If you ask most consumers about credit cards, they'll tell you they are handy ways to make a purchase online or in a store.
Since millions of consumers carry credit card balances, they will also likely tell you that a credit card is an easy – albeit expensive – way to borrow money, since you could theoretically make payments on something forever.
Beyond that, consumers don't think much about the credit cards in their wallets. We know that because of a new study by NerdWallet, in which researchers asked consumers about their credit card knowledge.
Among the key takeaways is the fact that 41% of cardholders don't consider foreign transaction fees and fees for cash advances when they select a credit card. Nearly a third admitted to being confused by fees in general.
Confusion about rewards
About one-third of consumers with credit cards are also unsure how to rack up rewards. Although most – 73% – attach value to rewards, 19% said they don't really understand the dollar value attached to their card's rewards.
There also seems to be some confusion about what kind of points and rewards are most valuable.
“Most Americans would get more value from a general purpose, 3% cash-back card than a gas card issued by a national station chain,” the authors write. “Our analysis showed that gas prices would need to fall to $1.20 per gallon or lower for the typical gas card rewards to top a general purpose card that offers 3% cash back on gas purchases.”
Admittedly, if you aren't planning to travel outside the U.S., foreign transaction fees might not be a concern. However, NerdWallet reports that the foreign transaction fee on major credit cards can be as high as 3% on purchases.
Annual fee is most important to most
When it comes to fees, most consumers are focused on whether a card has an annual fee. Eighty-seven percent said they consider an annual fee when they decide to apply for a card.
It's probably not surprising that many consumers don't understand their card's rewards system, since systems and rules can differ card to card and be somewhat confusing. General rewards can come in the form of dollars, points, or miles. The value of each can vary, even within card types.
The NerdWallet study found in the case of airline cards that points or miles earned can be worth as much as three cents or less than a penny. The way the cardholder decides to redeem the reward can also affect its value.