Are you a frequent Sears (NASDAQOTH:SHLDQ) shopper? Then the Sears credit card may be right for you.
Like the credit cards offered by other retailers, the interest rate on the Sears card is quite high. Still, the card -- backed by Citi -- offers frequent Sears shoppers a variety of perks, and ties in to Sears' Shop Your Way membership service quite nicely.
Interest-free purchases, discounts, and Shop Your Way points
The most attractive aspect of the Sears card is the rotating monthly benefits it offers to cardholders. Typically, they involve discounts on particular products or interest-free financing. For July 2015, Sears cardholders can make 12-month interest-free purchases on fitness products, home appliances, tools, and furniture (in addition to several other categories). Alternatively, they can take a flat 5% off their qualifying purchase.
The Sears card also enhances the company's Shop Your Way membership service. Any Sears customer can join Shop Your Way, and pay with whatever form of payment they choose. But if you have a Sears card, link it to your Shop Your Way account, and use it to buy items at Sears, you'll see an added benefit.
Shop Your Way uses a point system. Nearly every purchase made at Sears generates a certain number of points for Shop Your Way members (a $20 purchase may generate 200 points, for example). These points can then be redeemed for rewards, including free products. Shop Your Way members who use a linked Sears card earn additional points worth 2% of their purchase.
Loyal Sears customers may earn thousands of dollars worth of free products over time, but by encouraging loyalty, the service may be just as beneficial to Sears. The company's management has consistently cited Shop Your Way as one of the centerpieces to its planned turnaround, arguing that it allows the company to transition from a traditional retail business model to one that is "member centric."
Sears' business hasn't performed well in recent years (shares are down more than 40% in the last 12 months), but it's seeing some success with Shop Your Way. Last quarter, 70% of its sales came from Shop Your Way members.
Good for frequent Sears customers that don't carry balances
The Sears card comes in two varieties -- the standard Sears card, and a MasterCard version. The former can only be used at Sears-owned stores (Sears, K-Mart); the latter can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted. That might make it more attractive, but it's important to note that there are no benefits to using it outside of the Sears network. Other MasterCards may offer cash back on all purchases, free travel miles, or discounts on purchases made nearly anywhere -- you won't get that with the Sears MasterCard.
It's also worth noting that the interest rate on the Sears card is high -- 25.24%. That's not unusual for a retailer card, but credit cards offered through banks or financial institutions can be far less expensive. Carrying a balance on a credit card is among the most costly personal finance decisions you can make, and contrary to popular belief, does not benefit your credit score. But if you're going to carry a balance, there are less costly ways to do it -- the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards card, for example, offers an interest rate below 13% for borrowers with excellent credit.
Still, the Sears credit card makes sense for a certain group of buyers -- those that shop at Sears frequently, and take advantage of its Shop Your Way membership service regularly. If you fall into that category, the Sears card may be right for you.