Pay student loans or 529 plans with a credit card!

Gift of College gift cards are now available nationwide. This is great news for those saving for college or paying off college. Thanks to this new development, it is now possible to use a rewards-earning credit card to pay student loans or to save for college. gift-of-college-gift-card

In Store Availability

As of November 7th 2016, Gift of College gift cards were expected to be available nationwide at Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores. I visited one of each on November 7th and found a huge supply of these gift cards near the Toys R Us checkout counters. Babies R Us didn’t have the cards and the store manager hadn’t heard of them. My point? Depending on where you shop you may or may not have ready access to these cards.

gift-of-college-gift-card-on-rack

Fees as low as 1.19%

Each card is loadable up to $500. If you load exactly $500 (which I recommend), then the fee is only 1.19% of the card’s value. Many credit cards today offer significantly better than 1.19% rewards, so it’s easy to come out ahead this way!

Credit accepted?

It’s possible that some stores won’t allow credit card payments for these cards, but I had no trouble at my local Toys R Us. There also didn’t appear to be any limit to how many could be purchased at once.

Gift cards accepted?

It used to be possible to buy gift cards at Toys R Us with gift cards. This was great for those who bought Toys R Us gift cards at a discount. Unfortunately, they have since limited some types of gift card purchases.

When I asked if credit cards were accepted, the cashier I bought the Gift of College gift cards from told me that credit cards were fine, but not Toys R Us gift cards. If I had one on hand I would have tested that theory since it’s rare for store employees to know what works and what doesn’t. Still, my bet is that it won’t work.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that Amex, MasterCard, and Visa gift cards would work fine, but I didn’t test those either.

The online option: Fees as low as 3%

If you don’t have a Toys or Babies R Us store nearby, or you find they’re not stocked with gift cards, another option is to buy Gift of College gift cards online directly from Gift of College. Online, they currently limit each gift card to $200 max. That results in a fee of just under 3%.

fund college savings

In my experience, Gift of College gift cards purchased online code as charitable donations. If you have a credit card that offers a category bonus for charitable donations, then it may be worth paying more in fees in order to earn higher rewards.  NOTE: While these purchases are coded by the Visa network as charitable donations, that does not mean that you can claim these as charitable donations on your taxes!

Will this work with your student loan or college savings plan?

gift-of-college-redeemable-forThe gift card itself claims that it works with:

  • Any existing 529 College Savings Plan
  • Any new 529 College Savings Plan
  • Any existing student loan payments

But, personally, I wouldn’t risk buying these gift cards until I was certain. Fortunately, it’s easy to check whether your loan or 529 plan is supported. Simply create a free Gift of College account and attempt to add your loan or savings plan. If you find your loan or plan and can add it successfully to your account, you should be good to go.

gift-of-college-student-loans

Applying the funds

After buying these gift cards, you can apply the funds to your loan or savings plan as follows:

  1. Log into your Gift of College account
  2. Click “Redeem Gift Card
  3. Enter the gift card number and 4 digit PIN

How long does it take?

In my experience, it took 7 to 10 days after redeeming Gift of College gift cards for the funds to appear in my son’s account. With my first gift card redemption, funds showed up in my son’s 529 plan 10 days later. On two subsequent redemptions, funds showed up 7 days later.

Gift of College’s FAQ states that funds can take up to 14 days before showing up on plan statements.

Which credit cards are worth using?

  • Any new card that requires minimum spend in order to earn a big signup bonus.
  • Any card in which you want to earn a big spend bonus.
  • Any card that earns better than 1.19% value in rewards, such as:
    • Discover It Miles: First year cash back is doubled, making it effectively a 3% cash back card for the first year
    • Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. Pair with the Sapphire Reserve to make points more valuable.
    • Amex Everyday Preferred which earns a 50% bonus in points each billing cycle in which it is used 30 times or more.
    • Citi Double Cash: 2% cash back
    • Barclaycard Arrival Plus: 2X miles
  • Any card that offers a bonus for charitable spend (when ordering gift cards online) and results in better than 3% rewards:
    • US Bank FlexPerks Visa: 3X points for charitable contributions
    • US Bank Cash+: Charity is usually an optional 5% cash back category

Please find most of the cards mentioned above on my Best Credit Card Offers page.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. […] For those saving for college, helping others save for college, or paying off student loans, Gift of College gift cards are a way to do so with a rewards earning credit card.  If you load the card with the maximum $500, the $5.95 purchase fee amounts to 1.19%.  Since many credit cards offer substantially larger rewards, this can be a great way to earn points, miles, or cash back.  Full details can be found here: Pay student loans or 529 plans with a credit card! […]

Comments

  1. Bummer they limited the online GCS to just $300 . Maybe they don’t want to share the same fate as Radpad.

    Also I wonder how much demand they’ll have selling at Tous r Us.

    • My Great Lakes allows you to do it over the phone, for free, no fee up to the loan balance and/or multiple times per month. 🙂

      • Really???? I dropped $11-12k on my Great Lakes student loan in the past few months to meet minimum spend using Plastiq. That’s ~$250 in fees I could’ve avoided? Too late for me now, because I am literally in process of refinancing my loan with First Republic.

      • I just called today and the rep. said she can not accept a credit card payment. I’m hoping she didn’t know what she was talking about and I can try to call another time 🙂 Have you recently made a payment with a credit card?
        Thanks!!

        • Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you were 11 days too late. The Treasury Department notified MyGreatLakes a few months back that they weren’t allowed to accept credit cards as a form of payment. I’m surprised the rep didn’t tell you, but as of 1/1/2017 credit can no longer be used as a form of payment.

        • Thanks! Last question: I read a lot about banks freezing the account due to manufactured spending. Would purchasing the MyGiftOfCollege giftcards be considered MS? I would hate to get my account frozen or closed. My husband and I each need to meet minimum spend for Marriott and Spg (want the companion pass from SW). We have a $2,000 loan payment/mo., so we can pull money from savings to purchase enough giftcards, but again, I don’t want our accounts shut down! Thanks so much!

    • PSA for those just now reading this post: As of January 1, 2017 this is no longer true. I came to this post trying to find a new way to pay student loans with a credit card.

  2. Not that you’re a tax accountant, but in what cases could buying/donating a GoC gift card be considered a charitable deduction on your tax return?

    • Contributions to a 529 are not tax-deductible.

      To get a deduction for charitable giving, you have to donate to a qualified organization.

      • I was just reading that 529’s are tax deductible in most states that have a state income tax, just not on federal taxes. Nothing to do with charitable deductions

        • I think it depends on the state, and generally it has to be the state plan for the state you’re resident in, and there’s a max (seems to be between $2k-$5k depending on the state).

  3. Most people have interest rate deductions with direct withdrawl. I don’t see it worth the hassle of losing that interest rate, the potential of late payments due to an intermediary, time/$ spent driving to a Toys R Us.

    • Tax deductibility of student loan interest will not change based on method of payment.

      Possibility of missing payments or late payments is definitely a good point to be aware of

      • He’s not referring to loan interest tax deductions. If you have auto-debit set up and make x number of on-time payments, you can get an interest rate reduction on the loan itself. I wouldn’t give that up, personally.

        • I have MyGreatLakes and it gives me .25% off…. I just got the Amex Plat business and Delta Business and need to spend 15k. This will definitely help me since my loans just got out of their grace period. You don’t have to redeem the whole card at one time right? I might buy enough for 4-6 months worth of loans and only pay the amount that I need each month.

    • I have my student loans on autopay, but I might just use this to pay down the higher interest rate loans faster. I will not lose my interest rate deduction that way. 1% for large amounts of easy MS is great, certainly better than paying my rent on Plastiq for 2%. Either way, anyone using this to meet min spend is getting much more value than 1 or 2%. So it’s a no brainer for me, I’ll try it out. Not everyone wants to play the gift card/money order game.

    • If you’re paying them off faster this is a good way to ms. I no longer get a interest payment tax deduction so I’m paying mine off sooner.

  4. More importantly paying 1-2% in fees to MS is doing the MS thing incorrectly. Too expensive. Think of better ways to MS this isnt one of them.

    • Is the right way to spend copious amounts of time buying gift cards and money orders for a $5 profit? If you spend all your time doing MS on an ink+ to take advantage of a couple % in arbitrage, then I’d say your’e doing it the wrong way. I MS only to meet min spend requirements on signup bonuses. If I’m getting 30-50% return on my spend, then I don’t care much about 1 or 2%.

  5. When buying gift certificates online how long did it take to receive your gift certificate?

    I signed up and ordered a couple of hours ago. I received “Registration Complete”, “Transaction Receipt”, and “Order Receipt” emails instantaneously, but have yet to receive the actual gift certificate so I can pay my loan.

  6. Just keep your auto debit through your bank account for minimum amount and if you are to spend over that you call in to use a credit card.

    So two problems solved, maintain interest rate direct debit 0.25% off and pay student loans with credit card for no fee.

    This isn’t really ms anyways.

  7. I’ve just set up an account on the Gift of College website, and when I clicked “Redeem Gift Card,” I saw two options:

    – Credit Card or Debit Card
    – Gift of College Gift Card

    How does this mesh with the Terms: “gift givers contributing to a profile are assessed a 5% processing/service fee (capped at $15) per transaction. This fee covers costs associated with this service” ?

    Is this processing fee in addition to the $5.95 gift card fee? So that a direct credit card gift is less costly than buying a gift card and then redeeming it? Or is there no processing fee to redeem a gift card? I think I’ll have to send these questions to customerservice@giftofcollege.com.

    • They sent my Navient payment to the wrong address. Perhaps that is what happened to your payment. After a couple of phone calls I was able to get the payment credited to my loan. Hopefully, they will have the correct addresses from now on.

      • What phone number, only an email address online? Been 12 days for me, and still nothing. Same thing: payment to Navient. Starting to wonder if this is a scam.

    • The folks at my store hadn’t heard of them either, but I eventually found them hanging above the candy in the checkout line…..

  8. No need to fund a real college account. Set one up (529 plan) for yourself as the beneficiary and withdraw funds ASAP. 529 Principal withdrawals are tax free.

    • Fascinating. This sent me down a rabbit hole. It sounds like states *could* close your account and fine you if they think you’re using it for some reason other than education expenses. But no idea what triggers that or how common it is to be enforced.

      I did run across one state with a free 529 plan in a very low interest savings account that could be ideal for this, and it’s not my own state so seems less risky in a way. Now I have to see whether I can track down the gift card at my local stores or think through whether it’s worth it for the online fee.

  9. I’m interested in paying off my roughly $23k student loans using this gift of college method I came across on your website. I want to pay off this amount within two years, so I want to open a high credit limit/0% interest for 21 months credit card (citi simplicity), use that to purchase as many gift of college $500 increments over time to reach the total amount. Then use the gift of college portal to pay off the loan, and pay off my credit card every month interest free.

    At my current 6.8% interest on that amount, paying the $5.95 x 46 = $274 in fees seems like a no brainer since I’ll bank on paying off the loan amount without interest. Is my logic right? Will this work? Don’t want to be stuck with thousands of dollars in gift of college gift cards…

  10. I Just went to ToysRUs today and bought enough of these cards to hit a spend bonus. I used my RUs rewards number, so I think I’ll get about $160 in gift cards as a perk. I think I’ll actually buy more now that you can no longer pay student loans with a credit card (As of Jan 1st). The next time I’ll use my ToysRUs credit card and double it to about $320 in gift cards…. Not bad.

    • How do you redeem the RU points? Are these awarded as a Toys R Us gift card? Will they let you buy other merchant gift cards with them?

        • The terms state that you don’t earn rewards on gift cards. Let us know if they actually post for you, because they haven’t for me.

  11. Gift of College’s site currently only allows you to purchase e-gift cards worth up to $200. However, you can also buy their e-gift cards online through Edvest and ScholarShare. I bought $500 e-gift cards through through Edvest. Codes as Gift of College and eligible for Cash+ bonus through 2/15.

    • Excellent! Were you able to deposit funds into another State’s plan, or do these somehow force you to deposit into Wisconsin/California?

      • Just this: “The US Bank Cash+ card will no longer offer charity as a 5% cash back category as of Feb 15th 2017, so that eliminates one of the reasons it was previously worth buying Gift of College gift cards online despite the 3% fee (since Gift of College purchases code as charity).”

        USB occasionally calls these “bonus rewards.”

    • Thank you for this data point. One thing that confused me was this on the Edvest website (didn’t see it on scholarshare):

      “Q:Does my gift card purchase qualify for the Wisconsin state tax reduction?
      It does not qualify because it is not a direct purchase into the Edvest College Savings Plan. To gift directly into an Edvest account and potentially qualify for the Wisconsin tax reduction, you may wish to learn more about Edvest eGift and/or making one-time contributions by check or electronic funds transfer (EFT).”

      The “it does not qualify” part concerns me. I’m in a different state, but we also have a tax deduction here for contributions in the state plan. I’d rather not gain 1% in net credit card rewards by foregoing say 5%+ in tax deduction benefits.

      I don’t suppose anyone knows about this?

      • I read it to mean that the act of merely purchasing the gift card does not qualify you for a tax deduction. You must deposit the gift card into your account to get a tax benefit.

        • Excellent, that was one logical reading of it that was positive. I actually bothered to call Vanguard (program administrator) and they said they had no idea what giftofcollege was, but if the money came from a third party (like giftofcollege) to them (as opposed to from me by check), they wouldn’t record it as coming from me, and it would be up to me to make sure with my accountant that this was properly recorded.

          So not terribly helpful. But better than nothing.

  12. OK, I feel really stupid asking this, but………………
    I purchased a Gift of College e-gift card from Edvest. When it arrived in my email, I went to GoC website and “redeemed” it. So, here’s the question: How do I get the money from GoC to GreatLakes, where the student loans are currently held? My payment is due Feb. 19th, so I’m trying to get this figured out before the due date!
    Thanks for any and all help 🙂
    Julie

  13. It could be because I’m way behind on sleep and in college apps hell, yes, still, or I’m worse at math than I thought. But could you please clarify the numbers on this comment that you said would/should work?

    D Eyes says:
    January 12, 2017 at 2:03 am
    I’m interested in paying off my roughly $23k student loans using this gift of college method I came across on your website. I want to pay off this amount within two years, so I want to open a high credit limit/0% interest for 21 months credit card (citi simplicity), use that to purchase as many gift of college $500 increments over time to reach the total amount. Then use the gift of college portal to pay off the loan, and pay off my credit card every month interest free.

    At my current 6.8% interest on that amount, paying the $5.95 x 46 = $274 in fees seems like a no brainer since I’ll bank on paying off the loan amount without interest. Is my logic right? Will this work? Don’t want to be stuck with thousands of dollars in gift of college gift cards…”

    • Lots to follow in that post, but compare 6.8% interest vs $5.95 fee per $500 for 21 months:
      “At my current 6.8% interest on that amount”
      $23,000*.068=$1,564 interest first year
      ($23,000+$1,564)*.068=$1,670 interest second year
      24 months of interest is $3234

      Paying it all off on a 21 month 0% card:
      0% interest from loan company
      $23,000/$500 = 46 gift cards needed
      46 gift cards * $5.95 per gift card = $274 in gift card fees
      0% interest from credit card if paid off in 21 months
      total extra due beyond loan amount is only $274

      Actually a really good deal.

      Out of curiosity, I calculated using the 3% cash back card (hopefully this formats nicely):
      loan interest rate 10 yr total 10yr cash back monthly 3%/mth
      $23,000 6.80% $44,405.87 $803.75 $370.05 $6.70

      • The interest over 2 years isn’t $3,234 – on a $23k loan at 6.8% with a two year amortization schedule you’d pay $1,664 in interest and have a $1,028/mo. payment. If you paid it down in 21 months, you’d pay $1,461 in interest with a $1,165/mo payment (an effective interest rate of 6.35%). Most lenders give you a discount if you auto-draft (usually .25%) – but let’s ignore that and the question of getting a $23k credit line.

        With a 0% balance transfer, you make the minimum payment for 21 periods, along with the final balance in the 21st period. So you start with a ~ $345/mo payment (the Citi Simplicity has a minimum payment of 1.5% of balance) that would gradually decline, but if you keep it constant at $345/mo after 21 payments the balance is $15,755 (+ $274 in fees). That’s an average of $763/mo set aside for your final payment.

        If you can make above a 0% return on that $763/mo, that’s awesome, but at least you save $1,197 against a 21 month repayment schedule (the interest less the $274 in fees). That’s about 5.15%. But if you have $1,108 of steady cash flow to pay your student loans, what else can you do with it besides wreck your credit score with over-utilization?

        Take an alternative like Chase UR. If you get an in-branch 100k UR, then the CSP 50k, then an Ink Preferred (for your new business, a blog about financing student loans with CC’s) – you can get $2,300 cash back ($3,450 toward travel) in bonuses, plus $140 to $210 from running $14k of student loans through your card in Year 1. You’ll pay $1,170 in interest and another $245 in annual fees, but your net profit on paying your student loans ranges from 4.4% to 9.6% – which is better than saving 5.15% in interest.

        Put the outstanding $10,200 principal on a Simplicity, and now you save $290 in Year 2 interest (1.25% of the total loan). You save more interest getting the Simplicity sooner, but I’m not sure how close you could stack all these apps (though tighter is better). All of which ignores the value of those cards for travel/dining/utilities spend (that you can earn UR category bonuses on).

        TL;DR: if you have the cash flow and financial discipline to put $1,100 a month toward your student debt – you can make money and not just save it.

  14. I am trying to set this up to pay my student loan with Navient. How do i know which of the 3 Navient choices to select? Could not tell when I logged in online to my navient account. I originally was making payments to sallie mae before being transferred to navient. Your screen shot only shoes one selection for Navient.

      • Call gift of college or call navient? And i guess one last question……if my payment is $105 a month…..and i buy the $500 card…….do i end up transfering all $500 at once? And then do i have to still make payments in the upcoming month? Or am I paid up for a couple months (as if it were advanced payment)?

        Thanks for the help!

        • Call navient. When I make extra payments (have not through gift of college yet) I still have to pay the basic payment the next month, but yours could be different.

  15. Had an interesting trip to my local (St. Louis) Toys R Us today. Very clear no one else is doing this. They kind of freaked out when I said I wanted to put $500 each on two cards. I asked if no one had every purchased $1k in gift cards before…she said no one legitimate. LOL.

    After some consternation, checking of my driver’s license, and a manager override, I was able to do it!

  16. When I go to giftofcollege and press donate and put in my credit card information, there is no indication of any type of fee. I see the fee if you buy the gift card but not if you directly donate into their account. Is there no fee with the “donate method”?

    thanks

  17. I was looking for AES but didn’t find it in the screenshot above. I signed up on giftofcollege site today and found AES listed there as American Education Services!

  18. Anyone using great lakes know which number is your account number to put in gift of college? I notice two numbers when I log in. The payment reference number and the other is the number next to my stafford loan? Which one do I enter into GoC?

      • I have the same question! I put the “payment reference number” from Great Lakes in the account number field on Gift Of College. Hoping it goes through…

  19. Great advice, I signed up a free account at GiftOfCollege to learn more, and saw that UPromise GoalSaver is one option to be linked to. Not familiar with UPromise either, I then went to read about the UPromise GoalSaver savings account, it sounds like it is a fee free savings account and one can even withdraw from it for any purpose. Is that the case? https://www.upromise.com/save/savings-accounts/ Or does anyone has experience linking to a UPromise?If I don’t care to have a real 529 plan but just want to use it to pay my son’s college this year right away, is that a good route?

  20. My local toys r us in Northern NJ used to carry these cards, but was there over this weekend and could not find any 3rd party gift cards. They told me they are shifting away from carrying third party GC.

    Is this the case in other places?

  21. So I linked my navient account with my GoC account and just redeemed some gift cards that should post within 14 days. But if I have multiple loans within my navient account, how will the gift card balances be distributed among my different Loans? (For ex. If I have 10 loans in my navient account, and send a $500 gift card, will it automatically post $50 to each loan? Or $500 to my first loan?)

      • No you only have one account number whether you have 1 or 50 loans. But I called navient and was told that when they receive the payment it automatically gets distributed to all loans in proportion to total loan amount (so a loan that is 50% of your total balance will get 50% of the payment) . But once the payment is posted you can simply call navient and have them reallocate the payment however you’d like. The reason for all this is because GoC basically mails navient a check for your gift card amount, and since there’s nothing specifying how the payment should be allocated among multiple loans, it gets distributed like this by default. Overall I guess it seems like an easy enough work-around though.

        • NOT CORRECT…unless you consolidated. I have 20 loans through Navient. If you select PAY online, the next screen has 2 tabs to choose from. 1 tab for payment distributes among all loans. the other tab, you can pick which to pay on. I am going to do gift of college and pay only my unsubsidized loans first with the highest interest rate. then knock down the next.

        • If you’re referring to the navient site there is no “pay online” link, there is a “make a payment” option but it must be through a linked checking or savings account. So I don’t know how you’d specify a payment distribution for a check they have yet to receive.

  22. I am trying to find out what the phone number is for Gift of College gift card redemption errors. I have deposited some gift cards and 10 days later nothing showed up yet. I kind of concerning to have your money in neverland for almost 2 weeks.

      • Yeap, took exactly 14 days after I complained. I do not like them keeping the money for 14 days, but I guess I can live with it.

    • DP: Loan through Granite State Management & Resources, took 13 calendar days/9 business days for the credit to show up. It was credited as a “check”. So looks like these are sent through snail mail.

    • That’s very interesting. I asked Gift of College about this and they denied that their gift cards were available at Simon Mall. Also the Reddit comment says Visa gift card, which is different. I’m guessing that they got mixed up with a different type of gift card.

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