but those rewards can add up when you’re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on back-to-school supplies like computers, textbooks and dorm furnishings. And if your card offers relevant bonus spending categories — say, at grocery stores or wholesale clubs — your cash-back rate could be significantly higher.

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3. Consider a store card or store-branded card

Wantonly applying for store credit cards to get one-time discounts isn’t a good idea, but getting such a card for a place you shop regularly could be worth it. The store version of the Target REDcard offers a 5% discount in-store and online, not to mention free shipping. (Target’s store-branded Mastercard offers the same, but you can use it anywhere that takes Mastercard, not just at Target.) The store-branded Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card offers 5% cash back on Amazon.com purchases. Check the interest rate on a store card before you apply, as they tend to be higher than APRs for general credit cards.

4. Use your rewards points

If you’re already an avid credit card user, check the balance of your rewards points and see whether you can apply them toward your back-to-school shopping. You may be able to cash them into your checking account, apply them to your credit card balance or shop through your card’s bonus mall.

5. Speaking of bonus malls …

Online shopping portals for credit cards are often a good place to get bonus cash back when shopping popular brands, including office supply stores, department stores, sound system manufacturers, cell phone makers and laptop producers. Discover tends to have robust bonus mall offerings. Chase Ultimate Rewards and Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards have special sections devoted to back-to-school shopping.

6. Buy online, pick up at the store

You can save time, avoid delivery costs and potentially earn rewards points by shopping online and picking up your items in your local store. If you’re using a store-branded card, you’ll often still get the discount. If you’re using a general card, you may be able to get extra rewards points by using the card’s bonus mall to buy items for in-store pickup.

7. Think about making your child an authorized user

If you want your kid to have a credit card in college and are OK with footing the bill, add him or her as an authorized user on your cash-back or rewards credit card. Authorized users get their own card, and you’ll accumulate points as your child spends. Discuss in advance what types of transactions you’ll cover — maybe you want to pay for groceries but not pizza orders — and don’t forget you’re responsible for whatever balance your child racks up.

8. Consider paying tuition and fees with your card

If you’re helping your child with tuition or other university fees, consider paying for them with your credit card. If you can pay it off quickly, you can rack up significant reward points or easily meet the minimum spending requirement on a new card that offers a sign-up bonus.

However, do this only if you can pay your card balance in full the next month so you don’t accumulate interest or if you have a 0% APR credit card and can pay the balance in full before the end of its promotional period. You’ll also want to make sure your child’s school doesn’t charge a convenience fee for paying with plastic, which could cancel out any rewards you might earn.

Chanelle Bessette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: cbessette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @crbessette.

Information related to the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.