Signing on for a sports credit card: A surprisingly good way to root for the home team

Be Careful When Choosing a Co-Branded Credit Card

There's virtually nothing left that can't be bought with your favorite team's logo on it.

Want to buy your dog a rain-resistant fleece with an Oakland Raiders logo? You can.

How about an M-blazoned theater recliner for Michigan Wolverines? Get it here.

And no Yankees fan's home would be complete without a Yankees toilet seat.

All these products are available online and can all be bought – how else? – with a credit card that bears your favorite team's logo.

The National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball all have deals with major banks to market credit cards with team logos. However, that wasn't always the case. The NFL and MLB cards have been around for some time, but the NHL Discover it card was just introduced in May, and the BBVA Compass NBA American Express Card was announced in February.

The question is: Are these cards worth considering?

We went looking for the answer. Honestly, our expectations weren't very high, but what we found surprised us.

More Practical Rewards

Pro sports leagues' credit cards used to lean toward team-specific rewards, such as 20 percent off purchases at the league's online store. They'd also highlight unique experiences, like access to a team's training camp or a chance to play golf with a Hall of Famer. Now, the rewards are much more competitive with the best cash-back cards. This summer, the NHL card is offering 5 percent cash back on purchases at home improvement stores, department stores and The MLB card always offers 3 percent back on gas purchases and 2 percent back on groceries. The NBA card offers double the points on gas and groceries.

Interestingly, the NBA card offers five times the points on all purchases – even non-NBA-related purchases, during the NBA All-Star Weekend and the two weeks of the NBA Finals.

Competitive Sign-Up Bonuses

Everyone loves free money, and three of the four major sports leagues are currently offering $100 signup bonuses for new cardholders who spend $500 within the first 90 days. That's the same bonus that you can currently receive on popular general-purpose cash-back cards such as Chase Freedom and Capital One's Quicksilver Cash Rewards credit card.

The only league card without a signup bonus: the NHL Discover it card, which instead will double your cash back at the end of your first year.

No Annual Fees

Three of the four leagues don't charge an annual fee on their credit cards. The other – the NBA – is currently running a lifetime no-annual fee promotion on its card for those who sign up by Aug. 31, 2015. If you miss the deadline, the annual fee will be $50, though it will still be waived for the first year.

Wide-Ranging Interest Rates

Many credit cards come with a range of APRs rather than a single rate. The better credit you have, the better APR you'll receive. These sports league cards are no different, except their ranges can vary even more widely than other cards.

  • NBA: 9.24 to 29.24 percent
  • NHL: 10.99 to 22.99 percent
  • MLB: 12.99 to 22.99 percent
  • NFL: 14.99 to 24.99 percent

The low end of the APR range for several of these cards is well below the national average of 15 percent. Meanwhile, the highest rates are in line with the national average for people with bad credit, except for the NBA card, which features an unusually high 29.24 percent APR at its top end.

A Word of Caution

APR ranges can be confusing. They can make it hard to know exactly what interest rate you'll receive if your application is successful. That's why it is important to know where you stand with your credit before applying for a card. You don't need to know your exact credit score, but if you generally know that you have great credit, pretty good credit or crummy credit, it can help you adjust expectations and avoid some surprises. After all, the last thing anyone wants is to apply for a credit card thinking that it'll have a 9.24 percent interest rate and get handed one with a 29.24 percent interest.

All things considered, however, these sports cards are worth considering for a passionate fan. If you have good credit and pay off your balance every month, these cards can be a great way to support your favorite team – and earn a little cash back for the effort.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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