What is a convenience check, and should you use one?

Man wondering what a credit card convenience check isImage: Man wondering what a credit card convenience check is

In a Nutshell

A credit card company may issue you a blank convenience check as a way to access your credit line without swiping your card. It’s generally not a great option, because it could come with different, potentially high fees, and higher interest rates than you might pay for purchases.
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Did your credit card company send you blank checks?

Those blank checks are credit card convenience checks. And no, they’re not blank checks for you to cash or gifts from your credit card company. Convenience checks offer you a way to access cash quickly by tapping your card’s credit line without swiping your credit card.

While convenience checks may seem like a great idea for certain situations, there are some major drawbacks to using them — like potential fees, high interest rates and fewer protections.

What is a convenience check?

Credit card convenience checks are checks that can be used to borrow money using your credit card account. They offer an easy way to pay bills, transfer loans to your credit card, do a balance transfer or borrow money. Instead of using your credit card, you can use these checks to access your available credit.

But watch out: Convenience checks can be considered cash advances. These cash advances can come with high interest rates and fees. You’ll also want to know what your cash advance limit is before you use them, because the limit for cash on advances may be different than your credit limit.

What are the benefits of credit card convenience checks?

While convenience checks do have significant drawbacks, there are some situations where you might find them to be helpful.

Make purchases without a credit card

Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you need to pay for something, but you can’t use your credit card. Some vendors or stores that don’t accept credit cards might accept checks. In these situations, convenience checks offer the ability to make the purchases, regardless of whether you’re able to use your credit card. You can write a check to pay for your purchase using a cash advance from your credit card.

Of course, you’ll have to carry your convenience checks around with you if you want to use them, which isn’t particularly convenient — and you’ll risk losing them.

Get cash quickly

If you need cash quickly, using a convenience check can put cash in your account, often faster than a personal loan would. You can write the check to yourself and deposit it into your bank account without going through the loan application process. But accessing money this way could end up costing more in interest and fees than either using your credit card or getting a personal loan.

What are the drawbacks of credit card convenience checks?

Though convenience checks might be tempting because they’re so easy to use, there are some serious reasons to think twice before you do.

They can be expensive

Even if your convenience check comes with an introductory interest rate, like for purchases or balance transfers, using one can still be expensive. A convenience check generally comes with a transaction fee, which is a percentage of the total amount of the check.

For example, if your card comes with a 3% transaction fee and you write a check for $1,000, you’ll pay a $30 fee in addition to any interest. You’ll want to weigh that fee when you’re looking at the total cost.

Your purchases might not have a grace period

When you make a purchase with your credit card, you might be granted a grace period. During a grace period, your credit card company won’t charge you interest if you pay your statement balance in full by the due date. Unfortunately, that grace period doesn’t always extend to convenience checks. Your lender may begin charging you interest immediately, adding to the cost of the loan.

On top of that, the APR on the convenience check may be higher than your regular purchase APR.

Not all protections apply

Some benefits you get with credit card purchases you may not get with convenience checks. When you make a purchase with your credit card, you may be able to withhold payment if there’s an issue with the product or service you purchased. That benefit doesn’t apply to purchases you make with a convenience check.

You can leave yourself exposed to identity theft

There’s another massive drawback to convenience checks: They can be easy to use for fraud. Many convenience checks don’t require signature authentication, so anyone can potentially use them to access your credit line. If you get convenience checks, it’s important to keep them in a safe place.

Bottom line

Convenience checks can be expensive and can land you in bad financial position. Carefully consider the risks and costs before you decide to cash those checks. And if you decide that convenience checks aren’t for you, shred them — and ask your credit card company not to send any others.

About the author: Erica Gellerman is a personal finance writer with an MBA in marketing and strategy from Duke University. She’s also the founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has b… Read more.