Contactless pay and 5% off: Why the Target debit REDcard makes sense for me during a quarantine

Apr 8, 2020

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Before there was Amazon, there was Target — that’s pronounced tar-ZHAY for those who like to fancy things up a bit. There’s still a place for Target, even in the age of Amazon Prime.

The store, with its distinctive red logo, is where we go when we’re out of toilet paper and eggs — now more in demand than ever — and then walk out with a home’s worth of updated seasonal décor — potentially without the two items we actually need. And under normal circumstances, Target is where we take our teething babies to get out of the house, our preschoolers who “earned” a trip to toy aisle or to just enjoy some Starbucks and in-real-life aisle browsing.

Where some brick-and-mortar stores have shut down, Target is still very much a part of shopping culture in 2020. And in these troubled times of nationwide lockdown, especially with Amazon Prime more delayed than usual, Target still offers the answer to many of our household needs.

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

In addition to offering instant shopping gratification, Target offers its VIP shoppers bonus savings: 5% off just about everything, free two-day shipping for online purchases of any amount when paying with the REDcard — plus a bonus 30-day window for returns.

The debit version of the Target REDcard made sense for me because I wanted to earn the 5% savings on Target purchases without adding another credit card to my wallet since I’m trying to get out of Chase’s infamous 5/24 restriction. Also, many credit cards that offer bonuses on grocery purchases do not code superstores like Walmart and Target, or wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s, as groceries.

Image courtesy of Target
(Image courtesy of Target)

Target REDcard facts

First, know that there are two REDcards: a debit and a credit card. The debit card debits from your checking account and the credit card racks up a balance and sends you a monthly bill.

Both types of Target REDcard holders enjoy the following perks:

As a general rule, many store credit cards are terrible on several fronts because they charge high APRs and offer poor benefits without any type of purchase protections. Furthermore, they often offer low credit limits.

Related reading: Best credit cards for purchase protections

However, the Target REDcard debit card is a notable exception to some of these rules, because it offers savings and perks without triggering a credit pull or affecting any other aspect of your credit. The Target REDcard challenges our usual rule of thumb to avoid debit card spending because just about every dollar spent on this card earns you an effective minimum of 5% off, even before taking into account additional perks such as free shipping and limited-time offers or stackable coupons. Most debit cards don’t come close to those sorts of rewards.

Why I Got the Target REDcard Debit Card

I held off getting a REDcard until summer 2019 because I had never bothered to read the fine print; I assumed that traditional rewards credit cards always offer the best bonus-earning potential.

These days, I primarily use my REDcard for online purchases under $35, which will allow me to take advantage of the free two-day shipping perk. It may be a silly reason, but sometimes Target offers $2 OPI nail polishes or similar sales on small items that wouldn’t be worth paying a $5+ shipping fee or making a separate trip to the store. (And during these times when Amazon Prime can be less reliable, that two-day shipping really comes in handy!)

When I shop online through Target.com, I also double-dip on my savings by checking CashBackMonitor.com and using whichever shopping portal is paying the best reward at the time.

Shoppers check out with "Black Friday" deals at a Target on November 24, 2016 in Orem, Utah. Retailers kicked off the unofficial start of the holiday season with sales that in many instances began on the Thanksgiving holiday. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

And as of March 2020, I have an even better reason to keep my REDcard: There’s a brand-new mini-Target in my downtown East Austin neighborhood. Since Austin is under shelter-in-place orders to help flatten the curve on coronavirus spread, I am trying to keep my supply runs as minimal-contact as possible.

Most Austinites don’t even know that there’s a new Target here unless they live in my neighborhood, so I’ve never seen more than a dozen shoppers throughout the entire store. And despite this store’s small footprint, there’s a full market section with many in-demand items such as eggs and toilet paper — all within a two-minute walk from my apartment building. You can’t get much safer than that, at least if you’re still going out in person.

(Photo via Shutterstock)
(Photo via Shutterstock)

Since any shared surface can potentially be a contaminated carrier of coronavirus particles, I’m also grateful for the Target app, which allows me to use the handheld scanner to scan my debit card’s saved QR code on my phone. I still have to pick up the scanner with my hand, unfortunately, and I touch the touch screen to complete my self-service transaction. But knowing that I don’t have to dirty my physical card helps minimize some of the stress of going out for groceries.

Related reading: How to clean your credit cards

How to Get the Target REDcard

From the Target.com homepage, navigate to the REDcard link at the top right corner. Once there, you’ll see application links for both the debit card as well as the credit card. Again, we generally suggest opting for the debit card version if you care about rewards cards since there are credit cards that are much better for overall shopping and you probably don’t want to risk a Chase 5/24 slot.

The debit card application process was straightforward, but not super simple. I had to share my SSN, driver’s license and bank routing and checking account information.

Since my REDcard is tied to a checking account, Target warned that I might initially find a spending limit imposed on my card, especially for the first few purchases. I was also warned that there would be daily-limit triggers based on the number of card uses per day, presumably for my financial protection.

After I finished the application for the debit card, I had the option of verifying my account instantly by logging into my bank or going the traditional route of waiting for Target to make a couple of tiny deposits with me verifying the amounts on the website.

I thought this was a nice feature since it would have allowed me to shop online immediately after sign up. Unfortunately, I was too eager to screenshot the page above, so I lost the ability to verify my account immediately and had to wait about four business days before I could complete the process.

Over the past year, my 5% discount at Target has made it easy for me to justify some fun (and occasionally frivolous) purchases. The long-awaited Target app update has also been really helpful for me since it stores my debit card information in QR code format for those impromptu store visits where I don’t have my physical card handy — or in times like now, where I don’t want to dirty my debit card.

Of course, I’m still responsible for keeping a keen eye on my spending — as I would be with any card, store-branded or otherwise. (I particularly need to keep tabs on this, as well as my snacking, during quarantine season!) So if you’re as tempted by the dollar aisle or clearance section as I am, don’t forget to stack your earnings by signing up for Target Circle — a rewards program that is not tied to having the REDcard.

Featured photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images.

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