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The no-annual-fee JCPenney credit card, issued by Synchrony Bank, can come with a tempting introductory offer upon checking out in stores or online, but it may not be the best card for you.
Like many store credit cards that can only be used with specific retailers, this card is accepted only at JCPenney stores, JCPenney's website and Rite Aid stores. The card occasionally offers special financing, which can offer a useful interest-free window, but you'll have to pay off the bill on time to avoid pricey debt. And, while the value of points is high, you'll earn them at the pace of a snail. The card's earning caps and reward redemption restrictions may also make this card less appealing.
Depending on how you plan to use the card, a general-purpose rewards credit card that isn’t tied to one retailer may offer more value and rewards with fewer limitations.
Here’s what you can expect from this card.
Some applicants may be considered for an 'open-loop' version of the card. Upon applying for the JCPenney credit card in-store, you may find that you qualify for the JCPenney Mastercard. This card can be used at stores outside of JCPenney, and it shares similar terms, with the exception of some fees that are typically found on credit cards with broad acceptance. When you apply you'll be approved for one card type or the other if you qualify; you're not able to choose your card type.
1. The introductory offer lacks value
As a new cardholder, you can get 15% off an eligible first purchase and combine it with other discounts for added savings. Unlike a regular sign-up offer on a general-purpose rewards credit card, this discount comes with restrictions since it’s only applicable to select original, regular and sale-priced apparel, shoes, accessories, fine jewelry, watches, salon products, furniture, mattresses, select JCPenney Beauty products, and blinds and shades, to name a few. Other items like electronics, small electrics, select rings, smartwatches and Tempur-Pedic items are only eligible for 5% off.
Depending on the amount spent, you could be leaving money behind with this card. Let’s say the purchase comes out to $500. With the JCPenney credit card, you could instantly save $75 if that 15% discount is applied. But, with a card like the $0-annual-fee Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, you could work toward a larger sign-up offer (from all eligible purchases, not just JCPenney shopping) in a few months: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. If you’re likely to meet the spending requirement with budgeted purchases, it’s an option worth considering.
2. Other cards earn more rewards at JCPenney
Cardholders are automatically enrolled in JCPenney’s rewards program, but don't expect the JCPenney credit card to pile on the points for shopping through the retailer. It earns 1 point per dollar spent at JCPenney. Points are worth 5 cents apiece, so you'll get some value there but you'll rack it up slowly.
You may also stumble over some restrictions that forfeit some value on rewards. For instance, you can't earn points on more than $2,000 spent on a single purchase with the retailer.
3. Points are issued as certificates
The JCPenney credit card issues rewards as certificates. At 200 points earned, you get a $10 certificate. Certificates are delivered in the mail, via email, through the JCPenney mobile app or in store at the register. Points won’t expire as long as the account is active with at least one purchase over the past 12 months, but your certificates will. Expiration dates for certificates vary, with a minimum of 45 days.
Certificates also pack some limitations. For instance, if a purchase is less than the amount designated on the reward, you lose the remainder of the value of the reward. You can also only redeem a maximum of 10 certificates (or $100) toward a single purchase.
A cash-back credit card can offer more flexibility and fewer restrictions. A card like the $0-annual-fee U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card earns 5% cash back on up to $2,000 spent in two categories of your choice (including department stores like JCPenney) from a list of options, 2% cash back on one everyday category from a list of options and 1% back on everything else. It allows you to redeem cash back as a statement credit or a deposit into an eligible U.S. Bank account.
4. Special financing options can be risky
The JCPenney credit card can offer a decent interest-free window to pay down a purchase, but make sure to understand which financing offer you’re getting and how it works. Otherwise, you could end up in debt.
Occasionally, the card offers two types of special financing offers ranging from six months to 30 months:
No interest for a certain amount of months: This option doesn’t start charging interest until after the promotional period ends. In that way, it functions like a standard 0% intro APR offer.
No interest “if paid in full within” a certain amount of months: This option defers interest for the duration of the promotion and applies it to the bill if you don’t finish paying off the purchase in full by the deadline. So, if you still owe pennies on the original purchase after a promotional window, interest will be charged for all months included in the offer. If you’re not prepared for this kind of expense, it can easily catapult you into debt.
With a steep variable APR of 28.24% (as of September 2022), it’s critical to avoid carrying a balance on this card unless you can pay it down on time within a promotional interest-free window.
Other rewards credit cards can offer a safer and more straightforward 0% intro offer. The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers 0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months and 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 18.74%, 23.74%, or 28.74% Variable APR.
5. Some perks come with strings
The JCPenney credit card offers retail-specific perks, but you’ll have to meet a spending requirement to get them. The perks are attached to a cardholder status, either Gold or Platinum, depending on how much you spend. Here’s what they offer:
Gold status: You must spend $500 or more annually on merchandise or services online or in store with the card to earn and maintain this status. As a Gold member, you’ll qualify for a $10 birthday coupon and an exclusive passbook of coupons. The passbook is sent several times a year in the mail during peak shopping periods.
Platinum status: You must spend $1,000 or more on merchandise or services in store or online with the card annually to earn and maintain this status. Platinum status qualifies you for a $15 birthday coupon, bonus points days and exclusive coupon offers.
While these perks might offer savings, other rewards credit cards don’t always make you meet a spending requirement to earn them. You can get perks with fewer strings elsewhere. For instance, American Express credit cards have AmEx offers that provide targeted discounts with specific retailers that sometimes include department stores. Terms do apply, but the spending requirements likely won’t be as steep.
One string-free perk on the JCPenney credit card provides you with over 100 exclusive savings days that can take dollars further. You won't find birthday offers or ongoing retail-specific discounts with a general-purpose rewards credit card, but they can offer more value upfront and the flexibility to use the card and earn rewards wherever it is accepted.