Jill Gonzalez, “Wallet Guru” for WalletHub.com, a consumer finance website operated by Arlington, Virginia–based Evolution Finance.
When you shop at a major retail chain—in stores or online—there’s a good chance that you will be coaxed to sign up for the store’s credit card. Store cards are not new, of course, but they’re now available from more merchants than ever before—in excess of 300 different chains. And for shoppers who don’t carry a card balance, which may be subject to lofty interest rates, there may be good reasons to sign up, such as no annual fee, discounts of as much as 35% on initial purchases and, at some chains, up to 5% back every time you buy something. Here, the best store credit cards now…
Department and Apparel Stores
GapCard/Gap Visa Card offers 20% off the initial purchase made with the card at Gap or one of its sister chains—Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta. Cardholders also receive special discounts and access to special in-store events. The card has a slightly complex rewards program, providing five points for each $1 spent at these stores or on their websites, plus an additional $5 store credit for every 500 points accumulated. Together, that comes to a discount rate of approximately 6%. (Earn 5,000 or more points in a calendar year, and you’ll also receive a point bonus each quarter equal to 20% of the points earned that quarter plus perks including free basic alterations for Banana Republic purchases.) The Visa version can be used anywhere Visa is accepted and provides 1% back for purchases outside the Gap chains—applicants with modest credit scores might qualify for the GapCard but not the Visa card. The interest for Gap cards is 27.49%. Gap.com
Kohl’s Charge provides an impressive 35% off the initial purchase made with the card at this retail chain. (Certain brands and product categories are excluded.) After that, cardholders receive special offers throughout the year. These special offers vary but often are discounts of between 15% to 30%. Its interest rate is 26.49%. Kohls.com
TJX Rewards Credit Card or Platinum Mastercard offers 10% off an initial purchase made at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Homesense or Sierra Trading Post. The card also has a rewards program that provides five points for each dollar spent at these stores, the equivalent of 5% back. Unlike the credit card, the Mastercard can be used wherever Mastercard is accepted, but applicants with modest credit scores might qualify for the store credit card but not the Mastercard version. Also, with the Mastercard, you get 1% back for spending outside the TJX chains. The interest rate for TJX cards is 28.49%. TJMaxx.com
Specialty Store Cards
Lowe’s Advantage Card offers 5% off all purchases at this home-improvement chain. Cardholders also have the option of choosing special financing terms, such as 0% interest for up to the first six months on purchases of $299 or more, rather than the 5% savings when they make a purchase. Warning: If you choose the financing deal, be aware that steep interest charges likely will apply to your entire purchase price if you fail to pay off the balance in full by the end of the special financing period. The card’s interest rate is 26.99%. Lowes.com
REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard offers 5% back on all purchases made at this outdoor-gear retailer…and 1% elsewhere (2% elsewhere if the purchase is made with a “mobile wallet” app). You’ll also receive a $100 REI gift card if you use the card to make any purchase within the first 60 days that the account is active. You must be an REI member to apply for this Mastercard, but lifetime membership costs only $20, which is more than covered by that $100 gift card. Since REI is a member co-op, active members also receive an annual dividend check, which generally equals 10% of the amount spent with REI in the prior year (excluding spending on clearance items, outlet items, gift cards and a few other exceptions). One more perk—this Mastercard has a very strong cell-phone insurance plan. If you pay your monthly cellular bill with this card, you’re covered for up to $800 in losses if your phone is damaged or stolen, after a $50 deductible. The card’s interest rate is 12.99% to 24.99% depending on credit worthiness. REI.com
Wide-Ranging Retailer Cards
Target RedCard offers an excellent and easy-to-understand 5% back on nearly all items at Target and on Target.com. Gift cards, prepaid cards, medication prescriptions and eye exams are among the short list of Target purchases not eligible for the 5% back. Other RedCard perks include a 30-day extension of the returns-and-exchanges window, which is 90 days for most items…and free shipping of Target.com purchases. Its interest rate is 24.40%. Target.com
Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard offers 5% back on purchases made at Walmart.com or through the Walmart app. Walmart in-store purchases typically earn 2% back—but that can increase to 5% during your first 12 months with this card if you link your account to the Walmart Pay app and use the app to pay at the register. This card can be used anywhere that Mastercard is accepted—restaurant and travel purchases earn 2% back, as do fuel purchases made at Walmart or Murphy USA stations. Other purchases earn 1%. Its interest rate is 17.99% to 26.99% depending on creditworthiness. Walmart.com
Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi offers a good-but-not-great 2% cash back at Costco. What makes this card special is the cash back it offers on certain non-Costco purchases—Costco Visa is the rare retailer rewards card that’s worth using in places other than that retailer. You get 4% back at gas stations (including non-Costco stations) on up to $7,000 in gas purchases each year…and 3% back at restaurants and on most travel-related spending including airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruise lines and more. Other purchases earn a typical 1% back. This card has no annual fee, but it’s available only to applicants who have a Costco membership, which typically costs $60 a year. Its interest rate is 16.24%. Costco.com/credit-card.html
Sam’s Club Mastercard is similar to the Costco card above. It offers 5% cash back on up to $6,000 in gas purchases, even at non–Sam’s Club stations, each year…and 3% back on dining and travel. The cash-back rate is only 1% at Sam’s Club and elsewhere, however. As with the Costco card, there’s no annual fee but membership in the warehouse club is required—membership fees start at $45 a year. Its interest rate is 16.40% to 24.40% depending on creditworthiness. SamsClub.com
Be aware of the drawbacks before you sign up for any store credit card. Most store cards have very high interest rates, so they’re usually a poor choice for consumers who expect to carry a balance rather than pay off the bill in full each month. They tend to have lower credit limits than other cards, which could lead some consumers to use a high percentage of their available credit, damaging their credit scores. And store cards might not offer as robust consumer protections as other credit cards.