Though the news surrounding Sears and Kmart stores closing isn’t very positive, the Transformco company — created in 2019 to acquire brands from the Sears Holdings Corporation — continues to have brands that remain well-established anchors in the network of American department stores.
The downtrend in brick-and-mortar shopping is clearly related to an uptick in e-commerce, and many department stores are scrambling to keep up — Sears included. As die-hard Sears and Kmart shoppers have likely recognized, marketing priority has moved more toward the Shop Your Way loyalty program and the perks that come with its associated credit cards.
So how can these cards benefit you? And are they worth it, or is there a better option for your wallet?
This review will detail both Sears credit cards, including the benefits and the drawbacks of each, as well as fees. We’ll discuss the application process and how to management of your account. We’ll also explain the Shop Your Way rewards program and more!
The Sears Credit Cards at a Glance
|Sears Card®||Sears Shop Your Way Mastercard®|
|Main Benefits||🗓 Special financing (select products)|
💰 Exclusive savings
🔐 Account protection
|🎁 Welcome bonus|
⛽️ 5% points back at gas stations**
🍏 3% points back at grocery stores**
🍕 3% points back at restaurants**
🛍 2% points back at Sears and Kmart
🎉 1% points back everywhere else Mastercard is accepted
🗓 Special financing (select products)
💰 Exclusive savings
🔐 Account protection
|APR||25.24% variable||25.24% variable|
|Late Fee||Up to $40||Up to $40|
**Through December 31 each year for the first $10,000 (combined across categories)
Sears has 2 store-branded credit cards, both issued by Citibank: the Sears card (the basic store card) and the Sears Shop Your Way card. Both cards can be utilized at Sears and Kmart locations and on the Shop Your Way platform.
Hot Tip: As you can see from the table above, a big perk of the Sears Shop Your Way card is that it can also be utilized anywhere Mastercard is accepted.
This is the definition of a basic store-branded credit card. It doesn’t come with many perks, and it can only be used within the Transformco family of stores and on the Shop Your Way platform.
Let’s delve into the (minimal) benefits.
- 🗓 Special financing (select products): The Sears card gives shoppers the option of special financing on certain products, including, but not limited to, appliances, electronics, fitness equipment, automotive merchandise, and tools.
- 💰 Exclusive savings: Sears states that cardmembers are given access to special deals, savings coupons, invites to cardholder-only events, and the ability to earn points when you use your Sears card through the Shop Your Way program/portal.
- 🔐 Account protection: This comes standard with just about every single credit card nowadays… so while it is touted it as a perk, it’s really just a given.
Hot Tip: A note about special financing: KNOW YOUR TERMS. There’s a big difference between “no interest for 6 months” and “no interest if paid in full within 6 months”. The latter is what we call deferred interest; we’ll chat more about that in the Fees & Drawbacks section below.
In addition to the basic card perks above, Sears Shop Your Way cardholders also have the benefit of flexibility when it comes to viable purchase locations since this card can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted.
Additionally, cardholders are automatically enrolled in the Shop Your Way Rewards program (more details below) and are eligible for category bonus benefits as shown in the table above.
Regardless, for the sake of being thorough, we’ll outline the bonus category structure here.
- ⛽️ 5% points back at gas stations
- 🍏 3% points back at grocery stores
- 🍕 3% points back at restaurants
- 🛍 2% points back at Sears and Kmart
- 🎉 1% points back everywhere else Mastercard is accepted
As you can see in the image above, the terms and conditions place a limit on the amount of spending that can earn bonus points between the gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases. The 3% to 5% points-back applies only to your first $10,000 spent annually, resetting on December 31 each year. Any amount after the $10,000 will only earn 1% back.
And of course, you should always read your terms and conditions as there are certain exceptions to every rule.
For example, only true stand-alone gas stations are eligible to earn 5% points back. You’ll only earn the base points (1% back) at those associated with grocery stores, wholesale clubs, and superstores. Other exclusions like this apply to the bonus categories, so read the T&Cs carefully!
At the time of this writing, the Sears Shop Your Way card is offering a sign-up bonus (so to speak). This promotion allows cardholders to earn a $40 statement credit if they make $50+ in eligible purchases on their card within 30 days of the account being opened. It’s important to note that this promotion is available for online applications only.
If you want to earn rewards beyond 1% to 2%, there are better cards out there for you — we’ll discuss some of them below in the Alternative Rewards Cards section.
Fees and Drawbacks of the Cards
All credit cards come with a slew of fees and drawbacks, so how do the Sears cards stack up?
|Sears Card||Sears Shop Your Way Card|
|Purchase APR||25.24% variable||25.24% variable|
|Balance Transfer APR||N/A||25.24% variable|
|Balance Transfer Fee||N/A||$10 or 5% of each transfer amount (whichever is greater)|
|Cash Advance APR||N/A||27.15% variable|
|Cash Advance Fee||N/A||$5 or 5% of each cash advance amount (whichever is greater)|
|Foreign Transaction Fee||N/A||3% of each purchase transaction|
|Minimum Interest Payment||$2||$2|
|Late Fee||Up to $40||Up to $40|
The first things we notice about the fees are the high purchase APRs.
At a purchase APR of 25.24% variable, shoppers could get into trouble swiftly if they tend to carry a balance on their account. This is especially true if they’ve opted for a special financing offer with deferred interest.
We mentioned earlier that you need to be very clear about your terms and conditions with special financing. There’s a BIG difference between “no interest for 6 months” and “no interest if paid in full within 6 months.” The latter indicates you’ll be subject to deferred interest. In Sears’ case, what we’re seeing is that pretty much all of its special financing offers utilize deferred interest.
So why is deferred interest so bad?
It doesn’t have to be if you pay off your purchase in full within the promotional period. In that case, no interest will be applied. However (and it’s a big however), if you don’t pay off your balance in full within the promotional period, interest charges will be imposed on the starting balance at the APR for regular purchases retroactively from the date of purchase. In this case, 25.24%.
If you don’t know already, here’s a heads up that you should never utilize the cash advance option on a credit card if you can help it.
Not only will you be charged the associated fee (either the flat rate or %, whichever is greater) but you also won’t get a grace period on the cash advance. So interest begins accruing on the balance as soon as the transaction is completed — even if you pay your balance in full when your billing statement comes. You’d basically have to pay off the cash advance within 24 hours to avoid a ridiculous APR.
And let’s not even get started on balance transfers!
Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’re a traveler, there are plenty of credit cards out there that won’t charge you foreign transaction fees at all… so that’s kind of an added kick in the pants, not to mention the fact that this isn’t even close to being the best travel card for you, for a multitude of other reasons.
Biggest Additional Drawbacks
The main drawback of these cards (outside of the high fees and penalties) is the complicated rewards program. We go pretty in-depth on the Shop Your Way Rewards program section below, so here we’ll just say that while it gives you a lot of options for earning points, you don’t have a ton of options to redeem them.
Besides, most people can earn tons of points even without having a Sears credit card.
Actually, with respect to the rewards program, having the basic Sears card won’t really give you any added benefits at all. And the Sears Shop Your Way card? As we already mentioned and will reiterate throughout this review, the 3% to 5% bonus structure maxes out with $10,000 spent annually. After that, it’s zip, nada, no bonuses, though you’ll continue to earn 2% on Sears and Kmart purchases and 1% on everything else.
Alternative Rewards Credit Cards (Our Recommendations)
As you can probably already tell from the post thus far, we’re not big fans of the Sears cards. Unless you’re a VERY loyal Sears or Kmart shopper, there are likely far better options out there.
For example, below are cash-back credit cards that would earn you more than the Sears credit cards.
Plus, many are credit cards with a 0% intro APR for over a year, whereas the Sears cards have sky-high APR rates.
Alternatively, if you’re a traveler or are looking to travel more, then consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which is one of the most popular travel rewards cards out there.
You’ll earn 1 point per $1 spent on all everyday purchases and 2 points per $1 spent on ALL dining and travel purchases.
Bottom Line: For all of our recommendations, check out our guide to the best credit cards for department stores.
Applying for the Sears Cards
It appears there are 2 separate applications for the Sears credit cards. So unlike some other store rewards cards, prospective applicants do get to decide which they apply for.
This information was a bit murky online, so I called Citibank’s Application Services department, who confirmed this was the case. If an applicant is denied for one of the cards, they will need to submit another application for the alternate card.
Each card can be applied for either online or in-store.
You can find the Sears card online application here and the Sears Shop Your Way card application here.
Neither Sears nor Citi discloses the exact credit score requirements for approval on these cards, but most sources agree that the basic Sears card is easier to get, with most applicants in the “fair” range being approved.
This means you’ll need a better score (likely in the “good” to “excellent” range) to be approved for the Mastercard version, though this is not always the case, with some outliers reporting approval with poorer scores.
It should be noted that there have been some reports of basic Sears cardholders being “upgraded” to the Sears Shop Your Way card, although qualification requirements to achieve the upgrade are undisclosed.
Login and Online Account Management
Please note that this section discusses account management for the Sears credit cards. For management of the Shop Your Way Rewards program points, please refer to that section below.
Cardholders can utilize the co-branded Sears-Citibank online platform to manage their account.
If you’ve just been approved for your card, you’ll first need to register your card and create an account. After this initial registration, users can simply log in with their user ID and password.
Within the platform, cardholders have the ability to:
- View and track account activity
- View billing statements
- Make payments
- Receive exclusive offers
- Activate alerts
- Enroll in paperless statements
- and more…
Hot Tip: Sears does have a mobile app, but you can’t manage your card with it.
Shop Your Way Rewards Program (In-Depth)
This shopper loyalty/e-commerce platform is pretty convoluted, but we’ve attempted to hash out the most important basics for you here.
When it comes to the Sears credit cards, applicants who are approved will be automatically enrolled in the Shop Your Way Rewards program when they open their new account.
In contrast to many other online platforms built to simply manage a rewards account, the Shop Your Way platform also provides customers with an opportunity to earn points by shopping through the platform (much like a shopping portal), as well as link other credit cards to earn through additional partners.
Users can also make a profile, create catalogs, and utilize a type of “newsfeed,” but we won’t expand on those here since they’re not vital to how the credit card earning and spending works.
Earning Your Shop Your Way Rewards Points
There are multiple ways to earn points in the Shop Your Way program:
- Use your Sears Shop Your Way card on everyday purchases with bonus category earnings
- Shop at Sears and/or Kmart (no Sears card required) and provide your member number, email, or phone number at checkout
- Shop through the Shop Your Way online platform (no Sears card required)
- Use a “linked card” (like an alternative Mastercard or Visa card) at a participating partner location or website
Hot Tip: We emphasize here that cardholders are earning points, because the program markets this as “CASHBACK in points.” Don’t let this fool you — this is not a true cash-back card or program.
Using the Sears Shop Your Way Card With Bonus Points Back
As we mentioned above, utilizing the Sears Shop Your Way card for gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases will earn you 3% to 5% bonus points within the percent-back structure annually, up to the first $10,000 in purchases, then 1%.
Shopping at Sears or Kmart
You don’t actually have to have a Sears-branded credit card to earn Shop Your Way Rewards points at Sears and Kmart (although you’ll earn 2% back at these 2 stores by utilizing the Sears Shop Your Way card there).
In-store, Shop Your Way Rewards members can simply give their account number, email address, or phone number associated with the account during checkout to earn points. Similarly, online shoppers can provide this at checkout.
Remember that as with all rewards programs, restrictions on some purchases may apply — so read your terms carefully if you’re questioning whether a certain purchase will earn you points.
Shopping Through the Shop Your Way Platform
This is where things get pretty interesting from a credit card rewards platform perspective.
Most cards simply use a rewards platform for monitoring/managing a rewards account. However, the Shop Your Way program was designed before Sears teamed up with Citibank, and therefore it existed before these 2 cards coming into play. The platform acts like a shopping portal, where members earn bonus points just by using it.
That’s why technically, neither of the Sears credit cards are needed to create an account or earn points through the platform. Of course, consumers will need some sort of credit card to check out — either of the Sears cards could be used for that purpose, but they aren’t required.
Once signed up to the program, users simply shop within the portal to earn points through online partners.
Hot Tip: Does Shop Your Way give the best percent of cash-back in points or would you prefer to earn real cash-back? It pays to shop around and check rates at various cash-back shopping portals, like Rakuten.
Using a Linked Card at a Participating Partner Location or Website
Yet another huge divergence from other credit card rewards programs, the Shop Your Way platform not only gives shoppers the ability to link non-store-branded credit cards to the program, but actually encourages it with a path called Card Link.
As another way to earn points through Shop Your Way, rewards members can link up to 5 eligible credit cards to the program (which at this time includes some Mastercards and some Visa cards). When a cardholder makes a purchase with one of these cards at any participating partner (in-store or online), points are earned and automatically added to the user’s account, which can take up to 7 days.
Shop Your Way boasts over 11,000 participating Card Link partners including stores, restaurants, GasBuddy, etc., encouraging its members to earn points in places they’re probably already shopping.
Hot Tip: You can find additional details on this confusing program at the FAQ here.
Additional Ways to Earn
Shop Your Way even advertises earning points through booking travel, entering sweepstakes, utilizing special coupons, etc.
Lastly, Shop Your Way utilizes a type of dynamic bonus points called FREECASH, which is given to shoppers as a sort of thanks for being a loyal rewards member. The FAQ indicates that:
“FREECASH are limited time offers that have specific requirements, like a minimum purchase, a quick expiration date or a certain category of items to redeem them on. FREECASH are only redeemable at the Redemption Partner where the points were earned. A FREECASH in points offer can be used with your Shop Your Way Points, but can’t be combined with Sears card offers, other FREECASH in points offer or certain coupons and promo codes.”
What Your Points Are Worth
Now that you know all about earning rewards, what are they worth?
Shop Your Way Rewards members generally earn 10 points per $1 spent (unless under a bonus structure or special promotion).
Within the program, 1,000 points is equal to $1 in value.
As a rewards member earns, points are automatically stored in the member’s account, and the balance can be accessed at any time via the online platform or mobile app.
Rewards aren’t “issued” in any form of a certificate, but instead your monetary value earned is available to apply at the checkout process through the online platform, or in-store by providing your member number, email, or phone number.
What Do Points Expire
According to Shop Your Way, points have different periods of validity based on how they are received. The terms and conditions for each program will indicate expiration dates, and Shop Your Way should also let you know when the points will be expiring.
Points earned via the Sears credit cards are valid for 12 months from the date they are awarded.
Make sure to frequently check your Account History page to see what points you’ve earned and when they expire.
Using Your Rewards
Once you’ve earned your rewards, you’ll be able to redeem online or in-store at Sears and Kmart.
When making a redemption online, members will want to be logged in to their account to access their points. When making a redemption in-store, the member will want to provide the sales assistant with their account number, email, or phone number.
At the time of purchase, shoppers may choose whether to apply all or just some of their rewards points.
Managing Your Rewards
The best way to manage your rewards is online through the Shop Your Way platform or via the mobile app (Apple, Android).
If you haven’t yet registered, you will need to do that first — then each time you come to the online platform you can simply log in.
For individuals who have an account before applying for a Sears card, or for those who have been automatically enrolled via credit card application approval, Shop Your Way indicates:
“If you provide your Shop Your Way member number at the time your Shop Your Way Mastercard is approved and opened, the account will be linked to your Shop Your Way member number. If no Shop Your Way member number is provided at that time, you will be automatically enrolled in Shop Your Way, assigned a Shop Your Way member number and linked to your Shop Your Way Mastercard account.”
In summary, it seems the Sears credit cards don’t provide all that much bang for your buck when it comes to savings.
The basic Sears card only provides the opportunity for special financing and exclusive savings offers, which aren’t all that lucrative. The Sears Shop Your Way card does have a bonus points earning structure, but it has an annual maximum that once hit drops your percent-back to 1%.
Additionally, the Shop Your Way program is pretty complicated, with tons of ways to earn points but few ways to redeem them.
What’s even more disappointing from a Sears cardholder perspective? You don’t even need to have a Sears card to earn points — you can link any eligible Mastercard or Visa.
And all those drawbacks don’t even include the high fees and penalties associated with these cards.
Unless you’re a die-hard Sears and Kmart shopper who plans to seriously engage in the Shop Your Way Rewards program, there are likely better cards out there for you.