Methodology

This page is intended as both an external resource for our readers as well as an internal resource for our content team to refer to.

Our Commitment to Objectivity

First and foremost, our content must be objective, and any subjective statements must be qualified as such.

Here are some guidelines to follow in order to create truly objective financial content:

Review Articles

1. Reviews must be accurate and factual.  The factor ratings and review stars we award a particular company, product, or service must be consistent with these methodology guidelines.

2. Reviews must not exist merely to entice the user to click on our affiliate link.

3. The tone of a review should reflect the quality of the company, product, or service being reviewed.  If for example after objectively reviewing an insurance product you determine its quality to be sub-par, don’t say, “If you need car insurance in a bind, ABC Insurance Company can help.”  This tone is positive and is not consistent with your review.  However, a positive — but not salesy — tone is acceptable if you objectively determine the quality of a company, product, or service to be excellent.

4. If you are reviewing a low-quality company, product, or service, present quality alternatives to the reader that he or she may find more beneficial.  These alternatives may or may not be Money Done Right partners.

5. There should be a “pros” and “cons” summary boxes near the end of each review article.  Nothing in these boxes should be new but should rather be a mere summary of information already stated in the piece.

6. Keep in mind that a company’s, product’s, or service’s website is essentially a sales page.

7. Take into account patterns you see in user reviews on third-party review websites, but keep in mind that user reviews are easily faked or exaggerated.  However, if you see a consistent pattern of genuine-appearing user reviews stating, for example, that the company has repeatedly refused to honor its refund policy, this should be mentioned in the article, and the relevant factor rating should be adjusted accordingly.

8. Also take into account a company’s BBB profile, but of course take it with a grain of salt.

“Best” Articles

1. In articles where we are claiming that certain companies, products, or services are the “best” of their type — for example, the Best Cash Back Cards — we should make clear that in most areas of personal finance “best” is subjective and the “best” company, product, or service for the reader may not be the “best” one for you as the writer.  We should also give categories of avatars for which a certain company, product, or service is the “best.”  See for example our list of the Best Cash Back Cards.  In this list, we include the Capital One QuicksilverOne, even though it offers only 1.5% cash back and comes with a $39 annual fee.  The Citi Double Cash gives 2% cash back and no annual fee.  The Citi Double Cash is clearly a “better” card when it comes to rewards and cost, but it’s not accessible to those with anything less than good or excellent credit.  So to offer something to readers with average, fair, or limited credit, we included the Capital One QuicksilverOne because we believe that it is objectively the best cash back credit card for those in this demographic, and we label it as such.

2. Even if we don’t have an affiliate relationship with a particular company, product, or service, you should not shy away from including it in “best” articles.  For example, we include both the PayPal Cashback Mastercard and the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature in our list of the best 2% cash back cards even though we do not have an affiliate relationship with these issuers.

In General

1. Go into detail and be extremely helpful to the average reader.  Provide a substantial, complete, and comprehensive description of the topic.  Provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious and beyond anything that any other site has created about the topic.

2. Our content must answer all of the average reader’s questions pertaining to the subject matter.  Ideally, answers to questions will be worked into the main body of your piece, but any other questions you weren’t able to answer in the main body of the piece should be included in an “FAQ” section at the very end.

3. Use headers, especially H2s and H3s, liberally.  Each H2 should have at least two H3s underneath it unless we don’t use H3s at all in the piece as is common in list articles such as this one.  Remember, not every reader will read every single word in a given piece.  Give “skimmers” like this an organized, logical header structure so that they can easily understand the flow of the piece without having to read every single word.

4. Remember, personal finance is inherently mathematical.  You must use accurate, mathematical examples to explain and reinforce key concepts.

5. Source facts, statistics, or other data points to authoritative websites, not other blogs.

Rating Factors by Type

In each of our review articles, we assign the product, service, or company being reviewed six factors on which it is rated on a 0 – 10 scale.

Personal Loans

In the personal loans category are both direct lenders and loan lead generation sites.

Below are our rating factors for personal loans.

Where to File Form 4868
Factor
How to Determine Rating
APRHow does this lender's rates compare to other lender's? If a lead generation site, how do the rates offered by this site's lender network compare to others? For example, a payday loan lender or site generating leads for payday loan lenders would rate low in this category, while a lender or site offering personal loans would tend to rate higher.
FeesThis would include all fees other than interest charged to the borrower: origination fees, application fees, late fees, etc. A lender that has no fees would rate a 10; a lender that charges exorbitant fees would rate a 0.
TransparencyHow apparent is it who is really behind this company? Is this company straightforward about its fee structure and payment terms, or does it employ bait-and-switch tactics? Is the company's name and contact information available on the website?
FlexibilityHow flexible is the lender when it comes to payment terms? How do they work with those in financial distress? Are there deferment options available?
Funding SpeedHow quickly could a customer reasonably expect to receive funding after being approved?
AccessibilityKeeping in mind the lender's target demographic, how easy is it to apply and be approved? Are there geographical limitations? Do borrowers need an SSN or certain credit score?
 

Money-Making Apps

In the money-making apps category are any apps that allow people to make extra cash for using the app.

Side hustles — money-making activities that one could theoretically spend eight or more hours per day doing — are not considered money-making apps, even if there is an app involved, such as is the case with driving for Uber or Lyft.

Money-Making Apps
Factor
How to Determine Rating
LegitimacyBased on user reviews, does this app actually pay users as promised?
Earnings PotentialObviously this will depend on how much a user uses the app, but how much could the average user expect to earn over time using this app? No one should download an app expecting to earn a full-time income, so the potential to realistically earn a few hundred dollars a month would be enough to merit a 10/10. The potential to only make a few pennies per month would be 0/10.
Time RequiredHow much time is actually required to be in the app to earn money? An app that simply runs in the background while users earn would be a 10/10, while an app that requires the user to be in the app constantly would be a 0/10.
FeesDoes this app come with a fee? A completely fee app would score a 10/10.
Ease of UseIs this app easy to use? Or does it have a confusing design or interface? Is it simple and easy to understand? Read user reviews in the app store and see what people are saying.
Customer SupportWhat kind of support options are available to app users? Is there an in-app support function? Is there a phone number on the website people can call? Also read reviews of the app within the app store and online to see if customers are getting their questions answered or if they're complaining about a lack of support.
 

Planning Software or Apps

In the planning software or apps category are any software or apps that people can use to formulate financial or legal plans.

Planning Software and Apps
Factor
How to Determine Rating
CostHow much does this software or app cost compared to its competitors? Would a user in this product's target demographic look at the price point(s) and think, "Wow, that's a great value for what you get!" or, "Sheesh, that's pretty steep. I might as well go to a professional for my planning."
User ExperienceHow seamless is the user experience when actually going through the planning process? Is the interface designed in such a way that the user always knows what to do next? Or is using the app a confusing experience? One of the supposed benefits of using a planning software or app is that it is more efficient than scheduling time with a professional, so efficiency should definitely be considered as well.
Situations CoveredDoes the software or app only cover the most basic of financial or legal situations? Or does it cover a wide range of situations and circumstances? For those with unique circumstances or goals, does the software or app give the option to customize their plan to their liking?
AccuracyWhen compared to receiving personalized advice from a qualified professional -- be that an attorney for estate planning, a CPA for tax advice, a CFP for financial planning, etc. -- how accurate are the planning options provided by the software or app?
Tools and ResourcesBeyond the basic function / value proposition of the software or app, does it also provide other tools and resources for users to utilize on an ongoing basis? Or does the software or app provide a "one and done" service?
Customer SupportWhat kind of support options are available to app users? Is there an in-app support function? Is there a phone number on the website people can call? Note that merely having support options is a baseline; you must also read reviews of the app within the app store and online to see if customers are getting their questions answered or if they're complaining about a lack of support.
 

Budgeting Tools

In the budgeting tools category are any software or apps that people can use to budget and track their personal finances.

These products typically link users’ bank, investment, loan, and other financial accounts into an interface where all the transactions and balances are tracked.

Budgeting Tools
Factor
How to Determine Rating
CostHow much does this software or app cost compared to its competitors? Would a user in this product's target demographic look at the price point(s) and think, "Wow, that's a great value for what you get!" Only free software or apps merit a 10/10.
User ExperienceIs it easy to get set up and add accounts? Is the data display attractive and easy-to-read? Is the interface helpfully interactive?
Budgeting ToolsHow well does this software or app help someone budget? This factor goes beyond the mere recording of historical transactions and is concerned more with how well this product helps someone plan and forecast.
Investment TrackingWhile budgeting tools have to do with one's personal profit and loss statement, investment tracking has to do with tracking one's personal balance sheet. How well does this product integrate and visualize one's investment accounts? Can one see one's balance over time? Can the product break down one's asset allocation by class? Can it break down one's stock portfolio by industry?
Account SyncingHow frequently does the product have issues with syncing certain bank or other accounts? Read user reviews to determine if there is any frustration regarding syncing.
Customer SupportWhat kind of support options are available to users? Is there an in-app support function? Is there a phone number on the website people can call? Note that merely having support options is a baseline; you must also read reviews of the product (start with the app store if the product is or has an app) to see if customers are getting their questions answered or if they're complaining about a lack of support. Is the company using Facebook messages and Twitter for support as well? If you can't find enough data points, consider submitting a support ticket yourself in order to evaluate the support function.
 

Credit Cards

Credit cards are any cards that allow the holder to purchase goods and services on credit.

Credit Cards
Factor
How to Determine Rating
RewardsAs a percentage of spend, how much does this card give back in rewards? "Best in class" cards -- that is, cards that have the highest rewards percentage for a particular spending category -- merit a 10/10. A card with no rewards on spending would merit a 0/10. A card that gives a mere 1% back on everything would merit a 3/10. A card that gives 1.5% back on everything would merit a 5/10.
Other PerksBeyond the rewards on spend, how do the perks on this card compare to the perks on other cards? Use the American Express Platinum as a 10/10 standard and evaluate other cards based on that.
Annual Fee$0: 10/10; $1-$49: 9/10; $50-$99: 8/10; $100-$149: 7/10; $150-$199: 6/10; $200-$299: 5/10; $300-$399: 4/10; $400-$499: 3/10; $500-$599: 2/10; $600-$699: 1/10; $700+: 0/10
Welcome OfferHow much is the sign-up bonus for this card compared to the sign-up bonuses on other cards?
Ease of ApprovalHow likely is it that someone even without the best credit score or income would be approved for this card? A card that approves anyone without a credit check would merit a 10/10.
Intro APRHow long is the card's introductory 0% APR balance transfer offer? No offer: 0/0; 1-3 months: 1/10; 4-5 months: 2/10; 6-8 months: 3/10; 9-10 months: 4/10; 11-12 months: 5/10; 13-14 months: 6/10; 15-16 months: 7/10; 17-18 months: 8/10; 19-20 months: 9/10: 21+ months: 10/10
 

Health Insurance Companies

Health insurance companies are businesses that collect premiums from and pays (in whole or in part) the medical expenses of policyholders.

Health Insurance
Factor
How to Determine Rating
Coverage OptionsHow easy would it be for someone to find the exact coverage that suits them? A one-size-fits-all plan would receive a lower rating, while those with multiple plans catering to different needs would receive a high rating.
Network SizeHow large is this insurer's network of providers? Please do not count it against a company if plans are only available in certain states; for example, if a health insurance provider is only available in seven states, evaluate the depth of the network in those seven states only.
Quality of CareBased on user reviews, how satisfied are individuals with the care they receive at in-network providers? Be sure to look at opinions on both routine and preventative care as well as more intensive medical procedures.
CostFor the plans provided by this insurer, how do the premiums and deductibles compare to comparable plans provided by other insurers? What other fees or costs are charged or potentially charged to members?
Application ProcessHow easy is it to to apply for and obtain insurance through this provider? What if you have pre-existing conditions?
Member ServicesWhat kind of support options and services are available to members? Is there an app or member portal where members can communicate with their healthcare professionals, download their medical records, make appointments, etc.? Is there a dedicated support line for members to call with questions?