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The line is often delivered with a winning smile by the cashier at the till of your favorite high street clothing or accessory shop. The idea of credit cards originated with store cards – merchants extending credit to good customers who could be counted on to pay off their purchases over time. While today’s general purpose cards are derived and descended from that original idea, store cards today are a particular subset with some considerable differences and limitations. Confusing the issue further are cashback and reward offers that give you special advantages at particular merchants’ shops. They’re a peculiar hybrid that can serve you well, if you pay attention to which cards you hold in your wallet and which you use at various merchants.
Store Cards vs. Credit Cards
1. Credit cards are accepted at many different merchants, including shops, travel agencies, airlines and many service shops. This gives you the freedom to shop for the lowest prices you can find among many different merchants.
2. Store cards are only accepted at one particular merchant, though they’re usually welcome at any branch store run by the merchant. You’re confined to the selection of products carried by that merchant at the prices offered by that merchant.
3. Credit cards usually carry a considerably lower APR on purchases than store cards. They typically offer starting rates as high as 29% APR – which is often the highest rate on a general use options, reserved for those that have built up penalties for late payments.
4. Cashback options give you a percentage of your cash back each time you use them. Some cashback cards offer a higher percentage when you use them at the shops of ‘member merchants’, but can still be used at any shop that accepts the imprint on the card. Store cards seldom give cash back, and can’t be used in any other store.
5. Reward credit cards operate a good deal like cashback cards, but rather than giving you cash back on your purchases – which amounts to a discount on the price – they reward you with points that can be used to ‘buy’ other merchandise. Generally, you can’t shop regular merchants with your reward points. Instead, you redeem them from the merchant company for merchandise that’s offered by their ‘reward partners’. The cards themselves, though, can be used anywhere that accepts them.
6. An interesting new twist on reward options are those that allow you to redeem your accrued reward points for gift vouchers that can be spent at any merchant that accepts their credit card. It’s another step away from the limitations imposed by stores and ‘membership only’ merchants.
7. Membership credit clubs may look like credit cards – but they’re much closer to store cards. Generally, you’re required to pay a membership fee in order to shop from a catalog of merchandise offered by the credit club. They’re not credit cards and can’t be used like one.
Generally speaking, credit cards, especially cashback credit cards and reward credit cards, offer far more value than store cards. Be careful though, there are differences that will make one a better choice for you than another. If you’re considering a cashback option, take the time to compare credit cards to be sure you’re getting the right one for all of your needs.
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