Many retailers, from online sellers to department stores and smaller chains, have their own version of a store-branded credit card. Chances are that you’ve been offered one in exchange for a discount off your purchase at some point.
While retailers often try to lure customers at the cash register with savings, store credit cards aren’t always a great idea in the long run when compared to a traditional credit card. Here’s how to know when a store credit card isn’t worth your time.
1. Higher Interest
Store credit cards often have higher interest rates than traditional credit cards that can be used anywhere. A recent survey found that the average APR for retail cards is five points higher than that of traditional cards. Unless you pay off your card balance in full every month, higher interest rates mean you’ll pay more on your purchases in the long run.
Before you sign up for a store credit card, compare the APR to the rates you pay on the cards already in your wallet (if you don’t currently have a traditional card, you may want to evaluate a secured credit card or a student credit card to get started).
2. Skimpy Rewards
Retailers usually pair their credit cards with a rewards program that offers in-store discounts or earns points toward purchases. But unless you constantly shop at the retailer in question, these perks may not be as valuable as you think. Credit cards with rewards such as cash back and travel points can be used anywhere, and typically earn rewards on all purchases – making them more versatile.
3. Card Lockdown
Many store credit cards are locked down to a single retailer or corporate family of stores. If you can find a card that you can use anywhere, it’s more convenient and may provide more bang for your buck (some store credit cards, such as Costco’s and Amazon’s general-purpose cards, can be used anywhere).
4. Low Credit Limits
The limits on store-branded credit cards are often lower than you’d see on traditional credit cards, which could end up hurting your credit score if you carry a balance. If you use too much of your available balance, it will drive your credit utilization ratio above the recommended amount, which can lower your credit score.
There are a few positives to store credit cards. If you truly shop at the retailer a lot, they can provide some value back to you (especially if your pay off your balance every month). And they can be easier to obtain with looser credit requirements than other credit cards.
But if you’re interested in a store credit card due to your limited credit, make sure to evaluate all your options. Student credit cards for college students and secured credit cards for those with poor or limited credit are just as accessible.
Retailers want you to sign up for a credit card at the cash register to save money on your purchase. They’re banking on getting you back into the store to spend more money and chase their store rewards. But getting a credit card should be a more deliberate decision than doing it to save 10% on some jeans. Make sure to do your homework before you submit a store credit card application.