Carrying credit card balances is not a smart financial move, as the interest rates card issuers charge increase exponentially the cost of whatever it is you bought. Yet according to the Federal Reserve, carry balances we do -- Americans had almost $1 trillion worth in 2016, up 6.5% from the prior year.
The folks at WalletHub analyzed user search patterns and application statistics in order to identify the most popular credit cards. While most cards may be the ones you'd expect to find, a couple definitely will raise an eyebrow or two.
1. Best Buy
With consumer electronics suffering a 6% decline in sales over the past 12 months, having Best Buy pop up at the top of this list may raise some eyebrows, not least because the electronics retailer also saw domestic revenue decline 1.2% for the year and consumer electronics represent 34% of sales. Yet the Best Buy credit card also accounted for nearly a quarter of all the sales it made in 2016, or 23%. It did enjoy a 5% increase in comparable sales in the consumer electronics department, second only to appliances, which enjoyed a near-8% increase. So it seems consumers really weren't buying consumer electornics products all that much last year, but when they did, they went to Best Buy to do it, and apparently used its credit card to finance the purchases.
However, while you can earn 5% back on purchases made with the Best Buy card, WalletHub notes all four Best Buy cards feature deferred interest, which means interest on purchases is retroactively applied to your entire original purchase amount if you're late paying your bill or don't repay the full balance by the end of the low-rate introductory period.
Is anyone shocked that the world's biggest retailer also ranked very highly on the popularity charts for credit cards? Wal-Mart came in second, but WalletHub notes it's best for online purchases where you can earn up to 3% back while in-store purchases only garner you a 1% benefit. Wal-Mart notes its e-commerce offerings have also enjoyed strong growth, as it has invested substantial sums of money into building out the service. Including both its purchase of Jet.com and its online grocery options, Wal-Mart's e-commerce business grew 29% even as store growth expanded by less than 2%.
3. Old Navy
Old Navy is Gap's largest retail concept and the only one that's experiencing any growth at all. Sales totaled $6.9 billion in 2016, ahead of the $5.4 billion generated by Gap stores themselves, and the only concept that saw positive comp growth for the year. Same-store sales rose 1% at Old Navy and fell everywhere else.
What consumers might like about the Old Navy card is rewards can be earned at any of Gap's stores, including the namesake stores, Banana Republic, or Athleta, and it gives you some special sign-up bonuses and cash-back deals. What's not so sweet is the lack of an introductory rate and a higher-than-average APR that can really hurt if you don't pay your bill in full.
Considering Sears Holdings is reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy, it's surprising so many people are looking to sign up for this credit card. While it's possible they're hoping to rack up charges on going-out-of-business sales, it just may be cardholders are more interested in the retailer's Shop Your Way member loyalty program, the centerpiece of CEO Eddie Lampert's integrated plan to connect how consumers shop. The program awards points for purchases that can be used toward future purchases, and not all the purchases have to be made at Sears or Kmart. There are over 11,000 partners in the program, including ride-sharing app Uber, Burger King, movie ticket site Fandango, even grocers. The Sears MasterCard is the core credit card of the Shop Your Way Platform.
Sears' credit card, however, has an even higher APR than Old Navy, according to WalletHub. It's 25.74%, and that's if you have good or excellent credit, which you need to have to get the card in the first place.
5. Home Depot
DIY center Home Depot has ridden the housing market boom higher, reporting a 7% increase in sales in 2016 to $95 billion, and it's expected housing will have another good year in 2017, though not as robust as it was last year. The National Association of Realtors predicts a 1.9% increase in home sales, as there will be a large number of first-time homebuyers entering the market in 2017, and that means they'll be turning to big-box stores like Home Depot to fix up, refresh, repair, and furnish their homes. Home Depot is forecasting sales and comps growth of 4.6% each this year, and likely a good portion of that will be put on its credit cards, since these are typically big-ticket purchases.
Yet like we've seen with more than a few of the credit cards on this list, Home Depot charges really high rates, as much as 26.99%, so you're getting no bargain.
Similar to Home Depot, big-box DIY rival Lowe's also ranked among the top 10 most popular credit cards, and for many of the same reasons. The company enjoyed a 10% increase in sales last year and a 4% rise in comps, yet 2017 might prove to be better for it as Lowe's generates more sales from appliances and fashion fixtures than does its orange competitor. Some 11% of sales come from the former category and 10% from the latter, while Home Depot generates just 7% of sales from appliances. In fact, Lowe's is the largest appliance retailer in the country, followed by Home Depot , which overtook Sears last year for second place. Best Buy comes in fourth.
That could be why Lowe's credit card is a popular choice for consumers. Still, it has an APR just as high as its DIY rival, though it does give you generous 5% rewards on purchases.
7. Banana Republic
Another Gap concept, Banana Republic came in seventh on the list, but it's a business in a long, steady decline, with comparable sales plunging 7% in 2016 (although that's slightly better than the 10% drop it suffered the year before). Analysts say it has struggled because it lacks an identity with consumers, or has one that is otherwise forgettable. Coupled with high prices in a period where cheap, fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Century 21 rule, the retail concept has been spiraling down for some time.
Like the Old Navy card, the Banana Republic credit card can earn rewards at any of Gap's four concepts, and though it has a high APR, it does offer a few benefits like the equivalent of 5% cash back that makes it understandable why it would be a popular choice even if consumers don't seem to be using it all that much at the store these days.
Finally, Gap itself shows up on the list, and it carries with it all the advantages and drawbacks that both Old Navy and Banana Republic carry. Since it doesn't matter which store brand card you have, it may be why the most popular brand in the portfolio is also the most popular card. And with Gap also on a multiyear slide in comparable sales, its card may not move higher in the ranks any time soon.
If there's one trait that's common among the cards, it's that brick-and-mortar retailers are ailing these days, and Macy's is no different. It's closed down numerous stores and plans to close 100 over the next few years as sales shrink and move online. Yet unlike most of its rivals, Macy's actually owns a bank subsidiary, FDS Bank, that provides credit processing, collections, customer service, and marketing for all of its own credit card accounts as well as those from Department Stores National Bank, a subsidiary of Citibank.
10. Chase Freedom
The most notable feature about the Chase Chase Freedom card (read our full review of Chase Freedom) is that unlike any of the other cards in this top 10, it is not a retailer's credit card. Not surprisingly, Chase is the largest commercial credit card issuer by volume, owning over 19% of the marketplace compared to 16% at Bank of America and distant third place runner-up Wells Fargo at 10.7%.
WalletHub finds that so long as you have excellent credit, which you need to qualify for the Freedom card, Chase gives consumers a bevy of benefits that makes it attractive, such as getting back $150 on your first $500 worth of purchases, 5% back on a ever-changing roster of categories, and 0% financing for 15 months.