Our rating methodologies are built to ensure the products we stand behind will help our audience live smarter, happier, and richer lives. That trifecta embodies our mission and commitment to our community.
While rating models and the criteria they assess do vary by product category, there are generally two core themes that products rated favorably by The Ascent's analysts have in common.
Time is a valuable commodity and we want to help members of our community achieve their financial goals as fast as possible. We believe the fewer solutions a person needs to get where they want to be financially, the better. That means our rating models are biased toward products that have straightforward structures with simple offers that don't risk either confusing potential customers or hiding watered-down product offerings behind disclaimers and small print.
The market is packed with offers, which means competition is simply too high to be stuck with a product that charges unjustifiably high fees for a given feature set. When a product has the combination of limited perks and high fees, our ratings will not be favorable.
Offers are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on a card's rewards, fees, and APRs. We reviewed over 100 of the most popular credit cards to compile our picks. Our highest-rated cards generally include the following:
For credit cards, this mostly means biasing ratings toward offers that include well-rounded perks, such as a competitive rewards program and 0% intro APR offers. Items assessed may include:
And for travel and points cards:
The market is packed with offers, and competition is simply too high to be stuck with a card that charges an unjustifiably high fee. For example, many best-in-class credit cards can be found without paying an annual fee. In contrast, some valuable credit cards charge a high annual fee that can be justified. It's when the card has a combination of limited features and high fees that our ratings will not be favorable. Items assessed may include:
Cards with the highest ratings in the APR category will have: A below-category average regular APR and a competitively-long introductory period with 0% intro APR for balance transfers and purchases, or both. Keeping interest charges low ensures we're keeping our community's finances in mind when recommending best-in-class offers. Items assessed may include:
Bank products, such as savings, checking, and money market accounts, are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on annual percentage yield (APY) and fees. Our highest-rated banking products generally include the following.
Accounts that offer competitively-high APYs for most users will generally earn the highest ratings. More restrictive offerings, including those with introductory rates and/or complex qualifying tiers to earn a stated APY, will not fare as well. Items assessed may include:
The low to no fee theme is even more of a focus for banking products, where the default assumption for most consumers is that they shouldn't incur fees for routine account maintenance. Items assessed may include:
Bank accounts should give you simple and fast access to your funds. Items assessed may include:
The Ascent publishes Best CD Rates pages but does not rate CD products themselves, as is the case with other banking products such as savings, checking, and MMAs. Please see the following for more details on The Ascent's policies surrounding CD rates tracking and inclusion on Best CD Rates pages.
Brokerage products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on fees, ease of use, and quality of the trading platform and research offerings. Our highest-rated banking products generally include the following:
We run a comprehensive review of routine fees, since account management costs can have a meaningful impact on your ability to invest profitably. Items assessed may include:
A high level of scrutiny is put on a brokerage's service and support, especially considering that a customer will likely interact with their brokerage's support team on multiple occasions. Items assessed may include:
Today's online brokers need a well-rounded suite of products and features to stand out in our ratings since we think brokerages need to provide a one-stop shop that meets an investor's comprehensive needs. Items assessed may include:
Loan products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on:
The easiest way to save money when getting a loan is to find a product with a competitively low interest rate. Items assessed may include:
Cutting origination fees is now table stakes in the personal loans market. We also think fees should be $0 or justifiably low across the life of a loan. Items assessed may include:
The most valuable loan products tend to offer a deep bench of options that meet a wide array of customer needs. These include a diverse range of loan amounts and terms, as well as loan structures. Items assessed may include:
Mortgage lender products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on:
The mortgage lending market has become crowded and competitive, which is a benefit to consumers. Competition drives mortgage rates and fees lower and we place a high level of importance on these items. Items assessed may include:
A high-quality lender will tend to have both a quality online experience that makes the application and underwriting process simple. Further, great customer service throughout the underwriting process and after closing is critical. We assess the following in this realm:
While the majority of homeowners are seeking plain vanilla mortgage offerings, such as a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, it is valuable for a lender to offer a wide array of products and terms for a wide array of consumer needs. Items assessed for loan versatility include:
The Ascent's editorial team analyzes all offers promoted on the site, and maintains the ratings models that determine an offer's star rating. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by The Ascent's editorial analyst team.
All products are reviewed in depth and evaluated at least quarterly to ensure that any offers The Ascent rates highly keep pace with, or are ahead of the competition.
We're firm believers in the Golden Rule. If we wouldn't recommend an offer to a close family member, we wouldn't recommend it on The Ascent either. That editorial integrity guides our ratings methodologies and explains why we only stand behind the best products, based on our editorial opinions, not advertiser compensation.
We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team. The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.