For most U.S. consumers, gasoline-branded credit cards aren’t a good deal, according to a CreditCards.com report released this week. Consumers are better off with general-purpose cards that offer greater rewards and lower annual percentage rates (APR).
“Gas cards are the dull, boring sedans of the credit-card world,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “They’re stuck in the slow lane, destined never to be flashy.”
Gas cards carry an average APR of 24.14 percent, far above the current average credit-card rate of about 15 percent on general-purpose cards, making gas cards a poor choice for anyone who carries a balance.
Typical gas cards offer a 10-cent discount per gallon, which is a decent return since it’s about 4 percent at current gas prices. Crude-oil prices have plummeted by more than one-half since the beginning of last summer. And, in the short term, consumers are benefiting from this plunge as the average cost of gasoline per gallon in the U.S. has dropped to an average of $2.43 now from an average of $3.53 last year, according to GasBuddy.com.
When gas prices rise, however, that 4 percent return will decline as gas prices start to tick up again: Across the U.S., they already have climbed 15 cents on average from the average of $2.28 per gallon recorded in February.
One reason why gasoline-branded credit cards’ rewards are so limited is that the industry’s profit per gallon is pretty low. Last year, privately held gasoline stations generated an average net profit margin of 1.7 percent, while privately held U.S. companies had an average net profit margin of almost 7 percent, according to data from Sageworks.
That small profit margin limits the discounts and the freebies the gas marketers are willing to give their cardholders. As a result, it can be very difficult -- if not impossible -- to compete with rewards given by other cards, Schulz said.
“We found that someone who spends $150 a month on gas would only get about $6 back on a given month on gas cards,” Schulz said. “The return on those cards are really pretty low.”
Better credit-card picks for consumers on gas purchases include BankAmericard Cash Rewards, Capital One Venture Rewards and Chase Freedom. The latter is offering 5 percent back on gas purchases this summer, a $100 sign-up bonus and no annual fee.
Meanwhile, BankAmericard Cash Rewards is offering 3 percent back on gas purchases throughout the year, a $100 sign-up bonus and no annual fee. And Capital One Venture Rewards is offering 2 miles per every dollar spent anywhere, plus a 40,000-mile sign-up bonus (worth $400) and no annual fee for the first year.