Friday, November 22, 2013

5 Things to Know Before Signing Up for a Store Credit Card

store credit cardsPatrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you're hitting the mall this holiday season, it's likely the cashier in at least one store will cheerfully ask if you want to apply for a store credit card and save 5 percent, 10 percent or, in some cases, 20 percent on your purchase. "They're very tempting and easy to get because they're often marketed at the point of sale," says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at "It's like junk food. It's very easy and compelling to get these cards, but if you get too many of them, it will degrade your credit." Here's what you should know before applying for a store credit card. 1. Store credit cards often carry higher interest rates. The average credit card interest rate is about 15 percent, but many retail credit cards charge interest rates of 20 percent or more. If you pay off your balance in full each month, a high APR may not faze you. But if there's any chance of carrying a balance, you might want to think twice before signing up, says Anisha Sekar, vice president of credit and debt at the personal finance website 2. Inquiries can impact your credit score. Each time you apply for credit, whether it's with a department store or a major credit card issuer, it can temporarily ding your credit score. Although the impact of each inquiry is typically five points or less, "you just don't want to be opening a bunch of new accounts if you're in the market for a major loan," says Liz Weston, personal finance columnist and author of the book "Your Credit Score." "If you're in the market for an auto loan or a mortgage, you don't want to lose a single point." Applying for too many credit cards within a short time frame makes you look like a bigger credit risk, so don't apply for a credit card at every place you buy holiday gifts. Store cards often carry a low credit limit, so if you spend a lot, you'll have a high credit utilization ratio -- your balance versus your total available credit -- which can also lower your score.

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