Walletpop round-up: Worst credit cards
Interest rate: If your credit isn't stellar, you can be looking at paying 20% or more for the privilege of whipping out the plastic. (Even if you have great credit, some cards will be oh-so-happy to sock you with a rate of 15% or so.) For real sticker shock, we checked out co-branded store cards, which typically have higher rates. Case in point: The Gap Visa card has rates that start at 18.24%. That could tack quite a bit onto the price of that pair of khakis. We also looked into the Best Buy Reward Zone MasterCard, issued by HSBC, but they won't even give users information about interest rates until they actually apply! Thanks, HSBC; you've forced us to leave it to our imagination, and what we're imagining is pretty scary.
Annual fee: To be fair, several American Express cards made our best list, but we've got a worstie here, too. With a whopping $5,000 initiation fee plus a $2,500 annual fee, the American Express Centurion Card wins this one, hands down. Luckily, this card is issued by invitation only, so you'll probably never be faced with the agonizing decision of whether or not to drop the price of a cheap used car every single year for the privilege of using this card. For that reason, we're nominating a second worstie in this category: the Visa Black Card issued by Barclays. It's got an annual fee of "only" $495 and an APR of 13.24% -- a higher rate by several percentage points than our best pick.
Cash back: Ideally, you want a card that rewards you for using it -- not for racking up a big, honking balance that hangs over your head every month. And yet, that's just what the Discover Motiva card offers. [Discover Card contacted Walletpop to correct an inaccuracy in the original text. The correct description of the reward program follows.] Users earn a mere quarter of a percent cash back for the first $3,000 in purchases annually, and 1 percent after that. The rub is that Discover replaced their accelerated rewards program, which gave users five percent back on categories like hotels, restaurants and gas stations for three months at a time, with a new reward program that rewards you twice-yearly for paying on time - based on how much interest you owe. The bigger your outstanding balance (and the more interest you owe), the bigger your reward. In these times when so many Americans are in financial crisis, we just don't think it's responsible to give shoppers an incentive to carry more debt. (The Consumerist blog has also dug up evidence that some Citi-branded cards have started this interest-based reward practice as well. Get details at the link.)
Points/rewards: A card with a high APR that promotes gambling at the same time ... what's not to revile? The American Dream MasterCard issued by HSBC wins the razzie here. The rewards program issues you points, but you can't cash them in for anything. Instead, each point buys you an entry into a monthly sweepstakes. Seriously? Why not just get a regular cash back card and blow your winnings on lotto tickets every month? It's just dumb to rack up a credit card bill in the hopes of winning a big payday that will wipe out your debt.
Miles: Most airline-branded cards charge an annual fee of around $80 or so. The American Express Delta Reserve card makes our worst list because it has an annual fee of $450 -- plus an additional $175 if you want a second card. At 14.5%, the interest rate offered is no great shakes, either. But maybe if you have $450 to spend on an annual fee, you don't care about that.
Gas: Folks, we've got ourselves a two-fer: Both the BP Visa and the ExxonMobil MasterCard left a bad taste in our mouth. Why? The benefit of earning cash back for purchases excludes gas purchases at competing stations. In other words, swing by the wrong station to fill up and this card penalizes you. If you like to shop around to get the cheapest price on gas (and who doesn't?), these cards could seriously burn you.
Concierge: The Visa Black Card is making a second showing on this list. For the $495 it costs annually, the card's website says you get "personalized assistance of our 24-hour Concierge Service catering to entertainment, travel, business, shopping and lifestyle needs." Well, if you have a "lifestyle need" at the wee hours of the night, this kind of service might seem handy, but you don't need to be a Black cardholder to get it. Check out our best list. For info on no-annual-fee concierge cards, or get in touch with any membership association or credit union you belong to; many of them also offer similar service without the big price tag.