The Ascent's Rating Methodology

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 two 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. Low to no 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.

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. 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% 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% APR for balance transfers
  • Presence of a 0% APR for purchases
  • Length of 0% APR period for balance transfers

Bank rating methodology

Bank products, such as savings, checking, CD, 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

Brokerage rating methodology

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:

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. High 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

Loan rating methodology

The loans umbrella encompasses both personal and student loan products. 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 and student 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

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.