How reviews are calculated

The goal of our credit card reviews and our ratings is to provide objective, useful comparative information that will help you choose the right card for you. To do so, we’ve devised a list of factors that we believe are most relevant to cardholders within each category and weighted those factors by level of importance. We’ve then scored each factor, based on a model of the average credit card holder and compiled all of those scores into an overall 5-star rating.

The factors that go into calculating the reviews for each category are as follows:

Rewards cards

  • Estimated rewards value
    We give this factor the greatest weighting in the rewards category. We use a formula to calculate the estimated yearly value, assuming $1,325 per month of spend, averaged over three years. The formula includes an average rewards rate (based on spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), sign-up bonus, annual fee and average redemption value for the rewards. We then assign a score depending on how the estimated rewards value compares to other cards.
  • Annual percentage rate (APR)
    Rewards card users generally don’t want to carry a balance, so APR is a small part of the rating for the rewards category. We assign a score depending on how the average APR and the intro APR compares to other rewards cards.
  • Rewards flexibility
    Rewards points aren’t useful if you can’t redeem them, so the flexibility of redemption is a large part of our scoring for rewards cards. We rate factors including expiration dates, restrictions, blackout dates, limits, minimum redemption thresholds and ability to transfer points on a scale of 1-5.
  • Customer experience
    We look at each issuer’s J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rankings, along with Google Play and Apple store user ratings, to assign a score for customer experience.
  • Features
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating:

        • Tier 1: Less than basic benefits
        • Tier 2: Basic card
        • Tier 3: Prime card
        • Tier 4: Luxury card
        • Tier 5: Exemplerary benefits

Balance transfer cards

  • Introductory offer
    We give the most weight to the value of the introductory offer. We compare the length of the introductory period, transfer fee and introductory APR against other cards in the balance transfer category and assign a score.
  • Net value
    The overall value of the card, including the costs of carrying a balance, is weighted heavily in our calculations. We compare the regular APR, annual fee, late fees, penalty APR and rewards rate against other cards in the balance transfer category to assign a score.
  • Customer experience
    We look at each issuer’s J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rankings, along with Google Play and Apple store user ratings, to assign a score for customer experience.
  • Features
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating:

        • Tier 1: Less than basic benefits
        • Tier 2: Basic card
        • Tier 3: Prime card
        • Tier 4: Luxury card
        • Tier 5: Exemplerary benefits

Student cards

  • Introductory offer
    We look at the introductory APR, introductory APR for balance transfer and the length of the introductory period, and assign a score to them based on how they compare to other cards in the student category.
  • Interest and fees
    Since student cards are targeted toward new users just learning to manage their credit, the costs of missing a payment or carrying a balance gets the greatest weighting in this category. We look at the regular APR, annual fee and penalty APR, and assign a score depending on how it compares to other student cards.
  • Rewards program
    The next biggest factor is the rewards value. We calculate the estimated rewards value using a formula based on $1,325 per month of spend, averaged over three years. The formula includes an average rewards rate, sign-up bonus, annual fee and average redemption value for the rewards. We assign a score based on how the rewards value compares to other student cards. We also look at the flexibility of the program, considering factors such as expiration dates, point limits, minimum points required to redeem and restrictions on redeeming rewards.
  • Customer experience
    We look at each issuer’s J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rankings, along with Google Play and Apple store user ratings, to assign a score for customer experience.
  • Features (5 percent)
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating:

        • Tier 1: Less than basic benefits
        • Tier 2: Basic card
        • Tier 3: Prime card
        • Tier 4: Luxury card
        • Tier 5: Exemplerary benefits

Low interest credit cards

  • Rates and fees
    We look at the overall expense of owning the card, including rates, fees and penalties. We give the largest weighting to the cost of carrying a balance on the card over a three year period, which we calculate using the regular APR, introductory APR and length of the introductory period. We also rate the assortment of fees on the card and the penalty APR.
  • Rewards
    Rewards programs tend to drive up rates and fees on a card, so we give them a minor weighting in the low interest category.
  • Customer experience
    We look at each issuer’s J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rankings, along with Google Play and Apple store user ratings, to assign a score for customer experience.
  • Features
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating:

        • Tier 1: Less than basic benefits
        • Tier 2: Basic card
        • Tier 3: Prime card
        • Tier 4: Luxury card
        • Tier 5: Exemplerary benefits

Business Credit Cards

  • Estimated rewards value
    We give this factor the greatest weighting in the rewards category. We use a formula to calculate the estimated yearly value, assuming $4,000 per month of spend, averaged over three years. The formula includes an average rewards rate, sign-up bonus, annual fee and average redemption value for the rewards. We then assign a score depending on how the estimated rewards value compares to other cards.Note: To calculate the average rewards rate, we gathered data on average business spending to determine both category and overall spend. We assume the average business cardholder spends $4,000 per month with the following weighting:

    • 63% on general purchases
    • 12% on dining/entertainment purchases
    • 11% on gas
    • 3% on computer/internet services
    • 3% on office supplies
    • 3% on travel and transport
    • 2% on insurance
    • 2% on telecommunications
    • 1% on utilities
  • Annual percentage rate(APR)
    We assign a score depending on how the average APR and the intro APR compares to other rewards cards.
  • Rewards flexibility
    Rewards points aren’t useful if you can’t redeem them, so the flexibility of redemption is a large part of our scoring for a business card with rewards. We rate factors including expiration dates, restrictions, blackout dates, limits, minimum redemption thresholds and ability to transfer points on a scale of 1-5.
  • Customer experience
    We look at each issuer’s J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rankings, along with Google Play and Apple store user ratings, to assign a score for customer experience.
  • Features
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating:

        • Tier 1: Less than basic benefits
        • Tier 2: Basic card
        • Tier 3: Prime card
        • Tier 4: Luxury card
        • Tier 5: Exemplerary benefits

Credit building cards

  • Cost of membership
    For credit building cardholders, credit cards can be costly to own. Not only do most cards charge an annual fee for cardholders in the poor to average credit range, but many cards have maintenance fees and other fees hidden in their terms and conditions that can really add up, and can be a major drag if you intend to keep the card in the long run (which is recommended for a healthy credit score). We’ve added up the annual fee, set up fees and monthly fees and other ongoing fees for each card, and also added in the rewards (cash back or other types of rewards) that a cardholder can earn with each card by spending $300 per month on average, to figure out which card is least costly (and possibly most rewarding) to maintain. Note, for secured cards, this calculation doesn’t include the security deposit, since it’s fully refundable as long as you stay on top of your payments.
  • Building credit
    We rate each card on its utility for building credit quickly, including the card’s security deposit (if required), the highest possible credit limit offered by the card, and the number of months until an account review to increase your credit limit and/or move you to an unsecured card (if stated by the issuer).
  • Annual Percent Rate (APR )
    Since fledgling cardholders and cardholders trying to rebuild credit are vulnerable to missing payments and accruing interest, APRs are another major factor in our rating. We calculate the average APR from the range of APRs that the card offers, then compare this average against the APR on other cards in the same category to provide a rating.
  • Features
    We score each card’s set of features (purchase protections, travel protections, etc.) against six tiers of features and then compare that score against other cards in the category to provide a rating.

As credit card offers change, we will periodically review this information and update the ratings based on the new offer terms.

Return to main reviews page