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Store credit cards aren't worth the one-time discount

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Lynne Sladky/AP/File

(Read caption) A sign advertising forty percent off hangs in the window at Banana Republic as people shop at Dadeland Mall in Miami in this November 2011 file photo.Banana republic and man y other retailers offer store credit cards, usually for a one-time discount. But Hamm argues that these cards are not worth the savings.

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A few weeks ago, I had to buy a new belt. My old one was simply on the verge of falling apart and belts are fairly rare items to come across in used clothing shops.

I sometimes will buy a belt from a local department store, but I usually find that something goes wrong with a cheap belt before very long. It will start wearing very quickly, the buckle will bend or break (and bending it back just causes it to repeat again). A belt is one of the few clothing items (along with shoes) that I’m willing to pay more for to get a good, reliable one that will last for years.

Anyway, my path leads me to a few different chain clothing stores that sell men’s belts. They were all fairly near each other, so I went to each store and examined the belts, looking for one that I liked. I eventually found one that suited me at J.C. Penney, so I take it up to the customer service desk to buy it.

The lady behind the counter was pleasant and chatty. She told me how much she liked Nancy Sinatra, whose music was playing over the loudspeaker, and made sure I had found just what I was looking for.

Then she dropped the question. “If you sign up for a store credit card, you can get 10% off this purchase.”

Now, at best, this option would have saved me a couple dollars on the belt (I don’t remember the exact purchase price, but it wasn’t an excessively overpriced belt or anything). Of course, I could have used it as an excuse to buy more items, but that would have meant spending money I didn’t really need to spend. Even worse, owning such a store credit card has its own drawbacks.

I quickly told her “no” and went on my merry way.

So, why didn’t I jump on this “great” opportunity?

Lots of stores will encourage you to sign up for their store credit card. Often, they’ll give you some sort of bonus for doing so, usually in the form of a discount on your current purchase. As I hinted at above, there are several reasons why I don’t do this.


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