NerdWallet Writers and Editors Share What to Look for in a Credit Card, Savings Account and More

Valerie LaiJanuary 5, 2021
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We know you want the best things, whether that's a feature-rich savings account or a credit card that gives you perks you’ll actually use. Regardless of what you’re shopping for, it helps to have a trusted, unbiased person who can tell you what to look for (and why).

That’s why we turned to our NerdWallet writers and editors — they nerd out about annual percentage yields and insurance coverage for a living — to share the features that matter most in a robo-advisor, mortgage lender, cash-back credit card and more. Read on to see what they said.

The answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Cash-back credit card: High rewards rate

“I appreciate the perks on travel credit cards, but at heart I'm a cash-back guy. The No. 1 thing I look for is a no-fee card with a high rewards rate on everything. But I will use cards in tandem: I'll couple that flat-rate card with one that gives me a big cash-back rate on groceries or restaurants, for example. Then I'll use the flat-rate cash-back card for everything else, from doctor copays to newspaper subscriptions.” — Greg Karp, credit cards writer

Robo-advisor: Low management fees and minimums

“I get paid to think about investing each day, but the profusion of investment products that require no thinking earns most of my admiration, such as robo-advisors. These digital platforms take advantage of low-cost, exchange-traded funds to give investors a simple selection of investments based on risk profiles. The explosion of robo-advisors in the past decade has dramatically lowered costs and barriers to entry for the average investor. We rate high the providers that keep management costs and minimum investments low, and we evaluate the variety of funds available that give investors the best choices for a diversified portfolio.” — Kevin Voigt, investing writer

Savings account: Helpful and easy-to-use features

“The best savings accounts do more than just grow your funds. They also provide features that make it easy to manage your money. That’s why I seek out accounts with excellent mobile apps and features. Being able to create subaccounts and use tools that help me track individual savings goals helps me maintain a clear overview of my budget. That, in turn, removes the guesswork from discretionary spending decisions.” — Tony Armstrong, banking editor

Travel insurance: Robust coverage

“As a first priority, I look for a travel insurance policy that has COVID-19 coverage and doesn't exclude pandemics. It’s also important that the plan has a high emergency medical and evacuation limit, just in case something goes wrong. Adequate lost luggage coverage is crucial because I travel with a lot of stuff that would be expensive to replace. Although I don't partake in adventure sports, I would like some sports coverage in case I decide to participate in recreational sports or activities.” — Elina Geller, travel rewards writer

Travel rewards program: Customer-friendly policies

“The one thing I look for in a travel rewards program is a consistent commitment to customer-friendly policies. For example, airlines and hotels that have offered generous flexibility and safety policies during COVID-19 have demonstrated an overall willingness to forgo short-term profits in favor of customer satisfaction.” — Sam Kemmis, travel rewards writer

Auto insurance: High customer satisfaction ratings

“It’s important to look beyond price. Take the time to research an auto insurance company’s customer satisfaction ratings, financial strength and the coverage and discounts available. For example, one company might charge slightly more but include free accident forgiveness, a feature that can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Likewise, an insurer could have really cheap rates but have poor customer satisfaction ratings. While this might not seem like a big deal to you now, you’ll likely wish you went with a different company if you end up filing a claim.” — Kayda Norman, insurance writer

Student loans: Flexible repayment programs

“Look for student loans that offer borrowers flexible repayment because it helps you pay off loans fast when you can and offers options when things get tight. These are always important features, but this year they’ve proved invaluable to borrowers who are struggling.” — Anna Helhoski, student loans writer

Mortgage lender: Easy to shop and apply

“You can’t go wrong by focusing on a couple of things: ease of shopping and ease of applying. Mortgage lenders that make it easy to compare offers online tend to show mortgage rates and fees for most or all the loan products they offer, and even have a customized rate form for you to fill in details for a more personalized and accurate rate. When it’s time to narrow down to a single choice, look for a lender that has the technology to allow you to handle most or all of the application process online. That can be a huge advantage because of the ease of use and flexibility to do it on your own time frame.” — Tim Manni, mortgages editor

Personal loan: No origination fees

“We always emphasize the importance of comparing personal loans, and one thing we look for is no origination fee. Some lenders charge these fees, which add to the overall cost of the loan and are typically deducted from your loan proceeds. That means you either end up with less money than you need, or you must request a larger loan and pay more interest.” — Kim Lowe, personal loans editor

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