What Is a Schumer Box and How Do You Read It?

A Schumer box is a legally required cheat sheet for credit cards that breaks down two main aspects of any card: interest rates and fees. Here's how to read it and where to find it.

NerdWalletMay 10, 2021
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What is a Schumer box? It's a cheat sheet about a credit card — an at-a-glance reference for fees, interest rates and other key points that must be shown to card applicants, by law.

But when it comes to these kinds of credit card terms and conditions, you sometimes need a cheat sheet on reading cheat sheets. Here's our guide to reading and understanding the Schumer box.

All about the Schumer box

How to read a Schumer box

What does the Schumer box tell you?

Broadly, two main things: interest rates and fees.

1. The credit card's interest rates

These are expressed as APRs ("annual percentage rates"), and usually as variable ranges. This means they can change periodically in step with a benchmark figure called the prime rate — which is the lending rate that banks offer to customers with the best credit. If the prime rate rises, APRs on credit cards tend to do the same.

Those with excellent credit (FICO scores of 720 or higher) will qualify for the lowest APRs.

A card can have multiple APRs depending on the kind of transaction:

This is the interest rate you'll be charged when you use the card to pay for things and you carry that balance from month to month. If, however, you pay your credit card bill on time and in full every month, this APR is irrelevant because you will never owe any interest.

Many credit cards come with 0% introductory APR periods on purchases, meaning you'll have a period of time to finance a purchase without paying interest on it.

If the credit card allows balance transfers from other lenders, this is the interest rate you'll be charged on those balances when you move them to the card.

Not all cards allow balance transfers, but many that do also offer 0% intro APR periods on such transfers, which can help you pay off existing debt without interest for a period of time — though you may still owe a balance transfer fee. (More on that in the "fees" section below.)

This is the interest rate you'll be charged if you use the credit card to get a cash loan at a bank or ATM. In essence, you're "buying" cash instead of goods or services. While cash advances can be convenient for emergency use, they are also extremely expensive. That's because:

  • Credit card APRs on cash advances tend to be far higher than APRs on purchases.

  • Interest on a cash advance begins accruing immediately. You don't get a grace period as you can with purchases.

  • The card may also impose a fee for the cash advance — either a flat rate or a percentage of the amount advanced. (More on that in the "fees" section below.)

Penalty APRs for paying late are less common these days, and even with credit cards that do charge them, they go into effect only under specific circumstances:

  • If you're only a few days late on your payment, you probably don't have to worry about a penalty APR, but you may still have to pay a late fee. (More on that in the "fees" section below.)

  • If you're 30 days late or more, you might damage your credit scores, but again there will typically be no penalty APR assessed.

  • If, however, you pay late by 60 days or more, you could be assessed a penalty APR, which — as with cash advances — is generally much higher than the card's APR on purchases. Moreover, the card issuer can apply that higher interest rate to your entire outstanding balance, not just on new charges going forward. And that penalty APR can remain in effect until you make at least six consecutive on-time payments.

Nerdy tip: Some credit cards advertise deferred interest deals, aka "special financing." But this is not the same as a true 0% intro APR offer that you might see in a Schumer box. With deferred interest offers, you'll owe no interest if you pay off your entire purchase within the promo period. If, however, any balance remains when that window ends, you'll be charged interest retroactively for the full amount of the transaction, going back to the date of purchase. With 0% intro APR offers, interest is waived, not deferred. When the promo is over, you'll owe interest only on the remaining balance.

2. The credit card's fees

Credit cards can charge a variety of fees. Here are some of the most common:

This is the amount you'll pay each year to hold the credit card. Not all cards charge annual fees, but they can be worth paying, depending on the value that the card can deliver back to you.

You're more likely to find annual fees on rewards credit cards that offer rich benefits and incentives, or on cards designed for those with poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or lower).

This is the amount you'll pay for moving an existing balance onto the card. Not all cards allow balance transfers, and not all kinds of debts can be transferred. But the ones that do allow balance transfers tend to charge a fee for doing so, often 3% to 5% of the amount you're transferring.

That could add up to hundreds of dollars tacked onto your balance — but if the card offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers, it may be worth the cost, depending on how much you're trying to pay off.

It's possible to find credit cards that don't charge balance transfer fees, but there aren't many of them.

If you use your credit card to withdraw cash from a bank or ATM, you'll typically be charged a fee on top of the card's interest rate for cash advances.

The fee will be charged either as a flat rate or as a percentage of the amount that you're withdrawing.

This is the amount you'll pay for using the credit card internationally — often at least 3% of the purchase you're making.

Most good travel credit cards do not charge this fee, but many cash-back credit cards do.

Late payment fees are separate from penalty APRs. Depending on your card and how late you pay, you could end up being charged both.

Where do you find the Schumer box?

If you're already a cardholder, the Schumer box will be a hard-to-miss table generally found on the first page of the card agreement that was mailed to you.

If you're researching or applying for a credit card, you may need to click around that card's website to find the Schumer box. It can vary from issuer to issuer, but here's where to start for cards from major issuers:

Look for a "rates and fees" link.

Look for a link that reads: "View complete list of rates and fees."

Look for a "terms and conditions" link. (You may need to scroll to the page footer.)

Look for a link that reads: "View important rates and disclosures."

Look for a "pricing and terms" link.

Look for a link that reads "pricing details" or "pricing and information."

Look for a link that reads: "See rates, rewards and other info."

References to fees and APRs will often hyperlink to the Schumer box. You can also scroll to the page footer.

Look for a link that reads: "Important credit terms."

Why's it called the Schumer box?

The Schumer box is named for the lawmaker responsible for it. Chuck Schumer, a congressman and later senator from New York, pushed for legislation requiring that rates, fees and other terms on a credit card be prominently displayed to people when they apply for the card. The legislation passed in 1988, and the standardized disclosure came to be dubbed the Schumer box.