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Target Circle guide: How to save, get deals and earn cash back with Target's free loyalty program

·9 min read

Do you hit the bullseye of savings when you shop at Target?

If you don’t – I hate to break it to you – you’re leaving money on the table with each in-store purchase and every online order. We’re talking easy money, no extreme couponing required.

Recently, I broke down what makes Aldi one of my favorite stores to shop and how to make the most of your trips. Now, it's time to save at Target.

My keys to saving include Target Circle, the retailer's free loyalty program that has hundreds of discounts a day ranging from 5% to 50%, and the RedCard, which offers 5% off purchases every day even on Apple products, Disney gift cards and the annual Black Friday pilgrimage.

While not everybody has room in their wallet for another credit or debit card, most should have room on their phone for the Target app, which is the easiest way to rack up the savings with Circle. (For those without a smartphone, it's still possible to take advantage of some offers by registering with a phone number or by printing a barcode from your computer.)

Target also offers a big incentive for customers without a RedCard to join and participate in Circle – the ability to earn 1% back on most purchases.

►Target run: Target adding beer, wine and alcohol for curbside and in-store pickup at 1,200 stores

►'Explosive demand': Americans are ready to step out in style in new clothes

More than 90 million shoppers are already part of Circle and have earned nearly $200 million with the 1% back since the program launched nationwide in October 2019. Members have also saved nearly $2 billion to date with the Circle offers.

If you're out of the loop – and not loading offers to your account, scanning your Target wallet at checkout and getting notifications from Target congratulating you on your savings – relax. I'm going to show you how to take savings for a spin.

Joining the 'inner' Target Circle

You might already be a member of Circle and not know it. If you have an existing Target.com, former Cartwheel account or RedCard credit or debit card, you were automatically enrolled in Target Circle. Shoppers also can join by making a Target.com account or by giving their phone numbers in a Target store.

Download the app at Target.com or directly at the Apple or Google Play app stores. Either create a Target.com account or log in with an existing account.

How does Target Circle work

Think of it as a two-tier loyalty program. There’s the free program open to all, and then there are savings that require a Target RedCard credit or debit card.

  • Easy savings, no work required: If you don't have a RedCard, you can earn 1% in rewards on nearly every single purchase in-store and online that can be redeemed on a future purchase. The short list of exclusions includes alcohol beverage purchases, prescriptions and over-the-counter items located behind the pharmacy counter, Start earning by scanning a barcode in the app, a printable barcode printed from the website or entering your mobile phone number (once it is registered with your account).

  • Savings for RedCard holders: Now, if you do have RedCard, you save 5% off purchases made with the Target credit or debit cards, but you do not get the 1% back in rewards. Target says to earn 1%, you can't use a RedCard for any portion of the purchase. I mean, 5% is more than 1%, so you come out ahead anyway, just don’t forget to pay your bill. (I put all of my credit cards and most of my bills on automatic pilot by using auto-bill pay.)

  • More savings: Each week, Target promotes a few Target Circle offers in its weekly store ad. But don't rely solely on the ad to guide you to the savings because there are hundreds of additional offers on the app.

  • Bonuses: Every so often, there's the chance to earn an occasional bonus, which vary by member. In February, for instance, I earned $20 in rewards after making three purchases of $80 or more – even though I used my RedCard.

  • Earning rewards: If you are a Target Circle member but don't have a RedCard, you can start accruing earnings by scanning the Wallet barcode in the Target app or use your phone number at checkout in stores, or log in to their Target.com account when shopping online. Don't worry if you forget to do this at the time; you can also scan your receipt in the app or enter it on Target.com within seven days.

  • Redeeming rewards: To redeem the 1% and any bonus rewards, scan the Wallet barcode in the Target app, give your phone number or log into your account when shopping online. Note that you can't redeem earnings on some items including, adult beverage purchases, dairy product purchases, prescriptions, Same Day Delivery purchases and gift cards.

  • Expiring rewards: As long as you remain active and keep participating in Circle, Target says your earnings will not expire. However, if you don't keep using the program after earning, your rewards will expire in a year. So if you're on the forgetful side, best to use them ASAP.

  • Birthday reward: If you include your birth date in your Target account, on your birthday you’ll get 5% off a storewide purchase discount to use on a future purchase. The discount is valid for 30 days; and for members with a RedCard, the reward is stackable with the RedCard discount, Target tells me. As with most of the deals, be sure to check the exclusions.

  • Giving back: By using Circle, you earn "Community Giving Program votes" with every transaction, regardless of payment type. You then have a say in where Target directs its charitable giving. Cast votes for organizations through the app or website. Target says members have directed nearly $7 million to more than 2,500 local and national nonprofit organizations since Circle started.

► Pro shopper tip: Weekly sales traditionally run Sunday through Saturday, and you can find out what’s on sale each week with the weekly online sales circular, which is posted on Fridays. Sometimes, you'll want to wait to shop, especially on big purchases or plan to go back for a price adjustment.

Saving with Circle offers

Using the Target app is the easiest way to find and redeem Circle offers, but it's also possible to add the offers to your wallet at Target.com/circle.

  • Each day, there are hundreds of Circle offers ranging from 5% to 50% off in categories such as groceries, clothes, furniture, baby products, health, seasonal and more. Everyone can add up to 75 offers on their Circle account whether they are a newbie or super saver. This was previously 50 offers.

  • Search or browse for deals by categories or scan item bar codes with the app. The app also curates personalized offers based on past purchases. Offers can be sorted by newest, highest discount, trending deals or by expiring.

  • Save offers to your wallet by clicking the plus sign. To delete offers, click on the green check mark.

  • Many Circle offers can be redeemed on purchases using Target Drive Up and in-store pickup, and some are available to ship as well. Be sure to confirm any restrictions on the offers. For instance, if you are buying seven of the same item, the offer might work only on the first four, depending on the fine print.

  • Alcohol savings: There are some digital rebates for alcohol, but check the fine print as they are not available in all states and are in-store only. These can be found in the “Alcohol Beverages” Circle category and are single-use offers.

  • In-store only: There are some manufacturer coupons and alcohol rebates on Circle that can be redeemed only in stores. The coupons are usually marked as MFR single-use coupon.

  • At checkout: Scanning the main Wallet barcode combines Circle offers, other coupons and you can choose to select payment options.

  • Payment options: If you’re paying with a RedCard or gift card loaded to your account, confirm the right RedCard – you can have multiple store cards in an account – has a green box around it and that the wallet background is red. Same with gift cards. Make sure there are green boxes around them.

  • Don't do this: A screenshot of your own barcode or someone else's won't work, so log in on the app or bring the physical printout from Target.com.

  • Always check the receipt: Check your receipt before leaving the store to make sure offers were applied. If they weren’t, you should go to guest services.

  • Early access to sales: Target offered Circle members early access to its Black Friday weekly sales in 2020 and past years. In 2020, you had to be a Circle member to take advantage of one of Target's best sales of the year – the annual 10% gift card sale.

► Pro shopper tip: I add a lot of offers before I head to Target and then scan as I load up my physical shopping carts to look for other offers. This is a way to find out if competitor brands might have a better offer.

RedCard perks

As a longtime Target shopper, I have a RedCard card in my wallet that's a Target-branded RedCard Mastercard I'm able to use at Target and anywhere else Mastercard is accepted. (So Costco is not an option.)

However, if you're considering opening a RedCard, this Mastercard isn't an option for you. You can choose from a debit or credit card to use only at Target, the same way your Kohl's store credit card only works at Kohl's.

The RedCard debit and credit cards have almost identical features and benefits, except the debit card links to your existing checking account and you can withdraw up to $40 cash at checkout. You can apply for a RedCard in stores or online but watch for sign-up promotions.

All RedCards offer cardholders a 5% daily discount on almost all purchases, a perk added in 2010. As usual, there are some exclusions, which include pharmacy purchases, Target gift cards and prepaid cards, Target Optical eye exams and protection plans and Shipt membership fees.

Here are the other benefits of a RedCard:

  • Extra discounts: In addition to the 5% daily discount, Target regularly offers extra discounts for RedCard holders. Most times, you need to select the offer in your Target account before checkout.

  • Longer return period: RedCard holders get an additional 30 days for returns and exchanges of most purchases.

  • Free shipping: While exceptions exist, most days you can get free shipping when you use a RedCard. Some items are considered add-ons and require a $35 purchase to get free shipping.

What are your best Target shopping strategies? Tell Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For more shopping tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Target Circle deals: Save with free loyalty program online, in-store

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