Apple, with its usual product-launch hoopla, touted how different its new Apple Card is from the competition. But the product’s differentiators — and there are significant ones — are more subtle than sublime.
Apple has partnered with Goldman Sachs as the card issuer and Mastercard as the network to launch a credit card into a market that is already fiercely competitive. Issuers, including deep-pocketed megabanks, have been regularly improving and innovating their card offerings, especially in recent years.
Still, Apple has come up with a different digital-first flavor of credit card, which is slated to launch in summer 2019. Here’s how it will work.
How do I apply for the Apple Card?
Instead of applying by filling out online forms or paper ones, you’ll submit information through the iPhone Wallet app.
Approval (or rejection) will come in minutes, and you’ll have immediate access to the credit line on the account. That means you can start using the account via Apple Pay right away, although you’ll have to wait to receive the physical card to use it. Not all credit card issuers allow you to immediately use your credit line upon approval, but it’s not unusual. American Express, for example, offers it on all its credit cards.
How good does your credit need to be?
Apple isn’t saying specifically, although it says it wants to make the card widely available, which suggests it might not require excellent credit (a FICO score of 720 or better).
Can I add authorized users?
You cannot add authorized users, Apple says. So it’s not an account a husband and wife could share, for example.
Is there a sign-up bonus?
Apple has said there is no sign-up bonus with the card.
How do I pay with the Apple Card?
Via an Apple Pay terminal
The Apple Card will live among other credit cards tucked in your iPhone Wallet app and will work with Apple Pay terminals the same way those cards do. If you haven’t tried Apple Pay at the checkout register, it works like this to use the card you designated as the default:
- Pay with iPhone via Face ID. Double-click the side button, glance at your iPhone to authenticate with Face ID or enter your passcode. Then, hold the top of your iPhone near the contactless reader.
- Pay with iPhone via Touch ID. Rest your finger on Touch ID (but don’t press it to activate Siri). Hold the top of your iPhone near the contactless reader.
- Pay with Apple Watch. Double-click the side button and hold the display near the contactless reader. Wait until you feel a gentle tap.
With successful payment, you’ll see “Done” and a checkmark on the display.
You can also use Apple Pay in apps and on websites that offer that checkout option.
Without Apple Pay
You’ll also have a physical card that can be used normally, by swiping or inserting it into payment readers. But this version won’t have a card number on it, nor will it have a CVV security code, expiration date or signature.
If you need to enter the card number online or on paper, those usual numbers are in the Wallet app.
How do I get cash-back rewards?
The Apple Card will earn cash back, which it calls Daily Cash, at the following rates:
- When used with Apple Pay: 3% back on purchases made directly with Apple (including Apple stores, within the App Store and for Apple services) and 2% back on all other purchases made through Apple Pay.
- When used with the physical card: 1% back on all purchases.
If you use Apple Pay, cash-back rewards are good: 2% back on all purchases is above average and 3% is competitive for purchases from a specific retailer. But limiting those rates to Apple Pay purchases only is a big restriction.
The physical card’s 1% cash back is not competitive today. The new normal is 50% more, 1.5% back.
Daily Cash will be credited daily to customers’ Apple Cash card within their phones. (That’s more frequent than with most cards, where your rewards are typically credited monthly.) If you’ve never used it, the Apple Cash card already sits in your iPhone Wallet. Apple Cash can be used right away for purchases using Apple Pay, to put toward your Apple Card balance or to send money to friends and family by text message.
There is no option to receive a check by mail. The other redemption option is direct deposit into a bank account. You can do that by transferring money from Apple Cash to a bank account anytime for free.
In sum, earning rewards with the Apple Card is a mixed bag, but using your cash back is adequately flexible.
What fees can I expect?
Good news: The card charges no annual fee, late fees or foreign transaction fees.
Simple cash-back cards often have no annual fees, so that’s not a competitive edge. But its lack of late fees or any charges for making purchases abroad is more unusual for this category of card.
Apple also touted no over-the-limit fees, but those fees have been essentially extinct for years.
So all you’ll have to pay to hold the card are finance charges when you carry a balance from month to month. Apple won’t say exactly what those interest rates will be, but it did say rates will be based on the prime rate and gave an example of the rates ranging from 13.24% to 24.24% in March 2019. That’s 1 to 3 percentage points lower than many top cash-back credit cards from major banks, although credit union cards tend to carry even lower rates.
Apple won’t offer balance transfers from other cards at launch.
How will Apple Card’s security features work?
Mobile payment systems like Apple Pay are more secure than a physical card. So it’s mostly the system, not the card, that will make Apple Card secure when using Apple Pay. In fact, Apple’s description of Apple Card’s security is very similar to its description of the Apple Pay service launched in 2014.
Whether you’re using Apple Card or a different card in the Wallet for an Apple Pay transaction, the phone stores a unique number — different from your credit card number — and each transaction is authorized with a one-time, unique dynamic security code.
For Apple Card itself, the company created additional security and privacy measures so Apple doesn’t know where a customer shopped, what they bought or how much they paid.
And with rampant breaches of credit card numbers — if you learned that a website you shopped at had been compromised, for example — you could generate a new card number anytime within the Wallet app. The old number would be invalidated.
What money insights will it offer?
Among the goals Apple talked about is offering customers information on their spending, so they can make wiser financial choices.
Categorizing spending — into food spending, shopping and entertainment — is useful information, but not a groundbreaking offering. It’s available through many card issuers, banks and third-parties like NerdWallet and Mint.
One feature the Apple Card offers that you don’t see everywhere is relabeling cryptic transactions with easy-to-understand descriptions helped by machine learning and Apple Maps. That potentially will also help to accurately categorize spending.
The Apple Card will also encourage you to pay a little more on your credit card to avoid interest charges, a healthy habit.
What if I need help?
Round-the-clock support will be available via text message, Apple said. You can also place a voice call from the Wallet app.
What’s the deal with the titanium card?
The physical card associated with the account promises to be sleek, made of titanium and etched. It lacks the identifying numerical details you would typically expect to find — there’s no card number or security code on it, which Apple said makes it more secure. (Again, that information is in the Wallet app.)
Problem is, you should probably frame that fancy card and hang it on a wall at home. Its 1% cash back rate isn’t competitive among today’s cash-back cards.
The bottom line? Apple Card is a good choice for your digital wallet, but a poor choice for your real one.