Should I Use a Credit Card to Donate to a Political Campaign?

It's quick and easy, but your candidate's campaign will have to pay fees that reduce the impact of your donation.

Lindsay KonskoSeptember 24, 2020
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Got a political candidate you want to back with a donation? It's pretty much a given that their campaign accepts credit cards (it would be crazy not to). The question is whether that's the best way to show your support. While convenient for you, credit card donations will cost the campaign a few cents on the dollar.

It's totally doable

The easiest way to make a credit card donation is to visit the campaign's website. You'll be asked to provide your card info, as well as agree to a statement saying it's legal for you to donate (you're old enough, you're a citizen or lawful permanent resident, and so on).

In-person credit-card donations are possible as well. As far back as 2012, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had Square credit card readers in operation at their events to take donations on the spot, and some campaign workers carried them as they went door to door, too.

Benefits of credit card donations

  • Convenience: You can’t beat the convenience of a credit card, especially compared with cash or checks. Quickly entering your account number into a website or handing it over to a campaign volunteer to swipe is much easier than carrying around a checkbook or worrying that currency might fall into the wrong hands.

  • Rewards: In many cases, using your card to make a donation will help you earn points, miles or cash back. If you’re using a good rewards credit card, you might be able to get as much as 2% back every time you contribute.

  • Tracking: If you’re a big supporter of a particular candidate, you’ll have to keep tabs on how much you’ve donated to his or her campaign. Federal and state election laws put often-complicated limits on how much you can donate to candidates, parties, political action committees and other bodies — and it's up to you to be sure you don't go over. Using a credit card can make this much easier to track.

Drawbacks of credit card donations

  • Cost to the candidate: Every time you use your credit card to pay for something, whether it's a purchase or a donation, the recipient of pays a processing fee — typically 2% to 3% of the amount of the payment. Your $500 donation might be only $490 after the fees are taken into account. Your donated dollars will go farther if you cut a check. (The same advice applies to charitable donations.)

  • The impulse factor: The great thing about using a credit card to make a donation is that it’s quick and easy, but the bad thing about using a credit card to make a donation is that it’s quick and easy. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and prompt you to donate more to a campaign than you can afford.

  • Political scams: Anyone can set up a website or make phone calls claiming to be soliciting donations for a particular campaign. Using a credit card makes these scams even more frictionless. You read off your card number, some vaguely legit-sounding organization shows up on your statement ("Smith Victory Fund" or whatever), and you never realize that your candidate didn't see a penny. If you're going to donate by credit card, go to the candidate's official website yourself.

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