Most of us know that it's good to spend less and save more -- for retirement, for emergencies, for college, or perhaps for a new car. But America is nevertheless a country full of eager shoppers. A 2016 survey from the folks at the cash-back shopping website Ebates revealed many interesting things, such as 56% of adult respondents saying they buy clothes when they're feeling down and more than a third saying that shopping makes them feel better than eating a pizza.
It's hard to get around the fact that just about all of us will do a fair amount of shopping in our lives, but if we're smart, we'll find ways to spend less even when we shop. One great way to do so is to use certain credit cards designed for shoppers.
Following are a slew of great credit cards for shoppers that can help you keep more dollars in your pocket. First, though, let's review how you might go about comparing and evaluating credit cards of interest.
There are thousands of different kinds of credit cards out there, and filling your wallet with dozens of them is not a great idea. So focus on the cards that will serve you best. If you're in debt, forget about shopping-oriented credit cards and cards that pay you cash back. Instead, focus on low-interest-rate cards and balance-transfer cards that charge you little or no interest -- ideally while you pay off your debt as soon as possible.
If you're not in debt, one or a few shopping-oriented cards might serve you well. As with any card, you should give preference to cards with no annual fees -- though in some cases, the benefits of a card can greatly outweigh its annual fee. (Also, many cardholders have been surprisingly successful in having their annual fee reduced or waived just by asking.)
Try very hard to select a card with no "penalty APR," too. You might even require that in any card you sign up for. What's a penalty APR? It's what happens when a card issuer jacks up your interest rate to a very high level (25% to 30% is common) if you're late with just one payment. That can be a financially terrible result and may even leave you paying more in interest than you're collecting in benefits! Lots of cards don't feature penalty APRs. Favor those cards.
Take a look at what special benefits each shopping card offers you. Some, for example, might offer free shipping on items purchased at the sponsoring retailer, while others might let you return items without a receipt or will donate money to charity whenever you use the card.
Great credit cards for shoppers
So what are the best credit cards for shoppers? Well, the best shopping-oriented card for you depends on your spending habits. For example, if there aren't any particular retailers where you spend big chunks of change, you might do well with a good general-use cash-back credit card. Here is a solid one:
- Citi Double Cash Card: The Citi Double Cash Card pays you 1% cash back when you make a purchase -- and then another 1% back when you pay off that sum, for a total of 2% cash back. If you tend to charge around $1,500 in total per month, you're looking at $360 in cash back per year. Better still, there's no annual fee. (Read our full Citi Double Cash Card review.)
If you would like extra-big rewards in rotating categories, check out:
- Chase Freedom: This card offers a solid 5% back on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter in rotating categories and 1% back on all other purchases. There's no annual fee and the card recently offered a $150 sign-up bonus for those who spend $500 in the first three months. Note that you need to activate the categories each quarter to start collecting the 5%. (Read our full Chase Freedom review.)
- Discover it: This card offers a hefty 5% back on up to $1,500 spent over three months in categories that you activate (such as restaurants, gas stations, home improvement stores, or Amazon.com). That alone is worth up to $75 per quarter or $300 per year, but on top of that it also offers an unlimited 1% back on all other spending. The Discover it card has one more big benefit -- it will match all the cash-back money you earn in your first year, paying you that same sum again. The card charges no annual fee and it includes your FICO score on each statement, which can help you monitor your credit health. There are a few variations on the Discover it card you might also want to consider: The Discover it Miles card, for example, offers 1.5 miles for each dollar spent on purchases and lets you redeem your points for a credit on your statement that can cover travel-related expenses. And the Discover it Chrome card offers 2% cash back on spending at restaurants and gas stations and 1% back on everything else. (Read our full Discover it review, our full Discover it Miles review, and our full Discover it Chrome review.)
If you spend a lot of money at supermarkets and/or gas stations, you'll want to check out these cards:
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: This card offers a whopping 6% cash back (on up to $6,000 in annual spending, after which that drops to 1%), along with 3% cash back at gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else. If you spend $6,000 or more at the supermarket (that's about $115 per week), you're looking at $360 or more in cash back just for that. There is a $95 annual fee -- but you can bypass it by opting for the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express instead, which charges no annual fee and offers less in cash back: 3% at supermarkets, 2% at gas stations, and 1% back on everything else. Depending on which card you choose, you can also collect $100 or $150 if you spend $1,000 in your first three months. (Read our full Blue Cash Preferred from American Express review and Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express review.)
The best store credit cards
Here are some more outstanding candidates for your wallet, depending on where you drop a lot of dollars:
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa: Amazon Prime members will be served very well by this card. It charges no annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees, either. You'll receive a $70 Amazon.com gift card upon signing up and will then earn a whopping 5% cash back on all Amazon purchases, along with 2% back on spending at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else. The card's regular interest rate is on the steep side, so aim to pay your bills off in full. (Read our full Amazon.com Prime Rewards Visa review.)
- Costco Anywhere: The Costco Anywhere card is only available to Costco members, and memberships start at $60 for a household. For members, though, this card's gas benefits are hard to beat. You can enjoy a substantial 4% back on gas spending (up to $7,000 in spending per year) -- and you'll save even more if you buy your fuel from Costco itself, as it sports very competitive gas prices. The card also offers 3% back on qualified travel and restaurant spending, 2% back on purchases at Costco (and Costco.com), and 1% back on everything else. There's no annual fee as long as you have your Costco membership.
- Target REDcard: The Target REDcard offers 5% savings when shopping at Target and Target.com. It also gives you an extra 30 days to return most items and free shipping on most items from target.com. There's no annual fee, but the regular interest rate is on the steep side, and there is a penalty APR if you're late with or underpay two payments in a 12-month period. This card can save you a lot on many of your everyday purchases, but don't be late with payments or accumulate a big balance due. Also, this card can only be used at Target stores or at Target.com.
There are plenty of other solid shopping credit cards, too. As you think about the retailers you visit most often, look into whether they have a credit card associated with them. If they do, then assess its attractiveness by checking out the benefits it offers and its terms. Some of the many retailers with cards that you might look into include Gap, Kohl's, Lowe's, Staples, TJX, Toys R Us, and Wal-Mart. Also, if you travel a lot, there's a huge world of travel-related cards. Check out the best travel credit cards and see which ones would best serve you, given your globe-trotting spending habits.
Finally, it's worth noting that some of the most desirable credit cards out there require that you have a high credit score to be approved. So if your credit score has significant room for improvement, it can be well worth it to increase it.
This article was updated to remove the mention of Chase Freedom including a penalty APR. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon, Costco, and American Express. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Costco. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Lowe's. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.