At some point, many consumers have likely been tempted to sign up for a store credit card at their favorite retailer. But before you open that Best Buy or Zales credit card, first read the fine print: Many store-branded credit cards are charging record-high interest rates.
A report released Thursday from CreditCards.com finds that store cards charge an average of 23.84% interest, exceeding the national average credit card interest rate of 15.22%. Big Lots led the list of major retailers named in the report, with interest rates at a whopping 29.99%, followed by Zales (29.24%) and Staples (28.24%).
What’s more, the incentives that stores offer to get customers to sign up might not be as generous as they appear: While half of cards offered by 100 top retailers give new cardholders a sign-up bonuses, just 13 come in at more than $25 for a $200 purchase.
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Still, that’s not to say that store cards are without their merits. Store cards that offer sign-up bonuses calculated as a percentage of purchase, as is the case at 17 of the 100 retailers studied, could help cardholders finance a big-ticket item. CreditCards.com cites the example of Best Buy’s 10% sign-up bonus, which could knock $100 off the purchase of a $1,000 TV.
But as MONEY has noted, those promotional offers can backfire big-time if you don’t pay off the entire bill before interest starts to accrue. For that reason, most people would do better using a cash-back card, which rewards you on purchases and has a more reasonable interest rate. Credit limits on store cards also tend to be lower than on general-purpose cards.
The exception is if you are a frequent shopper at a particular store that has a generous rewards program—and you are able to pay off your balance every month. The Target REDCard, for example, offers free shipping and 5% off all purchases, while the Amazon Prime Store Card also offers 5% cash back on purchases from the online retailer.