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NerdWallet’s Best Store Credit Cards of February 2019

Feb. 12, 2019
Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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If you tend to spend at one particular place more than anywhere else, a store-branded credit card could benefit you more than a general-purpose card might.

Even with so-so credit, you can often get approved for store-branded cards from major retailers, and many such products have improved in recent years, offering better rewards and becoming more useful for everyday spending.

Make sure you know the difference between “closed-loop” cards and “open-loop” cards. Many store cards are “closed-loop” cards, meaning you can use them only at the issuing store, or perhaps at a group of stores under one company’s umbrella. If you want a card you can use anywhere, look for one with a Visa or Mastercard label on the front. These are known as “open-loop” cards.

While store cards generally offer exclusive discounts and loyalty benefits, even to people with subpar credit, most come with caveats that don’t apply to good, general-purpose bank credit cards. Here are some guidelines for getting the most out of a store card.

Always pay your balance in full. Store credit cards commonly have annual percentage rates ranging from 25% to 30%. If you carry debt, you could end up paying a lot more for your purchases. These cards also tend to have lower credit limits, so carrying a balance on them could hurt your credit.

Pay in full before your store card’s 0% financing offer ends. Store cards often offer “special” financing terms, under which you won’t be charged interest if you pay off the balance within a certain time frame. But these are usually ”deferred interest” offers. That means if you have any balance left over at the end of the 0% period, you’ll be charged retroactive interest on the entire purchase, going all the way back to when you first made it. By contrast, general-purpose credit cards with 0% APR offers don’t typically charge retroactive interest. If you carry a balance past the end of the 0% period, you’re charged interest only on that amount, and only going forward.

NerdWallet recommends general credit cards to most consumers because these typically come with higher limits, more versatile rewards and no retroactive interest. But if a store credit card matches your spending habits or credit profile more closely, and if you can avoid interest charges and other fees, it could be a better deal.


NerdWallet surveyed store credit cards from large outlets to find the most valuable picks. We also surveyed general-purpose bank credit cards that offered big rewards at department stores and other retailers. These offers topped our list.

Best store cards

Best overall:
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Earn an unlimited 5% back on Amazon.com purchases, plus other rewards. Annual fee of $0, but requires Amazon Prime membership.

✭ 2019 NERDWALLET AWARD WINNER: Best store card

Benefits of the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

  • 5% back on all Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases.
  • 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores.
  • 1% back on all other purchases.
  • $0 annual fee.
  • Open-loop card, which means you can use it anywhere Visa or Mastercard is accepted.

Downsides of the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

  • High ongoing APR.
  • Available only to Amazon Prime members.

Verdict

If you shop heavily at Amazon.com and/or Whole Foods, and carry a $119-per-year Prime subscription, you might find that the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card offers more value than general credit cards. With your Prime membership, you can already buy just about anything at a low price with free two-day shipping on Amazon.com. But with this card — which is made of metal — you can also earn an unlimited 5% back on those purchases, plus an unlimited 5% back on purchases made at Whole Foods. (Most general credit cards that offer 5% rewards have quarterly spending caps.) You’ll also earn extra rewards in a handful of other popular everyday categories when using your card at other merchants. Rewards are redeemable toward Amazon purchases, as well as for cash back, gift cards and travel.

The card’s versatility and robust rewards make it a strong pick for loyal Amazon Prime customers and those who regularly spend a fair amount at Whole Foods. But if you hardly use your Prime subscription, you might be better off with another card.

» MORE: Your store credit card wants to be your everyday card

Best for everyday items:
Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Get 5% off purchases, plus 30 extra days for returns and free shipping on most items at Target.com. No annual fee.

Benefits of the Target REDcard™ Credit Card

  • 5% discount on all eligible Target purchases.
  • 10% discount coupon each year on your card anniversary.
  • 30 extra days for returns.
  • Free shipping on most items at Target.com.
  • No annual fee.

Downsides of the Target REDcard™ Credit Card

  • Closed-loop card; can be used only at Target and Target.com. Consider the open-loop Mastercard version if you want a card you can also use elsewhere.
  • High ongoing APR.

Verdict

The Target REDcard™ Credit Card lets you save on your purchases upfront, without offering a complicated redemption program. If you’re a frugal spender and do most of your shopping — clothes, food, furniture — at Target, this card’s 5% discount could add up to hundreds of dollars in savings per year. Most general credit cards don’t offer bonus rewards for shopping at discount outlets like Target. Cardholders also get free shipping on Target.com purchases and extra time for returns, valuable loyalty perks.

This card doesn’t offer 0% financing and has high ongoing interest, so it’s not a good deal if you’re planning to carry a balance. But if you want to save on your Target purchases with a card that offers no-fuss discounts, it could be a good deal.

» MORE: In ‘golden age’ of branded credit cards, shoppers cash in

Best for clothes:
Gap Inc Visa Card

Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at Gap brands, in store or online, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.  No annual fee. 

Benefits of the Gap Inc Visa Card

  • 5 points for every $1 spent at Gap brands, in store or online.
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • Points are worth 1 cent each and can be redeemed for credit at Gap brands such as Athleta, Old Navy and Banana Republic.
  • Sign-up offer: Save 20% and enjoy free shipping on your first purchase with the Gap Inc Visa Card.
  • Extra 10% off every time you shop at Gap and Gap Factory stores, plus opportunities to earn more loyalty benefits.
  • Cardholders can return purchases without receipts.
  • No annual fee.
  • The Banana Republic Visa® Credit Card and the Old Navy Visa® Credit Card offer very similar benefits.
  • Open-loop Visa, which means you can use it anywhere Visa is accepted (although the store card version is closed-loop and can only be used at Gap brand stores).

Downsides of the Gap Inc Visa Card

  • Points are only worth credit toward purchases within the Gap family of brands.
  • High ongoing interest rate.

» MORE: 5 things to know about the Banana Republic Visa credit card

Verdict

If you do all of your wardrobe shopping at Gap and its sister stores, the high rewards rate and cardholder benefits on the Gap Inc Visa Card could save you money. It also offers excellent loyalty benefits. For instance, if you earn over 5,000 points in a calendar year, you’ll achieve Gap Silver status, which snags you perks like free basic alterations on Banana Republic purchases.

As with most store cards, the Gap Inc Visa Card lacks redemption flexibility. A general credit card can also offer elevated rewards in a much wider range of places or categories, not just Gap and its partner stores.

» MORE: 5 things to know about the Old Navy Visa credit card

Best for home improvement:
Lowe’s Advantage Card

5% off, or promotional financing. No annual fee.

Benefits of the Lowe’s Advantage Card

No annual fee. Offers either:

  • An unlimited 5% off eligible Lowe’s purchases, or
  • Promotional financing if you decide not to get 5% rewards; see website for full details.

Downsides of the Lowe’s Advantage Card

  • Closed-loop card; can only be used at Lowe’s.
  • Deferred interest accrues if promotional balance isn’t paid down in time.
  • High ongoing interest rate.

Verdict

The Lowe’s Advantage Card has better rewards than most home improvement credit cards. Offering an unlimited 5% off all purchases, or special financing on larger purchases, this card even offers a higher rewards rate on home improvement purchases than most general credit cards. And because the rewards come as a 5% discount, instead of points to cash in on later, you’ll get your savings upfront. If you opt for the promotional financing offer instead, you could save a small fortune on interest charges, assuming the balance is paid down on time.

This card is an outstanding pick if you frequently shop at Lowe’s and want to earn more rewards on your purchases. If you’re looking for a one-time discount and don’t shop for home-improvement supplies often, though, you might be better off with another card.

» MORE: Before you get a retail credit card, consider your options

Best for discounts:
TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

Earn elevated rewards at T.J. Maxx family of stores. No annual fee. 

Benefits of TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

  • Unlimited 5 points per dollar spent at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra Trading Post and Homesense.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Points worth 1 cent each when redeemed as a certificate at T.J. Maxx and partner stores.
  • Sign-up offer: 10% off your first online or in-store T.J. Maxx purchase made with the card.
  • Open-loop card; can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted.

Downsides of TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

  • High ongoing interest rate.
  • You can redeem points only for merchandise in store or online.

Verdict

The TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard can get you more rewards than a general credit card might, whether you’re shopping for gifts, clothing, home decor or cookware. It offers an unlimited 5 points per dollar spent in T.J. Maxx and partner stores, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere — generous rewards, compared with other discount store credit cards. Keep in mind that most general credit cards don’t offer bonus rewards for shopping at discount outlets.

The TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard could be a good deal, though, if you always purchase your clothes and household items at these bargain outlets. But if you’re looking for flexible rewards, you’d be better off with a different card.

Best for wholesale club shopping:
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Earn cash back on all purchases. Annual fee of $0*, but requires Costco membership.

Benefits of the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases, on up to $7,000 in spending annually, then 1%.
  • 3% cash back on restaurants and travel.
  • 2% cash back on all Costco purchases.
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Open-loop card; can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.

Drawbacks of the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

  • Requires Costco membership, which is at least $60 a year.
  • Requires excellent credit.
  • Cash-back rewards are paid only once a year at the end of the February billing cycle and must be redeemed at Costco.

Verdict

If you’re already a Costco and Costco.com shopper, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi is an excellent card. The rewards rate on gas is among the highest around. You’ll exceed the $7,000 cap on bonus rewards in that category only if you spend at least $135 a week on gas. You’ll also be rewarded well for spending on restaurants and travel.

Redemption, though, can be a pain. Cash back comes in the form of a reward certificate, mailed to you each year with your February statement. You redeem it at a Costco store for cash or merchandise.

Top general-purpose cards for shopping

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 690
    850
    Good - Excellent
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • No annual fee
    • 5% rewards on rotating categories
    • Access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to earn more cash back

    Cons

    • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better
    • A foreign transaction fee

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 17.24% - 25.99% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 27.24%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

    Intro APR

    • 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months
  • Additional Information
    • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24-25.99%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
    • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
    • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
    • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
    • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
    • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
    • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
    • No annual fee

Earn 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases (activation required), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. The annual fee is $0. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 17.24% - 25.99% Variable APR. 

Requires good credit (score of 690+).

Benefits of the Chase Freedom®

  • 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases (activation required).
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Open-loop card; can be used wherever Visa is accepted.
  • Access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, where you can earn extra rewards with major retailers.
  • Solid sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Annual fee of $0.
  • Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 17.24% - 25.99% Variable APR; Chase doesn’t charge deferred interest on the balance if you’re still paying it off after the promotional period ends.

Downsides of the Chase Freedom®

  • Must opt in to the 5% bonus categories every quarter to earn bonus rewards, which can be a hassle; here’s how it works.
  • Comes with a $1,500 quarterly spending limit on 5% bonus rewards (you’ll earn 1% in these categories after hitting that limit).
  • No store loyalty benefits, like the kind you might get with a store credit card.

Verdict

The Chase Freedom®, which offers 5% cash back on quarterly bonus categories, isn’t a store card — but its store-specific bonus rewards make it worth considering. Historically, the card has featured big-name retailers in the rotating 5% bonus categories, including Walmart and Amazon.com. Other 5% categories have included restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations. When you shop at major online retailers through Chase’s bonus mall, you can also rack up additional rewards.

The Chase Freedom® doesn’t come with some of the loyalty benefits that many store-branded cards offer, such as free shipping on online purchases or unlimited 5% rewards. But compared with other store cards, its rewards are much more versatile.

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 690
    850
    Good - Excellent
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Cash back match at the end of your first year
    • Bonus cash back categories
    • No annual fee
    • Intro APR period on Purchases and Balance Transfers

    Cons

    • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
    • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • APR: 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 27.24%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.

    Intro APR

    • 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months
  • Additional Information
    • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
    • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
    • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
    • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
    • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
    • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts - Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
    • No annual fee.
    • View Rates and Fees

Earn 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases (must opt in), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. New cardmember bonus. The annual fee is $0. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR.

Requires good credit (score of 690+).

Benefits of the Discover it® Cash Back

  • 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases (must opt in).
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Strong sign-up bonus: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched..
  • Solid 0% APR promotion: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 25.24% Variable APR; if you still have a balance after the 0% APR period ends, Discover won’t charge you deferred interest.
  • Open-loop card; can be used wherever Discover is accepted.
  • Annual fee of $0.

Downsides of the Discover it® Cash Back

  • Must opt in to the bonus categories every quarter to earn 5% rewards; categories may not always align with your spending.
  • No store loyalty benefits, unlike some store cards.

Verdict

Like the Chase Freedom®, the Discover it® Cash Back also offers 5% cash back on rotating categories, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter (opt-in required; all other purchases earn 1% back). In the past, these bonus categories have included gas and ground transportation, home improvement stores, department stores and Amazon.com.

If you want other loyalty benefits, like free online shipping or exclusive sales, you may be better off with another offer.

Information related to the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Target REDcard, Gap Inc Visa Card, Lowe’s Advantage Card and TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuers of these cards.