CardHub.com recently released its fourth-annual Credit Card Application Study, which evaluates the manner in which issuers display product information on their websites and serves as a gauge of industry transparency.
While the credit card industry has come a long way since the enactment of the CARD Act, which put an end to the bait-and-switch pricing and other predatory practices that were near ubiquitous prior to the Great Recession, there’s still work that needs to be done to make personal finance – and credit card use in particular – more accessible.
CardHub’s Credit Card Application Study is one way to track the progress of major banks in that regard. More specifically, it scores and ranks the country’s 10 largest credit card issuers based on how clearly their online credit card application pages provide information concerning the following product terms:
- Rewards – Both earning rates and redemption value.
- Membership Fees – Monthly and annual fees.
- Key Finance Costs – This includes introductory purchase and balance transfer APRs, regular rates, and balance transfer fees.
You can check out the study’s main findings below in addition to commentary from CardHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou and 5 Tips for Getting a Credit Card.
- Capital One has the clearest credit card applications for the fourth straight year, receiving a perfect score of 100% in 2013.
- The worst performing issuers were American Express and Barclays, with average scores of 78.33% and 73.3%, respectively.
- In 2013 overall transparency increased, rising from 84.2% to 89.8% – the highest score since we began conducting this study in 2010. USAA’s credit card product pages showed the most improvement from last year – its average score rose 16.4%. Bank of America also had a significant increase of 12.2 percentage points.
- In relative ranking, U.S. Bank fell the furthest, dropping 3 positions from their 2012 rankings. Chase had the biggest improvement in relative rank, improving by 4 positions.
- The areas in which the most ambiguity still remains are the same as in previous years: information related to rewards redemption and balance transfer fees.
- Most applications were very clear about the annual fee, how to earn rewards, and the purchase APR.
“While there has been a lot of talk recently about the overall lack of consumer financial literacy, and rightly so, we also cannot afford to ignore the role that banks and regulators have played in creating an overly-complex personal finance landscape,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub and WalletHub and a widely-respected personal finance expert. “Product disclosures are still too long and too dense, and marketing language is still misleading far too often. If you don’t know exactly what to look for, it’s easy to miss a key rate or fee. And that, of course, makes applying for the right products – whether we’re talking about a credit card, a checking account, or even a mortgage – quite difficult. Financial institutions have obviously made strides in this regard, as evidenced by the findings of our 2013 Credit Card Application Study, and regulators are providing solid guidance, but fostering improved financial performance is truly going to be a continual team effort. At the end of the day, when webpages can be updated instantaneously, there’s really no reason why all issuers cannot receive transparency scores of 90% or higher.”
To view the complete 2013 Credit Card Application Study, visit:
5 Tips for Getting a Credit Card
- Determine Your Credit Standing: Credit card companies evaluate each applicant’s credit history and disposable income when making approval decisions. Together, this information tells them whether or not you can handle a new credit line and dictates the types of offers you’re eligible for.That doesn’t mean you need to run out and order your actual credit score before applying for a credit card, however. Not only is it impossible to get a credit score that matches the proprietary scoring models used by the 10 major issuers (which control around 80% of the market), but you typically have to pay to access your credit score. Instead, you should take advantage of your free annual credit reports because the information that they contain will give you a qualitative sense of where you stand and therefore what credit cards to focus your search on.
- Compare Offers with a Purpose: Do your credit standing, spending, and payment habits indicate that you should get a rewards credit card, a 0% credit card, or a no annual fee credit card? Well, if you always pay your bills in full, rewards would be more appropriate than low interest rates, and vice versa. And if you don’t have above-average credit, then you should focus on finding a card that does not charge an annual fee and offers you a good chance of approval.The point is, you should determine how you plan to use your credit card as well as what offers you’re eligible before actually beginning your search for a specific product because this will enable you to better target your comparison efforts.
- Don’t Let Marketing Hype Sway You: A credit card offering a 0% promotional interest rate or bearing the logo of your favorite sports team might seem very appealing, but you can’t evaluate credit cards in a vacuum. You need to thoroughly compare product terms in order to find the best possible offer for your needs. If you’re in debt, a long 0% rate might be misleading, as membership fees, balance transfer fees, and regular interest rates can easily wind up eating away at your potential 0% savings.
- Don’t Apply En Masse: The purpose of comparing credit cards is to narrow your selections down to the offer or two with the best terms for your particular financial situation. This will enable you to minimize the odds that you’ll be declined and have to submit numerous applications within a short period of time, which is bad for your credit. A lot of people make the mistake of applying for a bunch of cards at once, thinking that they’ll eventually get approved for one. This type of lottery approach is the worst way to go about getting a new credit card.
- Remember that Secured Cards are a Good Option: If your desire for a new credit card stems from a need to improve your credit standing, don’t discount secured credit cards. In fact, you should apply for one if you don’t get approved after two unsuccessful applications for unsecured cards. Secured cards offer the closest thing you can get to guaranteed credit card approval because they require users to place a refundable security deposit that acts as their credit line and ensures that the issuer will get paid back for whatever you spend.