If you're getting ready to pay tuition at the University of South Florida this semester, think twice before pulling out the plastic.
Starting Aug. 15, USF no longer will accept Visa cards for tuition and fees. And students using any other credit card can expect a 2.5 percent processing fee on the bill, a change from USF's previous flat fee of $10.
The change is necessary, said university controller Jennifer Condon. The $10 did not come close to covering costs, she said. Last fiscal year, USF paid $800,000 out of reserve funds to make it possible for students to pay tuition on a credit card, covering everything from processing fees to software to employee wages.
"We do believe that it's going to be cost-justified at the end of the year," Condon said. "I do believe that 2.5 is fair."
How will the new structure affect student wallets? For a resident undergraduate student enrolled full time on USF's Tampa campus, tuition is about $6,400 for two semesters. A 2.5 percent fee would come to $160 per year, or $80 per semester. It would be more for out-of-state and graduate students.
USF sent an email to students informing them of the changes and asking for feedback.
"When you're paying tuition, that can be hundreds of dollars," said senior Jennie Robinson, 20, riding her bike away from her job at USF's Career Center on Tuesday. "I guess they're doing it to discourage using credit cards, and I understand that."
One card in particular is totally off the table for now — Visa. The way USF processes percentage fees doesn't mesh with Visa's requirements, Condon said. USF officials were investigating ways to adjust the system, possibly in time to bring Visa back for spring if enough students asked for it. Visa is still accepted around campus at shops and restaurants. For tuition and fees, USF will accept MasterCard, Discover and American Express.
"Nobody on campus has an American Express," said Hebrew Marcelin, a 23-year-old junior. "That's for business owners."
For a college student, Marcelin said, a hundred dollars can mean everything from groceries to car payments to gas money. His friend Emmanuella Foucault had to pay some tuition last semester on a Visa credit card, she said, because her financial aid didn't cover all her costs.
What would she do this time?
"I don't know," said Foucault, 22. "Do they take money orders?"
They do. To avoid paying the new fee, students can use "convenience checks" issued by credit card companies, cash advances or money orders. Students can pay by checking accounts online through USF's Oasis system. Or, they can pay cash.
The changes come at a time when USF president Judy Genshaft has called for a boost in university reserve funds, depleted during years of state budget cuts. Genshaft wants reserves to increase by 5 percent throughout the year, calling the funds critical to the university's health.
Other universities have made similar changes when it comes to credit cards, USF officials said, citing the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Ohio State and Penn State as examples.
USF students can still use any card and pay the $10 fee until Aug. 15.
"We're hoping that they take advantage of the few days," Condon said. "Some people just have Visa cards and they need time to redirect and make a change."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394.