Are custom credit cards a better fit?


Americans are famous for their do-it-yourself attitudes, but there's one part of life where you might want to think twice before tackling a build-your-own option: namely, custom credit cards.

Pioneered by offerings like Capital One's "Card Lab," these services purport to let you choose everything from the picture on the front of your card to what interest rate you want to pay. According to this article, a growing number of card issuers are rolling out these "customizable" cards. The article claims this is an outgrowth of average Americans become more well-versed about credit card terms as a result of the CARD Act and a growing push for transparency. But do these kinds of cards really put consumers in the driver's seat, or do they just offer the illusion of control?

In reality, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for watchdog group Consumer Action, the APR you receive is more likely to be a function of your credit score and your current debt load. While you could certainly elect to pay a higher interest rate than you're eligible for, no credit card company is going to let you just pick any old rate. In an interview with WalletPop, Sherry advised consumers to keep their eye on the ball and not get distracted by ultimately unimportant details like the picture on the front of the card. "I think if you are going to try to build one of these cards, you have to cover all your bases," Sherry says.

What does this mean? Here's an example: Don't be so concerned about picking the card with the biggest reward bonus that you fail to notice it comes with a whopping annual fee. Likewise, if you're looking to transfer a balance, make sure you're also aware of what the standard APR is after that promotional rate goes away.

If you're just after one thing, such as airline miles, it's fine to use a "card builder," but it doesn't get you off the hook for reading the rest of the terms and the fine print. While a credit card should fit your life and your needs, the bottom line is that one that's charging you more -- through high rates, an annual fee or any other measure -- really isn't as useful as the issuer's telling you it is.

Originally published