Store Credit Cards vs. Cash Back Credit Cards

November 4, 2013, Written By Lynn Oldshue

If you want to make the most out of your shopping adventures, you need to have a credit card that helps you save money. Some people automatically think about store credit cards, and others go for cash back credit cards. The question is, which option is better for you? Before you apply for a card, assess which type of card would be more beneficial for your personal needs.

Store Credit Cards

Store credit cards are usually easy to apply for and just as easy to obtain. Some of them can be used like regular credit cards, and others have to be used at a specific store. For instance, the traditional Walmart credit card can only be used at Walmart, but the Walmart Discover card can be used anywhere Discover is accepted. You need to know this about your card before applying for it.

Many people get a store credit card because they receive some type of introductory offer when they apply for one. You might be able to save 10-15% off your initial purchase, or you might get a certain amount of cash back after making your first purchase. These offers are designed to lure you into getting a card, even though you may never use it again. What you may not realize in the euphoria of the introductory offer is the very high interest rate you typically have on a store credit card.

When you start looking at store credit cards, consider what kind of rewards you can get and how those rewards are accumulated. Do they only come from purchases at that store, or do they come from any transaction? Are you required to use rewards in the store, or can you use them online? Does the card have an annual fee? You must go through this type of analysis before deciding if a store credit card is worth getting.

Cash Back Credit Cards

The main perk to having a cash back credit card is the fact that you can use it anywhere. It still acts as a traditional credit card. The only difference is that you get rewards from the money you spend on it. The average cash back credit card offers 1% cash back on all purchases. Some may also pay an additional 2% to 5% cash back on select purchases made with the card. For example, the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card offers 2 reward points per $1 spent on dining and entertainment. The Blue Cash Everyday card from American Express offers 3% cash back at supermarkets, 2% cash back at gas stations and 1% on all other purchases. You could earn a great deal of your money if you choose the right cash back card and use it correctly.

The problem with cash back credit cards is that the rewards structure can sometimes be confusing. The Discover It Card features an attractive rewards program, but its 5% cash back offer changes every three months. It may be on home improvement purchases during one quarter, but during another quarter, it may be applicable on purchases at gas stations and for holiday shopping. You have to keep up with the rewards calendar to get the most out of your credit card.

You also have to consider any fees associated with your credit card. Some cash back cards on the market have an annual fee, and many have a slightly higher interest rate than the average card. Review the terms of any card you are considering for so you can pick the perfect one for you.

Are Cash Back Credit Cards Better Than Store Credit Cards?

In our opinion, yes. This isn’t because we’re biased towards cash back cards. We just like the idea that you can earn rewards wherever you make a transaction. You aren’t limited to one store, either in the way you spend money or the way you collect your rewards. In addition, store cards usually have a higher interest rate. With that said, there are people who benefit from store credit cards because they shop at those stores all the time. If you spend thousands of dollars a year at Lowe’s for your construction company, a Lowe’s credit card may provide substantial savings for your business.

Don’t get overly excited when you reach the checkout counter. That one-time savings on a store credit card may not be worth it in the end. Think over your shopping habits and see if a cash back credit card is more suited for your needs. If so, you have plenty of them to choose from.



The information contained within this article was accurate as of November 4, 2013. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.