Why Store Credit Cards May Not Be Worth It

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With that fetching shop boy at Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) looking the way he does, you’d do anything he asks. But, should you accept his offer to sign up for a store-sponsored credit card?

Maybe not, says ShopSmart magazine, a Consumer Reports publication. The magazine recently surveyed 17 retailer credit card programs and found perks, such as incentives toward a $2,500 gift card, but also some drawbacks, such as high interest rates.

Financial planner Morris Armstrong, of Armstrong Financial Services in Danbury, Conn. says retailers’ credit cards are more about “instant gratification” than good deals. “[Consumers] hear the fizzle and don’t read the fine print,” he says. The fine print is where you’ll learn that Abercrombie & Fitch’s card has a 24.8% APR. Other sky-high rates? Crate & Barrel (19.8% APR) and Lowe’s (LOW) (21.99%).

Young people in particular may be "financially naïve" and lack understanding about how to responsibly use the credit card from their favorite store in the mall, says Armstrong.

Mary Van Nostrand, a registered investment advisor in San Diego, Calif. says her clients’ retailers’ credit cards have been some of the highest interest rates she has seen. "They have no idea how much they are paying," she says. "It’s too hard to keep up with."

Other retailers require that you purchase hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of the products to get their perks. For example, Banana Republic (GPS), Gap and Old Navy offer a Visa (V) that earns five points for in-store sales and one point for purchases at other stores. They than offer a $10 gift certificate for every 1,000 points earned.

Likewise, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman offer a point for every dollar spent at their stores and will give you a $250 gift card after you’ve spent $10,000 and a $2,500 gift card, or a trip to a Canyon Ranch spa, if you’ve spent $100,000.

"If there’s a place you love to shop and you shop there exclusively, it’s fine," says Armstrong. "But how many people actually do that?"

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