Everything You Need to Know About the Apple Card I Did Not Need

The new credit card has its benefits, but it will lock you further into the Apple ecosystem

Credit: Noah Berger/Getty Images

The email was a surprise.

“You’re invited to get Apple Card starting today.”

My heart leaped out of my chest. All right, that’s an exaggeration. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was excited to be invited to something by Apple. I’ve been covering Apple products since the turn of the millennium and they’ve never invited me to anything. Not for the iPod, not for the iPhone, not even for Ping. But now they were inviting me. That they were inviting me to spend money so that they would get a cut of every transaction I ever made seemed beside the point.

Even though I didn’t need another credit card, I applied anyway. Because Apple.

I knew I wasn’t the first to be invited. I had seen a smattering of Apple journalists tweeting about their first experiences with the card. These are the same journalists who always tweet their fancy invitations to Apple events that I never receive. So I checked Twitter to see if the rest of us hoi polloi had gotten the card. It didn’t seem so.

So even though I didn’t need another credit card, even though getting another credit card might actually lower my credit score, even though the cashback was less than what I get on my two current credit cards, I applied anyway. Because Apple.

The application process is ridiculously easy

I did as the invite email instructed and updated my iPhone to the most recent OS, then opened my Wallet app. I tapped the plus to continue, gave them my annual income, a picture of my driver’s license, and a few other pieces of personal financial info. Then I was done. As someone who remembers filling out forms for credit cards with a pen, fitting each digit of her social security number in those tiny boxes and mailing the application away with fingers crossed, this was a revelation. I didn’t start the stopwatch on my iPhone, but it only took approximately five minutes to be approved.

The benefits of the Apple Card

As of this writing, I’ve been using the card for less than a week, but it has some fun features. I’ve been calling it my amazing technicolor dream card, because the color changes gradient according to the category of items I purchase. Also, if I think the number on the card is compromised, I’m only one click away from changing it. No more changing my credit card manually through every bill I have on autopay. Best of all, you can also see immediately how much cashback you receive. There’s something immensely satisfying about seeing the exact amount of money that you’re getting back on each purchase.

But although these features don’t necessarily save you money, people are still going to sign up for this card in droves. You need only have the most basic understanding of Daniel Kahneman’s economic theories to know that humans rarely make rational economic decisions.

As I pointed out earlier, the cashback benefits of the Apple Card are not as good as the two credit cards I currently use: the Chase Freedom card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. While the Apple Card promises 1% back when you use the physical card, 2% back on all purchases, and 3% back on Apple purchases, the Chase Freedom card offers 3% back on all purchases. And what about that annual fee? The Apple Card doesn’t have one, but neither does the Chase Freedom card.

You don’t have to accept the defaults just because Apple decided that you should.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a hefty annual fee, but it also offers an annual travel credit, and while you can use the points for almost anything, they’re worth the most when you use them to travel. Travel is important to me, but it’s expensive with a family of five, and it’s easy to spend extra money on other, cheaper physical things. I’ve read enough self-help literature to know that experiences are more rewarding than physical things, so this year I used my credit card points to pay for five plane tickets to Hawaii. So using the Chase card is like a promise to myself to save money for travel.

Apple also promises no reward points and no gimmicks. But what if, like me, you’re a geek and you’ve spent far too much time researching the points and gimmicks and realizing that they work for you? This is the same reason so many geeks I know prefer Android phones to iPhones. It’s not just that an iPhone with the same specs as an Android phone is likely going to cost more — it’s that Android phones are better for power users. You can customize your phone and side-load apps and really think about making the device work for you. You don’t have to accept the defaults just because Apple decided that you should.

No gimmicks… sort of

There are plenty of gimmicky credit cards out there with bad point systems and travel blackout dates that can drive you insane. So it will be a relief to many that the cashback system with the Apple Card is so straightforward. But if Apple really wants to be a “no gimmicks” card, then they might rethink the part of the onboarding process when you’re given the Hobson’s choice to set the Apple Card as your default now or… later. But what if I want to set it as my default card… never?

And don’t be fooled into thinking that money seamlessly goes back on your Apple Card. Instead, it goes into Apple Cash, which is also part of your Wallet, but is different than your Apple Card.

Also, if you’re one of the many people who love all things Apple, with the exception of Safari, you can put your Apple Card number into Chrome’s autofill to use it on a website that doesn’t support Apple Pay — but you’ll only get 1% back on that purchase. You’ll also only get 1% back on purchases that you make with the physical card. You have the choice to get a physical card during the enrollment process. It takes five days to get the physical card in the mail and mine hasn’t arrived yet — though apparently it is titanium.

The biggest advantage the Apple Card has over other credit cards is privacy.

It’s all about the ecosystem

Apple Messages, iPhone, Apple Watch, HomePod — just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. There are so many products from Apple that are designed to make you fall in love and never go back. You understand this if most of your friends have iPhones and there’s that one person with an Android phone who keeps ruining your group chats with their green bubbles.

If you get used to using the Apple Card and get rid of the rest of your other credit cards, don’t even think about switching to an Android phone unless you want to switch credit cards. Theoretically, you can use the physical card, but according to CNET, it won’t work without your iPhone. You also won’t have access to any of the budgeting tools included in the Wallet app. That includes the color-changing card icon, total balance available, latest transactions, and details on cashback.

Also, if you rely on budgeting apps like Mint and Truebill, you won’t be able to add your card to those apps to track your spending alongside your other credit cards and bank accounts. This renders those apps effectively useless.

Privacy, please

The biggest advantage the Apple Card has over other credit cards is privacy. It’s the same drum they’ve been beating for the past year or so. We’re tired of having our every move tracked and uploaded to some giant cloud of data that represents us. But are we really so tired of it that we won’t continue to trade that information daily to get free services in return? Apparently not. I get tired of getting credit card offers from Mint and Truebill, but it’s pretty easy to ignore them and find it an acceptable trade-off for the service they provide.

According to Apple, they’re not sharing your information with anyone, except Apple, Goldman Sachs, and an “identity verification service for application processing, identity verification, and fraud protection.” When you sign up for the card, you can read more about how your data is managed. I did not.

Goldman Sachs, the company in charge of accepting or declining Apple Card applications, has already been accused of irresponsible lending by allegedly approving people with low FICO scores. You can call this subprime lending or you can see it as a way to give cashback and other credit card benefits to people who might not be approved for the Chase cards with better rewards. And even though the company isn’t accepting everyone (if this screenshot from Reddit is to be believed), they are giving applicants a transparent view into why they were denied.

Apple is a luxury brand, as it has always been. And, increasingly, privacy itself is becoming a luxury. It both costs money and it’s also a luxury to be able to ignore your own privilege and say something as silly as, “I don’t really care about my privacy because I’ve done nothing wrong.” The privacy protections Apple has put on the Apple Card might move the industry in that direction — or they might simply widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

If you really want to protect your privacy when you buy something, I suggest you use cash. Good luck finding a place that still takes that.

Head of Platform Stories, Technology @Medium. 👩🏽‍💻

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