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Readability of the credit card agreements from 20 largest issuers

By Readability Study finds major card issuers' contracts unreadable by most Americans
Large national banks issue more than 90 percent of consumer credit cards in the United States. Federal law now requires large banks -- those with 10,000 credit card accounts or more -- to post their credit card agreements in a database now maintained by the Federal Reserve. analyzed the more than 1,200 card agreements in the database for readability, using software that ranks documents in terms of the grade level required to understand them. The higher the grade, the fewer people can understand it. The average American reads at a ninth-grade level. 

Here's a look at how the credit card agreements of the 20 largest issuers (based on oustanding balances) fared in the readability analysis.

Bank Average reading grade level of credit card agreement (in years)
Average number of words in credit card agreements
First National Bank of Omaha 15.8 6,301
Wells Fargo Financial National Bank
15.7 377
Discover Bank
14.9 10,287
GE Money Bank 14.7 6,999
Citibank, NA
14.6 5,007
Target National Bank
14.3 4,009
Chase Bank USA, NA
12.7 6,641
HSBC Bank Nevada, NA
12.3 4,659
USAA Savings Bank 10.5 3,750
Wells Fargo Bank, NA
9.3 1,305
Bank of America, NA 9
U.S. Bancorp 8.9 3,588
Citibank (South Dakota), NA 8.2 1,844
American Express Travel Related Services 8.2 833
American Express Bank, FSB 8.1 1,375
Barclays Bank Delaware 8.1 734

American Express Centurion Bank

8.1 1,265
Citibank, Guam
8 195
PNC Bank, NA 7.9 950
Capital One Bank, NA
7.3 1,351
Source: analysis of the readability of the credit card agreements posted at the Federal Reserve's database. See methodology. Notes: Some banks have more than one credit-card issuing division.  The word count is based on the number of words as calculated by readability programs. These programs strip out incomplete sentences and words in headlines or bulleted lists so the actual word count of the credit card agreement may be higher than indicated.

See related: MAIN STORY: Credit card agreements unreadable to 4 of 5 Americans, 10 most unreadable credit card agreements, 10 most readable credit card agreements, 10 wordiest credit card agreements, How credit card agreements' readability compares to familiar documents, Quotable: What lawmakers, consumer activists, bankers say, 3 language experts try to make sense of a card agreement, Federal database of credit card agreements not user friendly, Video: Consumers try in vain to understand credit card agreements

Published: July 22, 2010

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