Credit Card Study: Key Info Is Hidden in Fine Print or Not Disclosed at All

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When applying for a credit card, the only way to truly get a handle on balance transfer and annual fees, introductory and regular APRs, and the ins and outs of reward programs is to wade through pages of fine print—and even then, it’s sometimes impossible to figure out what to expect.

A new study evaluates good or bad various card issuers are when it comes to full disclosure of this key information during the online card application process. Here’s how the study was conducted:

We went to the online applications of the top 10 issuers, based on outstanding balances, and evaluated how clear this information was based on the ease with which we could locate it. The issuers were assigned points for each card based on how visible this information was within the page, whether we had to click to a new page to find pricing information, and whether we had to read the fine print to find these key components.

Capital One and Bank of America cards scored highest in the study—and yes, that’s good, meaning that they were upfront with fees and whatnot, and that consumers should be well aware of what they’re getting into by applying for a card. At the other end of the spectrum was U.S. Bank: The only way to find out about specifics like annual fees and balance transfers is to click on “Apply Now” and then locate the link for each card’s terms and conditions, which were often explained in vague, confusing legalese.

None of the cards performed well at cluing consumers in as to how non-cash reward programs function in real life:

The study found ambiguity across the board for non-cash back rewards credit cards in terms of clearly defining how much the points and miles are really worth.