Q: I see your ratings on the credit cards, but can’t find how you rate your cards and what the ratings mean?
A: CardRatings.com uses a “star” scale not unlike the one used by your favorite movie or theatre critics. Why we assign those stars has a lot to do with how credit card issuers add value for their customers.
Roger Ebert once wrote, “any worthwhile review is subjective.” He often explains that his ratings reflect a filmmaker’s intentions and how well a movie lives up to its goals. The ratings you’ll find in our credit card database aren’t much different. Our editors and researchers assign values ranging from one to five stars based on how credit cards improve the lives of cardholders. Some of the factors we consider include:
- Annual fees. We don’t mind “expensive” annual fees, as long as cardholder perks make up for any upfront costs each year.
- Benefits compared to similar cards. Just as car reviews separate sedans from minivans, we make comparisons based on the type of card and on the credit score necessary for approval. An elite airline credit card won’t have the same features as a student credit card, but both can earn five stars for exceeding expectations in their class.
- Benefits compared to the overall credit card market. Of course, some cards transcend their peers to earn our top honors, including our annual Editor’s Choice awards.
- Customer service. Fewer rings on the phone mean more stars.
- Longevity. A card that’s been around for a while develops a reputation.
- Finance charges. Even though we believe credit cards work best when you pay them down regularly, we still reward card issuers who keep their APRs low.
- Customer and consumer advocate opinions. Visitors to our credit card forum influence our ratings, as do crusaders like Consumers Union and Clark Howard.
When Curtis Arnold launched CardRatings.com in 1998, he set out to develop a comprehensive database of unbiased, accurate credit card reviews with helpful links to card applications. Although we accept advertising from some of the credit card issuers represented in the database, sponsors never influence our reviews.
In fact, our sponsors issue only about one in five of the cards in our database. Our advertisers earn top rankings only when their products meet the criteria above. Otherwise, they could very well end up with just one or two stars. We review our listings often to filter out “bait and switch” offers or long-expired bonus deals, so our credit card ratings reflect as closely as possible what banks really intend to deliver.