To stand out in the highly competitive credit card market, issuers often load their advertising with features and benefits that sound impressive. But the truth is, some just aren’t.
Take “zero fraud liability,” for example. It’s not so much a feature as US federal law. Essentially all cards have it.
Free credit score? If it was 2010, it could be special. No more.
When choosing a card, it can be useful to know which features are snow work, added only to inflate marketing points. You can safely ignore them and focus on the attributes that really help you make a good decision, like annual fees, rewards, interest rate, and sign-up bonus.
The market is full of good credit cards right now, whether you’re looking for cash back, travel points, or a break on interest payments. When deciding on your next credit card, don’t be afraid to gloss over these marketing braggings.
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1. Zero Fraud Liability
No one wants to be held responsible for unauthorized or fraudulent charges to their credit card when it’s so common. The number of “data breaches” in 2021 has reached an all-time high, many involving payment card information, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
But American consumers have been protected from fraudulent charges for decades by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. Technically, you could be owed $50 in some cases, but banks and credit card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, generally waive liability. The fact is that it is not a special characteristic on which to base a decision.
2. Free Credit Score
Periodically checking credit scores is a good idea. And while you had to pay to get them, you usually don’t anymore. You can get them not only from your credit card company or bank, but also from various other third-party sources.
If you need access to your credit reports, on which the scores are based, you can get them at annualcreditreport.com. The three major credit bureaus announced in January that you can access reports weekly, instead of once a year, through 2022.
3. No overlimit fees
Credit cards used to charge penalty fees if you charge more than your credit limit. They usually don’t anymore, thanks to federal protections, namely the Cards Act of 2009.
“Overlimit fees that were common before the card law was implemented remained almost non-existent in 2019 and 2020,” says the latest market analysis from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Again, “no over-limit fees” is a nice-sounding marketing pitch, but it’s not a factor.
4. No foreign transaction fees (on travel cards)
Some overhyped marketing points depend on the type of card. For example, some cash back credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee – usually around 3% extra on anything you buy abroad. So if you’re trying to choose between two cashback cards and one of them doesn’t charge this fee, it may be a legitimate advantage.
But no self-respecting travel card should charge for them, and the vast majority don’t. Still, you can bet it’s going to be an important feature listed for some point- and mile-generating cards anyway.
5. Metal Cards
Choose a credit card based on the quality of the card itself, not its composition – or whether it clinks when you drop it on the table. Your wallet will thank you.
PS: It’s a headache to get rid of old metal cards.
6. Early Warning/Fraud Monitoring
Sounds good, right? “Get a warning of suspicious activity on your account.” But remember, this is for the sender, not you. You are not responsible anyway.
Additionally, if the issuer’s fraud algorithms are too much sensitive, you might end up with a bunch of declined or flagged transactions on legitimate expenses.
7. Card lock
Called various names – such as a freeze or a quick lock – this service essentially allows you to “disable” a credit card you’ve lost or misplaced, to thwart thieves. It’s a cool and potentially very useful feature, but it’s not unique, at least not anymore. Most major card issuers offer a card lock version.
And again, this is ultimately a feature to protect the transmitter, not you. You are not responsible.
8. Contactless payment
Also called “tap to pay”, this is often touted. But that’s not a differentiator because it’s almost standard now, at least among newly issued and replacement cards.
Visa said last year that 300 million Visa cards in the United States were contactless-enabled, representing a significant share of active credit and debit cards nationwide.
9. Mobile app
We are in 2022, when smartphones are ubiquitous. If your credit card account doesn’t have a mobile app, that should be a red flag.
Other common technical features that shouldn’t influence your card decision: EMV chip technology, compatibility with digital wallets, paperless statements, SMS/email notifications or the ability to automatically pay from a bank account or choose your payment date. That’s all standard fare now.
10. 24/7 customer service
Again, pretty much expected these days. (24-hour customer service doesn’t speak for the quality of that service, of course.)
It’s not outright deception when broadcasters make these fluffy claims; they really do offer those features. But the same goes for almost all of their competitors, and it would be a shame if those claims tip your decision towards the wrong card.