2014 Credit Card Application Study

CardHub 2014 Credit Card Application Study Picking a credit card can be a difficult task. Not only are there more than 1,000 different offers on the market, but the inconsistent manner in which their terms are advertised can also make direct product comparison seemingly impossible. As a result, even if you know what your credit standing is and therefore what category of card you may qualify for, identifying the best offer for your particular needs and spending habits can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. That is why CardHub – in an effort to aid consumers, praise straightforward issuers, and draw attention to those that obfuscate card terms – conducts an annual Credit Card Application Study. In this, the fifth iteration of the Study, we strived to evaluate the clarity with which the 10 largest credit card issuers disclose information about their products on their websites. More specifically, we sought to answer the following questions:

1) Rewards Clarity – Can a consumer easily determine how rewards are earned as well as what they are worth, without being forced to read any fine print?

2) Fee Clarity – Is a card’s annual membership fee displayed clearly? In other words, can a consumer determine the cost of a card without reading a pricing disclosure or fine print?

3) New Purchase APR Clarity – Are both a card’s introductory and regular purchase APRs displayed clearly enough that a consumer does not have to read a pricing disclosure or fine print, or click out of the landing page?

4) Balance Transfer Clarity – Are both a card’s introductory and regular balance transfer APRs as well as its balance transfer fee displayed clearly enough that a consumer does not have to read a pricing disclosure or fine print, or click out of the landing page?

Key Findings


  • Capital One has the clearest credit card applications for the fifth consecutive year and receives a perfect score of 100% in 2014.
  • The worst performing issuer was Barclaycardus, with average score of 76.32%.
Average Score 2014


  • In 2014, overall transparency increased by 2.90%, rising from 90.03% to 92.63%, the highest score since we began conducting this study in 2010.
Historical Average Scores -- All Issuers
  • American Express earned the biggest improvement in its score relative to 2013, with a rise of 10.60%. US Bank also experienced a significant increase of 8.89% points.
  • In relative ranking, Chase and USAA fell furthest, dropping two positions from their 2013 ranks. Meanwhile, Citi and US Bank experienced the biggest improvements in relative rank, each rising by two positions.
Score & Rank 2014 Score & Rank 2013 Score & Rank 2012 Score & Rank 2011 Score & Rank 2010 2014 vs. 2013 Change
Capital One 100.00%
Citi 99.75%
Bank of America 98.93%
U.S. Bank 97.22%
Chase 96.03%
Discover 95.50%
Wells Fargo 91.24%
American Express 86.63%
USAA 84.73%
Barclays 76.32%
Average Score All Issuers 92.63% 90.03% 84.15% 89.04% 82.27% 2.90%


Year Over Year Overall Transparency Score


  • The areas in which the most ambiguity remains are the same as in previous years: Information on balance transfer fees and information related to rewards redemption.
  • Most applications were very clear about the annual fee, how to earn rewards, and information on the purchase APR.
  • Since 2013, transparency on rewards has gone up by 11% and visibility on balance transfer information by 12%. Meanwhile, purchase APR information has become 4% less prominent than in the previous year.
Overall Average Transparency Scores 2014 vs 2013

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Detailed Findings


Below is a breakdown of the points assigned to each card by issuer. Cards that offered rewards and the ability to transfer balances were scored on a 40-point scale. Cards without either a rewards feature or balance transfer feature were scored on a 30-point scale. “N/A” indicates that a specific feature was not offered.

Clarity on Rewards Clarity on Annual Fee Clarity on Cost of Carrying a Balance for New Purchases Clarity on Cost of Balance Transfer Score
Quicksilver 10 10 10 10 100.0%
VentureOne 10 10 10 10 100.0%
Spark Miles 10 10 10 10 100.0%
Capital One Classic Platinum N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Capital One Platinum Prestige N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Capital One Overall Score 10 10 10 10 100.0%
Citi ThankYou Preferred 10 10 10 10 100.0%
CitiBusiness ThankYou 10 10 10 N/A 100.0%
Citi Dividend Platinum Select 9.57 10 10 10 98.9%
Citi Diamond Preferred N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Citi Simplicity N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Citi Overall Score 9.85 10 10 10 99.8%
BankAmericard Cash Rewards 10 10 10 10 100.0%
Cash Rewards for Business 10 10 10 8.4 96.0%
BankAmericard Better Balance Rewards 10 10 10 10 100.0%
BankAmericard for Students N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Bank of America Overall Score 10 10 10 9.6 98.9%
1-2-3 Rewards 10 10 10 10 100.0%
FlexPerks Travel Rewards 10 10 10 10 100.0%
FlexPerks Business Edge Travel Rewards 6.6 10 10 8.4 87.5%
Visa Platinum N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
U.S. Bank College Visa N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
U.S. Bank Overall Score 8.86 10 10 9.68 97.2%
Chase Freedom 9.65 10 10 10 99.1%
Ink Business Plus 10 10 10 6.4 91.0%
Chase Sapphire 10 10 10 8 95.0%
Chase Slate N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Chase Overall Score 9.88 10 10 8.6 96.0%
Discover IT 10 10 10 10 100.0%
Discover IT for Students 10 10 10 6.4 91.0%
Discover Overall Score 10 10 10 8.2 95.5%
Wells Fargo Cash Back 10 10 10 8.4 96.0%
Wells Fargo Rewards 5.5 10 10 8.4 84.8%
Wells Fargo Platinum N/A 10 10 8.4 94.7%
Wells Fargo Business Platinum 6 10 10 N/A 86.7%
Wells Fargo Cash Back College N/A 10 10 8.4 94.7%
Wells Fargo Overall Score 7.16 10 10 8.4 91.2%
Blue Cash Everyday 10 10 10 6.4 91.0%
Platinum Delta Sky Miles* 4.6 10 10 6.4 77.5%
Amex EveryDay 6 10 10 6.4 81.0%
SimplyCash Business 10 10 10 N/A 100.0%
True Earnings 10 10 10 4.8 87.0%
American Express Overall Score 8.12 10 10 6 86.6%
USAA American Express 10 10 6 8.4 86.0%
USAA World MasterCard 10 10 6 8.4 86.0%
USAA Rate Advantage N/A 10 6 8.4 81.3%
USAA Overall Score 10 10 6 8.4 84.7%
Barclaycard Rewards 6.6 10 3 2.4 55.0%
Frontier Airlines BusinessCard 6 10 3 2.4 53.5%
Barclaycard Ring N/A 10 10 10 100.0%
Barclaycard Arrival 10 10 10 7.2 93.0%
US Airways Dividend Miles 6 10 10 8.4 86.0%
Barclays Overall Score 7.15 10 7.2 6.08 76.3%
*As a result of this study, the Platinum Delta Sky Miles page will be modified in the next day few days, and the rewards section of this card will be more visible / prominent.
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Tips for Getting a Credit Card


  • Determine Your Credit Standing: Credit card companies evaluate each applicant’s credit history and disposable income when making approval decisions. Together, this information tells them whether or not you can handle a new credit line and dictates the types of offers you’re eligible for.

    That doesn’t mean you need to run out and order your actual credit score before applying for a credit card, however. Not only is it impossible to get a credit score that matches the proprietary scoring models used by the 10 major issuers (which control around 80% of the market), but you typically have to pay to access your credit score. Instead, you should take advantage of your free annual credit reports because the information that they contain will give you a qualitative sense of where you stand and therefore what credit cards to focus your search on.

  • Compare Offers with a Purpose: Do your credit standing, spending, and payment habits indicate that you should get a rewards credit card, a 0% credit card, or a no annual fee credit card? Well, if you always pay your bills in full, rewards would be more appropriate than low interest rates, and vice versa. And if you don’t have above-average credit, then you should focus on finding a card that does not charge an annual fee and offers you a good chance of approval.

    The point is, you should determine how you plan to use your credit card as well as what offers you’re eligible before actually beginning your search for a specific product because this will enable you to better target your comparison efforts.

  • Don’t Let Marketing Hype Sway You: A credit card offering a 0% promotional interest rate or bearing the logo of your favorite sports team might seem very appealing, but you can’t evaluate credit cards in a vacuum. You need to thoroughly compare product terms in order to find the best possible offer for your needs. If you’re in debt, a long 0% rate might be misleading, as membership fees, balance transfer fees, and regular interest rates can easily wind up eating away at your potential 0% savings.
  • Don’t Apply En Masse: The purpose of comparing credit cards is to narrow your selections down to the offer or two with the best terms for your particular financial situation. This will enable you to minimize the odds that you’ll be declined and have to submit numerous applications within a short period of time, which is bad for your credit. A lot of people make the mistake of applying for a bunch of cards at once, thinking that they’ll eventually get approved for one. This type of lottery approach is the worst way to go about getting a new credit card.
  • Remember that Secured Cards are a Good Option: If your desire for a new credit card stems from a need to improve your credit standing, don’t discount secured credit cards. In fact, you should apply for one if you don’t get approved after two unsuccessful applications for unsecured cards. Secured cards offer the closest thing you can get to guaranteed credit card approval because they require users to place a refundable security deposit that acts as their credit line and ensures that the issuer will get paid back for whatever you spend.

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We visited the online applications of the top 10 issuers, based on outstanding balances, and subjectively evaluated the clarity of key credit card information and the ease with which we could locate it. The issuers were assigned points for each card based on the visibility of the information within the page, particularly whether we had to click to a new page to find pricing information and whether we had to read the fine print to get all the important details.

We isolated a few key components of a credit card agreement of which consumers should definitely be aware before applying for a credit card. The components included clarity of the introductory and regular APRs for purchases and balance transfers, clarity of the balance transfer fee and annual fee, clarity of how a customer earns rewards, and clarity of the value of their points and miles for rewards-feature credit cards. Ideally, an applicant should not be able to start filling out an application without seeing this information beforehand.

When available, we evaluated up to four personal cards for each issuer, with the ideal combination of two rewards credit cards and two non-rewards credit cards. This year, we added one business rewards card as well. We also used the same methodology as in previous years for consistency.

The cards received scores on a scale of 1 to 10 — based on prominence of information — in the following categories:

Clarity of Rewards – 10 points maximum:

  • Clarity on earning – 2 points maximum
  • Clarity on earning cap – 1.5 points maximum
  • Clarity on signing up – 1.5 points maximum
  • Clarity on how much points are worth – 4 points maximum
  • Clarity on minimum needed to redeem – 0.5 points maximum
  • Clarity on currency earned – 0.5 points maximum

Clarity of Annual Fee – 10 points maximum
Clarity of How Much it Costs to Carry a Balance for New Purchases – 10 points maximum
Clarity of How Much it Costs to Make a Balance Transfer – 10 points maximum:

  • Clarity on APR for balance transfer – 4 points maximum
  • Clarity on fee for balance transfer – 4 points maximum
  • Proximity of balance transfer APR to balance transfer fee – 2 points maximum

Prominence of information has the following score allocation:

  • 100% of available points: when information on the categories of interest was prominently shown (i.e. visible when scanning the page) either on the summary or the landing page. In other words, applicants would likely come across the key information without actively looking for it. Clearly labeled tabs within the landing page are considered part of the landing page.
  • 60% of available points: when information can be found by clicking on a prominent link on the landing page, and the page to which it directs clearly displays the needed information. If the information is not clearly displayed for someone who is just scanning the page, then 30%.
  • 30% of available points: when information can be found in the footnotes of the page or in fine print, and there is a prevalent visual cue pointing to that section. If there is no visual cue or you need to click on a link from the footnotes, then 15%.
  • 0% of available points: when information is less prevalent than any of the above scenarios.

Note: It is important that the purchase APR, balance transfer APR, and balance transfer fee be listed in close proximity to one another. Otherwise, consumers may be misled into believing they have all relevant cost information. For instance, if the balance transfer APR is listed at the top of the landing page, whereas the balance transfer fee is listed on the “pricing and fees” tab further down the page, the consumer, seeing the APR and not knowing that a balance transfer fee exists, may not look for further pricing information.

It is also important to mention that we consider a “Terms & Conditions” page to be fine print because issuers could (and most already do) list the most important information contained therein in a much more consumer-friendly format.

The study took into account the information found on pages leading up to the landing page for individual credit cards. In most cases, an applicant will pass through another page (typically the issuer’s homepage for credit cards where all of their credit cards are listed) in order to arrive at the specific landing page of a credit card. Any information found on this page therefore was considered, as it is highly likely that applicants will see this information before they apply.

The final results of this study were sent to all issuers for verification of accuracy. All issuers kindly cooperated with the process.
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