No matter what time of year, it can be tempting to sign up for a credit card at the register in exchange for an instant 10 or 15 percent off your purchase.
But consider the consequences. Store credit cards generally carry higher interest rates compared with bank-issued cards.
One recent survey of 35 major stores in New York City -- such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Gap and Pottery Barn -- found rates averaged 23.8 percent, or roughly 10 points higher than the average for all types of credit cards.
Radio Shack, Best Buy, Staples, Home Depot and Sears had the worst rates in the survey, ranging from 25.2 percent to 29 percent, but the rest weren't much better. All but four store cards charged rates above 20 percent, according to the survey conducted by the office of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who is pushing for better credit card disclosures at the register.
Those cards are a good deal only if you can take advantage of the discount offer and pay off your balance in full when you get your bill, said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of Lowcards.com.
"A 10 percent discount on purchases does not justify a 28 percent interest rate," he said.
Hardekopf likes a few of the store cards with special perks, such as a card from Target that offers 5 percent off all purchases. Still, he said, even that card doesn't make sense unless you pay off your balance each month.
Also, be wary of signing up for too many credit cards, which can hurt your credit score. Hardekopf recommends limiting your total number of credit cards to two or three.
Whatever card you choose, try to pay off your balance each month to avoid interest charges, he said.
For Weiner's store credit card survey, visit http://www.weiner.house.gov/news_display.aspx?id=1544.