Go through the checkout line at Home Depot, Target, Old Navy or almost any major national chain, and there's a good chance the cashier will try to coerce you into signing up for the retailer's credit card. Huge discount on the first purchase! Cash-back deals! Special financing! No annual fee! It's usable everywhere!
Think twice, then think again. A September survey by Compare-Cards found that 56 percent of shoppers who open store-card accounts have regrets. One reason: Their interest rates are high — almost 5 percentage points higher, on average, than those of general purpose credit cards, according to a new survey by CreditCards.com. Twenty-six of the 28 highest-rate cards were store-only cards, the survey found.
And those rates can really explode in your face when paired with special no-interest financing deals. “If you don't pay off the entire initial balance by the end of the promotional period, you'll be charged interest on the full starting balance,” explains Nathan Grant, senior credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. For example, you open up a store-card account so you can charge a $1,000 refrigerator and pay it off interest-free over 12 months. If a year later you've repaid only $975, you could see an interest charge of nearly $300 on your next bill.
But if you pay your bill on time and in full, a store card can save you money and earn you nice perks. And store cards can be a lot easier to get than regular credit cards, which are becoming more selective due to the economic fallout of the pandemic, according to CreditCards.com analyst Ted Rossman.
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To assemble my list of the best store cards, I polled Rossman, Grant and Benét Wilson, credit cards editor at the Points Guy travel website, for their top picks. But the best card for you depends on where you shop. If you're considering one that's not on this list, use the info here to compare benefits and decide if the perks are worth it. Some cards are usable only with the particular retailer. Others are cobranded with a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover logo, meaning you can use them with any merchant that accepts that brand of card. Rules for racking up and redeeming rewards vary; with some cards, you can spend your rewards only at that retailer's stores and website.
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
Best Perks: $100 sign-up bonus, 5 percent back on Amazon.com and at Whole Foods Market; extended-warranty coverage; travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees. If you're a frequent Amazon shopper, it's tough to beat.
Know This: Requires an Amazon Prime membership, currently $119 per year. (Nonmembers can sign up for another card with different benefits.) You can redeem points for credits at Amazon or for cash back or gift cards through Chase Bank.
Costco Anywhere Visa Card
Best Perks: 4 percent cash back on up to $7,000 in gas at Costco and other eligible stations, 3 percent at restaurants and on eligible travel, 2 percent at Costco and Costco.com; extended warranty coverage.
Know This: Requires a Costco membership, currently a minimum of $60 per year. Your reward certificate, redeemable for cash or Costco purchases, is issued annually after the close of your February billing statement.
Lowe's Advantage Card
Best perks: 5 percent off eligible purchases plus 20 percent off (for a maximum of $100) your first purchase. (Discounts can't be combined with other markdowns or used on services, gift cards or selected brands, including Bosch and Monogram.)
Know this: Card is usable only at Lowe's. Interest rate is a high 27 percent.
Best perks: 5 percent discount on all eligible purchases in stores and online, including sale and clearance items and specialty gift cards; free standard or two-day shipping at target.com; an additional 30 days for returns and exchanges; 10 percent off hotels.com and at Target on your anniversary if you're signed up for store emails.
Know this: You can use this card only at Target. The 5 percent discount doesn't apply to prescriptions. Target.com orders that are delivered by Shipt and select products may have shipping fees.
Walmart Rewards Mastercard
Best Perks: 5 percent off at walmart.com, including pickup and delivery; 2 percent back at Walmart stores.
Know this: You can nab 5 percent back in stores for the 12 months you have your card by using it with the Walmart Pay mobile app. If you don't qualify for the cobranded card, Walmart also offers a high-APR card, with similar perks, usable only at Walmart and Sam's Club.
Lisa Lee Freeman, a consumer and shopping expert, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr. Oz Show.