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What to know about using a rewards credit card to pay for summer camps

Watch out for processing fees, make sure to charge on the card that earns the most convenient rewards for you – and learn which camp expenses qualify for a tax break

Summary

Summer camps are a great way for your children to stay busy and have fun during the summer months – and for you to keep working – but they are not cheap. Using a rewards credit card can help offset camp expenses in the form of points or cash back. Here’s all you need to know.

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Sending kids to summer camp is a way to keep them busy while you work, but it’s not always cheap. According to Care.com, the average cost can range from $314 per week for day camp to $768 per week for sleepaway camp. And specialty camps such as those dedicated to sports, theater, dance or coding can easily run several thousand dollars per session.

Charging summer camp fees and related expenses to a credit card may be preferable to paying cash, and it might allow you to earn a decent chunk of rewards in the process. As you begin making summer camp plans, keep these rewards card tips handy.

See related:  Staycation savings: Earn rewards on local summer entertainment

1. Pick the rewards card that yields the best ROI

Before slapping down a rewards card to pay for summer camp spending, consider which type of rewards may be most valuable in the long run.

“Mileage rewards may be more beneficial because the average value is greater than the cash back rewards, typically,” says Heather Wagenhals, personal finance expert and host of financial TV show “Unlock Your Wealth Today”.

On the other hand, you may prefer cash back or points if you plan to apply rewards as a statement credit against summer camp spending. But calculate the redemption value of cash rewards or points first to see how far they’ll stretch.

“Statement credits are typically limited to $0.01 per point, which may seem nice if you’re tight on cash but travel points can be redeemed for $0.03, $0.05, sometimes even $0.10 per point if used wisely,” says Joel McDonald, founder of travel site JustGetOutofTown.com.

Regardless of whether you use a card that earns points, miles or cash back, “resist the temptation to cash out rewards for anything that will get less than $0.02 or $0.03 in value,” says McDonald. And consider whether it’s worth opening a new account for summer camp charges to land a large introductory rewards bonus.

Some of the cards that have great bonus offers on tap that might be suited for summer camp expenses include:

  • Citi+ Rewards Card: Earn 15,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months; plus, rewards points are rounded up to the nearest 10 and you get 10 percent of points back on up to 100,000 points redeemed per year.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earn 1.5 percent additional cash back on all purchases for the first year (up to $20,000 in purchases). The card offers unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase.
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn a $150 online cash rewards bonus when you spend at least $500 within the first 3 months of account opening. The card offers unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases.


Before chasing down a bonus, check the card’s terms and fees so you know what you’re paying. And make sure that any rewards card you choose is a good fit for your spending all year-round.

See related: Best rewards credit cards

2. Watch out for credit card processing fees

Merchant credit card processing fees are nothing new, as some retailers pass the cost of accepting card payments on to customers. That’s a practice you’ll also want to watch out for when charging summer camp fees.

“Some camps charge a service fee for parents using a credit card, and I’ve seen fees as much as 4 percent,” says Jeff Carter, director of the Rockbrook Camp for Girls in Brevard, North Carolina.

At Carter’s camp, there’s no fee for using a credit card to pay registration and other fees, but you shouldn’t assume your camp has a no-fee policy. And if there is a fee, think carefully about whether it’s worth paying.

“The most important factor in determining whether to pay with a card versus cash or check is making sure no processing fees are associated,” says McDonald. “Even a 2 percent or 3 percent fee is too expensive if you’re solely putting charges on a card to get rewards.”

The only exception, he says, is if you’re opening a new card with a big sign-up bonus and charging summer camp expenses would allow you to meet the minimum spending requirement. “Only then would it be justified to put charges that include a transaction fee on the card,” says McDonald.

3. Know which summer camp expenses qualify for a tax break

Keeping records of what you’ve spent on summer camp may come in handy at tax time. The Child and Dependent Care Credit can yield tax savings on eligible child care expenses.

For summer camp expenses to qualify for the credit:

  • The child you paid them for must be 13 or younger.
  • The camp must have a federal tax identification number.
  • Your children must be attending a day camp (overnight camp expenses aren’t eligible).
  • You must have sent children to camp so you could work or attend school.

As far as what expenses might qualify, that includes any fees the camp charges, including registration fees or the cost of transportation if the camp picks your child up and brings them home. As of 2019, the maximum amount of childcare expenses you can claim the credit for is $3,000 for one child.

If you have two or more qualifying children, the limit increases to $6,000. The credit tops out at 35 percent of those expenses, therefore, if you have one child you’re sending to summer camp, the credit could be worth up $1,050. For two or more kids, it could be worth up to $2,100.

Just make sure you’re keeping your credit card statements on file to show what you paid for summer camp costs.

“It’s important to separate travel expenses to get your child to camp from incidentals, such as clothing and camp gear, and the cost paid to the camp itself for the care it provides,” Carter says. “These need to be separated because only the third category will qualify as a child care tax credit.”

In other words, you won’t get a tax break for anything other than the camp fees. But you can still earn rewards on any other summer camp expenses. Carter suggests using a different rewards card for each spending category to max out your rewards potential.

“A parent could use a travel rewards card for the travel portion, cash rewards for incidentals and charge the camp fees to create a good receipt for tax purposes,” he says.

See related: The best credit card perks for summer travel

4. Plan ahead to pay off summer camp spending

Tax credits and rewards aside, be sure that charging summer camp to a credit card is the right move financially.

“If you’re putting the expenses on your card because you don’t have the cash and won’t have it by the time the statement is due, don’t do it,” says McDonald.

That could open you up to interest charges which, in addition to processing fees, could cancel out the rewards you’ve earned.

“No amount of points will be more valuable than the interest you’ll pay by carrying a balance,” he says. “Many summer camps allow for payment plans and those are almost certainly more affordable than high-interest credit cards.”

If writing a check or using a payment plan isn’t an option, Wagenhals suggests one other option.

“Find a rewards card that would have 0 percent financing for an extended period of time,” she says. “Meaning enough for you to pay it off before the time expires, while giving you a substantial reward up front, such as travel points or miles.”

And consider getting a head start on how you’ll handle these costs for future camp outings.

“Planning for next year after this year’s camp finishes gives you the most amount of time to use a minimal amount of resources strategically to achieve the same goals,” says Wagenhals.

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Published: April 24, 2019

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