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Nearly one-third of people say they’ll take out a store credit card this holiday season — read this before you do

There’s been a worrying trend with retail credit cards

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By Jacob Passy

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Think twice before applying for a store credit card at the checkout line.

Retail credit cards have some of the highest interest rates on the market — and those rates are reaching new heights.

Nearly one-third Americans said they’re likely to apply for a store credit card this holiday shopping season, up from 24% who said so last year, according to a report released Monday by CompareCards.com. What’s more, 46% of those who’ve had one say they’ve regretted it.

Half of parents with kids under 18 carry debt on a retail card versus 37% of people of all ages. They’re also more likely than other age groups to use a store card as a primary credit card and have regrets about applying for a retail store card.

The average annual percentage rate (APR) for retail cards now stands at 26.01%, up 37 basis points from a year ago, according to a separate report from CreditCards.com . That’s nearly five percentage points higher than the overall average credit card APR of 21.1%.

Interest rates on retail cards have risen over the past year even as the prime rate, which most credit-card issuers use to set their APRs, has fallen 25 basis points over the past year.

CreditCards.com’s analysis was based on a review of 88 cards from 64 retailers. Each of the top 100 retailers, as defined by the National Retail Federation, was included in the study if they offered a retail credit card.

Some retail cards prove more expensive than others. Store-only or closed-loop credit cards, which can only be used at that specific retailer, have an average APR of 27.52%, up 29 basis points from a year ago. Comparatively, co-branded store cards, which can be used at any retailer but are sponsored by a specific company, have a lower average APR of 23.39%, up 33 basis points from 2018.

Read more: Walmart unveils new rewards credit card, but some experts say proceed with caution

Topping the industry, the following retailers charged the highest APR of 29.99%:

• Brandsource

• Big Lots /zigman2/quotes/202923245/composite BIG -0.19%  

• Piercing Pagoda

• Zales /zigman2/quotes/204614427/composite SIG -0.42%  

• Discount Tire

• Sterling Family of Jewelers

• Jared

• Kay Jewelers

“The 30% threshold definitely seems to be an important psychological barrier,” Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com, said in the report. “These cards are issued by banks headquartered in Delaware, South Dakota and Connecticut — three states that do not have maximum credit card rates. So, they could charge more, but they’re choosing not to.”

Retail credit cards appeal to some consumers because of how easy they are to obtain. Most store cards come with very low or no credit-score requirements, making it easy for retailers to issue the cards on the spot to shoppers when they’re at the cash register. The banks that issue these cards on behalf of retailers charge higher interest rates to offset the potential that someone who isn’t creditworthy could receive one of these cards.

Also see: Airline passengers say one magic word would convince them to spend more money on their tickets

These cards’ high interest rates are why many shoppers have second thoughts about them. Almost half of all Americans who have held a store card regretted their choice, a study last year by LendingTree /zigman2/quotes/204207971/composite TREE +0.79%  subsidiary CompareCards found.

Recently, a growing number of people with low credit scores who have received retail cards have fallen delinquent on their debts, data from Experian /zigman2/quotes/208623784/delayed EXPGY +1.19%  showed. However, if consumers use these cards properly, they can be a useful tool for building one’s credit history. The key is to pay off the full balance on the card on time each billing cycle to avoid falling into a debt spiral thanks to the sky-high interest rates.

$ 21.51
-0.04 -0.19%
Volume: 1.22M
Nov. 13, 2019 4:10p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$832.21 million
Rev. per Employee
$ 16.72
-0.07 -0.42%
Volume: 1.27M
Nov. 13, 2019 4:10p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$878.54 million
Rev. per Employee
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 375.47
+2.95 +0.79%
Volume: 84,452
Nov. 13, 2019 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$4.75 billion
Rev. per Employee
US : U.S.: OTC
$ 31.80
+0.38 +1.19%
Volume: 123,234
Nov. 13, 2019 3:58p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$27.59 billion
Rev. per Employee

Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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