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Don’t use your credit card to pay college tuition

You’re only layering fees on top of debt

Colleges are making it even easier for students to load up on debt.

Parents and students are able to use their credit cards to pay tuition at many of the largest colleges and universities, according to a recent survey from CreditCards.com.

The site, which compares credit cards, studied 300 U.S.-based public and private schools and found that 85 percent of them accept plastic for tuition payments.

The ease of swiping comes at a hefty cost though.

Nearly half of the schools tack on an average transaction fee of 2.62 percent for using plastic, the survey found. On average, families using credit cards charged $4,443 of tuition expenses during the 2015-2016 school year.

Credit card
Skynesher | Getty Images

At the same time, fewer schools are allowing you to charge tuition on a credit card free of fees. Back in 2014, 30 four-year institutions accepted fee-free card payments. This year, that number dropped to 21, according to the survey.

These transaction fees aren't lining the schools' pockets, said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. Rather, the additional fees are going to third-party companies that help colleges process credit card transactions. These are the same fees large retailers must pay when their customers opt for plastic.

"This convenience fee amount is in line with the percentage most retailers pay to accept credit cards," said Schulz.

Most schools disclose these card fees on their websites, but the information isn't always easy to find. It's best to call the bursar's office and get the details on transaction costs before you charge your tuition, said Schulz.

The Credit Card Act of 2009 has made it harder for college students, especially those under 21, to obtain a credit card on their own.

But if your college student absolutely needs to have one, WalletHub has highlighted the Journey Student Rewards card from Capital One and the BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students card as the best options.

Just make sure you don't charge your tuition.