The Benefits and Drawbacks of a Lowe's Credit Card

2017 is here, and the holiday season is over. One particular store has yet to see its busy season yet though, as prime buy time starts just a few months from now when warm weather arrives. Lowe's is the Home Depot competitor that usually has the better prices, and since spring and summer are coming up there will surely be lots of home improvement projects getting done.

Building a home, shed, deck, driveway, or refurnishing appliances is highly expensive, and Lowe's claims to offer a solution- the Lowe's Credit Card with 5% off or special financing for certain purchases. Simply put, the card seems like a great deal. However, information about the card on the internet is polarizing. Some users love the card for its special perks, while others say the interest rate is just not worth the trouble. Having had the card for a few years now, I believe that I can objectively look at the best and worst parts of owning the card so that I can relay my experiences to you; and you may gather your own opinion on whether or not the credit card is worth the trouble.

A few years ago I was building my house with a limited income. Going to school overtime and working too, I could only rake in $8,000 a year after taxes and mortgage. So for the first year I took my time; I bought what I needed and did what little work I could do with it. But past a certain point I was waiting for the money to buy the things I needed to continue working. Progress was very slow, and I was paying bills for the house despite not utilizing it. The best solution I could see was a financed credit card that I could use to quickly buy everything I needed, then pay it off before it gained interest. Black Friday came, and Lowe's was offering 18 or 24 months 0% APR financing on the first purchase you made if you signed up for their credit card. Thus began my financial relationship with Synchrony Bank.

Firstly the benefits of the card. Signing up was a breeze. Through the website- and completely online, I filled out some paperwork and gave my information. An instant approval was returned to me, and I had a credit card. 3,000 dollars was the starting limit. This is a startling amount considering I only grossed 12,000 a year! And even with an unrefined credit history, the approval was still more than double my other credit card. The reason that they take such high risks with their credit approvals is because of the nature of the card itself. The Lowe's credit card is not actually a real credit card per se. In fact, it has a 14-digit card number instead of the usual 16-digits. The card can only be used at Lowe's warehouses, and because of this Lowe's has less of a risk in lending you money. For those with bad credit, or somebody desperately needing to buy expensive appliances, the credit card is extremely handy.

But now for a bit of the downsides. The APR is horrendously high. I had received 24.99%, but some research shows that new applicants are getting 26.99%. This percentage probably will not drop ever, either. I have not called to haggle with them, but Synchrony seems stern about their interest rates. Secondly, the easy-to-use Lowe's website is replaced by the unfamiliar and out-of-the-way syf.com when you need to make payments. At the very bottom of the main Lowe's page, hidden in the footer is a link to the site, and that is where you need to log into to pay monthly balances. The payment site is complicated and confusing, and simply navigating to commonly accessed areas is cumbersome. Moreover, many features such as electronic statements are hidden in links and not activated by default. Once you understand how to pay your bill, though, the process is simplified greatly. What was also a benefit is also a detriment; because the credit card is not "real", you cannot use the high maximum balance anywhere but Lowe's.

Back to a few pros, having the emergency credit for when an appliance breaks or when natural disasters strike is priceless. For my needs, the card achieved its purpose- I was able to buy the remaining materials for my house and complete it in March. My credit limit increased easily as well, climbing to $6000 just by asking nicely. Accordingly, the support offered online is very helpful, and the agents can help resolve most problems instantly. I thought I made a payment one month that did not process. About to be charged with a late fee, I talked to support for a total of 10 seconds before they offered to nullify the late fee. Decent support is hard to find with strange banks, but Synchrony gets bonus points for their help.

As with all credit cards, you must be wary of the high credit limit though. 26.99% interest on a 5000 dollar balance would need $200 payments per month to not have the balance increase every cycle. Synchrony expects this though, and it is part of the reason why the limits and APR are so high. An average person might get the card for a house project, pay $4000 or so, then become trapped in debt because they cannot afford to pay $500 a month to lower the principal. One must be especially wary of this fact, and I do not recommend charging over $2000 onto any credit card with ~25% APR. Furthermore, because the card is not real balance transfers are impossible. I tried for months to get $1000 transferred onto my 0% APR card, but the money simply would not move. "But what about the 12/18/24/36 month special financing options?" you ask. These certainly help combat the high APR, but you also be wary of Synchrony's payment methods to use the special financing effectively. I received 18 months special financing on about $2000 worth of materials. In other shopping trips, I bought maybe $500 worth of products on the card as well. Payments I was making on the card were being applied towards the non-financed purchases by default, and by the time I noticed it I only had a few months to pay back $1000. The option to apply payments towards financed purchases is once again hidden in some obscure menu on the website. Had the the option been made more available, I would not be paying the interest I am now.

How the credit card effects your credit score is still a mystery to me. With a high balance, I am almost sure my score dropped. But with a low balance it seemed as though it had no baring on the credit score. Because the card is not real I cannot say whether it has a pull in either direction, but I still recommend following good credit practices regarding balances and payments.

And now that I've been living in my house for over a year, I owe a bit to the Lowe's credit card. I would not recommend that card to everyone, but if you need to finance a mid-budget project and have the finances to pay it back quickly, you could definitely benefit from owning the card. However, do not sign up for the card out of desperation, because if you cannot pay it back soon enough the interest will keep piling on. Use all credit cards with caution, but definitely keep your balance low with a Lowe's card.

Photo: Lowe's of Gaffney by Ed Clem, retrieved from Google.com