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Do Credit Card Referral Sites Favor Some Cards Over Others?

With so many credit card options in the world, a lot of consumers think they are doing the smart thing by visiting credit card referral sites that will help them compare the advantages and disadvantages of each card. Unfortunately, those credit card referral sites aren’t as great as you might think. In fact, very few of them offer anything that closely resembles useful information.

Credit Card Referral Sites Make Money From Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is at the heart of this problem. A lot of companies use affiliate marketing to sell their products to a wider range of consumers. It has become especially useful for websites that need to make more money than advertising offers.

With affiliate marketing, the website earns a relatively small amount of money whenever someone buys a product, or signs up for a service. The website doesn’t own the products or services; they just act as retailers or distributors.

Unfortunately, this creates a huge conflict of interest when it comes to credit card referrals. If a website stands to make more money by referring Card A than Card B, then it only makes financial sense for the site to favor Card A, even when they know that Card B would work better for some people.

What Do the Studies Show?

That’s a theoretical complaint. Sure, it makes sense that credit card referral sites would find this tempting, but do they actually do it? Perhaps they take an honest approach and accept the payments that they get from whatever credit card company comes out on top. As it turns out, there’s plenty of data showing that most credit card referral sites offer worthless information that’s intended to help them make more money, rather than to help consumers choose credit cards wisely.

Martha White, a reporter for Time, had her concerns. What she published in August 2012 raised some serious concerns. She found that certain sites recommended the same cards over and over again, regardless of what information she gave them. She even found sites that would suggest business credit cards, even though she hadn’t applied as a business.

Bigger Study, Worse Results

The advocacy group Consumer Action performed a much larger, more intensive study to determine whether these suspicions had any merit. It turns out that casting a larger net only brings in more smelly fish.

After using 54 credit referral sites, the group determined that only 13 percent of them were useful. The real kicker is that the group even had problems with those sites. It seemed that no one would offer straightforward, accurate advice to help consumers choose credit cards.

Whether it’s the corrupting lure of affiliate money or pure ineptitude, the fact remains that credit card referral sites do tend to favor some cards over others. In most cases, they tend to favor those cards regardless of the consumers background and financial information.


Matt Thompson has written for numerous online and print publications. He has spent time as an editor for a media research company that supplies marketing materials to some of the country's most influential corporations.