Make sure you read the terms of your card agreement and rules regarding the rewards (including whether your points expire) before you sign up for a store card. For example, rewards from BJ's, Cabela's, L.L. Bean, and JCPenney come in the form of coupons for savings on purchases at those stores. Cabela's imposes no expiration date, but JCPenney's rewards coupons expire within about a month, BJ's in six months, and L.L. Bean's in a year.
It might be that you could get the same or better payback with a general rewards credit card that's not affiliated with a retailer. For example, Walmart's credit card offers up to 1 percent cash back on all purchases. But in the fine print, you'll see that you earn just 0.25 percent on the first $1,500 a year in purchases, and 0.5 percent on total annual purchases from more than $1,500 to $3,000. You begin earning 1 percent back on purchases only after you've spent $3,000 in a year. Unlike many other store cards, you don't get additional rewards on purchases you make at Walmart. But you do get 15 cents off each gallon of gas at participating Walmart Murphy USA gas stations until July 7. You might be better off, though, with a good cash-back credit card that earns you a higher level of rewards wherever you use it.
If you don't spend a lot of money in a particular store every year, you might find that you don't earn much in rewards. For example, Macy's has four card programs. The most basic--for people who spend less than $500 at the store a year--offers no cash back. But if you spend $500 to $999, you'll get 1.5 percent cash back on Macy's purchases. If you spend $1,000 or more, you'll earn 3 percent rewards on purchases plus access to a priority customer-service phone line.
If you shop at allot of fashion-oriented department stores, such as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom, using a store card can earn you such perks as free shipping and alterations at the lower spending tiers, and invitations to private sales and fashion shows or concierge services at higher spending levels. The perks vary from card to card.
Macy's and Walmart cards allow you to earn more rewards when you spend more money, but some cards put a cap on rewards you can earn in some categories. For example, the co-branded Costco American Express card offers 3 percent back on gasoline purchases, but only on up to $4,000 in spending annually. Once you reach that, you'll earn just 1 percent cash back on purchases at the pump.