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NerdWallet’s Best Store Credit Cards of 2018

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NerdWallet's Best Store Credit Cards - 2015

If you do a lot of shopping in one place, a store-branded credit card could save you more than a general-purpose card might. It might also be considerably easier to qualify for, compared with bank cards: Even with so-so credit, you can often get approved for these offers from major retailers.

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 APRs 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.

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. 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. Among our picks for best store cards (not including bank cards), the Gap Inc Visa Card, the Amazon Prime Store Card, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and the TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard are open loop.

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 for fast shipping:
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Earn an unlimited 5% back on Amazon.com purchases, plus other rewards. Open-loop. No annual fee.

Benefits of the Amazon Prime Store Card

  • Rewards include:
    • 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases
    • 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores
    • 1% back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee

Downsides of the Amazon Prime Store Card

  • High ongoing APR
  • Available only to Amazon Prime members

Verdict

If you shop heavily at Amazon.com and carry a $99-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. (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. But if you hardly use your Prime subscription, you might be better off with another card.

Best for everyday items:
Target REDcard

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

Benefits of the Target REDcard 

  • 5% discount on all Target purchases (discount doesn’t apply to Target gift cards or prepaid cards, among other select purchases)
  • 30 extra days for returns
  • Free shipping on most items at Target.com
  • No annual fee

Downsides of the Target REDcard 

  • Closed-loop card; can only be used at Target and Target.com
  • No 0% financing
  • High ongoing interest rate

Verdict

The Target REDcard 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.

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. Open loop. The annual fee is $0. 

Benefits of the Gap Inc Visa Card

  • Rewards include:
    • 5 points for every $1 spend 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, Athleta, Old Navy or Banana Republic
  • 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
  • Open-loop Visa card; and you can earn rewards anywhere
  • Annual fee of $0

Downsides of the Gap Inc Visa Card

  • High ongoing interest rate
  • No 0% financing

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 a lot of money. The card offers an unlimited 5 points per dollar spent at Gap brands, such as Old Navy to Banana Republic, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. And if you earn over 5,000 points, you’ll achieve Gap Silver status, and get other valuable loyalty perks, including free basic alterations on Banana Republic purchases.

Keep in mind that other general credit cards sometimes offer bonus rewards for all department stores, not just Gap and its partner stores. This card offers excellent loyalty benefits, but like most store cards, lacks redemption flexibility.

Best for home improvement:
Lowe’s Advantage Card

5% off every day or promotional financing. Closed loop. No annual fee.

Benefits of the Lowe’s Advantage Card

  • Offers either:
  • No annual fee

Downsides of the Lowe’s Advantage Card

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

Verdict

The Lowe’s Advantage Card offers better rewards than most home improvement credit cards. Boasting 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. And 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 one-time discount and don’t shop for home-improvement supplies often, though, you might be better off with another card.

Best for discounts:
TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

Earn 5 points per dollar spent at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Sierra Trading Post and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere; points worth 1 cent each. Open loop. No annual fee. 

Benefits of TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

  • Rewards include:
    • Unlimited 5 points per dollar spent at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Sierra Trading Post
    • 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
  • Open-loop card; accepted in most stores
  • No annual fee

Downsides of TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard

  • No 0% financing
  • High ongoing interest rate

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 to other discount store credit cards. Keep in mind that most general credit cards don’t offer bonus rewards for shopping at discount outlets.

If you spend a relatively small amount on clothes and other household items, you’d be better off with a different card. The TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard could be a good deal, though, if you always purchase your clothes and household items at these bargain outlets.

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

Earn cash back on all purchases. Open loop. No annual fee, but requires Costco membership.

Benefits of the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

  • Rewards include:
    • 4% cash back on 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
  • Offers promotional APR: 0% on Purchases for 7 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.49% Variable APR; doesn’t accrue deferred interest
  • 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 and must be redeemed at Costco

Verdict

If you’re a devoted Costco and Costco.com shopper, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi is an excellent card. The 4% back on gas, whether it’s purchased at Costco or a gas station, is the highest ongoing rate on gas around. You’ll exceed the $7,000 cap on bonus rewards only if you spend at least $135 a week on gas. Restaurants where you can earn 3% cash back include fast-food joints, cafes and bars as well as regular sit-down places. Eligible travel that earns 3% includes airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruise lines and Costco Travel. The introductory 0% APR is a nice plus, too.

Your cash back on the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi 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. If you redeem only a portion of the reward certificate for merchandise, you’ll get cash back at the checkout register.

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: 16.24% - 24.99% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 26.24%, 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
    • 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
    • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.24-24.99%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
    • No minimum to redeem for cash back
    • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
    • No annual fee

Earn 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, 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 16.24% - 24.99% Variable APR. 

Requires good credit (score of 690+).

Benefits of the Chase Freedom®

  • Rewards include:
    • 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases
    • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Open-loop card; can be used wherever Visa is accepted
  • Access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Bonus Mall, 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 16.24% - 24.99% 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 H&M, Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon.com and Zappos.com. Other 5% categories have included restaurants and gas stations. When you shop through major online retailers through Chase’s bonus mall, you can also rack up additional rewards. Its bonus mall isn’t the most generous around, but it still offers a nice boost.

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. And you won’t get the credit card instantly, as you would if you applied for a store card; generally, it takes a few days to receive the card in the mail. But compared with other store cards, its rewards are much more versatile.

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

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
    • 0% on purchases for 14 months and 0% on balance transfers for 14 months

    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: 12.24% - 24.24% Variable APR
    • Cash Advance APR: 26.24%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

    Intro APR

    • 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months
  • Additional Information
    • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
    • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
    • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
    • Use your rewards instantly at Amazon.com checkout.
    • No annual fee.
    • View Rates and Fees

Earn 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, 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 12.24% - 24.24% Variable APR.

Requires good credit (score of 690+).

Benefits of the Discover it® - Cashback Match™

  • Rewards include:
    • 5% cash back on rotating rewards categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases
    • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Strong sign-up bonus: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Solid 0% APR promotion: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.24% - 24.24% Variable APR; if you still have a balance after the 0% APR period ends, Discover won’t charge you deferred interest
  • Open loop; can be used wherever Discover is accepted
  • Access to Discover Deals, where you can get up to 20% cash back at different outlets
  • Annual fee of $0

Downsides of the Discover it® - Cashback Match™

  • Must opt into 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

The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ gives you access to an outstanding bonus mall, called Discover Deals, where you can earn up to 20% cash back on purchases from certain online retailers by following the link while you’re logged-in to your account. It includes cash back offers from Walmart, JCPenney, Home Depot and many other online stores. Unlike most bonus malls, it also offers some in-store deals on its mobile app. Like the Chase Freedom®, the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ also offers 5% cash back on rotating categories, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. In the past, these 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. But if you’re a dedicated online shopper, these deals could save you a bundle on your favorite sites.


Last updated: Jan. 8, 2018.