Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 27.
Holiday shopping season is upon us, and you might be pondering a store credit card for both purchases and a sweet sign-up discount.
Please don't do this.
As a recent survey of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. by CreditCards.com discovered, the average annual percentage rate on store cards is 23.84%. Not only that, but only half of the cards offer a sign-up rewards deal or purchase discount. We'd love to say that store cards are great for building or rebuilding credit -- largely because of their availability -- but there are much better ways to do that.
"With their outrageously high APRs, most consumers would be wise to steer clear of these cards unless they're 100% certain they can pay their balance off every single month," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "And even then, there are plenty of general-purpose credit cards with better sign-up bonuses."
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, U.S. consumers had compiled $729 billion in credit card debt by the end of June. That's up $17 billion from the same time last year, with roughly 7% of that debt past due. As credit card site CardHub noted earlier this year, the average household with credit card debt now owes $7,879 -- or just $500 less than CardHub considers unsustainable for a median household income of little less than $52,000. Finance site NerdWallet compiled its American Household Credit Card Debt Statistics Study last year and found that the average household is paying $6,274 in interest alone year, which means that 9% of average household income ($72,641) is being spent just on interest. Meanwhile, the average American household with credit card debt is facing 44 years of payments if they make only the minimum payment on their debt each month.
With half for retail cards carrying an APR of at least 25% -- well more than the 15.18% average for all credit cards -- they aren't doing much to help that debt, either. Though a Federal Reserve rate hike in 2015 can be blamed for a 0.25 percentage-point increase, retail card rates actually jumped from 23.43% last year to 23.85% today.
Ten retailers dropped signup offers for new cardholders, only 13 come with low-to-now interest introductory rates and just 29 cards overall are equipped with chips instead of magnetic stripes -- making them far more vulnerable to fraud. However, lower credit limits around $500 or so, higher-risk applicants and, in many cases variable APRs tied to the prime rate make store cards far more accessible. So does the fact that loyal customers get more out of the card than the average customer. Meijer's credit card, for example offers gas discounts, $10 back for every $750 spent in stores and access to additional cardholder-exclusive saving events throughout the year.
With all of that in mind, we took a look at CreditCards.com's rundown of store credit cards and found the 25 with the most egregious annual percentage rates. If you like paying a quarter to a third more for what you're buying than you originally spent for it, then feel free to pay the minimum balance on any of these cards for a year and see what happens: