Spending

36% of people getting married pay with credit cards — that can be smart, if you avoid 'the biggest danger'

"There are so many reasons why it could be enticing. The biggest danger is going to be increased spending."

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The pandemic wreaked havoc in many sectors of the economy, but it was a particularly big headache for the wedding industry. More than half of couples planning to get married in 2020 delayed or canceled their wedding receptions, according to The Knot's annual survey of engaged couples.

But with nearly half of the country's over-12 population now fully vaccinated, people who delayed their celebrations last year are officially ready to party, and so are a whole crop of new brides and grooms. For the most part, they'll also be picking up the tab: More than half, 60%, of couples are planning to pay for most (if not all) of their weddings themselves, according to a recent survey by WeddingWire and Grow.

And as the old adage goes: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the credit-card bill. Almost a third, 30%, of WeddingWire/Grow survey respondents said they're using credit cards to cover at least some wedding costs, while 6% said they'd opened a new credit card specifically to pay for their weddings.

"There are so many reasons why it could be enticing," says Lauren Anastasio of online personal finance company SoFi. "The biggest danger is going to be increased spending," since it's so easy to rack up unnecessary costs and high-interest rate debt when using credit cards.

Yet paying with plastic can also come with major advantages for soon-to-be-newlyweds, like cancellation protections, bonus points to spend on your honeymoon, and the opportunity to pay back costs over an extended period of time.

Here are some ways to pay for some or all of a wedding using credit cards while avoiding pitfalls, keeping your spending in check, and making the most of the cards in your wallet.

Get strategic with delayed interest on standing balances

One of the best ways couples can cash in on the benefits of credit cards is by opening a new account with an interest-free introductory period and charging their wedding expenses to that card. Some introductory periods can last as long as 20 months, says Ted Rossman, a credit card industry analyst at Bankrate.

That allows couples to carry a big balance month-to-month and pay if off over a long period without any extra cost. "If you can avoid a 15% or 20% interest rate for a year and a half — or even getting close to two years — that's tremendous," Rossman says.

If you use a new credit card this way, you'll need to be extremely disciplined about paying it off, Rossman says. Even if your credit card company is temporarily waiving interest on your balance, it will likely still require you to make a minimum monthly payment. And if you're not diligently chipping away at your balance, you'll have a huge sum due at the end of the window, when interest starts accumulating.

"It's easy to fall behind," Rossman says. "Once the interest clock starts ticking, that could be really significant."

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Take advantage of introductory reward bonuses

In addition to long windows for interest-free repayment, many cards offer big rewards to couples who charge a certain amount to the card within a given window of time. If you're planning a wedding, that's not a difficult task to achieve — and you can enjoy the rewards once it's over.

"Some of the best [cards] require spending a lot of money, like the Capital One Venture card: They'll give you 100,000 miles, but you need to spend $20,000 within that first year," Rossman says. "A wedding could easily get you to that number." That could even help finance a honeymoon.

Protect your purchases in uncertain times

Cards offer a level of purchase protection that cash does not. The government's Fair Credit Billing Act allows consumers to dispute billing errors and/or file claims on credit card purchases that are not delivered as promised.

That could be especially key during this wedding season, in which a year-plus of pandemic uncertainty is driving many vendors out of business. Couples worried about losing their deposits might be able to breathe a bit more easily with the extra protection afforded by credit cards.

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That said, cash is still king in the wedding world: Many vendors will give you a discount if you pay upfront or pass on the credit card company's fees if you don't. If a vendor charges a large fee to use a credit card, it may be a better idea to go another route, says Anastasio, who was married in a small ceremony in March and is currently planning a post-pandemic reception.

"Let's say you're doing an all-inclusive venue, and they agree to let you charge to a credit card, but they're going to add a 2% fee," she says. "Two percent on top of $20- or $30,000 is a lot."

Double the cardholders, double the benefits

One thing many couples don't realize is that most credit card accounts are separate. Both parties can enroll independently of one another and, in theory, get double the rewards, Rossman says.

"When you're talking about weddings, people think about joining their finances, but credit cards, even for married people, are often separate," Rossman explains. "Usually it's more of an 'authorized user' relationship where somebody got the account, and then somebody else just gets added to it."

But, he adds, "if you each sign up in your own name, you can double your return."

Remember: Don't spend more than you can afford

No matter how enticing the credit-card reward, don't charge more than you can cover. Ideally, Rossman says, couples should treat credit cards without an interest-free grace period like a debit card, spending only what they can afford to pay each month.

SoFi's Anastasio agrees: "If you don't actually have the savings to make the payments in full, and you're carrying a balance, that's the situation we definitely don't want."

This story has been updated to properly identify the source of certain wedding survey data.

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