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We at NerdWallet have set out to provide our users and the online personal finance world with the best, most credible, and least biased credit card information possible. If you’re in the market for a new card, you can compare more than 500 cards at once using one of our credit card finder tools, including cash back rewards cards, 0% APR and low interest credit cards, and 0% balance transfer cards. Or if you’re in a hurry, you can jump straight to a few of our picks for the best credit cards out there.
Why did we decide to make this our mission? Because most of the credit card information you’ll find online kinda sucks.
Problem #1: Credit card sites are full of text, but no information
The credit card world is intentionally confusing, so that consumers who don’t have time to read through page after page of small print can be duped into thinking they’re getting a better deal than they really are.
In a typical online search, you’ll likely stumble across a lot of sites that look like the screenshot above. If a site simply list cards for you to choose from, you are still forced to do the research yourself, or (more likely) throw your hands up, apply for a credit card, and eventually come to find out the terms are a bit more complicated than you thought.
To add to the online world’s issues, even though there are more than 1,000 credit cards for you to choose from, these web sites generally only allow you to choose from the 50-100 that pay them commissions. They limit your choices in exchange for profits, which is clearly not an ideal situation for you.
Problem #2: We all face the same bad data
Once you get tired of the credit card sites, you’ll probably turn to your favorite personal finance publication. And while this may be a better option, I will caution that we’re all in the same boat when it comes to wading through confusing credit card information, including the people that we turn to for advice. Card issuers load their agreements with “creative” features like reward caps and different reward rates for different levels of spending, and then bury these in the fine print. Plus redemption values are never clear until you’ve actually studied the catalog (i.e. don’t assume points are always worth 1%, because they often aren’t). Journalists and bloggers have better things to do than wade through these terms on their own time, but the NerdWallet team does it around the clock.
Now I don’t mean to pick on any publications specifically, but I’m going to make an example out of something I found on abcnews.com a while back that seemed particularly misinformed. In an article called Credit Card Rewards That Pay Off, a guest writer lists a few of his favorite rewards credit cards. However his recommendations aren’t tailored towards specific user spending patterns, and many of his conclusions are based on incorrect data. Plus the many rewards credit cards that would better serve an average consumer aren’t mentioned at all.
To make a point, here’s a summary of his suggestions, with our own revisions:
Charles Schwab Invest First Visa
It’s no secret that we love this credit card. Unfortunately the article was published two days after the card was discontinued. Instead, we would recommend you check out the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express. It’s essentially the same as the Schwab card, except that it is still alive. For every dollar you spend, you’ll get a 2% rebate deposited directly into your Fidelity checking account. And if you don’t want an Amex, they also offer a Visa that pays 1.5% for the first $15,000/yr, then 2% after that.
Nordstom Bank Fashion Rewards Visa
As its name would imply, this card is really only useful if you shop at Nordstrom a lot. You earn 1 rewards point for every dollar you spend, or 2 rewards points for shopping at Nordstrom. Once you’ve accumulated 2,000 points, you get a $20 gift card that is only redeemable at Nordstrom. So it’s basically a 1% rewards credit card that pays 2% at Nordstrom (not 2% and 4%, as the article implies), and its rewards are only redeemable at Nordstrom.
If you want a retailer card that has a bit more everyday use, check out the Costco TrueEarnings American Express. This card will double as your membership card at Costco, where you can buy gas, groceries, and pretty much anything else you can think of. The best part is, you earn rewards no matter where you shop, including 3% on gas and dining, 2% on travel, and 1% everywhere else, and the rewards can be redeemed for Costco credit or just plain cash.
American Express Business Platinum Card
I’m not a fan of any card with an annual fee of $450 (greater than $395 as the article implies). Unless your large conglomerate employer is paying your annual fee (or you yourself are a large conglomerate), you can find a better deal. While Amex is known for lucrative travel benefits on its rewards cards, only those who spend more time in the air than on land can fully take advantage of them.
For small business credit cards, we prefer the Chase Ink Cash. In fact, this is the card that powers NerdWallet. With no annual fee, this business credit card still manages to pay you 3% on gas, restaurants, office supplies, and home improvement stores. Plus you get 1% back on all other purchases, so you can easily average more than 2% back in straight cash money. And I can’t think of many things more important to a small business than cashflow.
Solution: We do the research, and you get a dead-simple tool that just works
To cut through the confusion, we actually go through the trouble of reading all of those terms and conditions pages that most people skim over. We study credit cards, interest rates, and rewards programs 24/7, so that you don’t have to (hey, we said we were nerds up front, stop snickering).
For example, did you know that gas and grocery rewards are almost never accrued at warehouse stores like Costco (except with the Costco Amex)? And did you know that programs like Citi Thank You Points have different redemption values on gift cards and cash? These are the kinds of things we take pride in educating our users about.
In doing so, we analyze all of the important parts, we determine actual rather than advertised redemption rates, we pick out the reward caps, spending minimums, and spending maximums, and we calculate how much you’re really going to end up paying in fees and interest. Then we take that information and give you the tools you need to not only find the right credit cards for your own personal situation, but to understand them as well.
In other words, we do the homework for you!