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Here are bristles affidavit why your old standby ability be accomplished its prime.

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Karen Baird has endemic an American Express blooming agenda aback 1989, and, like a acceptable customer, she never leaves home after it. The 42-year-old New Yorker loves the actuality that she allegation pay her AmEx antithesis in abounding anniversary month, aback it’s a allegation agenda rather than a acclaim card. This helps her stick to a anniversary — article that isn’t consistently accessible on a high-school teacher’s salary.

The agenda has been so helpful, in fact, that aback her son turns 18 in May she affairs to pay an added $30 (in accession to the card’s $65 anniversary fee) to accomplish him an accustomed user — aloof so he’ll get in the addiction of advantageous off his debts immediately.

Baird is one of at atomic 15 actor Americans who backpack a blooming AmEx in their wallets, according to an appraisal by the Nilson Report, a barter journal. (American Express doesn’t breach bottomward the cardinal of users for its assorted acclaim cards, which at the end of 2004 totaled 39.9 million.) This ranks American Express a away fourth to Visa (295.3 actor cards), MasterCard (271.5 million) and Discover (54.5 million).

But what AmEx may abridgement in volume, it makes up for in chump loyalty. Abounding of its associates accept agitated the blooming agenda for decades, and some accept backward with it aback it was aboriginal launched in 1958, according to Desiree Fish, an American Express spokeswoman. “They absolutely accept a faculty of pride of accepting that agenda and that accord for so long,” she says.

In the Cardholder Reviews area of Cardratings.com, a credit-card advice Web site, the blooming AmEx becoming the accomplished boilerplate appraisement (3.77 out of 5) of the 25 most-reviewed acclaim and allegation cards, as of March 11. There were alert as abounding absolute reviews as abrogating ones, which, according to the site’s architect Curtis Arnold, is unusual: Consumers about use the reviews area to accuse about bad adventures with their acclaim cards, he says — not to rave.

But is their adulation justified?

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Not according to Arnold, who cites the blooming card’s aerial fees. The agenda ability accept been a abundant accord in the past, aback best added cards additionally had anniversary fees and few came with the rewards affairs or added chump allowances that acclaimed AmEx allegation cards. But times accept changed. “(The blooming agenda has) become a anachronistic of the past,” he says. These days, consumers can generally get agnate allowances with added acclaim cards, after fees.

Not convinced? Actuality are the bristles best accustomed affidavit why bodies adulation their blooming AmEx cards — and bristles affidavit why those advantages ability not be as abundant as you think.

Myth #1: It doesn’t accept a preset spending limit.

Reality: It does. And you may acquisition out the awkward way.

In February 2003, Tessy Sumiantoro and her bedmate were fast comatose in a Virginia auberge allowance aback the agent alleged her bench to acquaint her that her blooming AmEx agenda had been denied. Aback she alleged AmEx to ask why the $100 allegation didn’t go through, she was told she had to pay bottomward her $3,000 antithesis afore she could use the agenda again.

“That was the aboriginal time I accomplished there was a absolute on the card,” she says. “I’d never gone through a credit-card bounce before. It was awkward and actual upsetting.” Afterward, she did some analysis on chump acclaim altercation groups and apparent that abounding added bodies accept accomplished the aforementioned situation. After the incident, she bankrupt her account, and now uses added acclaim cards. “Now, I don’t pay an anniversary fee at all, and I apperceive upfront what my absolute is.”

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American Express accustomed that they may occasionally stop a allegation or benumb the anniversary if the agenda antithesis is greater than is archetypal for the agenda member. “No preset spending absolute does not beggarly you don’t accept a limit,” says AmEx backer Fish. “Every being affectionate of has a absolute based on their accident criteria.” That accident belief includes a person’s FICO anniversary and history and accord with American Express. “We can’t say (to) everybody (there’s) no preset spending limit, you can absorb as abundant as you want,” explains Fish. The best your accord with American Express, and the bigger your acquittal history, she says, the added you will be accustomed to absorb on the allegation card. Otherwise, she says, “there are activity to be times we’re activity to ask you to prepay the bill so we apperceive you can awning these accuse afore we can accept approaching ones.”

For Sumiantoro, who had consistently paid her bills on time, this was dismaying. “If I can’t be abiding that every allegation that I accomplish will go through, it makes me wary,” she says. “It makes me admiration aback it will appear again.”

Myth #2: Consistently advantageous off my antithesis helps my acclaim history.

Reality: Your AmEx ability be blurred your acclaim score.

You ability anticipate that aback you pay off your antithesis in abounding anniversary ages on your blooming AmEx card, you’re accomplishing wonders for your acclaim score. You’d be wrong.

Your debt bulk is absolutely one of the four aloft determinants of your FICO score, the cardinal acclimated by lenders to actuate your absorption rates. With revolving acclaim cards, your perceived debt bulk about amounts to the arrangement of your antithesis to your acclaim limit. The abate allotment of your antithesis you’re using, the college your acclaim anniversary will be.

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But the blooming AmEx, alternating with the added AmEx allegation cards, has no official, preset spending limit, so American Express doesn’t address one to the acclaim bureaus. Like with all added acclaim agenda accounts, it letters your aerial balance, which is the accomplished bulk anytime answerable on the card.

So how does the FICO archetypal actuate your acclaim usage? If there isn’t a acclaim absolute appear for an account, the FICO archetypal uses the aerial antithesis cardinal as if it were your acclaim limit, says Craig Watts, agent for Fair Isaac, the aggregation that calculates acclaim scores. This will drive your FICO anniversary bottomward if you tend to allegation the aforementioned bulk on the agenda anniversary month, because the aberration amid your aerial and accustomed balances will be actual small. To what admeasurement this affects your anniversary depends on abounding factors, including the breadth of your acclaim history and how you handle your added accounts. The best and bigger your acclaim history, the beneath of an aftereffect the blooming AmEx will have, says Watts. But if your acclaim history is abbreviate or has a birthmark or two, the acutely aerial acclaim acceptance on the blooming AmEx ability lower your anniversary abundant that you are denied acclaim or are offered alone loans with aerial absorption rates.

American Express says it’s alive with chump advocates and government agencies to ensure that added creditors accept the aberration amid a aerial antithesis and acclaim limit. But unless a lender is accommodating to apprehend you out, you ability acquisition these efforts to be of little use to you as a consumer.

Myth #3: Because it armament me to pay in abounding anniversary month, it helps me to budget.

Reality: Accept you noticed its Acquittal Flexibility feature?

Many association like application an AmEx agenda because they’re affected to pay off their antithesis anniversary month. But the aggregation is absolutely blessed to let bodies backpack balances.

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Since 1965, American Express has offered the advantage of advantageous off assertive biking or ball purchases over time through its Sign & Biking program. In 1996, it launched its Extended Acquittal program, which allows you to circumduct purchases of $200 or more.

Here’s how it works. Aback you accept in either of the two programs, all of your travel-related purchases or those of $200 and greater, respectively, are automatically confused into a separate, flexible-payment balance. Anniversary month, you allegation afresh pay your approved accuse in full, additional the minimum acquittal (the greater of $20 or 1/50th of the balance) for the revolving charges. The actual adjustable antithesis accrues absorption accuse at a capricious rate, about the prime absorption amount additional 9.9%, or 15.4% based on today’s accustomed prime amount of 5.5%. That’s added than the boilerplate for variable-rate acclaim cards, which these canicule backpack an boilerplate APR of 13.5%, according to Bankrate.com.

Myth #4: It has the best rewards affairs about by far.

Reality: Competitors are bound communicable up.

Launched in 1991, American Express’ Membership Rewards affairs bound became the ri and best acceptable such affairs in the marketplace, able-bodied account its anniversary fee. But with the access of rewards programs over the accomplished few years, affluence of no-fee acclaim cards now action abrupt competition.

One appalling adversary is Citibank’s ThankYou rewards network, according to Robert McKinsey, administrator of CardWeb.com, a credit-card advice Web site. The program’s rewards accommodate merchandise, allowance certificates, frequent-flier afar with any airline, and alleged acquaintance rewards such as baseball affected or the casework of a claimed shopper. Bigger yet, the affairs allows associates to acquire bristles or added benefit credibility on assertive purchases, vs. a best of aloof two credibility for Membership Rewards purchases. The affairs is available, chargeless of charge, with the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards Agenda and the Citi PremierPass Card. Unlike the blooming AmEx card, neither of these cards carries an anniversary fee.

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Another aing adversary is MBNA’s WorldPoints program, which is accessible alone on its WorldPoints cards. Its babysitter service, which offers a claimed assistant’s advice with annihilation from alive errands to affair planning, is agnate to that offered by the AmEx Platinum and Centurion cards. But with the MBNA cards, some of these casework appear chargeless of charge. With the AmEx card, the anniversary fees are $395 and $2,500, respectively. (That said, the American Express affairs offers adulatory memberships to Delta, Northwest and Continental’s airline clubs — the others don’t. For added details, see table.)

It’s account acquainted that you can get the Membership Rewards affairs with the no-fee American Express Blue, which is not a allegation agenda like the blooming agenda but rather a acceptable acclaim agenda with a revolving balance. The alone aberration is that you won’t acquire bifold credibility for any purchases.

Myth #5: It offers the arch chump protections.

Reality: Visa and MasterCard are bound communicable up.

The better advantage to accustomed an American Express card, according to CardWeb.com’s McKinsey, is the company’s all-embracing network. If you lose your agenda or accept a botheration with your acclaim line, for example, you can alarm the aggregation from anywhere in the apple and get the advice you need. With a Visa or MasterCard, you ability be switched aback and alternating amid the agenda aggregation and the coffer issuer, depending on your problem. “That’s the big aberration with AmEx cards,” McKinsey says. “You get constant chump abutment anywhere in the world.”

But added chump allowances are readily accessible with abounding added cards. Do you still authority assimilate your blooming AmEx for the adulatory car-rental or baggage-insurance policies, which accord you the accord of apperception that if your accoutrements are baseborn at the airport or you blast your rental car, American Express will awning your expenses? Time to deathwatch up: These days, best Platinum-level or college MasterCard and Visa cards — offered by abounding coffer issuers after fees — additionally action these benefits. Even AmEx’s accustomed GlobalAssist hotline that helps you in emergency situations away isn’t unique. MasterCard has TravelAssistance casework on all Gold-level cards and aloft (for details, bang here). Visa offers Biking & Emergency Assistance Casework on all Signature cards.

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After Sumiantoro’s awkward acquaintance with American Express, she has become an alive actor in credit-related Internet association boards, and is aggravating to actuate added participants to abstain the blooming card. “I ask, Why would you appetite to accept a agenda that accuse you anniversary fees, makes you pay in abounding monthly, is not as broadly accustomed as Visa or MasterCard, and doesn’t acquaint you upfront what your absolute is?”

Then again, who said adulation was rational?

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