A retail credit card is a type of credit card that is a partnership between a bank or major credit card issuer and a retailer. Also known as a store credit card, retail credit cards usually come with discounts, rewards, and other perks that are specific to that retailer.
You might have received an offer for a retail credit card when you’re at the checkout at a brick-and-mortar store. Or, you may have gotten an offer in the mail or while shopping online. When it comes to determining whether store credit cards are worth it, you’ll want to weigh their pros and cons.
What Is a Store Credit Card?
As mentioned, a store credit card is the same as a retail credit card. A store card is a credit card from a retailer, franchise, or group of stores. It might come with a sign-up offer, such as a one-time discount on your purchase. Other perks include a credit card points rewards program, special promotions, offers, and discounts on your purchases. Some might offer 0% financing on big-ticket purchases.
Store credit cards are not to be confused with retailer loyalty cards. Loyalty cards are a way to gain access to deals and promotions, and to earn points to swap for a discount on future purchases. However, they do not allow you to borrow money.
How Do Store Credit Cards Differ From Other Credit Cards?
There are two main types of store credit cards: private label store cards and co-branded store cards. Private label credit cards differ more from other credit cards, as they are closed-loop cards, meaning you can only use the card at a specific retailer or group of retailers.
Closed-loop cards are more common than co-branded store cards. Co-branded credit cards are open-loop cards that partner with a major credit card network — think Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover. As such, you can use this type of store card at the featured store or group of stores, as well as anywhere that particular credit card issuer is accepted.
Unlike private label cards, open-loop cards also may give you a chance to rack up points or scoop up rewards beyond spending in that specific store. Private label cards generally reserve rewards earnings for that particular store.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Store Credit Cards
There are both pros and cons to retail credit cards. Advantages include:
- Easy to obtain: Retail credit cards are usually easier to qualify for than other types of credit cards. They typically require just a fair credit score. And because they report to the major credit bureaus each month, they still can help you build your credit when you’re starting out.
- Often no annual fee: Many store credit cards don’t have an annual fee, which can save you money. This especially rings true if you don’t anticipate using the card that often.
- Instant discounts: When you first sign up for a retail credit card, you might get a one-time discount on your first purchase.
- Discounts, promos, and offers: As a store cardholder, you might be privy to exclusive, ongoing discounts, or special promotions and offers. The types of discounts and offers vary widely depending on the retailer and time of year. For instance, a retailer might offer a flat 5% discount on every purchase. Card holders also might have access to special coupons and offers.
- Rewards and cash back programs: Similar to other types of credit cards, you can earn points to use for store purchases or cash back.
- Other perks: If you’re a cardholder for a particular retailer, you might receive other benefits, such as free or expedited shipping, financing on certain types of products, or more time to return items.
Here are some potential downsides of a store credit card:
- High interest rates: Whereas the average credit card annual percentage rate (APR) is 20.40%, interest rates for store credit cards average around from 26.72% APR. If you carry a credit card balance, it could take you longer to pay off your debt. Plus, you’ll owe more in interest.
- Inflexibility in use: If you have a private label store card, or a closed-loop card, then you can only use the card to make purchases at that particular store or group of stores. Unless you shop frequently at that particular retailer, it might prove difficult to use often enough to make sense.
- Lower credit limits: Store credit cards usually have lower credit limits than other types of credit cards. In turn, it could be harder to keep your credit usage down. A high credit usage, or credit utilization ratio, could hurt your credit score.
- Deferred interest: A retail card might offer 0% financing for a period of time. Here’s the potential catch: If you don’t pay off your purchase before the promotional period ends, you might be on the hook for all of the interest owed from the purchase date onward.
To recap, here are the major pros and cons to keep in mind when considering if you should get a store credit card:
Are Store and Retail Credit Cards Worth It?
A store credit card could be beneficial if you are building credit from scratch or are new to credit. As they typically are easier to qualify for and often don’t have an annual fee, you can use it at your leisure to build credit.
It can also be worth it if you are a loyal devotee and shop frequently at a particular retailer. That way, you’ll make the most of ongoing discounts, exclusive sales, promotions, offers, and additional perks.
When to Consider Getting a Store Credit Card
As mentioned, if you’re building credit from scratch and don’t want to worry about annual fees, a store credit card could be a good choice for you. It could also be a solid option if you shop at that retailer enough to make use of the card’s perks.
A store credit card can also be a good idea if you don’t need a card with a high credit limit. Ideally, you’ll be able to pay off the balance in full each month.
When Not to Consider a Store Credit Card
If you don’t anticipate using a card very often, or prefer a card that you can use more widely, then it might be best to forgo opening a store credit card.
A store credit card also is probably not the best choice for you if you tend to carry a balance. That’s because the higher-than-average interest rates can gobble up any savings you’ve earned on rewards and discounts.
Alternatives to a Store Credit Card
Not sure a store credit card is worth it for you? Here are some alternatives to look into:
- Cash-back credit card: A cash-back card is a type of rewards credit card that offers rewards in the form of cash back, which can offset your spending on the card. For instance, with a card that offers 1% cash back, you’d get $1 back for every $100 you spend.
- Airline credit card: Airline credit cards are co-branded with major credit card networks. Similar to a store or retail credit card, you’ll receive perks with a specific airline company if you make purchases on the card. Airline credit cards typically are open-loop cards, which means you can use the card anywhere that type of card is accepted.
- Hotel credit card: Hotel credit cards are offered through partnerships between a hotel and a credit card network. With a hotel credit card, you get points toward that particular hotel’s rewards program. The card might also come with other benefits.
A store credit card could be a good idea if you are building credit from scratch, or if there’s a card offered by a retailer you love and shop at often. Otherwise, it might make more sense to look at other options with greater flexibility in use and lower interest rates.
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