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The Ascent's Rating Methodology

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that compensate us. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

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.

The Ascent's core ratings themes

While rating models and the criteria they assess do vary by product category, there are generally three core themes that products rated favorably by The Ascent's analysts have in common.

1. Clarity and simplicity

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.

2. Competitive fees

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.

3. Trust and transparency

Companies that go the extra mile to build trust with customers and to provide transparency at all levels will tend to receive higher overall editorial ratings. Again, competition benefits consumers and that may not be any clearer than when it comes to trust and transparency. There are simply too many great products available in the market. The standout options are built with a customer first mentality, because simply put, the companies that don't take this view point end up becoming less competitive over time as they are overtaken by companies that adhere to these values.

Credit card rating methodology

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:

1. Diverse and valuable feature sets

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:

  • Access to a free FAKO/FICO credit score
  • Sign-up bonus value
  • Rewards yield

And for travel and points cards:

  • Sign-up bonus spend factor
  • Per point redemption value
  • Travel and other insurances
2. Low to no fees

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:

  • Balance transfer fee
  • Annual fee
  • Sign up bonus value/credits for the annual fee
3. Competitive APRs

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:

  • Ongoing APR midpoint
  • Presence of a 0% intro APR for balance transfers
  • Presence of a 0% intro APR for purchases
  • Length of 0% intro APR period for balance transfers

Bank product rating methodology

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.

1. Competitive APYs without complex qualification tiers

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:

  • APY
  • Minimum opening deposit
  • Tiered qualifications for stated APYs
  • Presence of an introductory APY
2. Low to no fees

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:

  • Monthly maintenance fees
  • Overdraft fees
  • Funding and withdrawal fees
3. Ease of use

Bank accounts should give you simple and fast access to your funds. Items assessed may include:

  • Presence and quality of a bank's mobile app
  • Funding and withdrawal options

CDs placement methodology on Best CD Rates pages

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.

  • The Ascent tracks over 300 CD rates across a selection of the biggest and most popular brick-and-mortar and online banks. CD terms tracked are for 6m, 12m, 24m, 36m, 48m, and 60m products. The Ascent tracks just standard CDs, not IRA, bump up, callable, and other less popular CD accounts. CD rates are updated weekly on Tuesdays.
  • CD rates displayed on Best CD Rates pages are comprised of both the highest CD rates in The Ascent's universe of tracked rates and featured placements from advertisers.
  • Ordering within lists is influenced by advertiser compensation, including featured placements at the top of a given list.

Broker and robo-advisor rating methodology

Broker and robo-advisor 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 products generally include the following:

1. Low costs to invest

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:

  • Stock, ETF, and mutual fund commissions
  • Margin rates
  • Maintenance and transfer fees
2. Great customer support and service

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:

  • Presence (or not) of branch offices
  • Quality of online and phone support
3. Strong product quality and features

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:

  • Trading platform and mobile app quality
  • Research offering quality
  • Broad access to ETFs and mutual funds

Cryptocurrency rating methodology

Cryptocurrency products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on fees, cryptocurrency selection, security, and transparency, and know your customer rules. Our highest-rated products generally include the following:

1. Competitive fees

Our highest-rated cryptocurrency products will tend to offer trading fees that are in line with the market average or commission free. But trading fees aren't the only fees cryptocurrency investors may encounter. Fees assessed include:

  • Trading commissions and maker/taker fees
  • Cryptocurrency exchange and transfer fees
  • Deposit and withdrawal fees
  • Account maintenance fees
2. Cryptocurrency selection

There are thousands of cryptocurrencies available in the market, and that number grows each week. While a well-rounded and deep bench of available cryptocurrencies can be valuable, we put a special focus on analyzing products that offer coverage of the most popular 30 cryptocurrencies. Our goal is to give our highest ratings and seal of approval to the select few products that are the best for most customers, and this is evidenced by offering access to the cryptocurrencies the majority of consumers want to invest in.

3. Security and transparency

Under the umbrella of security, we assess both a cryptocurrencies overall security protocols and the availability of a wallet. Robust security protocols reduce the risk of exposing customers information. The availability of a wallet reduces risk of a hack that results in a loss of your cryptocurrency.

On the transparency front, we seek to understand how forthcoming a cryptocurrency product is with everything from account fees to details on security policies and company information.

4. Know your customer rules

While know your customer, or KYC, rules are a security measure themselves, we view them as critical enough in our ratings that it deserves its own carve out. Established and regulated banking institutions are required to abide by KYC rules to help avoid fraud and meet anti-money laundering requirements. Cryptocurrency exchanges don't currently need to abide by the same requirements in all instances. While there are reputable cryptocurrency exchanges that don't require the extra levels of verification required under KYC rules, these products automatically receive a lower rating from us out of the gate than an exchange that abides by the KYC rules. We think adhering to higher levels of customer verification demonstrates a commitment to customer security and avoiding fraudulent activity, which runs rampant in the cryptocurrency market.

Personal loans rating methodology

Loan products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on:

1. Competitive APRs

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:

  • Current APR range
  • Presence of autopay discounts
2. Low to no fees

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:

  • Origination fees
  • Transfer and closing fees
3. Diversity of loan offerings

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:

  • Loan amounts
  • Loan terms
  • Range of loan programs and structures offered

Mortgage lenders rating methodology

Mortgage lender products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on:

1. Competitive rates and fees

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:

  • Rates compared to the competition
  • Fee competitiveness, including origination, application, and closing fees
2. Online experience and service/support

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:

  • Lenders application process
  • Simplicity of use for an online lender and transparency in fees/pricing
  • Online review of consumer ratings
  • Customer service channels available, including in person, live chat, and email
3. Loan versatility

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:

  • National availability
  • Availability of low down payment options
  • Availability of conforming loans, FHA, VA, USDA, Jumbo, interest only, and ARM mortgages
  • Diversity of fixed rate loan terms.

Insurance rating methodology

Insurance products are rated on a scale of one to five stars, primarily focusing on:

1. Pricing

With so many options for insurance across the board these days, it's easiest, and quite effective, to first look at the bottom line. Do single out competitive prices across insurance categories it's important to focus on:

  • Deductibles
  • Terms
  • Coverage
  • The fine print
2. Discounts

Insurance provides coverage for unexpected financial burdens and piece of mind. But it's important to check your policies and see how you can lower your premium. Insurance companies offer discounts for all sorts of things now from safe driving to good grades to automatic bill pay. Pay attention to:

  • Discounts offered
  • Variety of discounts
  • Discount qualifications
3. Perks/Benefits

The benefits of insurance these days have gone far beyond just what your policy covers. Most companies and policies come with perks -- some of which may be completely unrelated to your insurance policy. Take a look at:

  • Non-pricing related perks offered
  • Benefits unrelated to your coverage
  • Perks that stand out in the industry
  • Will you actually use the benefit?
4. Customer Service/Claims Process

Policy research and coverage options are great, but how is the process when you have to actually use your insurance policy? The best coverage doesn't hold much value if it's a hassle to get paid out. Pay special attention to:

  • How hard it is to file a claim
  • If your provider has a history of resisting payouts
  • The customer satisfaction scores for your provider

Who rates offers for The Ascent?

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.

Ratings updates

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.

Commitment to editorial integrity

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.

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