5 Great Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping (And One to Avoid)

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When it comes to holiday shopping (and all shopping, for that matter), not all credit cards are created equal. But choosing the best credit cards for making your holiday purchases depends a lot on what sort of shopper you are. Are you using plastic because you don't have enough cash to pay for everything on your shopping list? Are you mainly in it for the rewards? Are you looking to get warranty coverage from your card?

We spoke to a few credit card experts to identify the best kind of card for every kind of shopper -- as well as one holiday credit strategy you should try to avoid.

Best for the Buy Now, Pay-Later Shopper: Citi Simplicity

If you're charging holiday purchases because you don't have enough money to buy everything on your shopping list, you'd do well to aim for a card with the lowest APR. In which case, why not just aim for one with no APR at all? Erik Larson, president of consumer advice site NextAdvisor, says that shoppers who can't pay for their purchases now should consider the Citi Simplicity card, which offers 0% APR for the first 18 months. That means that even if you haven't gotten your cash flow under control by next year, you can charge your 2013 holiday purchases and still have six months to pay them off before the 12.99% to 21.99% variable APR kicks in.

Best for the Already-in-Debt Shopper: Chase Slate

Of course, if you took the charge-now-pay-later approach last holiday season, you might be heading into this one already carrying a hefty debt load. If that's the case, you may want to look into a good balance transfer card that will allow you some breathing room.

Odysseas Papadimitriou of CardHub.com recommends the Chase Slate card, which has 0% APR for the first 15 months and waives the fee for balance transfers in the first 60 days. That means you can transfer over your existing debt and then pay it off at your own pace without swimming against the current of accumulating interest payments.

Best for the Rewards-Seeking Shopper: Discover More Card

Your typical rewards card offers 1% cash back year-round, plus bonus categories that rotate every quarter. And Discover More's bonus categories for the last quarter of 2012 make it a clear choice for rewards seekers.

"If you're really concerned with getting the most cash back for the holidays, the Discover More card is great there," says Larson. "It's the only one that has the bonus cash back during holidays for online shopping."

That's right: For the rest of the year you get 5% cash back on all online purchases, not to mention in department stores. That's effectively an automatic 5%-off coupon at most places you'll be shopping this holiday season.

Best for the Play-it-Safe Shopper: Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you're going to be spending hundreds of dollars on gifts, it would be nice to get some protection on those purchases. Fortunately, some credit cards offer exactly that.

Gerri Detweiler, personal finance expert for Credit.com, recommends the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Its purchase protection will pay to repair or replace damaged merchandise within 90 days. If the product has a manufacturer's warranty of three years or less, it will double that repair period by up to an additional year (in other words, a six-month warranty will be doubled to a year, while a one-, two- or three-year warranty will get an additional year of coverage). If the retailer won't accept returns within 90 days, the issuer will reimburse you. And if you find a lower price within 90 days, you'll be reimbursed the difference.

The downside is that it has a $95 annual fee, but that's waived for the first year. And it also comes with some very nice rewards to justify the fee, including double points on restaurants and travel and 40,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

The Loyal Shopper: J.C. Penney Card

Retailer-branded credit cards often have high interest rates, and if you get in the habit of signing up for a store card every time a cashier offers you a discount on your purchase, you're going to wind up hurting your credit score.

Still, if you're a loyal shopper at a given retailer and you're buying enough merchandise that the sign-up discount is substantial, then you might consider it.

"I only consider a retailer's offer if I'm going to pay in full at the end of the month and I'm going to get a big discount," says Papadimitriou. "J.C. Penney's card gives you 20% off the day you're approved on most items, and 10% off jewelry, watches and home merchandise."

Just make sure you pay off your balance every month, or you're looking at a 26.99% APR.

And Now for the Bad Idea: Deferred Financing

When considering retailer cards, note that many of them come with one feature that you should avoid like the plague: deferred financing plans.

Like the Citi Simplicity Card, these allow you to charge your purchase but put off paying interest for a period of time. But they come with one little quirk that can make them disastrous: If your balance isn't paid off in full by the end of the deferred financing period, you'll be charged interest retroactive to the time of your purchase.

Take this Home Depot card, for instance – you can effectively get a six-month interest-free loan for home improvement on all purchases over $299, and on certain categories of merchandise that period is extended to a year. But if you're a day late paying off the balance, you'll suddenly be hit with interest going all the way back to the date of purchase.

"This is something that most consumers would not even be aware to look for in the fine print," says Papadimitriou. "My number-one advice is to avoid financing your holiday purchases with retailers' financing plans."

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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12 Comments

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Eric Librader

Discover Card has a pretty solid promo going on right now. They are offering $100 cash back if you charge $500 within three months. This isn't bad on it's own, but I called them and they said you can also tack on a $50 referral bonus if you sign up with an existing customers link. That's a pretty easy $150.

This is the direct link to the Discover site that allows you to sign up for both combined offers: http://tinyurl.com/cjth4dv

Also - my wife is an existing Discover Card holder and she was able to call them and get the $100 cash back anyway just by saying she would switch, so if you already have a card you should definitely try that!

December 11 2012 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bdgrizcp

I have a CC through a local credit union. Carries a 6.99% interest rate. No frills, no cash back. Works just like money. They have a very reasonable minimum payment.

December 04 2012 at 8:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cslinz62

Although Discovered called me and gave me 0% interest for 1 yr. I use my Harley Davidson Visa to rack up chrome cash. Harley jackets, clothes, jewelry, boots, helmets, etc...is expensive in the dealerships and with the chrome cash rewards, it makes things more affordable in there. However, I do buy a lot of Harley stuff on Ebay.

December 04 2012 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
phpoling

Just don't use credit cards that's it. Write a check or pay with cash that's the way you will not be in debt when Christmas ends.

December 03 2012 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to phpoling's comment
cslinz62

That's sad. You must not have any self dicipline.

December 04 2012 at 12:54 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
joey3quarters

This writer must have got paid by all these bullshit banks and their fake credit cards .

December 03 2012 at 3:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
MikeC

And don't forget to stack your credit card rewards with shopping portal cashback. For example you can stack your 5% cash back on all online shopping with the Discover More card on top of cash back from portals like BigCrumbs, Ebates, and the ShopDiscover shopping portal. Also, you might be interested in the rewards calculator at http://www.creditcardtuneup.com/ . That calculator tries to find the single best card as well as the best combinations of cards for your entered spending profile (year-round or just holiday shopping).

December 03 2012 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tsmomfla

We NEVER use credit cards. We pay cash (or use a debit card) for everything we purchase. Why would anyone want to pay 10 times for a purchase when they don't pay their bill in full monthly. We certainly do not want to leave any debt for our children.

December 03 2012 at 12:15 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tsmomfla's comment
cslinz62

Then that just shows you guys don't have any self dicipline. Actually, if you would educate yourselves about credit cards, you can save yourself a lot of money with discounts and private sales you would never see otherwise. What a shame. BTW, people with common sense DO pay off their credit cards at the end of every month and don't pay any interest fees or finance charges. You would be building your credit up by using them instead having the mentality of we don't want to leave our kids with our debt.

December 04 2012 at 12:56 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cslinz62's comment
aspman07

You keep making one ignorant post after another. I bet your parents pay your credit card bill every month.

December 04 2012 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Frank

Perhaps people in the first 2 categories ( don't have enough money, already in debt) would be wise to not make purchases? Even though the citi card is no interest for a good length of time, Citi is not doing this out of the goodeness of their heart. Only spend if you have it to spend. Those bills do have a way of becoming due.

December 03 2012 at 11:37 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
scotthteck

Great information, and thanks.
I was, however, a little disturbed that something like the Home Depot card is even allowed to exist these days without a full disclosure of the consequences for not paying off the balance within the deferred financing period. As the article states, most consumers do not read the fine print of credit card agreements, or, for that matter, would have any idea of what deferred financing really meant. Probably most people would think that deferred financing was some sort of 0% offer for a period, and not a trap that compiles an interest balloon coming due in total once the grace period for paying off the balance has expired.
Such practices by card issuers need to be disclosed in plain English, and up front, when the card is offered. Perhaps this is another one that needs to be looked at concerning full disclosure, so consumers are protected against such deceptive practices.

December 03 2012 at 8:28 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply