Sure, that credit card to your favorite retail store may offer you all kinds of great perks and coupons. But do you know how much your retail credit card’s interest rate really is?
What Is the Average Retail Credit Cards APR?
A 2020 CreditCards.com poll found that the average APR for retail credit cards was 24.43%. This rate is over 4% more than the August 2021 average overall credit card APR of 20.25%. Store credit cards may not such a great deal after all.
Over half of Americans polled in this survey also reported that they had signed up for a retail card at checkout without planning to. Another thing to watch out for? This report also found that many retail credit cards offer what is called special financing or deferred interest, both of which are billed as no-interest financing for a certain period of time. But if the balance isn’t paid off within that specified period, you’ll be charged retroactive interest on the purchase price. Yes, really.
So, Are Retail Credit Cards a Good Idea?
It’s probably wise to avoid retail credit cards altogether. A few exceptions: they are from stores where you shop frequently, you only charge small amounts, and you pay the balance in full each month to avoid the high interest rates.
Retail credit cards can help you build credit, but they usually have a lower credit limit than other cards.
While credit cards can be a great tool if used correctly, retail cards may not be the way to go. Traditional, low-APR, no-fee credit cards are your best bet. If you like to have rewards in tandem with your credit cards, consider rewards credit cards, cash-back credit cards, or travel rewards credit cards. These all offer similar perks to retail store credit cards but with lesser risk.
Regardless of what type of credit card you’re using, what’s most important is that you use them responsibly each month. This means you only accrue a small balance and pay that balance off in full each month, you don’t use your credit card to close gaps in your budget, and you don’t charge something to your card that you don’t have the cash for at the time.
When used correctly, credit cards can help you build (or rebuild) credit, acquire a credit history, and even help you pay for items that traditionally require a credit card, such as car rentals or hotel stays. Credit cards can also help protect you from fraudulent charges. Your credit card company will also likely help you settle disputes on any items you purchased that are damaged or defective.
But when used irresponsibly, credit cards can be an easy way to go into debt. In fact, according to the recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances report, the number of families with balances on their credit cards rose from 2016-2019, from 43.9% to 45.4% respectively. The survey also found that credit card debt is the most common debt held by American families, affecting 45% of households.
Another startling fact? Debt amongst American families has now surpassed the record set in April 2008, right before the housing crisis.
Key Tips to Consider Before Getting a Retail Credit Card
- If you decide to spring for a retail credit card, be sure to read the fine print. Find out details about any special financing, promotional interest rates, or fees.
- Check on the parameters of any special financing deals and see if you’ll have to pay retroactive interest when you don’t pay off the entire balance within the promotional time period.
- Tempted to overspend on your credit card? Leave it at home when you go out.
- To build credit responsibly, try using your credit card to pay one bill a month via direct debit. Then, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your credit card bill a few days later.
- Do not sign up for a retail credit card if you already have credit card debt. Instead, work on a debt payoff plan first. You may also consider transferring your balance to a zero or low-APR card.
- Only sign up for a retail card if it’s at a store you shop at often. And don’t be tempted by a last-minute offer to open a card and save 15% on your purchase. In most cases, the 25% interest rate on the card will cost you far more than that 15% in savings.
- Consider a rewards or cash-back credit card instead of a retail credit card.