Sending cash to friends and family? Before you reach for that credit card, grab a calculator. Itâs time to do a little math.
With most everything you purchase online or through apps, credit cards have the edge. With plastic, you have chargeback rights. If youâre overcharged or receive the wrong item, broken merchandise or nothing at all, your card issuer will make it right. And if you use a rewards card, you collect points or miles, too. Win-win.
But itâs different story when youâre sending money through peer-to-peer platforms. Many of them (like Google Pay, Popmoney and Zelle), donât allow consumers to use a credit card to send cash.
Others (like Cash App, PayPal and Venmo), allow credit cards but also charge a fee for the privilege â often about 3%.
See related: How to choose a P2P payment service
The hidden costs of using credit cards to send money
Choose a credit card to send money and you might also end up paying additional fees to your card issuer. Thatâs because the combination of some peer-to-peer apps with certain cards are coded as cash advances, rather than purchases.
For many cards, that cash advance code triggers a higher interest rate that kicks in the moment you make the transaction, as well as a separate cash advance fee thatâs often $10 or 5% of the transaction â whichever is higher. (Currently, the average interest rate for cash advances is 24.8%, while the average APR for purchases is 16.05%.)
So the combination of peer-to-peer service fees, credit card cash advance fees and that higher interest rate (with no grace period) could make sending a few hundred dollars a bit more costly than youâd planned.
No chargeback rights with credit cards
The real kicker: Unlike other venues, you donât have chargeback rights when you use credit cards to make peer-to-peer money transfers.
When you present your credit card in an online or brick-and-mortar store, thereâs a merchant involved â and the law provides chargeback rights for your protection in case you donât get what you were promised in the deal. But in a peer-to-peer money transfer, thereâs no merchant, so currently the laws donât give consumers any chargeback rights, says Christina Tetreault, manager of financial policy for Consumer Reports.
âThe chargeback right requires a merchant,â says Tetreault. âOne of the hoops a consumer has to jump through is to try and work it out with the merchant.â
If you use a peer-to-peer service and send the wrong amount or send the money to the wrong person, most platforms advise that the only way to get it back is to contact the recipient and ask them to return it. And thatâs often the same whether you use a credit card, debit card, bank account or funded account on the platform.
âBe doubly sure when youâre sending the money that youâre putting in the correct information,â says John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud for the National Consumers League. âItâs still a buyer beware world when it comes to peer-to-peer.â
If youâre sending money and want to use a credit card, it pays to do a little sleuthing first. Check out the peer-to-peer site. Does it allow users to send money with a credit card? If so what, if any, fees does it charge?
On some platforms (PayPal is one), you could see similar fees for using a debit card â while sending from a bank account or funded account on the platform is free.
The good news is that many peer-to-peer platforms clearly disclose it when thereâs an extra charge to use a credit card, says Tetreault. With Venmo, for example, youâll get a pop-up message.
Harder to decipher: Will credit card transactions on the platform be treated as a cash advance? If your preferred platform doesnât post this information, you might need to contact customer service. (And how quickly and easily you get an answer can tell you a lot, too.)
Ask your card issuer the same question: Are peer-to-peer money transfers on the platform youâve chosen treated as a cash advance? If they are, whatâs the interest rate, and whatâs the cash advance fee?
âWhat I would suggest is to ask that question, via email, of your financial institution,â says Tetreault. âIt may be in their FAQs. And you want to save that email. If you have it in writing, if thereâs an issue later, youâre better positioned to contest that fee.â
But âthe hard truth is you may not be able to find out ahead of time,â she says.
Another solution: Opt to use a credit card issued by a credit union.
âWith credit unions, the APR is usually the sameâ for purchases and cash advances, says John Bratsakis, president and CEO of the Maryland and District of Columbia Credit Union Association.
Likewise, with American Express cards you pay your regular interest rate and no cash advance fees on peer-to-peer transfers, says Elizabeth Crosta, vice president of public affairs for American Express.
And credit cards from U.S. Bank register peer-to-peer money transfers as regular purchases â with no cash advance fees or cash advance APRs, says Rick Rothacker, spokesperson for the bank.
See related: How do credit card APRs work?
Whatâs your reason for using a credit card?
Take a good look at the reason youâre using a credit card, too. If you want chargeback rights, thatâs not an option. If youâre doing it for the rewards, will the value of those points or miles be eaten up by extra fees or a higher interest rate you have to pay to use the card?
And if youâre using a card because you donât have the cash, that might be a good reason to rethink the idea of sending money in the first place.
Thatâs a huge red flag, says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations at theÂ National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
âThe need to convert credit into cash is what really gets my attention â because that hints at a lack of savings,â he said. âItâs a reality a lot of people are facing, especially now.â
Cash advances arenât as expensive or risky as payday loans and car title loans, but they should be among your last resorts. If you’re looking for short-term relief, you could ask your credit card issuer for help, or find out if you qualify for a personal loan. You could also borrow from a family member or trusted friend, but be wary of the potential relationship toll if you can’t pay them back.