Pick the right time to cash in on "save X% now" offers at your favorite stores

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Many retail stores will offer you a percentage off your total purchase when you sign up for a store credit card on the spot (10% is common). You may continue to qualify for exclusive discounts and other special privileges by being a card holder. Some stores tie their loyalty programs to these cards, meaning you can't earn points from them using any other form of payment.

Why do stores offer these cards in the first place? Every time you use their card to pay for your purchase, they save on credit card processing fees (their  own card is usually cheaper to process than a regular, non-store rewards credit card). Stores whose credit cards can double up as a regular Visa/Mastercard/American Express will often be offered an incentive from a credit card bank to sign people up for the card.  Since they are getting paid for your application, they might in turn offer commissions to their salespeople for each new application they convert. So you can be sure that if there's an offer, you'll hear about it!

Of course we always like finding ways to get extra savings, so these cards are worth a look. While signing up for a regular store loyalty program is usually a no-brainer, when it's tied to a credit card there are a couple of important, additional considerations:

  1. Is the extra discount worth any impact to your credit (if you weren't looking to add a new card anyway)
  2. When is the best time to sign up?

So when is the extra discount worthwhile? We think you should be rewarded for taking on a new credit card. If you shop around, you can usually find travel and other rewards card that offer as much as $100-200 or more in signup benefit. The size of the reward you'll need in this case is up to you and your personal credit situation, but with good credit we look for at least $25-50 in initial value, and another $25+ per year likely savings, for signing up for any new store card.

If you do shop at a particular store a lot (AND your credit score can sustain another application) these deals may be a nice way to score extra savings. But since you only get the "first time" discount your first time, make sure it's a purchase that's worthwhile. For example, if you are spending $50 today but might spend $300 next week, waiting to sign up might be the difference between $5 and $30 cash back to you.

If the store has a flexible return policy, this might be a good time to fill up your shopping cart to make sure you get the discount, knowing you may have to return some items (you will probably forfeit the % back on those items you return - it's only fair - but at least you cashed in the discount for everything else).

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