America's economy may be finally rising above its recession depths, but too many Americans are still sinking their household finances by taking on too much credit card debt. A recent survey found new credit card debt rose by 47 percent last year compared to 2013 and is expected to rise by 5 percent this year, reaching $60 billion.
Using plastic, in the form or credit or debit cards, is certainly convenient, especially when you're in a hurry -- like at the gas station. This year's Consumer Fuels Survey by the National Association of Convenience Stores reports that nearly 80 percent of consumers use plastic when paying at the pump.
And some consumers got in the habit of using gas station-branded credit cards in recent years as gas prices drifted higher and higher in the hope of using their per-gallon discounts, rebates and other reward programs tied to those cards to make gas a little more affordable.
But a new report by CreditCards.com says for most consumers, gas credit cards are no longer the deal they were in recent years.
The report points to several factors you should consider before swiping that gas credit card, such as their high interest rates. The average APR (annual percentage rate) of a gas card is 24 percent compared to 15 percent for general-purpose cards.
The CreditCards.com report also calls the rewards programs into question. It says the typical gas card has a 10-cent per gallon discount. That's a good return for the moment, coming in at around 4 percent in current gasoline prices. But once gas prices resume rising, those percentages will decline.
Some gas cards also have sign-up bonuses, but the report found most of those perks aren't especially generous, in some cases offering a discount of a few extra cents during the card's first 60 or 90 days. "That contrasts sharply with general-purpose credit cards that offer lucrative sign-up bonuses that can be worth hundreds of dollars," the report adds.
And what's more, the gas cards can become a hassle, requiring minimum spending thresholds, maximum limits and complicated rewards levels programs.
Still, CreditCards.com noted that gas cards do have their place with some consumers. Many have instant-approval deals, and they can help build a positive credit history if you're trying to get established.
"Gas cards are the dull, boring sedans of the credit card world," Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst, noted in a press release. "They're stuck in the slow lane, destined never to be flashy."