The best store credit cards of 2020
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You might wonder if it’s worth it to apply for a store credit card to help you save on purchases, espe
cially since most of us aren’t shopping in stores often these days. Retail stores often pitch store credit cards to customers at the register, enticing you with a discount on your purchase. Typically, store credit cards aren’t a great idea and are unlikely to rank among TPG’s pick for the all-around best credit cards. The welcome bonuses usually aren’t great, rewards aren’t flexible and APRs are higher than average. However, most Americans do have at least one store credit card, and I’ll admit there are a few occasions when getting a store credit card makes sense.
Today, I’m walking through the best store credit cards, as well as some alternative rewards credit cards you can use to maximize those same purchases.
Overview of the best store credit cards
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature
- Target REDcard
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
- Capital One® Walmart Rewards™ Mastercard
Best Store Credit Cards
Annual fee: $0 (but you must have a Prime Membership, at $119 a year)
Welcome offer: N/A
Rewards rate: Earn 5% back on Amazon (including Prime membership) and Whole Foods purchases; 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores.
When it makes sense to apply: If you already have an Amazon Prime membership and regularly spend money at Amazon and Whole Foods, this is a solid store card to have in your wallet. Most credit cards don’t code Amazon as a bonus category (though rotating category cards occasionally offer 5% cash back at Amazon one quarter a year). With the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, you earn 3% cash back at Amazon and Whole Foods.
The card also earns decent rewards across regular spending categories, with 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores. Those rewards can be redeemed toward Amazon purchases, cash back, gift cards or even travel, making this a versatile card for any Amazon Prime lover.
I’ve long been a Prime member, but since staying at home has become the new norm, I’ve definitely been spending more on Amazon. I’ve bought a number of books, home office supplies, storage bins to organize my closet — and that’s on top of my additional usage of things that come free with my Prime subscription, like streaming (I’ve been obsessed with The Expanse recently). It’s made me seriously consider adding this card to my wallet.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome offer: N/A
Rewards rate: Get a 5% discount on all eligible Target purchases.
When it makes sense to apply: This card doesn’t earn typical rewards, but it does come with a 5% discount on every eligible Target purchase, both in-store and online. Cardholders also get 5% back at Starbucks locations inside Target. Since Target spending doesn’t earn bonus rewards with many other credit cards, frequent shoppers can save a lot of money by using the Target REDcard.
You’ll also get a 10% discount coupon every anniversary (which I would strategically use on larger purchases), 30 extra days for returns and free shipping on most Target online purchases. Plus 10% back on Hotels.com bookings.
This certainly isn’t a lucrative card, but for no annual fee, it’s worth it if you frequently shop at Target. I know a lot of friends who have turned to Target for groceries now that they are cooking at home more often, so this card could also help you save a pretty penny on your groceries and at-home self-care items.
Annual fee: $0 (with paid Costco membership)
Welcome offer: N/A
Rewards rate: Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas (up to $7,000 per year; then 1%); 3% on restaurants and eligible travel purchases worldwide; 2% on all other purchases from Costco online and in store.
When it makes sense to apply: If you’re a dedicated Costco fan who already has a membership (which costs $60 for Gold Star and $120 for Gold Star Executive), this card doesn’t come with an annual fee. While you’re only getting 2% on general Costco purchases, this is actually a decent Swiss Army knife card if you want to earn cash back across multiple spending categories.
You’ll also get extended warranty. The downside? You have to wait an entire year to get your cash-back rewards and you must redeem them at Costco for either merchandise or cash rebates. Costco mails out cash rebates once a year instead of letting users redeem them at any point.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome offer: Earn 5% on in-store Walmart purchases for the first 12 months when you use Walmart Pay.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% at Walmart.com, including grocery pickup and delivery; 2% back on in-store Walmart purchases (including Murphy USA and Walmart gas stations), restaurants and travel.
When it makes sense to apply: Walmart purchases are almost always excluded from supermarket and grocery store bonus categories, with the exception of the occasional rotating bonus category. If you’re shopping almost exclusively for groceries and other expenses at Walmart, get gas at Walmart fuel stations and utilize Walmart’s online shopping services, it makes sense to look at a card that earns rewards at Walmart.
The good thing about the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard is that you’re earning cash back on your purchases that can be used for a statement credit, gift cards or redeemed for travel through Capital One. You aren’t limited to using these rewards for just Walmart purchases like some other store cards.
The information for the Capital One Walmart Rewards, Target REDCard, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Rewards cards to maximize store purchases
If you don’t think you’d be able to justify having a specific store card, there are several rewards credit cards that will help you maximize your purchases.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome offer: Earn $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate on store purchases: 5% on up to $1,500 spent on quarterly rotating categories (activation required).
Standout benefits: You could earn up to $300 each year in bonus cash back if you’re maximizing categories every quarter. These categories vary, but you’ll typically find department and superstores like Target or Walmart make an appearance at least once a year. Since department stores often have their own retail cards they try to market, the Freedom is an excellent alternative choice.
If you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card — such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card — you’ll also be able to pool your rewards and redeem for travel through the Chase portal for a bonus or transfer to an airline or hotel partner.
The information for the Chase Freedom, Ink Business Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome offer: Earn $150 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate on store purchases: Earn 1.5% back on every purchase.
Standout benefits: While the Freedom Unlimited isn’t as flashy as some of the other rewards rates on this list, remember that you’re getting a guaranteed 1.5% cash back on every single purchase.
If you aren’t particularly loyal to one store for your shopping needs, this is a great card to help make sure you’re earning bonus rewards no matter what. And just like with the Chase Freedom, you can pair the Chase Freedom Unlimited with other Chase cards to maximize your redemption options.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome offer: N/A
Rewards rate on store purchases: Earn 2% back on purchases — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill.
Other standout benefits: Similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited, the Citi Double Cash earns flat-rate cash back across all purchases. Whether you’re shopping at Walmart, Target, Macy’s or any store in between, you’ll be able to get 2% back with this card. Plus, you can now convert Citi Double Cash rewards into ThankYou rewards, which makes this card even more valuable.
Annual fee: $95
Welcome offer: 50,000 points after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
Rewards rate on store purchases: 1.5x points on everyday purchases.
Standout benefits: For just a $95 annual fee, the Bank of America Premium Rewards card packs a punch. You’ll get 2x points on dining and travel, 1.5x points on all other purchases, a $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit (up to $100) and an up to $100 airline fee credit.
If you qualify for Bank of America Preferred Rewards (determined by how much money you have stashed away with the bank), you could also earn up to 75% more on purchases. That would mean 2.62x points on every purchase, including those made across stores. That’s a better return than even the Citi Double Cash.
Discover it Cash Back
Welcome offer: Discover will match the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.
Rewards rate on store purchases: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating quarterly categories.
Other standout benefits: The Discover it Cash Back acts similarly to the Chase Freedom. You’ll get up to $300 every year in cash back if you maximize the rotating categories each quarter. Multiple stores that offer their own credit cards pop up on the cash-back calendar every year (including Walmart, Target and Amazon), which makes this an excellent alternative for anyone looking for cash back rewards.
Plus, at the end of your first year with the card, Discover will match the cash back you earned. That means you’re effectively earning 10% back on bonus category purchases throughout your first year.
What do store cards offer cardholders?
Store credit cards generally offer brand-specific rewards to cardholders. Some offer one-time discounts as welcome offers or ongoing discounts rather than straightforward rewards. You might also get “elite status” with the store that entitles you to exclusive sales and rewards. The more attractive store cards are “open loop,” meaning you can use them anywhere the payment network is accepted. However, some are private label or closed-loop, meaning they are only accepted at a specific merchant.
When does it makes sense to have a store credit card?
There are a few scenarios when it makes sense to have a store card. For one, if you’re spending thousands of dollars every year at a particular store that doesn’t earn decent rewards with a more general rewards card, the rewards earned through the store card might be worth it.
One of my very good friends swears by her Macy’s card because of the discount she gets on every purchase. She’s shopping either in-store or online multiple times a month, and none of her other cards offer any meaningful rewards on department store purchases. Each year, her card probably saves her anywhere from $300-$500 between discounts, exclusive deals and free shipping. That makes it worth it for her to have the card.
Those trying to build or repair their credit can also find that it makes sense to have a store credit card. Generally speaking, store credit cards are easier to get approved for than standard rewards credit cards. If you’re just starting out and don’t have enough credit established to be approved for a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you might have better luck with a store card. Just make sure you’re choosing a store card that you will get value from (so don’t apply for an Old Navy credit card if you rarely shop there).
Once you’ve built up a good credit score and applied for a more substantial rewards card, you can still keep the store card (they generally don’t come with an annual fee) in the back of your wallet while you use your more rewarding card on the bulk of your purchases.
Using shopping portals
Since most of us are shopping online at our favorite retailers these days, there is another way to earn rewards and maximize those purchases — online shopping portals. Whether you want additional cash back, airline miles or even bonus transferable points on your credit card, there’s likely a shopping portal out there to help you. And these rewards are typically stacked on top of any rewards you’d get through your credit card. So, for example, if you get 1.5% back with the Chase Freedom Unlimited and use the American Airlines shopping portal to get 3x miles, you’re double-dipping rewards.
I use a portal aggregator like CashbackMonitor.com to check which portals have the highest bonus available on a given online store. Once you click into the store through the shopping portal, you can complete your order as usual and get rewards.
Related reading: How to maximize online shopping portals
Store credit cards may not be as lucrative as travel credit cards or even top cash back credit cards, but that doesn’t mean every store card is worthless. There are situations where it makes sense to keep a store card or two in your wallet to use on certain purchases, and there are actually a few store cards like the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa that make for decent all-around cards. However, you’re most likely going to be better off with a rewards credit card that provides a way to earn flexible rewards across a variety of purchase categories.
No matter what kind of card you’re in the market for, make sure you’re comparing your options and choosing the right card for your spending habits.
Featured photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy