What Consumers Want (and Don’t Want) in a Credit Card

When it comes to credit cards, some may be inclined to think they’re pretty much all the same. In reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Beyond the various payment networks (Visa, American Express, Discover, Mastercard) and numerous banks that issue cards, there are all kinds of perks and drawbacks that different cards hold that might make them right for one demographic but not another. So how do consumers choose?

Recently MarketingCharts reported on a survey conducted by Harris Poll that sought to find out what U.S. adults found to be most important when selecting their primary credit card. Here were some of the most popular responses and why they likely ranked highly.

No annual fees

Topping the list of what consumers were looking for in a primary credit card was a lack of an annual fee. In fact three-quarters of those surveyed said that is was “absolutely essential” or “extremely important” that their card not command an annual fee. Of course it’s easy to see why — such fees, which are usually associated with higher-end rewards card, can exceed $500 a year in some cases. Additionally, since closing credit cards can actually ding your credit score, you could be stuck between a rock and hard place down the road. It seems that, for many consumers, that’s just too much of a risk.

Low interest rates, introductory offers, and balance transfers

Moving away from rewards and toward the utility of credit, the survey found that many consumers wanted good rates on borrowing money. This includes 56% who said low interest rates were a priority, 39% who wanted 0% APR introductory offers, and 36% who sought 0% interest on balance transfers. It’s unclear exactly what qualifies as a “low interest rate” in the mind of respondents, but it makes sense that more than half of those surveyed would put an emphasis on keeping their interest costs down over time. Similarly, if you can get an offer of 0% interest for a period of time, why not take advantage? What’s most interesting is the importance placed on 0% balance transfers. This revelation could imply that more Americans are interested in debt consolidation as a way to pay down their existing credit card balances.

Late fee forgiveness

So far the features discussed have actually been fairly standard. Yet it seems that a good chunk of consumers are looking for something more. More specifically, 42% say having a card that has either no late fees or that offers some sort of late fee forgiveness program is important to them. There are a few ways the card companies can cut cardholders a break when it comes to late fees, ranging from waiving their fee the first time a payment is late to forgoing the institution of a penalty APR on tardy payers. However it’s worth noting that, even if a card issuer doesn’t have an explicit fee forgiveness policy, cardholders may still be able to have their fee waived (depending on their payment history and credit score) just by asking.

No foreign transaction fees

Finally it seems that nearly one-third of respondents like to travel as they said that having a card without foreign transaction fees was a priority. If you don’t have a card that offers free foreign transactions, an average of 3% is typically tacked on to any transaction you make that requires currency conversion. Thus, if you’re traveling often, these fees can add up quickly, making a 0% foreign transaction fee card a good investment. 

Whether you’re looking to add a new credit card to your wallet or determine which of your existing cards you should use most often, there’s a lot that goes into the decision process. For example, for those looking to get out of debt, a 0% balance transfer might be attractive. Meanwhile, although it’s proven unpopular overall, those who want to rack up airline frequent flier miles may actually be willing to pay an annual fee for their card. Ultimately it’s not that important what others want in a credit card, it’s all about what you want.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded DyerNews.com in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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