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Bankrate credit card ratings methodology

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When you’re searching for the best credit card for you, it can be hard to know where to start. You not only have a ton of cards and card types to choose from, but also countless card features to sort through — from rewards rates and sign-up bonuses to APRs and annual fees.

With so many factors to consider, how do you know which card is the best fit?

To help you answer that question, we’ve developed a data-backed card rating system that allows us to score cards based on how well they serve the needs of different types of cardholders, whether you’re looking to maximize your points on every purchase, build credit or pay off debt while avoiding interest.

Here you’ll find a complete breakdown of how our card rating system works, including the criteria considered in each card category and how different card features are weighted to determine an overall score.

Card ratings overview

To score cards based on their standing relative to others in their card category, we first built a card scoring database containing information on over 250 credit cards. We then assigned each card a primary category based on our assessment of its most common use case. 

Our seven primary card categories include rewards, cash back, balance transfer, low interest, credit building, student and business. For example, cards that are primarily used and marketed as cash back cards are assigned a primary category of cash back, even if they also offer a 0 percent introductory APR on balance transfers. 

Next, we surveyed a panel of credit card experts to create a list of the factors most relevant for people looking for a card in each primary category. We weighted these factors by level of importance and scored each factor based on a model of the average credit card holder. 

Lastly, we aggregated these weighted scores to give each card an overall rating of 1 to 5 stars (with 5 being the highest possible score and 1 being the lowest). 

  • 5.0 stars: Exceptional
  • 4.0 to 4.9 stars: Very good
  • 3.0 to 3.9 stars: Good
  • 2.0 to 2.9 stars: Fair
  • 1.0 to 1.9 stars: Poor

These scores are frequently updated as card offers change to ensure readers have the best sense of how a card ranks relative to the competition. 

Here’s a look at how scores are distributed across our rated cards (as of March 2024):

Bankrate card rating distribution

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Overall Score
  • 5 stars 2%
  • 4 - 4.9 stars 35%
  • 3 - 3.9 stars 39%
  • 2-2.9 stars 22%
  • 1-1.9 stars 2%

Scoring methodology by card category

Each card category uses a unique scoring rubric based on the factors most relevant to someone looking for a card in that category. 

Here’s a closer look at how our scoring system works in each card category:

Rewards and cash back cards

Our rewards and cash back card ratings are based primarily on a card’s overall value. This is a measure of how each card’s estimated average annual earnings, average rewards rate, sign-up bonus value, annual bonus value, fees and more stack up against those of other cards in the same category. 

We also rate each card’s flexibility, perks and issuer customer service ratings and consider these as part of our overall score. However, these elements have less impact on the score than rewards value since earning rewards is likely the main focus of someone looking for a card in this category.

Here’s more detail on how our scoring breaks down for rewards and cash back cards:

Balance transfer and low-interest cards

The most important consideration when choosing a balance transfer or low-interest card is how much it can help you save on interest. Specifically, does its introductory APR offer give you the time you need to pay off debt or finance new purchases while avoiding interest? 

As such, the quality of these cards’ introductory offers is key to their overall score, with an introductory balance transfer APR having a larger influence on a card score in the balance transfer category and an introductory purchase APR having a larger influence in the low-interest category. We also rate each card’s ongoing APR since you may need to carry a balance long term or after your introductory APR period ends.

While these factors make up the bulk of a balance transfer or low-interest card’s score, we also consider each card’s perks and issuer customer service ratings as part of our overall score.

Here’s more detail on how our scoring breaks down for balance transfer and low-interest cards:

Credit-building cards

When you have a limited credit history, bad credit or fair credit, the best card for you is the one that gives you an opportunity to work on your credit score without drowning in fees and interest charges. 

Key considerations include the card’s fees (since these cards tend to be much pricier than a typical card for someone with good credit) and how much the card’s structure will help you stick to positive credit-building habits (like maintaining low credit utilization).

With this in mind, we weigh a credit-building card’s startup and ongoing cost most heavily when assigning an overall score, followed closely by credit-building factors like its minimum security deposit requirement and credit limit.

We also consider each card’s average APR, perks and issuer customer service ratings as part of our overall score.

Here’s more detail on how our scoring breaks down for credit-building cards:

Student cards

We evaluate student credit cards based on how well they fit the needs of students new to credit. Since students face a lot of costs, we consider factors like a card’s annual fee, rewards program, introductory purchase APR and student-centric perks. We also weigh these cards’ ongoing APRs more heavily than the APRs on typical rewards or cash back cards since students new to credit are at more risk of falling into debt. 

Here’s more detail on how our scoring breaks down for student credit cards:

Business cards

Our scoring rubric for business cards is very similar to the rewards and cash back card rubric, but differs in a few key ways. While value is still the most important factor, we adopt a different spending assumption for this category and evaluate additional features that could be especially useful to small-business owners, such as a 0 percent introductory APR offer. 

Here’s more detail on how our scoring breaks down for business credit cards:

How ratings inform card reviews and “Best cards” lists

A card’s overall rating plays a key role in our decision to include it on a “Best cards” page. Cards that earn a high rating are much more likely to appear on these pages, but we also consider several other factors, including each card’s unique features, price point and required credit level. 

As outlined in our Editorial Guidelines, offers that appear on our “Best cards” pages are from companies that compensate us, and the order of cards may be influenced by the compensation we receive. However, our card ratings are not influenced in any way by advertisers or card issuers.

Selections for our “Best cards” pages are also curated to include a mix of cards that fit the goals and priorities of a diverse group of cardholders. We consider different features for each page based on the priorities of people looking for a card in that category.

For example, our list of the best rewards credit cards may include not only several of our highest-rated rewards cards, but also cards available with fair credit (hard to find in this category) and cards that offer especially valuable perks for travelers (like airport lounge access). Similarly, our list of the best cards for bad credit may include both secured and unsecured cards, as well as alternative credit-building tools like prepaid cards that build credit. 

Card ratings are also key to card reviews, as our assessment of a card in a review is guided in part by how that card fared in our rating system. For example, how well a card scores in a given subcategory can serve as a guide when our writers discuss specific card features (like sign-up bonus value or credit limits). This can also help writers decide which cards are best compared with one another.