What’s the best credit card for paying education expenses or tuition bills?

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School's out for summer. School's out forever. School's out for your money. Here's what cards to use for education expenses.

As friends with progeny often remind me, educating a child is an expensive task.

Gone are the days when you could throw him/her out of the house and trust the mean streets to do their thing. Now it’s all pedagogy this and Socratic method that, with five-digit tuition bills to boot. And it doesn’t stop when you graduate- there’s still skills upgrading, professional development, and all sorts of lifelong learning to drain your wallet. 

So if you’re going to spend all that money anyway, how can you get something in return (esoteric knowledge aside)?

💳 What’s the best card for…
This guide forms part of the “best card” series. Check out other category specific guides below, or the overall guide here.
💗 Charitable Donations | 🏫 Education | 🥡 Food Delivery | 🏥 Hospital Bills | ☂️ Insurance  | ⛽ Petrol | 🚍 Public Transport| 🚰 Utilities Bills

What MCC does education code as?

Education institutions can code under the following MCC ranges:

  • 8211: Schools, Elementary and Secondary
  • 8220: Colleges, Universities, Professional Schools and Junior Colleges
  • 8241: Schools, Correspondence
  • 8244: Schools, Business and Secretarial
  • 8249: Schools, Trade and Vocational
  • 8299: Schools and Education Services Not Elsewhere classified

Merchants assigned these MCCs typically pay a below-average processing fee, which makes these transactions less profitable for banks. Consequently, there’s less margin to offer rewards too. 

What credit cards earn rewards for education?

Sadly, there are very few options for earning rewards on education expenses. Citibank started excluding these in October 2018, UOB in September 2019, Standard Chartered in May 2020, Bank of China in June 2020, and HSBC in July 2020.

This leaves American Express and Maybank as the only two card issuers who award points for education. 

  Awards Points for Education?



The problem is, AMEX acceptance at educational institutions will be hit and miss (unless perhaps you’re paying a US university, or taking an online course on Udemy or Coursera). This leaves Maybank as the primary solution, and their only decent general spending miles card is the Maybank Visa Infinite (S$150,000 income requirement, S$600 annual fee).

Card Local Earn FCY Earn
AMEX Solitaire PPS Card 1.3 mpd* 1.3 mpd#
AMEX PPS Card 1.3 mpd* 1.3 mpd#
AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend  1.2 mpd
2.0 mpd^
Maybank Visa Infinite 1.2 mpd 2. 0 mpd
AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card 1.1 mpd 2.0 mpd^
Maybank Horizon 0.4 mpd 0.4 mpd
*Earn 1.4 and 1.5 mpd on the PPS and Solitaire PPS Card respectively for every dollar over S$3,800
#Earn 2.0 and 2.4 mpd on the PPS and Solitaire PPS Card respectively for every dollar over S$3,800

^In June and December only

All in all, you’re at best looking at 1.2 mpd (or 2.0 mpd if it’s in foreign currency), and even then, only in situations where American Express is accepted, or if you happen to hold Maybank’s flagship card. 

Alternative Options for Education Payments

The GrabPay Mastercard used to be the best option for circumventing rewards restrictions, at least back in the days when you could earn 4 mpd on GrabPay top-ups with the Citi Rewards Visa. That ended in July 2020, when GrabPay was reclassified by Visa as a quasi-cash merchant. 

However, GrabPay isn’t 100% dead yet. If you hold an AMEX True Cashback Card or AMEX Singapore Airlines Business Credit Card, you can still earn rewards on GrabPay top-ups, and then use your GrabPay Mastercard to pay the educational institution. 

  • With the AMEX True Cashback Card, you’ll get a 1.5% cash rebate
  • With the AMEX Singapore Airlines Business Credit Card, you’ll earn 1.8 HighFlyer points per S$1 (equivalent to 0.9 mpd)

Alternatively, if you’re willing to pay a small fee to earn miles on education payments, the following options are available: 

Platform Fee Earn Rate Cost Per Mile
CardUp
2.25%
(code: GET225

1.6 mpd 1.38
1.4 mpd 1.57
1.3 mpd 1.69
1.2 mpd 1.83
1.0 mpd 1.96
AXS Pay+Earn
2.5%
1.6 mpd 1.52
1.4 mpd 1.74
SC EasyBill
2%
1.4 mpd 1.43
1.2 mpd 1.67
1.0 mpd 2.00
Citi PayAll
2%
1.6 mpd 1.25
1.3 mpd 1.54
1.2 mpd 1.67
👍 For your first payment of at least S$1,000 on CardUp, use the code MILELION to get S$20 off the admin fee

For the sake of conciseness, I’ve only shown relevant options for each platform, and nothing that costs more than 2 cents per mile. For example, Citi Payall only supports Citibank Credit Cards, so you’re limited to the Citi ULTIMA (1.6 mpd), Citi Prestige (1.3 mpd), and Citi PremierMiles (1.2 mpd).

I can’t tell you whether these prices are “worth it”, because it all boils down to how much you value a mile. However, if you were targeted for the Citi PayAll 1% admin fee promotion, then I’d find it very hard to say no (you’d be buying miles from as little as 0.63 cents each). 

Citi PayAll promotion (till 28 Feb 2021)

The gold standard of course is to earn miles for free, but given how few options there are for education, that may not be possible. 

Conclusion

The opportunities to earn free miles when paying education expenses are rapidly disappearing, so you’d better make hay while you can. If you have an AMEX or Maybank card, it’s still possible to earn some sort of rebate, although the scenarios will be marginal at best. 

Are there any other ways to earn miles for education payments that you’re aware of?

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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cheesecake

Is the limitations by MCC the same whether you’re paying a local education institution in SGD, or a foreign one in FCY?

Leo

Hi! Will I earn points/miles by paying MOE thru AXS using AMEX CC or GrabPay MC? Thanks!

Aaron

Paid for NUS last month with Amex KF Ascend. Miles awarded!

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