Few good decisions happen when you’re rushed to make them. This is especially true at the checkout line of a department store, when you’re tired from waiting in line and just want to buy your things and go.
All of a sudden, the cashier catches your attention by dangling potential savings in your face: “Would you like a 75 percent discount today by applying for our store credit card?”
However much that one-time discount is, your response should be “No, thank you,” and you should pay and leave. Why? Here are some reasons you don’t want that store credit card:
High interest rates. The interest rate on a store credit card will likely be higher than a traditional one you get directly from a bank. Why? Because of customers with a poor credit score, the store is taking a chance that they won’t make payments, so a higher interest rate is charged to everyone. The store-branded credit card may also charge higher late fees if a payment isn’t made on time. The good news is that it’s probably not going to charge you an annual fee.
It can only be used at that company. You can’t use a Nordstrom credit card at Macys, Kohl’s or any other store. Department store credit cards can only be used at the store issuing them, which can be great if you shop there often and the card offers you discounts that you wouldn’t get otherwise. But if you don’t shop there a lot, then using it for one purchase and not paying it off in full when the bill comes will negate your savings.
You may stop comparison shopping. Having a credit card tied to one store may encourage you to shop there more often or buy things you can’t afford. If it leads to the avoidance of other stores, it could prevent you from comparing prices and not getting the best deal.
When the Card Is Right for You
If you’re planning on making a major purchase at a store that has a branded credit card, it can be worthwhile if the card allows you to pay off the purchase over 12 months or so without paying any interest. This can be the best time to use a store’s credit card, as it’s like borrowing money for free. The key is to make monthly payments—whether required or not—and pay it off before the interest-free period ends. If you don’t, the card may charge you interest on the entire purchase from the date you opened the card.