Charge cards work a bit differently from traditional credit cards: They require full payment every month, and in return the cards don’t have credit limits. American Express, which offers most of the major charge cards available to consumers, has a program called Pay Over Time that effectively allows its charge cards to be used like traditional credit cards.
Here’s what you need to know about how American Express Pay Over Time works and whether it’s a good option for you.
[Read: Best Rewards Credit Cards.]
How AmEx Pay Over Time Works
Pay Over Time is an American Express extended payment option designed specifically for charge card holders. With it, you can pay off eligible charges over time with interest instead of being required to pay your balance in full every month.
Ineligible charges include cash advances, cash and other cash equivalents, insurance premiums and fees charged by the card issuer (though annual fees are eligible for personal charge cards).
There’s no minimum transaction amount, but there is a limit to how much you can carry through the program. This negates one of the central appeals of charge cards — charge cards traditionally don’t have a preset spending limit, which is their most attractive quality, according to John Garner, founder and CEO of Card Curator.
You don’t need to activate Pay Over Time to take advantage of it, because cardholders are automatically enrolled. However, if you don’t want any of your purchases to be converted to the extended payment plan, you can opt out through your online account or by contacting customer service.
For purchases that don’t qualify for the program or that exceed your Pay Over Time limit, you’ll still need to pay those in full every month.
How Much Does Pay Over Time Cost?
Your annual percentage rate will depend on your creditworthiness, but in general, the Pay Over Time program’s variable APR ranges from 15.99% to 22.99% for personal cards and 14.24% to 22.24% for business cards.
Which American Express Cards Offer Pay Over Time?
AmEx’s Pay Over Time is only available on its charge cards — for its regular credit cards, customers can use the Plan It feature to get extended payment options.
Eligible Pay Over Time cards include:
— American Express Green Card.
If you have an eligible card, check your online account to see if your Pay Over Time feature is active. You can find your Pay Over Time limit in the “Balance Details” on your card’s main page.
Do You Have to Pay Off American Express Every Month?
If you opt out of Pay Over Time on your charge card, you’ll still need to pay your balance in full every month. And if you exceed your Pay Over Time limit, the over-limit amount will need to be paid in full in addition to the minimum payment on your Pay Over Time balance.
However, if all of your purchases qualify for the extended payment option, you don’t necessarily have to pay your bill in full every month. You’ll still benefit from doing so by avoiding interest, but if you’re in a financial situation where you can’t pay in full, you’ll be able to carry your balance from month to month as long as you need to.
“Making on-time, full payments is crucial to maintaining good credit and avoiding interest fees,” says Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit.
What Happens if I Don’t Pay My AmEx Bill?
If you don’t pay your monthly bill, you’ll be charged a late fee like any credit card. For AmEx charge cards, that fee can be as high as $40.
In addition to being charged a fee, you’ll also be charged interest on your Pay Over Time balance, and if you miss the payment by 30 days or more, the card issuer will report it to the credit reporting agencies, which can damage your credit score.
Making a late payment can also raise your APR to the penalty APR of 29.99%, where it will stay until you make at least six monthly on-time payments.
As a result, it’s best to pay at least the minimum amount due every month to avoid fees and credit score issues.
The Pros and Cons of AmEx Pay Over Time
Pay Over Time is a nice benefit for charge card holders, but it does have some downsides.
— Added flexibility. If you’re in a financial position where you need to carry some of your balance because of a large purchase or other reasons, the flexibility that Pay Over Time offers can be extremely convenient. “It gives you more options by definition at no cost to yourself,” says Garner. You only have to pay interest if you decide to carry a balance.
— Rewards remain. Even though you’re taking additional time to pay your bill, you’ll still earn rewards on your purchases as you usually do, so you don’t have to worry about giving up any benefits.
— Credit benefits. Since your Pay Over Time limit isn’t a credit limit for the account itself, it doesn’t get reported to the credit bureaus, so how much you spend won’t impact your credit utilization rate.
— Potentially high APR. Interest rates can be high, depending on your creditworthiness, and even if you qualify for the lowest APR in the program, those charges can still add up. “Consumers should treat Pay Over Time just like any other credit card balance,” says Garner. “It’s a personal loan with a high interest rate. So it should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.”
— Flexibility doesn’t mean a blank check. The Pay Over Time program can lead to a slippery slope, Seuthe says. “If you’re prone to debt and unable to manage your payments, this feature may seem flexible, but it’s putting you in a negative situation.”
If you’re looking to regularly carry a balance on a credit card, using the Pay Over Time option on your American Express charge card likely shouldn’t be your first choice. Instead, consider a card with an introductory 0% APR promotion — or even just a card with a low APR — so you can save money on interest charges.
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