CardHub.com, a website that helps consumers compare and evaluate credit cards, has released a study which found that most of the 10 major card issuers actually made their card applications less transparent and more difficult to understand in 2012 than they were in 2011.
“Transparency has long been a hot-button issue in the personal finance world, and the pent-up frustration among credit card users culminated in the passage of the CARD Act in 2009,” said Card Hub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou.
“People simply cannot make the best financial decisions if they cannot accurately estimate the costs of different financial products, and they aren’t going to painstakingly wade through the endless fine print that accompanies credit card applications, though it’s in their best interest to do so,” Papadimitriou said.
He said the results of his firm’s 2012 Credit Card Application Study clearly display that credit card companies just aren’t created equal, as nearly 37 percentage points separate the most and least transparent credit card issues.
“This should be a clear signal to consumers that they should keep their guard up and carefully compare financial products before submitting an application,” Papadimitriou said.
In the study, researchers from CardHub determined top 10 issuers, based on outstanding balances, and subjectively evaluated how clear key 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 researchers had to click to a new page to find pricing information, and whether researchers had to read the fine print to find these key components.
The researchers isolated a few key components of a credit card agreement that they said people should be aware of before applying for a credit card. The components included clarity on the introductory and regular APRs for purchases and balance transfers, clarity on the balance transfer fee and annual fee, clarity on how a customer earns rewards, and clarity on how valuable their points and miles are for rewards credit cards.
Ideally, an applicant should not be able to start filling out an application without seeing this information, the firm said.
The study found that after a marked improvement in application transparency from 2010 to 2011, which reflected the CARD Act’s impact, the top 10 credit card issuers saw their scores decline during 2012 – the average score fell from 89.0% in 2011 to 84.2% in 2012.
The firm said the vast majority of credit card applications clearly state annual fees, interest rates for new purchases, and how to earn rewards. However, credit card companies still make it difficult to determine the value of the rewards they offer and the fees they charge for balance transfers.
“Perhaps the most troubling insight gleaned from the 2012 Credit Card Application Study is the fact that overall issuer transparency declined relative to last year, after experiencing a marked improvement from 2010,” Papadimitriou said.
“The CARD Act, which took effect in February 2010, is undoubtedly responsible for last year’s bump, but instead of building on the law’s changes to improve the dynamics of the credit card market even further, banks are displaying a desire to get back to their old tricks now that the regulatory heat has died down somewhat,” he said.