Can I really save money using store credit cards?


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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:

store credit card pros and cons

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.

The Takeaway

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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How to finally pay off serious credit card debt

How to finally pay off serious credit card debt

You know which three little words no one wants to hear? Credit card debt. It can go from zero to thousands with one quick swipe or build at a slow creep — a nice dinner here, a trip to the mall there, a gas fill-up to get you through until payday — and before you know it, you could be staring at a credit card balance that’s a lot higher than you thought it was.

For Alicia Hintz, the debt creep started in 2016 with a large and unexpected loss of income — the day before she and her husband were to leave on their honeymoon (thanks, universe).

Prior to that, they’d been toying with the idea of selling their Minneapolis home and moving closer to family in Wisconsin. The income reduction sealed the deal. But their house needed some work to be market-ready. The total bill was more than their savings, and their income wasn’t enough to pay in cash, so to the plastic they went.

For them the improvements were worth the investment — in that they sold their house for more than they paid for it, but almost every penny of it went toward fees, commissions, closing costs and other expenses.

Alicia’s financial journey is likely to resonate with the 41.2% of American households that carry an average of about $9,300 in credit card debt, according to data reported by the Federal Reserve for Outstanding Revolving Debt. The statistics are sobering to be sure, but here’s a spoiler alert — thanks to some smart planning and a lot of stick-to-it-iveness, Alicia’s story ends on a high note.

Related: Are you bad with money? How to know & what to do

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Fast forward a few months and Alicia and her husband live in Wisconsin but on a much-reduced budget. In fact, it would be six more months before they were able to get their finances back up and running — that’s a lot of time for savings to shrink and debt to grow.

To try and combat the loss of income, Alicia opened a 0% interest (also known as a deferred interest) credit card with plans to pay it off within the year. “Before I opened that card, I had always paid off my credit card balance each month in full,” she said in a written interview with SoFi.

But, as is life, things didn’t go as planned. “The first month I didn’t pay off my full balance made me panic,” said Hintz. And on top of day-to-day financial challenges, the couple was invited to a destination wedding in the summer of 2017. In order to get the discounted room rate, they had to pay upfront for the flight and resort close to $5,000.

“That extra money added to our credit card debt was a steep mountain to climb,” Hintz said. “After we had to pay that, I knew it would be years to get everything paid off.”

A 0% interest promotional period on a new credit card can last as long as 18 billing cycles, which could be a long enough time to make a large dent in the card’s principal balance.

But once the promo period expires, the interest rate can climb to as much as 27% (or higher). A credit card interest calculator can give you an idea of how much that rate will affect your total balance, and it’s important to consider whether you can achieve your payoff goal before the rate rises.

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Tackling a large credit card bill isn’t likely to be easy, so an important part of the process could be a hard look at what putting extra money toward credit card bills means for the rest of your budget.

One way to approach a solid debt-payoff plan is to begin with an organized budget. You can start by taking a look at the big picture, including all of your monthly expenses as they currently stand, all of your income and all of your debt.

Your next step might be to focus on your spending. You may see obvious areas where you can cut back, or see if you can get creative to come up with some extra cash flow each month.

“We definitely tried to eat out less and cut back on shopping for clothes,” Hintz said. “But it seemed like every month there were more unexpected expenses that needed to be put on the credit card.”

From there, you can start to focus on a plan that makes credit card payments as equally important as the electric bill. And while you may not be able to pay more than the minimum on all your cards, it’s important to ensure that you pay at least that much if you want to avoid accumulating additional debt.

That’s because, while paying only the minimum can lead to compounded interest rates and larger overall balance over time, skipping payments can also lead to higher penalty interest rates, late payment fees and can even affect your credit.

The snowball and avalanche debt repayment strategies take slightly different approaches to pay down debt, and both involve maintaining the minimum payment on all but one card.

The debt snowball method focuses on the debt with the lowest balance first, regardless of interest rate, putting extra toward that payment each month until it’s paid off.

Then, that entire monthly payment is added to the next payment — on top of the minimum you were already paying. Rinse and repeat with the next card, and it’s easy to see how this method can quickly get the (snow)ball rolling.

The debt avalanche is based on the same philosophy but targets the highest-interest payment first. Getting out from under the highest debt can save a lot of money in the long run, and just like the snowball method, applying that entire payment to the next-highest-interest debt can lead to quick results.

The third snow-related strategy, the debt snowflake, emphasizes putting every extra scrap of cash toward debt repayment. This method played an active role in Alicia’s debt-elimination strategy. “If you have extra money to throw at your loans, even $20, that can still make a difference in your overall amount owed,” she said.

SeaHorseTwo / istockphoto

As Hintz’s credit card utilization went up, her credit score went down. She decided to research her options and was ultimately approved for a credit card consolidation loan at a considerably lower interest rate than her credit cards, which along with making extra payments, helped save her money in the long run.

Now facing one personal loan payment vs. multiple credit card bills, Hintz anticipated being able to pay down the debt sooner than the three-year term she selected. And once again, life happened.

Over the course of those years, her husband took a new job, and they both changed cars, bought a house and had a baby. They also went to two more destination weddings. This time, though, the extra expenses didn’t derail the plan.

“The loan was paid off within two years,” she said, thanks in part to a conservative budget and using an annual work bonus as a snowflake to make a dent in the balance.


One of the biggest things to remember, Hintz said, is that debt elimination doesn’t happen overnight. “Paying off debt is hard work,” she said. “Take it one month at a time. Some months are easier on your wallet, and others are not — looking at you, December!”

She suggested using the time you’re working to pay off debt to develop good budgeting and spending habits so that your post-debt finances are about saving, not spending.

And another tip from Hintz? Celebrate even the little victories. “When I paid off half my  loan, I celebrated by taking a nice long bath,” she said.

When they reached zero balance, she and her husband went out for ice cream. “You can celebrate by going to the park with your kids, reading an extra chapter in a book, or finding a new series to watch,” she said. “Always celebrate your loan payoffs, no matter how small!”

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