How We Rate Credit and Charge Cards

John Ganotis

John Ganotis

Updated Jan 16, 2019

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We rate cards compared to each other. The best cards offer the highest reward-earning potential, the most valuable benefits, the lowest fees, and the lowest interest rates. The worst cards have the opposite. Most cards fall somewhere in-between. Advertiser relationships do not affect our rating of cards, how we choose cards for our Editor’s Best Card Picks, or the order in which cards appear on card lists.

Card Type and Benefits

Card type is one of the biggest factors in a card’s estimation, as it only makes sense to compare travel cards to other travel cards, student cards to other student cards, and so on. Cash back cards are rated based on how much cash back can be earned and for what kinds of purchases, for example. Secured cards are expected to have a lower credit requirement and provide fewer benefits, so this is not held against them. Other card types are also judged according to their particular intent.

Extra card benefits tend to be similar across cards: extended warranties, travel insurance, concierge service, etc. The differences are in the types of benefits and the extent of the service. For example, the travel insurance of one card may provide coverage up to $1,000, while another card may provide coverage up to $10,000.

Interest Rate and Fees

Interest rates can vary greatly for purchases and balance transfers, but they are usually similar for cash advances. A one or two point difference in interest rates is not seen as significant, but introductory 0% APR’s are seen as quite valuable.

Some penalties and fees are normal for credit and charge cards. Strict, severe penalties for late payments and other infractions are not necessarily bad, as they can be avoided, but these will lower a card’s worth compared to more forgiving cards with similar rates and benefits.

Acquiring Cards and Public Opinion

If a card is difficult to get, such as requiring a high credit rating, and it also offers relatively bad terms, it will fall farther down on the rating scale. But if a card is difficult to get but offers great terms, the difficulty will not count against it because it is exclusive for a good reason.

The opinions of the general public and visitor reviews also weigh into the rating of a card. These can include any and all of the experiences people are having with the card: reports about the quality of customer service, whether it works as it should, surprises in store for cardholders, etc.

Advertiser relationships do not in any way affect our rating of cards when comparing them to each other, or when choosing cards for our “Best” editor’s picks.

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