Recs

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Top Credit Cards

Would you like to know what 36,298 credit card users had to say about the 61,944 cards they've used recently? Would you like to know which ones they like the most? Well, the Consumer Reports National Research Center has some answers for you, along with some guidance.

Who's on first?
According to a study by the center, the top-ranked credit card is the USAA Federal Savings card, which scored 95 points out of 100 in the center's survey and charges a median interest rate of 7%. The bad news is that this card is only for military and retired military people, and their families. Next up is the Navy Federal Credit Union card. Yes, I know -- that's another case of bad news, unless you are in the Navy.

If you happen to be in the military, be sure to look into USAA's offerings. The organization frequently garners high ratings for its wares. But if you're not among the ranks of the military, you needn't rush out to your local recruitment office to snag a great credit card deal. In fact, the third-highest rating in the study was for plain old "other credit union" cards. In other words, you're likely to get a good deal from most credit unions -- and you may well be eligible to join one in your neighborhood. If you're not familiar with them, you can learn more in these articles:

Other noteworthy rankings popped up for sporting-equipment retailer Cabela's (NYSE: CAB  ) and Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) , whose cards scored in the mid- to high-80s and sported median interest rates of 14%. American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) was also relatively highly rated.

At the bottom was a Providian card from Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  ) . It earned a score of 61, had a median interest rate of 17%, and was rated badly for problem resolutions and interest-rate problems.

Good advice
The article in Consumer Reports summarizing the study offered some sound advice for credit users. Much of the advice was familiar to me, because we've been spouting it at The Motley Fool for years. For example, there's the power of the telephone. If you're not getting a good deal from your current card, take a few minutes to give your current issuer a jingle before you go through the trouble of switching to a new card. See whether your issuer will lower your interest rate or waive certain fees.

Don't doubt me on the power of this. As the Consumer Reports article noted: "Readers who called their card issuers to negotiate a lower interest rate succeeded 50% of the time. And 79% of readers who tried were successful in persuading their card issuer to waive a penalty fee."

It's also smart to look into a card's record at handling problems. If you can't get a satisfactory resolution from the folks at customer service, you might end up, per your contract's fine print, heading to arbitration. That might sound promising, if you envision having a fair, objective outsider hearing the merits of your case. But according to Consumer Reports, one of the nation's largest arbitration firms has ruled in favor of credit card companies 96% of the time. Do you think customers were right in only 4% of the cases? Me, neither.

Focusing on more than a card's interest rate is becoming increasingly important, especially in these days of rampant identity theft. I offered some guidance on this subject in a previous article, "How Insecure Is Your Credit Card?"

Learn more
Take a look at our Credit Center, which also features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively.


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Selena Maranjian
TMFSelena

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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