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Credit Card Review Methodology

bestcards methodology

There are tens-of-thousands of credit cards available in the United States today. With so many offers, from lenders big and small, it can seem impossible to find exactly what you are looking for. That’s where credit card comparison sites, like BestCards.com, come in. But how can you trust the opinions of experts without understanding their methodology – how they review their credit cards?

BestCards prides itself on offering impartial, comprehensive reviews on more credit cards than anyone else. To date, our team has analyzed over 800 credit card offers, including rewards cards, cash back cards, credit union cards, business cards, secured cards, and more.

Our team studies a variety of factors to let you understand what a card is like to live with day after day. This process takes hours-upon-hours but yields a comprehensive guide we’re proud to put our name on. Here are the key factors we gauge when reviewing a credit card offer:

Interest Rates

With the myriad rewards and perks that come with many credit cards, it’s easy to overlook the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) that cards charge. The APR is the interest rate cardholders must pay if they don’t pay their statement balance in full each month.

Most credit cards have a variable APR, meaning the rate will vary depending on two factors. These factors are the creditworthiness of the applicant and the current Prime Rate (the rate at which the Federal Reserve charges banks to borrow money). Other cards, particularly secured cards, feature a fixed-rate APR. Cards with a fixed-rate typically do not change. If they do, it might be due to the Prime Rate, but not creditworthiness. This makes them an attractive option for some.

Nobody wants to acquire credit card debt when they apply for a new card, but that is a reality for millions of people. The average American currently owes around $6,500 in credit card debt, according to a study by Experian.

BestCards emphasizes APR when evaluating a credit card because it is something many unwittingly overlook. Credit card interest isn’t a one-off payment – it compounds. Compound interest means you will pay interest on your interest, should you not pay your bill in full multiple times. And, with the average interest rate on a credit card at around 17%, those charges can quickly accumulate.

Evaluating APR also encompasses penalty APR, balance transfer APR, and cash advance APR. These are interest rates for specialty transactions, or – in the case of penalty APR – making late payments. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, however. We also place particular emphasis on 0% introductory APR periods. These welcome bonuses make a card an excellent option for those with existing balances they want to pay off, or for significant purchases they plan to finance (without interest) over a period of time.

Credit Card Fees

Fees also play a crucial role in effectively evaluating a credit card. “Fees” is a broad term that applies to a variety of different charges associated with an account.

The most prominent fee with a credit card is the annual fee. Many credit cards feature no annual fees, meaning there is no inherent cost for owning the card account. Some cards, notably travel rewards credit cards and credit cards for bad credit, charge a fee, which can be as low as $25 or as high as $550.

Having a high annual fee doesn’t automatically disqualify a card, however, as the yearly charge needs to be closely compared with the value of the benefits of card membership. These benefits may include VIP tier with loyalty programs, statement credits, lounge access, or other perks.  With credit-rebuilding credit cards, this value is different, with more emphasis placed on the credit-building capabilities of the card, the availability for those with poor credit scores, and the credit lines these cards extend.

Other Types of Fees

While issuers fully disclose their fees in the “terms and conditions,” many people neglect to read these forms before applying for credit carefully. Because of this, it’s all too common for people to feel blindsided when facing a maintenance fee, a fee when using the card abroad, or a fee for adding an authorized user.

BestCards places emphasis on the likelihood a cardholder will encounter a fee, and how much this fee will impact their cardholder experience. If a travel card, for example, features a high foreign transaction fee, this would be a detrimental factor, as opposed to an airline card with no foreign transaction fees at all.

Types of Fees and When They Apply

Type of Fee When It’s Charged
Account Maintenance The monthly fee for servicing an account
Annual Fee Yearly as a membership charge
Balance Transfer Transferring balances between accounts
Cash Advance Withdrawing cash from a credit line
Employee Cards Issuing additional cards for employees
Foreign Transaction Making a purchase in a foreign country
Late Payment Paying a bill after its due date
Over-the-limit Exceeding the credit limit
Returned Payment Bill payment does not go through

Credit Card Perks

Perks and benefits of card membership are also crucial categories for evaluating the overall value a credit card offer provides. Cards with higher annual fees typically offer better perks, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. And even if a card charges an annual fee in the hundreds-of-dollars, if the value of the perks doesn’t match that price tag, it may not be worth applying for.

BestCards always seeks to highlight the value each credit card offer brings to the table, and how these benefits can save you money. Whether they are travel benefits, business benefits, or even security perks, we carefully consider how these services and protections apply to different subsections of applicants, and whether or not they’re worth it.

Rewards

Similarly, rewards play a critical role in the value a credit card offers. Rewards are one of the most alluring aspects of credit cards and serve as a tantalizing extra for those who plan to make the most of their new card. Rewards come in different forms and configurations, but they largely break down into three categories: points, miles, and cash back.

Determining the Value of Rewards

One of the most important considerations when reviewing a rewards card is the value of the points on offer. The value of rewards points isn’t an exact science, but there are ways to gauge their value effectively. Judging the value of rewards requires careful comparisons of the cost of redemption options (like travel, merchandise, or even cash back), versus the cash equivalent for the same product or service. Because these values change frequently, however, the inherent value of points fluctuates.

Earning Rewards

How consumers earn those rewards points or miles is just as crucial as their value. As a general rule of thumb, cards with complicated rewards structures provide limited value to the average individual. Sure, these cards offer exceptional value to the seasoned traveler or credit card churner, but to the average person it likely isn’t worth the hassle.

BestCards always strives to evaluate how a card earns its rewards to provide a better understanding of what it’s like to live with, and use, that product every day. This includes analysis of signup bonuses, the expiration of points, and if they transfer to other loyalty programs.

Redeeming Rewards

Earning rewards is good but redeeming them is excellent. Rewards programs that provide ample redemption options are always preferable, but that doesn’t mean cards with only one redemption option aren’t worthwhile. Some cash back credit cards offer limited rewards options, but statement credits provide exceptional value for those looking to reduce their monthly payments. Cards linked with investment accounts also offer an extraordinary value, despite the limited options for using rewards.

Generally speaking, however, the best rewards programs offer the greatest variety of award options. These may include:

  • Statement credits
  • Checks
  • Travel booking (including flights, cruises, car rentals, and hotel stays)
  • Direct deposits
  • Donations
  • Gift cards
  • Merchandise
  • Points transfers with partners

BestCards closely monitors all the leading loyalty programs to provide a detailed analysis of which credit cards provide the best value for money to users. Our team understands how important points are in choosing a credit card, so we strive to provide the crucial information you need to decide.

Credit Required

Excellent rewards and impressive perks don’t mean a thing if you won’t be approved. Understanding credit requirements is critical for choosing a credit card. After all, most credit card applications result in a hard inquiry, which can negatively impact your credit score.

While BestCards does not inherently judge a credit card based on the creditworthiness requirements, we do emphasize providing the best credit card offers for those with fair credit, bad credit, or no credit history at all. This is because almost 50 million Americans are currently struggling with a subprime credit score.

Repairing credit can be challenging, mainly when some card issuers only target their products towards those with good or excellent credit scores. Our team strives to highlight the best credit cards for bad credit, paying close attention to the ease of application, the credit limits available, potential credit limit increases, and the ability to use the card to build credit quickly.

Other Considerations

BestCards also looks at the intangibles that come from a credit card, the issuers, and other unique considerations. These factors include the quality of the customer service experience, the ease of use of the mobile application, free credit scores, or other credit-building tools.

The BestCards Promise

We set out with the goal of providing comprehensive and impartial credit card reviews and advice for readers, and it’s that purpose which drives everything the BestCards team does every day. Our team takes immense pride in providing reviews designed with every credit score, traveler, business, and consumer in mind.

While the weight we place on certain metrics may vary, depending on the card type or credit score required, our guiding principles remain: To provide in-depth reviews on the best credit cards available today. No matter if it’s a major issuer or a small, local credit union, we’ll give you the unbiased insights you need to find your best card.