If you shop at the same store frequently — once a month or more — it could potentially be worthwhile to get that store's dedicated credit card, if its discounts and rewards are useful to you.
But even die-hard Sears fans might want to skip the retail chain's branded credit cards and opt instead for a general-purpose rewards card that's less complicated, not to mention more lucrative and flexible.
Here are five things to know about the Sears credit cards.
Nerd tip: Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018, but stores aren't disappearing entirely, nor are its co-branded credit card offerings.
1. There are 2 Sears credit cards to choose from
Sears shoppers have two card options, both issued by Citi:
Shop Your Way Mastercard®: You can use this card at any merchant that accepts Mastercard, and it earns Shop Your Way points. You'll earn 5% back in points on gas station purchases and 3% back in points on eligible restaurant and grocery store purchases up to the first $10,000 of combined spending in those categories per calendar year. (After that, you'll drop back to a rewards rate of 1% back in points.) You'll also earn 2% back in points on eligible Sears and Kmart purchases and 1% back in points on other eligible purchases.
Sears Card: This store credit card can be used only in Sears stores or at Sears.com, as well as at Kmart. It doesn't earn rewards, but it gives cardholders monthly deals and special offers in-store or online. It also grants access to cardmember events and coupons.
With either card, you may also qualify for "special financing" on select purchases at Sears and Sears.com. More on that below.
Nerd tip: The Shop Your Way rewards program functions as a portal to redeem points, but it also works like an online bonus mall, meaning you can earn points, too, by shopping through it. You'll be automatically enrolled in Shop Your Way if you're approved for one of the Sears credit cards, but you don't need one to join the program.
2. Rewards are complex, limited and inflexible
With the Shop Your Way Mastercard®, the rewards you earn at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores may seem comparable with — or even better than — what's offered by the most competitive store cards on the market. But take a closer look:
The card offers rewards not as cash back, but as a percentage back "in points." Per the program's terms, 1,000 points are equal to $1 that you can redeem in eligible places. That's a truly paltry point value of 0.001 cent each, but here's how it works in practice: If you earn 5% back (in points) on a $30 gas fill-up, you can expect to collect 1,500 points (worth $1.50 when you redeem). Using this card requires some math to figure out what you're actually getting.
Regarding those bonus categories, the elevated rates apply only to the first $10,000 in spending per year, and that's a combined cap across all bonus areas. You may never hit that limit, but many rewards cards impose no points cap at all.
Keep in mind that you can redeem your rewards only through Sears, Kmart and the Shop Your Way program. That's fairly typical among store credit cards, but a general-purpose cash-back credit card would offer much more redemption flexibility.
Unlike other rewards programs, Shop Your Way Mastercard® points can expire; they're valid only for 12 months from the date they are awarded. Use them or lose them.
3. You won't have to pay an annual fee …
Neither of the Sears cards charges an annual fee, which is typically the case for similar store cards. This can make it easier for you to keep the card open for a longer period of time. The average age of your accounts is a factor that affects your length of credit history, so having cards open for longer can impact your credit score.
4. ... But APRs are high, and there's no true 0% intro APR
Regardless of which card you have, the APR for purchases can range as high as 25% or more. That's much higher than the average rate on credit card accounts that incur interest.
Worse, both cards' "special financing" offers on select large purchases can end up costing you hundreds of dollars in interest. That's because the interest in these promotions is not waived, as it is with true introductory 0% APR offers. Instead, it's deferred.
When interest is waived for, say, 12 months, the card issuer doesn't charge you any interest. After the 12-month period ends, the issuer can charge you interest going forward.
But when interest is deferred for 12 months, interest is accruing in the background. As long as you have the purchase fully paid off by the end of the 12 months, you'll pay no interest. But if any of the balance is left over — even 50 cents — you'll pay interest on the entire purchase going all the way back to the day you made it.
5. The Mastercard offers a small sign-up bonus
Through Jan. 30, 2021, the Shop Your Way Mastercard® is offering an initial $40 statement credit to new cardholders who spend $50 or more within the first 30 days of signing up.
That's not much as sign-up bonuses go, but it's relatively rare to find them at all on store credit cards, and it may help if you need to defray an initial purchase.
Information related to the Sears Card and Shop Your Way Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.