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We’ve all been there. You’re checking out at your favorite store when the cashier asks, “Would you like to sign up for store credit card today?” The store-specific card thing can be tempting. If you’re loyal to one store or brand, you might be swayed by temporary discounts and reward offers. However, those offers are typically baiting buyers into a decision they’ll regret.
Before you sign up for a store card, here’s what you need to know to make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
How store credit cards work
Store credit cards are “closed-loop cards” that can only be used at that particular retailer or other associated brands. If the person working the register at T.J. Maxx sells you on a TJX Rewards credit card, you won’t be able to use their caird to pay for gas and groceries. At least, not until T.J. Maxx (or sister stores Marshalls or HomeGoods) finally starts selling gas and groceries (fingers crossed over here).
The main selling points for store credit cards are the potential to earn rewards, detailed below.
Perks of store credit cards
Here are some the pros of store credit cards that might tempt you into signing up for one.
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Up to 20% off
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- Earn rewards: If you’re a regular customer of a particular retailer, a store credit card seems like a solid way to get cash back rewards from all your purchases.
- Bonus offers: Some store cards throw in extra bonuses, such as card-specific discounts.
- Easy to qualify for: This point is appealing if you’re looking to build up your low credit score and don’t currently qualify for other credit cards.
Downsides of store credit cards
Before you get lost in the potential rewards from store credit cards, it’s important to understand the fine print. Many store cards come with misleading or hidden terms and conditions:
- So-called zero interest: Many store offers for “zero interest” are actually for “deferred interest,” according to Bankrate. This means that any remaining balance at the end of the promotional period will in fact get charged retroactive interest.
- Low credit limits: With low credit limits, you might always be too close to maxing out your store credit card—which is an easy way to hurt your credit score.
- Limited use: This point is obvious, but crucial. If you aren’t positive that you can redeem worthwhile in-store rewards, it will be pointless to sign up for a card that only works at one specific retailer.
The bottom line
If you are going to sign up for a store credit card, take time to fully consider it. The worst time to make that decision is when you have a line of people behind you at checkout. Don’t get distracted by the temporary discount they offer from signing up right that moment. For most people, the risk of store credit cards far outweigh the rewards.
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