Why Apple Card May Be the Ultimate Credit Card, With One Exception

Hands on with Apple's first credit card

Apple Card on Apple Watch
Shopping with Apple Card.

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Credit cards are bad. That’s what I learned early in my financial life. As a result, I have few and I try to avoid signing up for new ones. But I can honestly say I was excited to sign up for the Apple Card, Apple’s first foray into the credit-based financial sector.

The result is a very Apple-esque personal finance experience with only a couple of missteps.

Apple Card is the ultimate credit card, at least for Apple Customers everywhere.

What the Heck is Apple Card and Why Should I Care?

Apple introduced its Apple Card earlier this year at its all-services March Event. It slides neatly into Apple’s existing Apple Wallet App and has a fiscal relationship with Apple Cash, the “pay me through iMessage” prepaid card and system introduced in 2017.

There’s a physical card, too. It’s a titanium wonder, scrubbed clean of almost all recognizable credit card touches. There’s no credit card number, no CCV or security code. It’s an elegant coda of sorts to former Chief Creative Officer Jony Ive’s industry-defining Apple design career.

Instead of raised letters, everything from your name to the small Apple logo in the upper left-hand corner is laser etched. The magnetic strip is silver instead of brown or rust colored and sits flush with the bottom edge of the card. Apple even changed the chip design—seriously.

I had a few credit cards in my wallet, and I noted that the lines on those little silver or gold chip rectangles were different on each card. Apple Card chips have a distinct, symmetrical design.

I have heard some concerns that the lack of visible numbers and raised lettering might make the card difficult to use for the vision impaired, which is a fair concern and I think Apple should offer raised lettering as an option. Still, I’m guessing they’ll use the digital version instead.

Apple does not expect most Apple Card users to use the titanium card; ordering it is optional (I ordered one). The reason the titanium card exists is for retail situations that still run primarily on physical credit cards: think your favorite restaurant that likes to spirit away your credit card to the back of the room and the local gas station where entire gas pumps would have to be replaced to support tap and pay.

Give Me My Card

Setting up Apple Card is about as easy as you can make credit card applications (which are already too easy because these banks want all of us to be tied to their credit systems forever).

Inside Wallet and under the plus sign I found the option to add Apple Card. There are only a few questions to answer, including inputting the last four digits of your social security number to verify your ID and your yearly salary. That second answer helps Apple’s banking partner Goldman Sachs run a credit check. This does not take long at all. I had a $20K line of credit in a matter of minutes.

Apple Card Setup Screens
Apple walks you through just a handful of screens to set up your Apple Card.

While there’s some concern that Apple is partnering with a bank for Apple Card, they had no choice. You can’t create a credit card in the U.S. that is not issued by a bank. Goldman Sachs is not Apple’s first banking partner. Apple Cash uses Green Dot Bank. Apple didn’t partner with them for Apple Card because Green Dot is a pre-paid, debit-only bank.

Goldman Sachs shares some Apple Card responsibilities with Mastercard. So, while Goldman Sachs does all the banking behind the card, Mastercard manages the transaction between retailer point of sales systems and the bank.

Apple Card Setup Screens
Even before you have a physical card (which you don't need), you have a digital credit card that's ready to use.

All these partners do put more eyes on your transactions, but Goldman Sachs will, according to Apple, only use the data to manage your Apple Card. They won’t try to sell you additional bank services and they will not sell the data. Mastercard shares anonymized, aggregated data with partners, but nothing that can be identified as you.

Getting Your Money

While the set-up was easy, I did have to work a tiny bit to make sure that the Apple Card would be used as my primary card in App Store, iTunes, and any mobile transactions. I did this though my Apple ID account on the phone and had to do it again in my Apple Watch App.

Using Apple Card screens
Using Apple Card is just like using Apple pay.

There’s good reason to do this: Apple’s built in Daily Cash. It's a simple, yet smart reward system that focuses on giving you real cash instead of points or other rewards that might require a calculator to figure out just how much you’re really getting.

Transactions made with Apple Card get you:

  • 3% back on Apple products
  • 2% on Apple Card purchases outside the Apple ecosystem
  • 1% cash back on purchase made with the physical Apple Card

I have a 2TB iCloud Storage account, a Family Apple Music account, pay for HBO Now through Apple TV, and often rent movies through Apple TV. I’m not very good at math but, if I use Apple Card, there’s the promise of a few cents back each month from all these purchases.

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

With my Apple Card set up on my iPhone and Apple Watch, I hit the local Starbucks. While the barista rung me up, I opened Apple Wallet on my Apple Watch and selected the Apple Card. As I tipped the watch to the pay kiosk, the barista stared at me in awe and said, “That’s legit.”

I wondered if he had never seen someone pay with an Apple Watch before, so I let him know what’s new.

I said, “Yeah, I have the new Apple Card.”

“I know. It’s legit.”

What’s also legit is how Apple does its best to help you track and manage your finances with the Apple Card interface.

Apple Card in the Apple Watch
This is what I saw through my Apple Watch when I bough a scone at Starbucks. Note, I have to wait until tomorrow for my Daily Cash to appear in my Apple Cash card.

As soon as I made my first purchase, the details appeared in the app, including store name, location, time, payment status, and total. I did note that across all my purchases, the credit card number was slightly different. This is another protection. If there’s a data breach at one retailer where I used my Apple Card, Apple can just cancel that number while leaving my Apple Card intact.

There is an Apple Card credit card number you can use for services where you're not using Apple Pay or buying through iTunes or the App store, too. It's under Card Information and includes a full 15-digit number, expiration date, and a three digit security code.

Scone
I bought a scone with Apple Card.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The One Exception

Apple’s so good at providing spending detail that I was surprised to see that it’s no better than Apple in general at telling you exactly what you bought through Apple services. My credit card bills often aggregates Apple charges, so I have no idea that the $17.99 charge is for a movie and my iCloud storage.It also fails to list if I bought a movie or an App for $4.99.

Apple Card’s reports on Apple Service spending are just as inscrutable. It’s an odd oversight.

Apple color codes purchase categories. Shopping is gold, Entertainment is gray or purple, food is orange, and the digital card changes color depending on where you do most of your spending.

There’s a weekly spending chart, a total balance, and how much credit remains.

Apple Card Transactions
The cool thing about Apple Card is how quickly transactions show up and the clarity of the information. Note that the left and center screens are mine, but the third was provided by Apple.

The app is set up to remind you of when a payment is due—you can pay directly into your debit bank—and there are guides that show you how much you need to pay right now to avoid paying interest. That interest rate is set at 12.99%, which is relatively low for a credit card. In addition, Apple Card has:

  • No annual fees
  • No transaction fees
  • No penalties for late payment

You Will Shop

I walked around New York City, making a few more purchases and smiling at how much money I might get back. The Daily Cash back automatically flows into your Apple Cash pre-paid card and then can be used like real cash wherever Apple Pay is accepted, or you can transfer it to a friend via iMessage, or even to your bank account (there is a 1% instant transfer fee, but it maxes out at $10).

It’s unlikely I’ll ever get rich this way, though. I did some quick math and found that my purchases were netting me approximately $1. On the other hand, it might make sense to shift some other recurring bills, like my Verizon Bill and maybe my mortgage, to the Apple Card. Now that would be some real Apple Cash.

Now that I’m an adult, I know that, when used correctly, credit cards are not evil but rather a tool. In the case of Apple Card, it’s a power tool for purchases in and outside the Apple ecosystem.