Anytime we apply for a credit card online, there’s information that’s clearly visible in terms of the benefits and what, as consumers, will reap by becoming a credit card customer. What’s not always visible, however, are those terms and conditions that spell out, in great detail, the dynamics associated with the card.
Of course, the credit card companies decide what they want front and center in terms of visibility, but we’ve always encouraged consumers to read the fine print. Consumer Affairs is reporting on a new survey that sought to find out just what those consumers think of the way information is presented. Here’s what it discovered.
The study focused on ten of the most recognized credit cards and their respective offers. Using each of the card’s websites, it took an in-depth look at variables that include rewards programs, intro APR rates, other financial benefits (such as promotional cash back programs), the fees associated with the offers and APRs.
The goal was to find out how visible these details were on the website and how hard one had to search to find that information. The credit cards included in the study were Capital One, Bank of America, Chase, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, HSBC/Orchard Bank, USAA, Discover, Citi and American Express.
Interestingly, the results were quite improved from the 2010 survey and most of the credit card companies had improved websites that were deemed consumer-friendly. Capital One ranked first while Citi came in last. Of the biggest improvements, Consumer Affairs reports U.S. Bank takes the honors “by a large margin” with a 32% improvement from last year. There was one credit card issuer that decreased its score and that was Wells Fargo, which is interesting since it touts transparency for its customers.
In terms of ranking, Discover and Citi both fell four points, adding another surprise to the survey. Despite the improvements, the survey says information regarding rewards redemption, balance transfer guidelines and other important details resulted in “deficiencies across the board”. What’s being referred to as “ambiguous language” in the survey has declined, though it’s still found in most of the credit card offers. Finally, the report says the most visible information was that related to annual fees, customer service contact information and the perks of various rewards programs.
While online safety has improved over the years and the odds of you landing on a fraudster’s website, believing it’s the legitimate credit card site, are significantly lower than in years past, there are still things consumers should look out for when applying online. First, any credit card offers you receive via email and are interested in researching should never be done so by clicking the links in the email.
Instead, type the credit card provider or bank’s website into your address bar. You never know what clicking the links in the email will result in. It could take you to a “false” website where your personal information is entered by you and then stolen by scam artists. The same holds true with offers of credit counseling. If you’re looking to improve your credit scores, and are seeking a credit card that does that, your best bet is to apply for a secured credit card. If it’s counseling you’re looking for, do your research from a search engine versus clicking on any links you receive in emails. Never pay money upfront and never apply for anything until you’re certain that it’s going to serve your purposes.
The common denominator is always to be your own best advocate. Do the research and don’t settle for the big print on the landing page of a credit card offer. Instead, visit the terms and conditions and then compare that offer to other compatible credit card offers. The importance of reviewing those terms simply can’t be over-emphasized. You might find a better deal, whether it’s a lower APR or rewards programs better suited for your needs. Despite the convenience of applying online, there are still those times with an abundance of caution is your best ally.