Bankrate Credit Card Scoring Methodology

Our team of writers, editors and industry analysts have curated specialized scoring models for a range of card categories in order to provide accurate, objective comparisons and guide your journey toward the perfect credit card.

Here is how our review system evaluates which cards are the most valuable additions to your wallet:

How we calculate review scores

Each credit card is assigned a 1 to 5 score that allows you to gauge its overall quality and how it compares to other cards in its category.

  • 4.5 or higher: Outstanding
  • 3.5 to 4.5: Excellent
  • 3 to 3.5: Good
  • 3 and under: Average

Card scoring is based on a number of factors, with each element weighted based on its relative importance in the context of a card’s main category (like rewards or credit-building).

We make these distinctions because some features could be more valuable than others depending on your circumstances and what alternate cards are offering at the time. For example, cash back rewards might not be as important if the card you’re considering is focused on credit-building instead of earning cash back. However, that perk could give it a leg up if competing cards don’t offer rewards.

As issuers change their credit card offers, we update our ratings based on new terms.

Rewards credit cards and cash back credit cards

Note: This category includes flexible rewards cards, cash back cards, no annual fee cards that earn rewards, general travel cards and airline and hotel cards.

Value

We consider value to be the most important factor when choosing a rewards card. The formula we’ve designed calculates each card’s average rewards rate and average ongoing rewards value based on Bureau of Labor Statistics spending data and an assumed $15,900 yearly spend over three years ($1,325 per month).

These data points and other card features like sign-up bonus, annual fee and average APR are compared against those of other rewards cards and assigned a score. These elements are then weighted, with slight differences between cash back cards and other rewards cards. With typical rewards cards, our ratings scheme places a larger emphasis on the value offered by annual credits, the sign-up bonus and the annual fee than with cash back cards (since the latter typically carry fewer features and fees). Meanwhile, with cash back cards, the ongoing rewards value carries much more weight.

After scoring and weighting each of these elements, we compile an overall 1 to 5 rating based on how the card’s estimated value compares to other cards in its category.

Redemption flexibility / reward restrictions

We rate cards based on how many reward redemption restrictions they carry and the flexibility of their redemption options. Reward flexibility is the second biggest factor in our rewards card rating scheme since how you can use your rewards may end up mattering more than how many points or miles you can earn.

However, this aspect is only the third biggest factor in our cash back card rating scheme (behind “customer experience” and tied with “perks”) because cash back is typically one of the most flexible forms of rewards.

We score the range of cash back redemption options available on a 1 to 5 scale and factor in whether the cash back expires or poses any redemption limits or minimums.

Perks

We score each card’s perks and features according to a rubric of five feature tiers. We start with Tier 1, which applies to what we consider substandard benefits. Tier 2 benefits include basic features like free credit score access, secondary car rental insurance and extended warranty coverage. Many prime rewards cards in this category will carry Tier 3 benefits like purchase protection, trip cancellation insurance and lost luggage reimbursement. Tiers 4 and 5 are reserved for luxury and ultraexclusive perks.

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings, Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating.

The cash back card scoring formula factors in customer experience only slightly more than the rewards card formula because cash back cards typically come with fewer service-related perks like travel assistance that would be impacted by poor or excellent customer service.

Business credit cards

Value

As with rewards and cash back cards, business credit cards’ main purpose is to earn rewards. Value remains the most important scoring factor and our business card scoring system is based on the same elements as these other two categories, only with different weightings. A card’s ongoing rewards value and sign-up bonus carry the most weight, with average APR, rewards rate and annual fee factoring in to a lesser extent.

We also consider a business card’s intro APR offer since business cardholders may need more payment flexibility to cover business expenses than personal cardholders. Likewise, we also factor business-centric spending categories into our assessment of a card’s ongoing rewards value, such as advertising and shipping.

Flexibility / restrictions

Since business cards often have the same reward currencies and redemption options as their personal card counterparts, we score business cards’ redemption options and restrictions (such as travel blackout dates, number of redemption options and transfer partners) on the same 1 to 5 scale used with rewards cards.

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings, Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating.

We give a bit more weight to the customer experience rating on a business card than we do on other types of rewards cards because of how important customer service is to business management. Tracking reports from a legion of employee cards is key to bookkeeping, and knowing you have high-quality support from an issuer provides much-needed peace of mind.

Perks

As with rewards and cash back cards, we score each card’s perks and features according to a rubric of five tiers, ranging from substandard benefits up to a roster of benefits that go above and beyond. Due to business cards’ focus on rewards, expense management and employee purchase tracking, business cards aren’t known for their perks, so this is only a minor scoring factor. Outside a few purchase protections and travel benefits, nonelite business cards typically carry Tier 2 to Tier 3 benefits like trip cancellation and interruption insurance.

Credit cards for building credit

Membership cost

Because issuers are taking a chance on those with no credit experience, limited credit or damaged credit, the card costs that come with the opportunity to build credit are some of the most important aspects we consider when scoring credit-building cards. We compare each card’s fees—including annual fees or other maintenance fees—and stack them against others in the category to evaluate whether a card is charging a fair market price for the opportunity to build credit. If the card earns rewards, we also factor the average yearly rewards earned into the total cost to see how this could help offset any fees.

Ease of building credit

Just as important as the cost of holding a card is how easily you can use the card to build credit. Our “ease of building credit” rating assesses a card’s starting credit limit (or the maximum limit if it’s a secured card) and minimum required deposit and compares them against competing cards in the credit-building category.

APR

We also factor the card’s average APR into our credit-building card score. Although it’s weighted slightly less than the previous two factors, inexperienced cardholders may face more risk in carrying a balance than financially stable card veterans, so a high APR could pose a hefty cost.

Features

A credit-building card’s features are less of a scoring factor than cost, ease of building credit and APR since perks may be scarce in this category and aren’t as pivotal in your credit-building journey or decision-making processes. We look for benefits that are especially useful for credit-builders and assign a rating based on their presence, including:

  • A rewards program
  • Free access to your FICO score / credit education program
  • Whether soft pull preapproval is available
  • Credit limit increase opportunities

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings or Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating.

We give features and customer experience equal weighting in our credit-building card scoring process since they can both be helpful along the way but aren’t the be-all and end-all factors. At the end of the day, your goal is to build credit and graduate to a better card as soon as possible.

Student credit cards

Ongoing cost

As with other entry-level credit cards, ongoing cost is one of the largest factors in choosing the right student card. We weigh this factor heavily, comparing the annual fee and average APR of each card to other student cards’ rates. We also consider whether the card charges foreign transaction fees, a penalty APR or a late fee (plus whether the late fee is waived for the first late payment), as these features can have an outsized impact on students who may travel or study abroad and who are likely to be less experienced with credit.

Ongoing cost is such a heavy factor because students generally have limited budgets and student cards may offer fewer reward opportunities and valuable perks to help offset card costs. Of these costs, we pay special attention to the average APR since most students are just establishing their financial footing and may end up carrying a balance from time to time.

Perks

Although perks and benefits have only a minor impact on our rating, student cards tend to carry more features than other starter cards (like reward programs and student-centric offers) and these perks can help make or break your decision. We split this category’s score between a 1 to 5 rating for the card’s benefit roster as a whole and its average yearly rewards value (based on an assumed $15,900 yearly spend over three years as $1,325 per month and Bureau of Labor Statistics spending data) compared to that of other cards.

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings, Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating. We weigh customer experience only slightly below card perks since students new to credit cards may need support more than experienced cardholders.

Intro offer

Intro offers aren’t always available for student cards, but they can give a card an edge over the competition. We consider both whether an intro balance transfer or purchase APR offer is available, as well as its duration and how this compares to offers on other student cards.

Low interest credit cards

Rates and fees

Rates and fees are the key factors in choosing a low interest credit card. The most important of these factors are the low-end APR and the intro APR for new purchases since cardholders looking for a low-cost card are likely hoping for the lowest rates and most generous zero percent intro purchase APR offer they can get. We compare a card’s low-end APR and intro APR lengths against other cards in the category to assign a 1-5 score.

Intro balance transfer APR offers carry less weight than intro purchase APR offers in our calculations since the main purpose of a low interest card is to reduce the ongoing cost of carrying a balance, not pay off existing debt. However, we also factor in balance transfer offers and other rates and fees in scoring low interest cards. We consider:

  • Annual fee
  • Balance transfer fee
  • Foreign transaction fee
  • Cash advance fee
  • Late payment fee (and whether the late fee is waived for the first late payment)
  • Penalty APR
  • Returned payment fee

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings, Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating.

Features

We only consider the quality of a low interest card’s additional features to a small extent in our scoring because if you need to carry a balance, your main goal should be finding a card that charges the lowest possible interest, not one that offers the best perks. Indeed, one trade-off of many low-rate cards is a slim set of extra perks.

Our scoring system’s low interest category looks at the presence of rewards programs and rates any other perks or benefits the card may carry are on a scale of 1 to 5.

Balance transfer credit cards

Rates and fees

Rates and fees are also our main scoring factor for balance transfer cards. We place the heaviest emphasis on a card’s intro balance transfer APR, the length of its intro purchase APR offer (if available) and its low-end APR. A card’s balance transfer fee is also a big factor we consider in this comparison. We rank these elements against those of other cards in the balance transfer category and assign a 1-5 score.

Other rates and fees we evaluate include:

  • Annual fee
  • Balance transfer fee
  • Foreign transaction fee
  • Cash advance fee
  • Late payment fee (and whether the late fee is waived for the first late payment)
  • Penalty APR
  • Returned payment fee

Customer experience

Our customer experience score reflects the issuer’s latest J.D. Power rankings or Consumer Reports score or Better Business Bureau rating.

Features

When evaluating balance transfer cards, your main goal should be finding a card that will save you the most interest while you pay off your balance. As with low-rate cards, the trade-off for such offers on balance transfer cards is often a slim set of extra perks.

Our scoring system for this category considers the presences of a rewards program and assigns a 1 to 5 score to the cards other perks, both of which can offer long-term value after your intro APR period ends.