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Credit card perks can confuse, so crunch the numbers

American Express again ranked first in J.D. Power’s annual survey.

Steven Senne/Associated Press/File 2013

American Express again ranked first in J.D. Power’s annual survey.

It’s no surprise that American Express again ranks highest in credit card customer satisfaction. It’s known for having the best perks.

J.D. Power, a marketing information services company, released its 2013 credit card study in late August. American Express has taken first place since study began seven years ago.

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The study, based on responses from 14,000 consumers, measured customer satisfaction by examining six factors: interaction; credit card terms; billing and payment; rewards; benefits and services; and problem resolution.

You might not know that American Express issues its own cards, finances the payments, and processes the transfers. However, that’s changing somewhat, as there are some AmEx cards that are bank-issued.

Visa and MasterCard do not issue their own cards; banks do. Visa and MasterCard make money processing the transactions.

Based on a 1,000-point scale used in the study, American Express scored 816 and performed particularly well in rewards, benefits and services, and billing and payment.

Discover followed with a score of 812, performing well in credit card terms, interaction, and problem resolution.

Chase ranked third at 783.

The others, from highest to lowest ranking, are: Barclaycard, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Capital One, Bank of America, GE Capital Retail Bank, Citi, and HSBC.

Although credit card satisfaction continues to improve, a large percentage of customers indicated they do not fully understand their card’s terms, benefits, and rewards program, J.D. Power found.

Customer awareness of earning and redeeming rewards has declined year over year, with 59 percent of customers saying they ‘‘completely’’ understand how to earn rewards in 2013, compared with 66 percent in 2012. Furthermore, 33 percent of customers indicate they are unaware of the benefits associated with their card.

Yes, it can be confusing. Different cards have different rewards. With Macy’s American Express, for example, cardholders don’t have to spend time managing the rewards, because gift certificates redeemable at Macy’s are sent to you. That AmEx card is actually issued by Department Stores National Bank.

On the other hand, some cards offer points redeemable for discounts on travel, for example, or to purchase merchandise from a rewards website. This takes time on the consumer’s part. The card needs to be registered online, and that’s where you’ll find the information. Call the customer service number on your card if you need help figuring it out.

“Customers who use their card’s benefits spend an average of $400 more per month on their card, compared with those who are aware of benefits but do not use them, so clearly this is an area of importance to card issuers,’’ said Jim Miller, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power.

“While most customers change cards for a better rewards program, they often don’t fully understand the rewards offered with their current card. There is a clear opportunity for issuers to better communicate rewards programs and benefits to not only keep customers loyal, but also to attract new customers,’’ Miller said.

J.D. Power offers the following tips to consumers:

 Understand your card’s benefits, such as travel insurance coverage, purchase protection, and fraud protection. Make it a point to find out what benefits your card offers and how to make the most of them.

 Choose a card that offers rewards you can use. Most credit cards offer rewards in the form of points (accumulated by using the card), cash back, or rebates. You can benefit the most from a rewards program that gives you discounts or rebates from a retailer or supplier with whom you frequently do business. However, these cards may also require an annual fee. Make sure the rewards you accumulate justify the fees you incur.

 Take advantage of services offered online. Familiarize yourself with your card issuer’s website. You can quickly access basic information such as card balances and payment data, and find information about benefits and rewards and how to redeem them. Many card companies also provide mobile apps that offer special promotions to cardholders.

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