The Apple Card Won't Change Your Life, But It Will Hook You On Apple Pay

Should you get one? That depends on how much you love Apple. (Photo: Victoria Song, Gizmodo)

When you plunk down the Apple Card to split a bill, it makes a satisfying clank. The snow-white card with its silver trimmings is impossible to ignore — partly because few cards are white, and partly because of that clanking noise. One of your friends will probably pick it up, turn it in their hands and say, “Yeah, that’s a metal card alright” before reaching into their wallet to compare it with another metal credit card. This will inevitably devolve into a discussion about the Apple Card’s benefits, and whether it’s worth applying. As an Apple Card owner, all eyes at the table will divert to you, and you’ll be expected to give a verdict.

Apple Card

WHAT IS IT?

Apple's credit card

PRICE

Your monthly statement. Possibly your dignity.

LIKE

Zero fees! No waiting for cash back. Yay privacy.

NO LIKE

Mediocre rewards. People wanting to talk to you. Being that arsehole.

That’s the part I struggle with. It’s not that the card is bad — no card boasting zero fees can be all that bad. It’s just not amazing enough to gush over. I’m not going to grab my friend’s iPhone, navigate to the Wallet app, and demand they apply for the sake of their financial health. The best I can say as a response as to whether or not it’s worth it is, “It depends on how much you love Apple.”

Editor's Note: The Apple Card is not available in Australia, so you can rest assured that you're safe from its weird, metallic charm. While we wait and see if Apple plans on launching it locally, check out this review from our U.S. team.

When Apple first announced the card at its services event in March, I was sceptical. The interest rates (12.99 to 23.99 per cent) are only slightly lower or on par with the market average, and the cash back rewards are mediocre unless you’re an Apple Pay devotee and likely to buy a ton of Apple products. And even then, the rewards are just ok. (More on these in a second.)

Privacy was the big selling point — Apple vowed not to share your financial transactions, and the physical card itself would be devoid of any information besides your name. Obviously, this also a nonstarter for anyone with an Android phone as everything operates out of Apple’s Wallet app.

After using the card for roughly a month, I don’t think anyone needs this card, especially not as their go-to payment method. That said, using it has opened my eyes to what a cashless future and widespread mobile payment adoption might look like — and on that front, the Apple Card is nifty.

The entire application process is digital and requires an iPhone. Apple dropped a series of ten videos last month detailing the nuts and bolts of how to apply and use the card itself. Unless your credit is godawful (i.e., a score of under 600), or you’ve got an outstanding bill collection, you’ll likely be approved in a matter of minutes.

The user limit and APR depends on whatever magical formula Goldman Sachs, the issuing bank, decides based on individual creditworthiness. I had a TransUnion score of nearly 800 and Goldman granted me a $US6,500 ($9,567) limit with 17.99 per cent APR. I found that middling. The average interest rate for a new customer is around 19.24 per cent, so I did ok on that front. However, the limit was about half that of my other cards. (That said, some readers have emailed me screenshots showing they did get 12.99 per cent, so it’s possible.)

While a digital Apple Card shows up immediately in the Wallet app, users have to opt-in for the physical card during the application process. Plus, it takes about 4-6 days for shipping. I applied for the card but immediately had to leave for a 5-day road trip up through upstate New York, Vermont, and finally, Montreal. I figured this was a good opportunity to see just how widespread contactless payments were outside New York City. In turn, that would inform how feasible a mobile-only Apple Card was in practice.

The way the Apple Card’s cash back rewards are structured, you’re incentivised to use Apple Pay. The highest 3 per cent tier is limited to purchasing Apple gear, Uber rides and Uber Eats deliveries, and now Walgreens purchases.

The 2 per cent tier is for any Apple Pay purchase made with a phone. Purchases with the physical card get a measly 1 per cent. Unless you really need to use the physical card, it behooves users to use Apple Pay whenever and wherever possible.

If you’re a normal person and store this card in your wallet, you really don’t have to worry about stains. (Photo: Victoria Song, Gizmodo)

During my road trip, I found difficult to predict what retailers would or wouldn’t accept Apple Pay. It was fine at a pharmacy in Halfmoon, New York, and at a parking metre in Burlington, Vermont. It also worked fine for buying metro tickets at a kiosk in Montreal. It’s handy that after a long sweaty run, I can buy Gatorade at my local grocery store using the Apple Card via my Apple Watch. However, just because a store accepts contactless payments, doesn’t mean you can always use Apple Pay.

I tried buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Gregory’s Coffee near my apartment. They accepted Chase Pay, but not Apple Pay. Likewise, my local deli does not accept contactless payments. Neither does the cafeteria in Gizmodo’s giant office building, but somehow, the coffee stall two feet away does. Trying to get 2 per cent cash back was an exercise in asking annoyed clerks if they accepted Apple Pay. It stirred up my anxiety, but at the same time, I got a greater appreciation for just how far contactless payments have come in the past few years.

You can also use Apple Pay for more online purchases than you might expect, particularly in apps. Discovering which apps accept Apple Pay, however, is a pain. You can use it in Lyft and Seamless, but not Amazon. It works on Airbnb, but you can’t just add it; you have to book a place and then add it.

It’s possible to input the card info for digital transactions manually, but it involves hopping over to the Wallet app, tapping the Apple Card, tapping the three-dot button, scrolling down to the Card Information menu, hoping Face ID doesn’t crap out on you as it verifies your identity, and copy-pasting the information within. I’d rather die than do this repeatedly, especially if I’m only getting 1 per cent cash back.

As for the physical card itself, it’s a good looking card. As for reports about it being easily stained, I stored it in my phone wallet like a normal person, and it was fine. (Who carries a naked credit card in their jean pocket anyway?) That said, using the physical card highlighted some pitfalls that I’m sure Apple hadn’t intended when it decided on the design.

Bleary-eyed from a long flight to Berlin, I handed my Apple Card over to the receptionist at my hotel for an early check-in fee. She handed it back to me in confused indignation, saying there was no chip, magnetic strip, or credit card number. I replied that yes, in fact, there was a chip and magnetic strip. We had a standoff lasting several uncomfortable seconds before I acquiesced and got out another card. The same happened when I tried paying for a taxi home from Newark Airport. The cabbie grouchily informed me that the card had no information, no chip, and no magnetic strip.

I debated pulling out my phone and navigating to the card number, but in a moment of rudeness, swiped the card for him myself. (In my defence, I was jet-lagged, and this was the final obstacle between me and my bed.) The same thing happened, yet again, at my eye doctor’s office while trying to process my copay. It took two receptionists about ten minutes, and multiple tries to get the card to read properly. Once, I would have written off. Three times and I am utterly baffled.

I should note that plenty of other clerks did not have this issue. At the same time, zero clerks have had issues with my other credit cards. The other common reaction was clerks asking me if this was the new Apple Card, how they could apply, did I like it, and what was my recommendation? As a socially awkward turtle, it was a level of interaction I didn’t want when trying to buy tampons at Duane Reade. I imagine the novelty will fade as more people get the Apple Card, but in the meantime, I find myself opting for other cards if I want a transaction to go quickly.

The magnetic strip seems obvious to me. Yet it was invisible to some clerks. (Photo: Victoria Song, Gizmodo)

That’s the weird thing about the Apple Card. For a credit card that’s meant to be simple, it often overcomplicates things. Some of that has to do with its focus on privacy and security. Before you make a purchase, Face ID has to authenticate you. Face ID works about two-thirds of the time for me, but when it doesn’t, it becomes a problem I have to solve.

You can turn this feature off, but it feels like nerfing one of the card’s enhanced security features for a frivolous reason. The lack of card number is cool in that if my card is stolen, it’s not like the thief can use it for online purchases. It’s less cool when the card’s blankness flusters a clerk or sends me scrambling to pull up the number in the app. Security isn’t convenient by any means, but enhanced privacy can certainly add friction where you don’t expect it.

I happen to be a religious user of You Need A Budget (YNAB). Because your purchases on Apple Card are meant to be private — Apple says it “doesn’t know what you bought. Or where. Or how much you paid” — it’s not compatible with any software that automatically exports transactions for easier logging.

Probably because such software doesn’t meet Apple’s standards. That means if you’re a personal finance nerd, using the Apple Card means manually logging purchases, so you have a complete picture of your debt. I know I voluntarily put myself through this torture, but the extra time spent logging is a consideration when I reach for my wallet and pick which card I’m going to use.

And how valid are Apple’s privacy claims anyway? Apple’s site says, “Of course, Goldman Sachs will use your data to operate Apple Card, but they will never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing or advertising.”

Apple might not know what you’re buying, but Goldman Sachs does. It’s important to note that there’s nothing in that statement saying Goldman Sachs can’t use your data internally for whatever purposes it deems ‘necessary.’ Call me cynical, but I don’t believe a giant bank known for servicing the rich will be morally upright about how it internally handles my data.

Gizmodo looked into a similar case with the Amazon Prime credit card and its issuing bank Chase. In that instance, Chase noted it shared data with affiliates both for operational purposes and marketing. That’s not the case with the Apple Card, according to its privacy disclosure. But, Chase also said it used the Amazon Prime card data for its marketing purposes, i.e., to market its own products to Chase card users.

Apple’s wording only says Goldman Sachs will never share or sell data to third parties. Goldman Sachs recently expanded its consumer banking presence, and if I ever get one of those envelopes in the mail advertising their Marcus personal loans, well, I might have a pretty good idea where it came from.

“When you get a new card in the mail, it typically comes with disclosures about how your data will be used. These disclosures are legally required due to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernisation Act of 1999 and often indicate that the credit card issuer may sell or share information with other companies, or at least use it internally to market other products to you,” Oliver Brown, an analyst at Credit Card Insider told me.

“[Apple’s] disclosure shows less information sharing than many other credit card issuers, but it still leaves open the possibility that Goldman Sachs may get transaction data and use it internally, but not for marketing purposes.”

It’s fine. (Photo: Victoria Song, Gizmodo)

At the end of the day, the Apple Card is fine but not exactly deserving of its hype. The fact that subprime applicants can apply for it and not get slammed with 30 per cent interest rates is arguably good.

But the things I liked best about the Apple Card were not its splashiest features—and they also reminded me of the card’s shortcomings. For instance, I liked that Daily Cash gets added to your Cash account the next day, instead of waiting an entire month. Kinda. It’s a relief that I don’t have to navigate some abstract point system, but you accrue cash back so slowly, it might as well not even matter waiting a month or two to get it. So far, I’ve got about $22. It’s cool I can redeem it now if I want, but that’s not much to write home about.

I will say this month of using the Apple Card is the most I’ve ever used Apple Pay since it debuted in 2014. And because I have this card, I will probably continue to use Apple Pay wherever possible. It’s a fact that I look for the Apple Pay logo more frequently at retailers. If it’s not clear, I will nag a clerk. Beneath the altruistic messaging of zero fees, better financial health, and privacy, hooking indifferent consumers like me on its payment platform is probably what Apple was gunning for all along. I knew that going in, and yet here I am.

So should people get the Apple Card? It’s not a terrible idea if they're trying to rebuild credit and plan to pay in full every month. Or if they've tattooed “Apple Pay All the Way” across their heart. Or even if they like to be that person who clanks a titanium card down so their friends can ooh and ahh. For everyone else, there’s probably a better card elsewhere. It just won’t be as buzzworthy.

README

  • Zero fees, 12.99-23.99 per cent APR. You get 3 per cent cash back on Apple purchases, Uber rides, Uber Eats and Walgreens. Apple Pay purchases get 2 per cent, while physical card purchases get 1 per cent.

  • The metal card truly does clank.

  • The Apple Card is more private than others, but Goldman Sachs can still use users' data internally. Privacy features can also be inconvenient in practice.

  • Everyone will ask you if they should get this card.

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