Complete guide to paying taxes via credit card, 2017 edition

Preparing taxes is no fun.  No fun at all.  But paying taxes doesn’t have to be painful.  In fact, paying federal taxes can be quite rewarding.  The key is to earn credit card rewards that more than offset tax payment fees.  Here’s what you need to know…

pay federal taxes with a credit card

Background

Here is some key information you’ll need to know about paying taxes with credit or debit cards:

Credit card fee 1.87% to 2.25%: The IRS maintains a list of companies that accept credit and debit cards towards tax payments. You can find the current information by clicking here. Currently there are three separate payment processing companies on the list. At the time of this writing, debit card fees range from $2.25 to $2.65 per transaction and credit card fees range from 1.87% to 2%.

Pay taxes credit card options

Two payment limit (per processor): The IRS maintains a table of frequency limits for paying taxes via credit or debit card (found here). In general, they say you can make up to two payments per tax period per type of tax payment. For example, you can make 2 payments every quarter to your quarterly estimated taxes, and you can make 2 payments every year to your annual taxes. Important: In my experience, these limits are enforced per payment processing company. That means that you can really make up to 6 payments per tax period per type of tax payment. An IRS advisor I spoke with several years ago did not think that there would be any problem with making more than 2 payments by using different processors. Since then, I have made more than 2 payments per tax period many times and never had any issues. That is, of course, just my own personal experience. I can’t guarantee that your outcome would be the same.

No cash advance fees: I’m often asked whether credit card companies charge cash advance fees when paying taxes by credit card. The answer is no. All three payment processors agree (via their FAQ pages) that the payment is treated as a purchase not a cash advance. You can find FAQ info here, here, and here.

Unlimited payments: If you’re willing to incur slightly higher fees, you can make an unlimited number of tax payments via the Plastiq bill pay service.  Plastiq usually charges 2.5% to pay bills (including taxes) via credit card, but they occasionally offer lower fees via short term promotions.  For details, please see: Plastiq Bill Payment Service.

Fees may be deductible: The IRS says the following:

  • The fee is deductible for personal tax types as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, only those miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2 percent of the adjusted gross income can be deducted. For more information, refer to Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions.
  • For business tax types, the fee is a deductible business expense.

View tax payment history: Once you’ve made payments through online processors, you may want to see proof that the IRS received the amount you sent. You can view your past payments at any time by signing up with this government website: www.eftps.gov/eftps/. Full details of how to signup and view your past payments can be found here.

Top 5 reasons to pay federal taxes with a credit card or gift card

1. Profit

A number of credit cards earn cash rewards greater than 1.87%.The best of the best is the Discover It Miles card which earns 1.5% cash back and doubles all cash back earned during your first year of card membership. So, if you have the card and you’re still in your first year of card membership, you’ll make a profit by paying your taxes with your credit card. Since you’ll earn 3% cash back on both the base tax payment and the processing fees, your profit should be approximately 1.186% of your tax payment.

Example:

  • $10,000 tax payment + 1.87% fee = $10,187
  • Cash back earned at 3% = $305.61
  • Profit = $305.61 – $187 = $118.61 (1.186% of $10K)

2. Meet minimum spend requirements

If you recently signed up for new credit cards, chances are good that you have to spend thousands of dollars in order to earn the associated signup bonuses. Paying taxes is a fairly cheap and easy way to accomplish that.

3. Buy miles cheaply

Several credit cards offer up to 1.5 miles per dollar for spend. In these cases, a 1.87% tax payment fee means that you can essentially buy miles for 1.22 cents per dollar.

Example:

  • $10,000 tax payment + 1.87% fee = $10,187
  • Miles earned at 1.5X = 15,281
  • Cost per mile = $187 / 15,281 = 1.22 cents per mile

Cards that offer 1.5X airline miles per dollar:

4. Earn valuable big spend bonuses: elite status, free nights, companion pass, etc.

Many credit cards offer bonuses for meeting high spend thresholds. You can find a comprehensive list here: Best big spend bonuses. Here are a few examples:

  • Amex Delta Reserve or Delta Reserve Business: Spend $30,000, get 15,000 bonus miles plus 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (towards elite status). At $60,000 spend, get another 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles.
  • Amex Delta Platinum or Delta Platinum Business: Spend $25,000, get 10,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (towards elite status). At $50,000 spend, get another 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles.
  • Chase Southwest cards: With Southwest, when you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year (including points earned from credit card spend) you get a companion pass good for an unlimited number of flights for the rest of that year and all of the next calendar year.
  • Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Visa: Earn Platinum status with $75,000 in annual spend. After that, you may be able to buy back status annually for 40,000 points (see this post for details).
  • Barclaycard JetBlue Plus, or JetBlue Business: Spend $50,000 and get Mosaic status which offers free changes and cancellations; free checked bags; expedited security; early boarding; free drinks; enhanced point earnings; and 15,000 bonus points upon qualifying.

5. Liquidate Visa/MasterCard gift cards cheaply

Visa and MasterCard gift cards are debit cards. As such, they qualify for low flat fees for debit tax payments: $2.25, $2.59, or $2.65 (depending upon the tax processor you use). In other words, your cost to liquidate $500 gift cards will be approximately half a percent (0.5% to 0.54%). That’s pretty cheap.

If you use $500 Visa/MasterCard gift cards, then you can pay the following amounts:

  • PayUSAtax.com ($2.65 fee): Make a $497.35 payment.
  • Pay1040.com ($2.59 fee): Make a $497.41 payment.
  • OfficialPayments.com ($2.25 fee): Make a $497.75 payment.

The biggest problem with this is the IRS imposed 2 payments per processor limit. Online, this means that you can liquidate no more than 6 gift cards per type of tax payment. Via phone, though, you may find a tax processor willing to accept multiple debit cards for a single overall payment. Specifically, OfficialPayments is known to accept multiple gift cards via phone. When you make multiple payments over the phone, you do pay the $2.25 fee for each gift card.

Which gift cards work where?

NEW (June 2017): Visa Gift Cards are no longer working with Official Payments.

Charles reported the following:

  • Visa gift card issued by Metabank via PayUSAtax online -> Success!
  • Visa gift card issued by Metabank via Pay1040 online -> Success!
  • Visa gift card issued by Metabank via Official Payments online -> Failure! (card cannot be authorized)

Clarification, again from Charles:

Vanilla Visa and OneVanilla Visa gift cards issued by Bancorp work as debit at Official Payments (Editor’s note: these won’t work anymore until Official Payments fixes their issue with Visa gift cards)
Dining Anywhere gift cards will not process at Official Payments.
Most (if not all) MasterCard gift cards will not process as debit, but will process as CREDIT through Official Payments.

But another reader says:

Giftcards.com MasterCards post as debit. Just did $3k across the 3 sites with them. Couldn’t get US bank (Safeway MasterCard) to work.

See also: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

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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Comments

  1. If one inadvertently pays the IRS more than one’s annual taxes, that amount would be refunded, I assume? So an overpayment would just be an interest free loan to the federal government?

    • Anyone aware of pitfalls with this? Take the extreme example — you’re owed a refund from the IRS but you “miscalculate” and make some extra tax payments anyway. Obviously you’ll be without the cash until the refund check clears, but does it create any other issues?

      • No downside. I believe it could even prevent you from being assessed underpayment penalties should the IRS audit you and reclassify some income or disqualify some deductions. It seems like this trick could be used with Q4 estimated payments to turn a tidy profit better than any savings account.

    • Good question. I know they changed their terms to say that only credit transactions would earn rewards, but its not clear to me whether that has been enforced. Anyone have data points more recent than October 19 2016 (when the new terms supposedly went into effect)?

      • No more 1% since the last quarter. I used to get 1% back for OfficialPayments transactions but not anymore. PayISATax debit payments had never gotten 1%.

    • I got the 1% from PayUSATax last year but not Pay1040. OfficialPayments.com treats PPBDC same as a credit card and charges the higher fees.

  2. #3 becomes slightly sweeter for those with Business Platinum Amex card who are able to register for the recently announced (targeted?) promotion to earn 2x points on purchases $5,000 or more, thru 4/15/2017.

    One could earn miles for under 1 cent each — $0.009178, to be exact.

  3. For clarification,
    Vanilla Visa and OneVanilla Visa gift cards issued by Bancorp work as debit at Official Payments.
    Gift cards issued by METABANK will not process at OP.
    Most (if not all) MasterCard gift cards will not process as debit but will process as CREDIT through OP.

    • I just used two Metabank Visa debit cards at Official Payments and got confirmation that they were processed, and at the debit rate.

      • That’s great to know that you had success with MetaBank Visa debit cards! Thanks for the DP! Specifically, I tried using the Dining Everywhere MetaBank Visa debit cards that I bought at OfficeMax and they could not be processed through Official Payments. Where did you buy your cards and what type of Visa cards?

    • I was able to use Bancorp Vanilla MC (variable load $20-$500) purchased at Sam’s Club as debit at Official Payments in December.

  4. “The best of the best is the Discover It Miles card which earns 1.5% cash back and doubles all cash back AFTER THE FIRST YEAR of card membership. So, if you have the card and you’re STILL IN YOUR FIRST YEAR of card membership, you’ll make a profit by paying your taxes with your credit card.”

    The bold parts are contradictory. Is it double during the first year or after?

  5. regarding the 2 payment limit, is this limit goes off who’s SS#? In our household, I don’t have my husbands last night but our tax files are in both our names would be we able to process 12 payments or just 6?

    • When filing jointly, the limit is based on the SSN of whoever is listed as the primary tax payer so I don’t think you can get around it that way.

      I’ve added a note saying that you can exceed those limits by paying with the Plastiq bill pay service.

    • I think it’s dead for now. Plastiq used to give 3X points on IRS payments a few months ago, but my most recent attempt a few weeks ago showed as pending in the UTILITIES category, so I cancelled it. Something similar happened to someone on the Access More thread on Flyertalk.

      It’s possible it’s a short-term glitch since some mortgages were coding as utilities and according to the thread Plastiq told the customer they were working on it.

    • I owe over $1000 this year in federal taxes and I’d like to earn 3000 points as well. Please let me know if you find anything out. We have until April!

  6. I’m trying to use up my 5% back debit cards at CVS by Jan 20th. Whats best? 1) Purchasing PayPal reload cards@$3.95ea. After loading the PP cards to my account then paying ‘PAYUSATAX’ with the new PP balance? OR 2)Purchase VanillaOne cards at CVS@$4.95 ea and use them as ‘Credit’@Official Payments? If I go with #2,what do I tell csr,,”I want to make a bunch of $500 ‘credit’ payments for the flat credit fee. Here are my pin #s”?

    • Oh. Just read Charles update so I would have to use VOne as Debit and hope OPayments will take more than 2 cards over the phone. But still, What is the best route to go?,Buying the Paypal reloads or VOnes@ CVS? Thanks!

  7. I just got off the phone with Official Payments, where I wanted to make an ES payment based on multiple Vanilla GCs. The agent took the first one and sent me a confirmation but then she said she can’t take more because they can’t accept 2016 ES payments past January 1 (!) I spoke to a supervisor who confirmed this. The online payments seem to be alive, so I’ll probably pay with a 2% CB card, but does anyone have a suggestion for making phone GC payments work today?

  8. Just want to make sure if I make some payments with a credit card to the IRS let’s say end of the month (January) and file taxes in March 2017, I will get the money back at that time?

    Thanks

  9. Will amex consider a tax payment ineligible for meting minimum spend? Wondering what the risk of having the bonus claw backed is.

  10. Hi!
    Would you be able to make a payment for 2016 taxes now and not file till April? I know I will owe taxes and my time is almost up for a minimum spend, but I will not actually file till April deadline.

  11. Just to clarify, in practice, even if someone made an overpayment from withholdings alone and expected a refund they could go to one of the processors and select “Pay your 1040 Current Tax Return 2016” and pay additional funds through CC, correct? This would be an annual payment and not the same thing as an estimated tax payment, right?

  12. I always knew you could pay with a credit card but never looked into it too deeply because of the credit card fees. I may try this next year. Just have to make sure I don’t withhold too much so as to pay a penalty!

  13. I’ve already filed my taxes and will be getting a refund. Any additional overpayments from now I won’t be getting back until next year correct? or Will I get the overpayment back in a few months? Have a couple minimum spends to make.

  14. So I’m a little late to the game on this, and so looks like paying quarterly taxes aren’t an option. Several people have mentioned paying “annual tax” since we’re past the quarterly payment deadline. My assumption is that means “Form 1040 Current Year – Tax Year 2016” on officialpayments or similar on the other two processors. What form does that payment end up on? Bonus points if you can tell me where it would go in H&R Block 2016 Deluxe (the only thing I can find is quarterly taxes). Also, does this still work since I don’t owe any taxes?

    • Yes, “Form 1040 Current Year – Tax Year 2016”
      I can’t remember if there are any forms where you can list how much you’ve already paid towards the year end taxes. Assuming not, paying online is equivalent to sending a check for what you owe. The difference here is that in your case you are overpaying. The IRS should notice the discrepancy and pay you back for the overpayment.

      Another option for you is to simply begin paying quarterly estimated taxes for 2017 (but it will then be far longer before you get your money back)

  15. Hi Greg,
    I’m just getting into this and am very excited. I have the Chase Inc card which gets 5% back from Staples. Can I buy GC from Staples and pay my tax with them? Thank you.

    • Technically you could, but Staples only carries $200 Visa gift cards in-store and up to $300 online. Online is the better deal with its $8.95 fee.

      So:
      1. Buy $300 visa for $308.95. Earn 1545 Ultimate Rewards points by paying with Ink card
      2. Use $300 Visa to pay $297.75 in taxes (the $2.25 fee takes up the rest).

      Your total fees, then are: $8.95 + $2.25 = $11.20
      Taxes paid: $297.75
      Points earned: 1545

      Is it worth it? Maybe. Points earned are certainly worth more than fees paid, but consider also the time and effort involved.

  16. I just made a payment with OP online and it went successful, thank you all…tomorrow I’ll be making my second payment.

  17. Does anybody know if I can make 2 debit payments with pay1040 and one CC payment of the remaining balance? That would be 3 payments in total..

  18. I made 2 debit payments with OP and 2 debit payments with 1040 using OV cards…they both went through successfully. Where can I check the status to make sure they were both credited?

  19. DP. Just paid using metabank VGC through OfficialPayments phone system. OfficialPayments now has an automated phone system for accepting payments and does not allow more than 2 payments. No way to get to an agent.

  20. officialpayments.com seems to have trouble processing VGC issued by Metabank, purchased from giftcardmall.com. Big blunder as I rely on phone call method to liquidate multiple cards.

  21. DPs:
    VGC (Metabank) via PayUSAtax online -> Success!
    VGC (Metabank) via Pay1040 online -> Success!
    VGC (Metabank) via OP online -> Failure! (card cannot be authorized)

  22. It appears that OP is no longer allowing more than 2 payments per quarter over the phone. I made 2 payments online this quarter and then 4 payments over the phone — the last being made May 5. I attempted to make another payment over the phone today with a Vanilla Visa card and it was rejected. The prior 6 payments were also made with Vanilla Visa cards and went through okay. I asked the agent about this and was told that the IRS had changed their policy last week and was no longer letting them override to allow more than 2 payments/quarter. I used he same Vanilla Visa card at PayUSATax and it went through okay

  23. DPs:
    OneVanilla Prepaid Visa (Bancorp) via payUSAtax online -> Success!
    OneVanilla Prepaid Visa (Bancorp) via pay1040 online -> Success!
    OneVanilla Prepaid Visa (Bancorp) via OP online and by phone -> Failure! (error)????
    I was also told that OP can no longer override the 2 payments per quarter rule.

    • Charles,

      I assume that the payments via PayUSATax and Pay1040 online were the first 2 payments this quarter and the payment via OP was a 3rd or higher payment?

      • Terry,
        On May 19th, I made one payment to payUSAtax and one payment to pay1040. Today, I made one payment to payUSAtax and one payment to pay1040. I wanted to make two payments to Official Payments today and both OneVanillas came up with error. Each payment totaled $500 including the convenience fee. Any thoughts?

        • So the payments that you wanted to make today via Official Payments were the first payments of the quarter? If you had already made 2 payments with them, I can understand why the payments would fail based on what OP told me. But if you had not previously made any payments this quarter, that doesn’t make any sense. If that is the case, I would call and ask them. When I tried to make my third payment online back in April, I got a message that only 2 payments were allowed per quarter. I then made the payment over the phone with no problems. When I tried to make an online payment yesterday, I did not get the message of the limit of 2 payments per quarter. I was able to submit the payment (unlike back in April) but the payment was declined. Something appears to have changed. Hopefully my third quarter payments will go through okay.. Is June 16 the first day for submitting 3rd payments?

    • Yes, Official Payments were the first attempted payments of the quarter. OP said the error message they received shows that it is a OneVanilla issue and not an issue with them or the IRS. I called OneVanilla beforehand and the automated system said the card has been activated and has a balance of $500.
      The third quarter starts July 15th.
      Form 1040ES Estimated Tax – Tax Year 2017 :
      1st QTR 3/1/17-5/15/17
      2nd QTR 5/15/17-7/15/17
      3rd QTR 7/15/17-10/15/17
      4th QTR 10/15/17-1/1/18

      • I wonder if OP is no longer accepting gift cards. When my Visa Vanilla card was declined, I called Visa Vanilla and the rep told me that it was not on their end, but on OP’s end. I asked if they could tell why it was declined and was told that the error code said that it was because my name was not on the card. I had registered it but it only required the zip code. When I called OP and the phone payment was declined, I was told that it was because I was over the limit of 2 payments per quarter. However, according to the schedule you provided above, the 2nd qtr payments started on 5/15/17 so the payment that I tried to make via OP yesterday would have been my first 2nd quarter payment through them. So the OP rep gave me bad info. I would be interested in learning whether anyone has been able to make recent gift card payments of any kind via Official Payments.

      • Charles,

        I have a question.on the dates that you show above for submitting estimated payments. Using the first quarter as an example — the payment schedule shows that first quarter payments can be submitted through 5/15/17. However, to be considered timely paid, the first quarter payment needs to be made by 4/15/17. Are the dates per the schedule simply used to determine the 2 payments per quarter limit? I assume that the actual payment date determines whether it is timely paid — correct? I can’t believe that a 5/15/17 payment made for the first quarter would be considered to be timely paid. Or am I missing something?

        • These dates are posted on the pay1040 and Official Payments websites under FAQs. I am not sure on the “why” of these dates. I assume if you pay after 4/15/17 then there would be some type of penalty fee imposed.

  24. Terry,
    Thanks for sharing those data points. I am also interested if anyone else is having trouble with gift cards and Official Payments.

  25. I emailed Official Payments regarding the OneVanilla Prepaid Visa card failures and received the following response :
    “Thank you for contacting Official Payments. We are happy to assist with your inquiry. We have looked up your payment attempts using your email address and found your payment attempts on 05/25/2017. All of these payment attempts were declined from the card issuer. Official Payments does not have any ability to set up your card to reflect as “recurring payments”. If this response is showing up with your financial institution, then this is populated from them as a generic message. Unfortunately there is no way for us to adjust this.”

    I called the OneVanilla Prepaid Visa CSR and they said that the card is being declined because the gift card is being run as a reoccurring or recurring payment. It needs to be run on a different method. It needs to be run as a one-time payment.

    Some history : Back in April I had two OneVanilla Prepaid Visa cards processed successfully by Official Payments. Pay1040 & payUSAtax processed the cards successfully this week.

    So they are blaming each other and neither one can help.

    Any insight?

    I may have to resort to using the cards for everyday spend or liquidate through USPS.

    • That is not good news. Does Pay1040 or PayUSATax allow for payments over the phone as OP used to for payments in excess of two per quarter? If so, that would be another option for liquidating.

    • Successfully bought two $500 money orders from USPS with the two OneVanilla VGCs that failed to process at Official Payments.

  26. Just bought a OneVanilla. Error when trying to use it at OfficialPayments, but it went through on Pay1040.

  27. Thanks for the DP, boridi.
    OneVanilla Prepaid VGC (Bancorp) via Official Payments -> Failure (Again!)
    VGC (Metabank) via Official Payments -> Failure (Again!)
    The CSR for the Metabank VGC said something to the effect that the merchant (OP) is not supported by Visa, so for security reasons it did not process.
    After all these failures to process the different Visa gift cards and getting different explanations from Official Payments, Metabank, and Bancorp; it seems as if Official Payments made a change in their system that somehow signals the gift card issuer to deny the transactions. For now I will buy money orders with the Visa gift cards until if/when this issue is fixed.

    • Thanks for your DP, Charles. If Visa doesn’t work at OP, I wonder if Mastercard gift cards would work. I have been buying the Visa Vanilla at CVS (2nd qtr 5% Citi cards at drugstores) because they used to work at OP. I would buy MC instead if I thought that they would work. If MC do work, earlier DP state that some post as debit and some as credit. Any DP on which ones post as debit?

      • Last year I tried using a OneVanilla MC as debit but OP will only run it as a credit. They did not give me an explanation as to why they would run a legitimate debit card as a credit through their system. I have read elsewhere that OP has been known to run MCs as credit. I am not sure if there are any MCs that run as debit. Since it is more difficult to get money orders using the MCs, I have avoided them.
        It appears that something changed at OP sometime between April 13th and May 12th from accepting Prepaid Visas to declining Prepaid Visas. I remember talking with a CSR at OP on May 19th and they told me that approximately a week or so prior that they could no longer override the two payments per quarter rule. The timing of following the two payments per quarter rule seems to coincide with the error messages of trying to use Prepaid Visas.

        • My email to Official Payments :
          “As of May 2017, there appears to be a glitch in the processing of all Visa Prepaid debit cards issued by Metabank and Bancorp Bank. These cards are being declined by the gift card issuers for payments to Official Payments. Both gift card issuers are receiving a message such as “bill payment recurring” from Official Payments that forces them to decline the transactions. Others are reporting the same problem. The Visa Prepaid debit cards issued by Metabank and Bancorp Bank process successfully at pay1040, PayUSAtax, and for buying money orders.
          Please forward this information to the IT department so that they can investigate this issue and correct the problem.” Their response :
          “Thank you for contacting Official Payments. We appreciate this valuable information and will be sure to forward this to all parties involved in this research.”

  28. Another DP: Using Metabank VGC for Estimated Tax payments this morning was declined. Same explanation given by rep at VGC — that they use this recurring payment type and that was the reason for denial. The supervisor at OfficialPayments said they cannot override the payment type. Hope they would fix the system soon. 🙁

  29. I am quite new to this, and I have a follow up question! If I do make these payments (and even make overpayments), do I write it anywhere on the 1040 form (in the payments made section)? Or does IRS have it on record, so I’ll have the amount that comes out as I should pay to the federal at the end of tax forms, but don’t have to care about it if I made more payments than required, since IRS has a record of it? Similarly, if I have made overpayments, IRS would send me a check at the end of the day, without it being indicated on the 1040…?? Thank you in advance for your help!

    • [8/23/17 Updated Reply]
      When you pay taxes via these services, they will ask you which taxes you are paying (ex: 1040 estimated tax, 1040 2017, etc.) and it will collect your SSN and other info that the IRS will use to match up your return with the payments.

      You should then report these payments on line 65 of Form 1040 or line 41 of Form 1040A. In my experience, if you make a mistake (forget to report some of these payments), the IRS will catch the error and refund the difference.

      • Greg, could you answer this with a little more detail? I see that pay1040 etc takes your info and applies the payment to your account/SSN. But what do you indicate in 2018 when you’re filing your return, say via turbo tax?

      • Shouldn’t these payments be shown on line 65 — Estimated Taxes Paid? If not, how will you know if you have an overpayment or underpayment. And if an underpayment, how much tax to pay with your return?

      • Greg,

        Thank you for your reply! I have mis-read line 65 to assume it was amounts applied from previous years only. This all makes sense!

        Thank you again

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