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To stand out in the highly competitive credit card market, issuers often load up their advertising with features and perks that sound impressive. But the truth is, some just aren’t.
Take “zero fraud liability,” for example. This isn’t so much a feature as it is U.S. federal law. Essentially, all cards have it.
Free credit score? If this was 2010, that might be special. Not anymore.
When choosing a card, it can help to know which features are a snow job, added only to pump up the marketing bullet points. You can safely ignore them and focus on attributes that truly help you make a good decision, like annual fee, rewards, interest rate and sign-up bonus.
The market is brimming with good credit cards right now, whether you’re looking for cash back, travel points or a break on paying interest. As you’re deciding on your next credit card, feel free to gloss over these marketing boasts.
1. Zero fraud liability
Nobody wants to be liable for unauthorized or fraudulent charges on their credit card when it’s so common. The number of "data compromises" in 2021 hit an all-time high, with many involving payment card information, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
But U.S. consumers have been protected from fraudulent charges for decades by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. Technically, you might be on the hook for $50 in some cases, but banks and credit card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, as a standard practice waive all liability. The point is, it’s not a special feature to base a decision on.
2. Free credit score
Checking credit scores periodically is a good idea. And while you used to have to pay to get them, you mostly don’t anymore. You can get them not only from your credit card company or bank, but also from a variety of other third-party sources.
If you need access to your credit reports, which scores are based on, you can get them at annualcreditreport.com. The three major credit bureaus announced in January that you can access reports weekly, instead of annually, through 2022.
3. No over-limit fees
Credit cards used to charge a penalty fee for charging more than your credit limit. They generally don’t anymore, thanks to federal protections, namely the Card Act of 2009.
“Over-limit fees that were common prior to the implementation of the Card Act remained almost nonexistent in 2019 and 2020,” says the most recent market analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
So again, "no over-limit fees" is marketing talk that sounds good, but it’s a non-factor.
4. No foreign transaction fees (on travel cards)
Some overhyped marketing points depend on the type of card. For example, some cash-back credit cards do charge a foreign transaction fee — typically an extra 3% or so on anything you buy abroad. So if you're trying to choose between two cash-back cards, and one of them doesn't charge this fee, it can be a legit tie-breaker perk.
But no self-respecting travel card should charge them, and the vast majority don’t. Yet you can bet it will be a prominent feature listed for some points-and-miles-earning cards anyway.
5. Metal cards
Choose a credit card based on the quality of the card itself, not what it's made of — or whether it makes a tinkling sound when you drop it on the table. Your wallet will thank you.
P.S.: It’s a hassle to dispose of old metal cards.
6. Fraud early warning/monitoring
This sounds great, right? "Get a heads-up on suspicious activity in your account." But remember, this is for the issuer, not you. You’re not liable anyway.
Moreover, if the issuer's fraud algorithms are too sensitive, you could end up with a bunch of denied or flagged transactions on legitimate spending.
7. Card lock
Called various names — like a freeze or quick lock — this service lets you essentially "turn off" a credit card that you've lost or misplaced, to foil thieves. It's a neat and potentially highly useful feature, but it's not unique, at least not anymore. Most of the major card issuers offer some version of card lock.
And again, ultimately it's a feature to protect the issuer, not you. You're not liable.
8. Contactless pay
Also called “tap to pay,” this is often touted. But it’s not a differentiator because it’s almost standard now, at least among newly issued and replacement cards.
Visa said last year that 300 million Visa cards in the U.S. were contactless-enabled, representing a significant portion of active credit and debit cards nationwide.
9. Mobile app
It’s 2022, when smartphones are ubiquitous. If your credit card account doesn’t have a mobile app, it should be a red flag.
Other common tech features that shouldn’t sway your card decision: EMV chip technology, compatibility with digital wallets, paperless statements, text/email notifications, or the ability to autopay from a bank account or choose your payment date. It’s all standard fare now.
10. 24/7 customer service
Again, pretty much expected nowadays. (Round-the-clock customer service doesn’t speak to the quality of that service, of course.)
It’s not outright deception when issuers make these fluffy claims; they really do offer these features. But so do almost all of their competitors, and it would be a shame if these claims swung your decision to the wrong card.