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For some shoppers, retail credit cards can be irresistible, as they often offer discounts on their purchases with the card or even rewards for shopping at the store. Nevertheless, these store credit cards are not without their drawbacks, and many cardholders often fail to receive their full benefits.

To help you avoid being one of them, consider these seven techniques to help you get the most from any retail credit cards you have in your wallet.

1. Time Your Sign-ups

Many retail cards offer large discounts on your same-day purchases when you apply for an account. So, if you’re getting a card from a home improvement store, for example, you’ll get more of a reward by signing up for the card when you are buying appliances, expensive tools or supplies for a large project, not when you are simply picking up a replacement light bulb.

2. Don’t Focus Too Much on Rewards

Many retail credit cards offer rewards for spending at the store. While these rewards are welcome, cardholders would be wise to still shop around for the best deals on the items they need — which might ultimately be at other stores. For example, drivers who have a gas rewards credit card may be offered a 5-cent per gallon discount when they fill up the tank, but if a nearby competing station is selling gas for 10-cents per gallon less, that would ultimately end up being a better deal.

3. Avoid Carrying a Balance

Store credit cards are good for some things, but financing purchases is usually not one of them. A typical store credit card will have very high annual percentage rates, often over 20%. In contrast, average credit cards have around a 15% APR and the most competitive low-interest credit cards can have interest rates around 10% or less. (You can read about the best low-interest credit cards in America here.) So, if you’ve been known to carry a balance, even just from time to time, it may be a good idea to look into one of them instead.

4. Swipe Strategically

A store credit card might offer rewards worth only 1% of your spending outside of its co-branded retailer, while some of the most competitive non-store cards can offer up to 2% cash back on all purchases. Therefore, it can make sense to save your retail cards for in-store purchases, depending on what other payment methods may be in your wallet.

5. Learn All the Perks

Many retail credit cards come with special perks and benefits. For example, the Target REDcard offers customers free shipping for online orders plus an extra 30 days for returns, and the L.L. Bean credit card offers cardholders free returns and free monogramming on L.L. Bean products. Make sure you know all the bonus perks you can enjoy by having a store credit card.

6. Pass on Some Cards

While it can be hard to turn down a discount, you probably don’t want to sign up for every retail credit card you are offered. Every time you apply for a credit card, including retail charge cards, there is an inquiry generated on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. Multiple inquiries in a short timeframe can be particularly detrimental.

7. Opt in for Offers

One of the great benefits of having a retail credit card is receiving offers throughout the year via mail or email. These offers can include coupons, invitations to exclusive sales or even free items on your birthday. But if you reflexively decline to receive these offers, you could be missing out.

If you’re thinking of applying for a new retail credit card, it’s important to read its terms and conditions carefully — and to review your credit scores. Having good credit typically helps you get approved for the better cards on the market. To find out more about where your credit currently stands, you can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.


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