Store Credit Cards That Don't Suck
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Many consumers are loyal to a particular retailer. In order to increase that loyalty, many retailers partner with payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover to offer co-branded credit cards.
You can reap significant benefits with retailer branded credit cards, enjoying special discounts and perks at your favorite stores along with the traditional rewards that come with credit cards.
However, before you sign up for one of these, it's important to note the difference between store branded cards and store credit cards.
- Store credit cards are those issued on behalf of the store, and are often issued by a bank owned by the store. These cards only work at the store. You might have access to some discounts and rewards, but the programs aren't usually generous.
- Store branded credit cards feature the logo of a major payment processor as well as the store logo. These are Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express cards that can be accepted anywhere the payment processor is used. These cards often have special rewards programs.
Should You Use a Store Credit Card?
It can be tempting to sign up for a store credit card. Many store cards offer bonuses, usually between 10% and 20% off your purchase, when you apply. This one-time perk is often used to draw you in — especially since stores will offer the discount even if you are rejected.
Unfortunately, department store credit cards have a few disadvantages:
- Store credit cards can't be used at other retailers.
- Interest rates are often higher than other credit cards..
- Credit limits are usually lower than other credit cards.
- Redemption might not be in cash back, but in store credit.
- These cards don't have the same positive affect on your credit score as a card from a major bank card.
If you decide to get a store credit card, consider how often you shop at the store. The only way you can even begin to justify getting one of these cards is if you are a frequent shopper. It's also a good idea to avoid carrying a balance, since the cost of doing so can easily offset any perk you received for signing up.
Best Store Cards
These are the store credit cards with the best benefits for frequent shoppers.
A popular choice is the REDcard from Target, which offers 5% off all your purchases at Target. You also receive free shipping when you buy from Target's web site. You can also get a debit card version of the REDcard, which works like a check, and draws on your checking account. There is no annual fee for either card.
Lowe's Consumer Card
Making large purchases for your home can be difficult to take in all at once, but that's where the Lowe's Consumer Card can help. Cardmembers have a few neat options to choose from when it comes to this card's benefits. First, they can choose to take 5% off their Lowe's purchase. But if they spent $299 or more on a purchase, then they can also choose to take the 6-month special financing plan, where they won't pay any interest on the purchase as long as it's paid in full within 6 months.
If $3,500 or more is spent on a purchase, cardholders have an additional choice of a 84-month special financing plan, where the purchase can be repaid at a reduced APR of 5.99% until it's paid in full within 84 months. The special financing offers cannot be combined with the 5% purchase discount. There is no annual fee.
The Best Store Branded Credit Cards
Retailer branded credit cards can be great choices for regular shopping, especially if you already shop a great deal with that merchant. Even so, unless you are a frequent shopper, you might still do better with other credit cards that aren't co-branded.
Weigh the advantages and disadvantages before making your decision. Even though there are some good deals out there, rarely can a retail branded or department store card beat out a generous rewards program from a major issuer. But if you are looking for some great choices for retail branded credit cards, consider some of these rewarding cards.
Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card
If you are an avid shopper on Amazon.com, this Visa card might be for you. You get three rewards points for each dollar you spend on Amazon.com, plus two points for each dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants, and drugstores. All other purchases are one point per dollar. There are no earning caps and no point expiration. There is no annual fee.
Shop with Points allows you to pay for Amazon.com purchases with your rewards, and you also have the option to redeem for cash back, gift cards, and travel. This Visa card is issued through Chase and is ideal for consumers who shop Amazon frequently.
SaksFirst World Elite MasterCard
If you want to earn rewards beyond the department store attached to the card, the SaksFirst World Elite MasterCard can work for the more upscale consumer. Not only can you earn 6 points for every dollar spent on purchases as Saks Fifth Avenue stores, you'll earn 3 points for every dollar spent on purchases at spas and salons, 2 points for every dollar spent on dining, gas, and grocery purchases, and 1 point for every dollar spent on your other purchases.
Cardholders will also get to enjoy some other nice benefits, including free shipping on Saks purchases made online and at their retail stores, advance notice of sales, invitations to exclusive events, and special offers and promotions from Saks Fifth Avenue available just for cardholders. You'll even receive $25 Saks Welcome Gift Card after you make your first purchase outside of Saks. This card offers no foreign transaction fees and no annual fees.
Gap Inc. Visa® Card
The Gap Inc. Visa® Card is a great card for those who enjoy shopping at the Gap retail clothing stores. New applicants will receive 15% off their first purchase from a Gap store or from Gap.com that's made within the first 90 days from their account opening. Cardholders will also earn 5 points for every dollar spent on Gap purchases, along with 1 point for every dollar spent on every other purchase. Every 1,000 points earned will give them a $10 Gap Reward card, which they can use at any Gap or Gap-affiliated store, which includes Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta. There is no annual fee.
My Best Buy™ MasterCard
With the My Best Buy™ MasterCard, cardholders can earn reward points on both their Best Buy purchases as well as everyday purchases made outside of Best Buy. You can earn 2.5 points for every dollar spent on qualifying Best Buy purchases, 1 point for every dollar spent on dining and grocery purchases, and 0.5 point for every dollar spent on all other purchases. You can earn an additional 0.5 point on all purchases with a My Best Buy™ Elite Plus membership. You can also receive a $5 reward certificate for every 250 points that you accumulate.
If you don't prefer the rewards program, you can choose instead to receive special financing on your Best Buy purchases. You can choose to get 6-month financing on storewide purchases that total $149 or greater, 12-month financing if the total is $399 or greater, 18-month financing on major appliance purchases that total $599 or more, or 24-month financing on 4K Ultra HD TV and OLED TV purchases that total $999 or more. (The 24-month financing offer ends 5/16/2015.) This card has an annual fee that ranges from $0 to $59 based on your creditworthiness.
Even for frequent shoppers, getting a department store card may seem like a good idea at the time, but the disadvantages over the long haul — especially if you carry a balance — generally outweigh the short-term benefit. You can usually do better if you get a good cash back credit card with a solid signing bonus.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.