10 of the Most Overhyped Credit Card Features

To stand out in the highly competitive credit card market, publishers often load their ads with features and benefits that sound impressive. But the truth is, some just aren’t.

Take, for example, ‘zero fraud liability’. This is not so much a function as it is US federal law. Essentially all cards have it.

Free credit score? If this was 2010, maybe that would be special. Not anymore.

When choosing a card it can help to know which features are a snow job added just to pump up the marketing bullet points. You can safely ignore them and focus on features that really help you make a good decision, such as annual fee, rewards, interest rate and sign-up bonus.

The market is buzzing with good credit cards right now, whether you’re looking for cash back, travel points, or a break from paying interest. While you’re deciding on your next credit card, ignore this marketing boast.

1. No Liability for Fraud

No one wants to be held liable for unauthorized or fraudulent charges to their credit card when this is so common. According to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of “data compromises” reached an all-time high in 2021, involving a lot of payment card data.

But U.S. consumers have been protected from fraudulent charges for decades by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. Technically, you might be on the hook for $50 in some cases, but banks and credit card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, waive all liability by default. The thing is, it’s not a special feature to base a decision on.

2. Free Credit Score

Checking credit scores periodically is a good idea. And while you used to have to pay to get them, you usually don’t anymore. You can get them not only from your credit card company or bank, but also from various other third-party sources.

If you need access to your credit reports, on which the scores are based, you can obtain them at yearcreditreport.com. The three major credit bureaus announced in January that you will be able to access reports weekly instead of yearly until 2022.

3. No Over Limit Fees

Credit cards that were used to charge a penalty for charging more than your credit limit. They generally don’t anymore, thanks to federal protections, namely the Card Act of 2009.

“Over-limit fees that were common before the Card Act passed were almost non-existent in 2019 and 2020,” says the latest market analysis from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

So again, “no over-limit fees” is marketing talk that sounds good, but it’s a non-factor.

4. No foreign transaction fees (on travel cards)

Some overhyped marketing points depend on the type of card. For example, some cash back credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee – usually about 3% extra for anything you buy abroad. So if you’re trying to choose between two cashback cards and one of them doesn’t charge this fee, it could be a legitimate benefit.

But no self-respecting travel card should tax them, and the vast majority don’t. Still, rest assured that it will be a prominent feature for some cards earning points and miles anyway.

5. Metal Cards

Choose a credit card based on the quality of the card itself, not what it’s made of — or whether it makes a ringing noise when you drop it on the table. Your wallet will thank you.

PS: It’s a hassle to throw away old metal cards.

6. Early warning/monitoring of fraud

This sounds great, right? “Get an alert about suspicious activity in your account.” But remember, this is for the publisher, not you. You are not liable anyway.

In addition, if the publisher’s fraud algorithms are: at sensitive, you could end up with a lot of declined or flagged transactions for legitimate expenses.

7. Card Lock

Going by various names — such as a freeze or quick lock — this service essentially allows you to “swipe out” a credit card you’ve lost or misplaced, to thwart thieves. It’s a nice and potentially very useful feature, but it’s not unique, at least not anymore. Most major card issuers offer some version of card lock.

And again, ultimately it’s a function to protect the publisher, not you. You are not liable.

8. Contactless payment

This is also known as ‘tap to pay’. But it’s not a differentiator as it’s almost standard now, at least on newly issued and replacement cards.

Visa said last year that 300 million Visa cards in the US were contactless, representing a significant portion of active credit and debit cards nationwide.

9. Mobile App

It’s 2022, when smartphones are ubiquitous. If your credit card account doesn’t have a mobile app, it should be a red flag.

Other common tech features that shouldn’t influence your card decision: EMV chip technology, digital wallet compatibility, paperless statements, text/email notifications, or the ability to pay automatically from a bank account or choose your payment date. It’s all standard rate now.

10. 24/7 customer service

Again, pretty much expected these days. (The 24-hour customer service, of course, is not talking about the quality of that service.)

It’s not outright deception when issuers make these fuzzy claims; they really offer these features. But so are almost all of their competitors, and it would be a shame if these claims misdirect your decision.

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