Best credit cards for back-to-school shopping


Families with kids in school will pay around $850 on average for supplies this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Parents of college students face a heftier bill — $1,200 on average per family — on top of tuition and room and board. There are a bunch of other pandemic-related supplies that may push those numbers higher this year, as masks, sanitizing wipes and hand wash have become integral items in the backpack.

If you’re on the hook for purchases like these, rewards credit cards can earn points, miles or cash back on every purchase. Making use of credit card rewards isn’t just about racking up free travel; you can earn rewards for other less glamorous expenses including back-to-school shopping.

As always, shopping with a credit card must be done strategically and with some degree of discipline. If you’re not paying off your balance monthly, what you pay in interest may exceed any rewards (or welcome bonus) you might earn. 

Sander Tamm, CEO of the learning platform E-Student, also recommends looking for a card without an annual fee — unless you know you’ll be able to offset that cost with rewards. “Find a credit card with no annual fee. It’s hard to justify the extra cost, and you likely won’t get your money’s worth,” he says. After all, an annual fee of $95 or more could be a sizable chunk of your school supplies. 

The following credit cards for back-to-school shopping were selected after a deep dive look into nearly two dozen rewards cards. The finalists were chosen based on their rewards rates, fees and rewards redemption requirements. 

Best credit card for earning rewards on back-to-school purchases

Reward rates: Unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases (1% at time of purchase, 1% when balance is paid)
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: None
Bonus redemption threshold: None
Credit requirement: Good to excellent
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (18 months)
APR for purchases: 13.99% to 23.99% variable
APR for balance transfers: 13.99% to 23.99% variable
Balance transfer fee: 3% (minimum of $5)

The Citi Double Cash Card offers one of the simplest ways to earn cash back quickly. You’ll earn a flat rate of 2% without having to worry about making purchases from only qualifying retailers or having to think about spending categories. The catch: 1% is awarded at the time of purchase and the other 1% when you pay off the balance. The good news is, this method is like earning an award for paying off your credit card.

Best credit card for earning rewards on back-to-school purchases (runner-up)

Reward rates: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, 5% cash back on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 spent in the first year (not including Walmart or Target purchases), 3% cash back on dining and 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $200
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $500 in the first three months
Credit requirement: Good to excellent
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (15 months)
APR for purchases: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
APR for balance transfers: 14.99% to 23.74% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers some of the highest rewards rates, with 1.5% cash back on all purchases and higher cash-back percentages on money spent on eligible travel, grocery, drugstore and dining purchases. In addition, new members get a welcome bonus of $200 after making $500 in purchases within the first three months. It’s one of the fastest, simplest ways to earn cash faster to offset the cost of back-to-school shopping. And if you miss this year’s school shopping season, no worries — rewards don’t expire.

Best credit card for back-to-school electronics purchases

Reward rates: 5% cash back on office supplies, phone lines, internet, cell phone and cable TV subscriptions/purchases for up to $25,000, 2% cash back on dining and gas stations up to $25,000 and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $750 cash back
Bonus redemption threshold: $7,500 on purchases in the first three months
Credit requirement: Good to excellent
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (12 months)
APR for purchases: 13.24% to 19.24% variable
APR for balance transfers: 13.24% to 19.24% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% or $5 (whichever is greater)

I know what you’re thinking — this is a business card. But if you freelance or have a side hustle — and 1 in 3 Americans do — you may also qualify.

The card is ideal for parents who need to ramp up for the school year with tech including laptops, tablets, webcams or smart devices. Your investments are protected through purchase protection, which adds one year to the manufacturer’s warranty. In addition, you’ll receive replacement coverage against theft or damage for up to 120 days after purchase, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account. Best of all, paying for school/office supplies and subscriptions can earn you an extra 5% back.

Best credit card for shopping for back-to-school supplies on Amazon

Reward rates: 5% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores, 1% everywhere else and up to 25% back on select Prime products
Annual fee: $0 *requires a $119 yearly Amazon Prime Membership
New member bonus: $100 Amazon Gift Card
Bonus redemption threshold: Credit card approval
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro APR: None
APR for purchases: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
APR for balance transfers: 14.24% to 22.24% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% (minimum of $5)

The pandemic further strengthened Amazon’s stranglehold on e-commerce. Let’s face it: Ordering from Amazon is fast, cheap and easy. There’s no need to drive around looking for specific items from the school supply list any longer — if you need it, it’s probably on Amazon and can be at your doorstep the same or next day. And, if you’re trying to support more local businesses, you can buy school supplies from small businesses on Amazon — you can even narrow in by region. 

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card benefits are enhanced when combined with a Prime membership (which costs $119 per year). You can quickly redeem your rewards at checkout or request cash or gift cards to use elsewhere. In addition, college students or parents who are building credit may be able to get approved with a less-than-perfect credit score. Amazon’s card preapproval tool can tell you if you’re prequalified in just a few seconds with no effect on your credit report, so you can get an idea of your chances of approval before you apply.

Best credit card for online shopping for back-to-school supplies at Target

Target

Reward rates: 5% off all Target retail store and online purchases
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: None
Bonus redemption threshold: None
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 22.90%
APR for balance transfers: N/A
Balance transfer fee: N/A

The REDcard credit card can earn you 5% off your purchases online, in-store and at Starbucks located within Target stores. The card comes with plenty of perks that regular Target shoppers can make use of, long after the back-to-school season is over. Among them is free shipping for most Target.com purchases and an extra 30 days for returns. Stock up early on the school supplies before they’re gone. And if you purchase a back-to-school item your kids end up not needing, you have an extra month to return the unused items.

Best back-to-school credit card for category flexibility

US Bank

Reward rates: 5% cash back on two categories of your choice (first $2,000 spent), 2% back on one everyday category (gas, dining or groceries) and 1% on everything else
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: $150
Bonus redemption threshold: $500 in first 90 days
Credit requirement: Good to excellent
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (12 months)
APR for purchases: 13.99% to 23.99% variable
APR for balance transfers: 13.99% to 23.99% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5% or $3 (whichever is greater)

If you’d like to flex control over what categories you’d like to earn cash back from, this card is worth considering. You can choose two categories to earn 5% cash back from — options include department stores, utilities, electronic stores, gyms and more. Then, choose an every day category to earn 2% cash back. All other purchases will earn 1%. Redeeming is just as simple — log into your account and choose to cash in as a statement credit, direct deposit or a rewards card. Organized spenders can rack up cash faster for back to school by choosing the categories that will get them the most bang for their buck.

Another option to consider

Reward rates: Activate 5% cash back on rolling categories such as grocery stores, Amazon and gas stations (typically with a $1,500 spend cap), 1% on everything else
Annual fee: $0
New member bonus: Cash-back match on all purchases the first year
Bonus redemption threshold: None
Credit requirement: Good to excellent
Intro APR: 0% on purchases (14 months)
APR for purchases: 11.99% to 22.99% variable
APR for balance transfers: 11.99% to 22.99% variable
Balance transfer fee: 5%

If you have some big back-to-school shopping lined up and need some breathing room, Discover it’s cash-back card provides you with over a year (14 months) to pay off your purchases interest-free — the only card on this list with a longer 0% APR period is the Citi Double Cash Card with an 18-month 0% intro APR period. As long as you’re smart about paying off the balance before the 14 months are up, you effectively get a free loan to cover your school-related expenses. Discover will also match your first year’s rewards — so if you accrue $300 in rewards within your first year, you could receive up to another $300 in rewards from Discover.

To get the most out of this card, you’ll want to shop strategically based on quarterly rotating categories that earn you 5% cash back — you’ll get 1% back on all other purchases. From July to September, categories include restaurants and PayPal. If you plan on shopping online for back-to-school gear, maximize your cash back by checking out with PayPal and linking your Discover card. In October, the categories update to include Amazon, Target and Walmart — so if PayPal isn’t an option and you can wait on a big-ticket purchase until then, you can earn more back in rewards. You can use your rewards directly at Amazon or via PayPal checkout, have them applied as a statement credit or transfer them to your bank account.

Best credit cards for back-to-school purchases, compared

Best for earning rewards on back-to-school purchases Best for earning rewards on back-to-school purchases (runner-up) Best for back-to-school electronics purchases Best for back-to-school supplies on Amazon Best for online shopping back-to-school supplies at Target Best back-to-school card for category flexibility
Card name Citi® Double Cash Card Chase Freedom Unlimited® Chase Ink Business Cash® Credit Card Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Target REDcard™ Credit Card U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
Annual fee $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Welcome bonus None $200 $750 cash back $100 Amazon Gift Card None $150
Spending threshold None $500 in first three months $7,500 in the first three months Approval None $500 in first 90 days
Rewards Unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, 5% cash back on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 spent in the first year (not including Walmart or Target purchases), 3% cash back on dining and 3% cash back on drugstore purchases 5% cash back on office supplies, phone lines, internet, cell phone and cable TV subscriptions/purchases for up to $25,000, 2% cash back on dining and gas stations up to $25,000 and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases 5% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores, 1% everywhere else and up to 25% back on select Prime products 5% off all Target retail store and online purchases 5% cash back on two categories of your choice (first $2,000 spent), 2% back on one every day category (gas, dining or groceries) and 1% on everything else
APR 13.99% to 23.99% variable 14.99% to 23.74% variable 13.24% to 19.24% variable 14.24% to 22.24% variable 22.90% 13.99% to 23.99% variable
Intro APR 0% on purchases (18 months) 0% on purchases (15 months) 0% on purchases (12 months) None None 0% on purchases (12 months)

Tips for saving money during back-to-school shopping 

Don’t start shopping until you do a little preplanning. Consider the following ideas to beat the national average on back-to-school spending.

Create a budget

Avoid overspending with a budget based on the supplies you need and how much you are willing to spend. Stick tight to your plan and avoid getting swayed by trendy back-to-school fashion or sought-after gear. A budget is the best way to avoid spending more than you can afford — when you stick to it.

Use gift cards

To maximize rewards hacking and minimize overspending, leverage the power of gift cards by buying one for the amount of your school supply budget. You won’t be able to go over the limit, helping you control your spending. And if you’re smart about where you buy the gift card, you can also earn more cash-back rewards.

Erik Budde, CEO of GigaPoints, a platform that provides personalized credit card recommendations based on a user’s spending, suggests buying a gift card for your back-to-school shopping at a high-rewards category store, such as a grocery store. 

“Since Amazon [and other types of] gift cards are sold at so many different types of retailers, this tactic works in a variety of different places,” Budde says. “Many credit cards offer bonus points at office supply stores, drug stores and more.” 

Essentially, you may be able to earn points when you buy a gift card at a high rewards category store, while limiting your spending to the gift card amount. 

Compare deals

It’s always smart to comparison-shop. Look online, in-store and in ads to find the best prices on the items your kids need. You may need to group your supplies by retailer to get the best deals — it might involve buying some items online and others at specific retailers, but the extra effort may be worth the savings.

Use that cash back

If you already have a cash-back credit card, don’t forget to use any rewards you’ve earned by applying them towards your purchases at checkout or as a statement credit when the bill is due. 

Cards reviewed

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
  • Apple Card
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card
  • Best Buy® Store Card
  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
  • Capital One Platinum Credit Card
  • Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  • Chase Freedom Flex℠
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
  • Citi® Double Cash Card 
  • Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
  • Discover it® Cash Back
  • Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
  • SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express
  • Staples® More Account
  • Target REDcard™ Credit Card
  • U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card
  • Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card
  • Wells Fargo Platinum Card


Read more: 
Best no-balance-transfer-fee credit cards

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.


Source link

Previous Soaring shipping costs make Nepalese products less competitive in the United States
Next The shattered dreams of migrants returned from the United States to Guatemala