[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners if available here — Discover it, American Express Blue Cash Preferred, Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited.]
Holiday shopping is now in full swing. If you have yet to get started, well, then you better get moving. But before you do, make sure you are taking the best credit card with you to do all your shopping. It’s a safe bet that you have received at least a few credit card solicitations over the past few weeks. Some of them are probably offering you a high signup bonus or even bonus reward points for shopping at certain retailers. But how do you know what credit card is actually going to be the best for you long-term? Here are a few things to consider if you’re trying to determine if a holiday credit card offer is worthwhile.
1. How Do You Shop & What Are Your Goals?
The very first thing that you need to do is construct a plan for all your holiday shopping. Will you be visiting several different stores, or will you try and do all your shopping in one place? Every year Amazon.com tends to be one of the more popular places for holiday shopping. This is probably why there are a few cards that are offering a bonus for shopping on Amazon.com. The Discover It (see full review here) is offering 5% cash back on purchases (up to $1,500 per quarter) from Amazon.com through the end of the year. Meanwhile, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express (see full review here) is giving 10% cash back (up to $200) on purchases from Amazon.com to anyone that signs up for the card before January 11, 2017.
What if you are going to do a lot of your shopping at Target? Target doesn’t fall into a bonus category for many credit cards, so it might be best to look into its store card, the Target REDcard, which offers 5% off each time you shop in its stores or on its website (some restrictions apply.)
Bottomline: Before you jump on an attractive credit card offer, make sure it’s going to be a card that will offer value not only as you holiday shop, but in the future as well. There’s no point in adding hard inquiry to your credit report if you’re only going to use the card for a few purchases and then let it sit unused in your wallet. (You can see if your credit can handle an inquiry by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
2. How Good Is the Signup Bonus?
Credit card issuers promote signup bonuses for a reason: It’s the first thing that most people look at when considering a new card. The signup bonus that you receive could help offset a nice chunk of your holiday budget. For example, the Chase Freedom (see full review here) offers a $150 bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months. If you’re after travel rewards and not cash back, you could consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which will give you 100,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points ($1,500 value if you redeem through the bank’s travel portal) after you spend $4,000 in your first three months.
Speaking of that $4,000, it’s a good idea to make sure the initial spend requirements on the card you choose fit within your budget. The last thing you want to do is expand your budget, and possibly go into debt, just to get a signup bonus.
3. Is the Issuer Offering a Teaser Rate?
Are you planning to make a large purchase for someone special? Maybe you’re buying a gold watch for your husband or your wife. Using a card with an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) can help give you extra time to pay off that purchase interest-free. For instance, the Chase Freedom Unlimited (see full review here) gives new cardholders 15 months of 0% interest on purchases. (After that, your APR will be a variable 14.24% to 23.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.) Just make sure you have a plan in place so that your big holiday purchase is paid off by the time the introductory period is over. Adding interest will just increase the overall cost of the item and devalue any rewards that you might earn.
4. What’s the Go-To APR?
You’ll also want to check what a card’s go-to APR will be in general and/or after any introductory period expires, particularly if you’re known to carry a balance. Keep in mind, too, rewards credit cards work best when you pay your bills off in full every month. Again, otherwise, you’ll just lose your rewards to that interest.
5. Is There an Annual Fee & Can You Afford it?
One of the biggest considerations that you should have when picking a credit card for holiday shopping is the annual fee. Unless you find a card that can really offer a lot of future value, you should try and find a card that will give you everything you need without that charge. Alternately, many reward cards will at least waive the annual fee for the first year, which will give you 12 months to decide if a particular card is worth keeping in your wallet.
At publishing time, the Discover it, American Express Blue Cash Preferred, Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.