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Apple launches credit card, experts underwhelmed

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

Apple (AAPL) announced a credit card on Monday, backed by Goldman Sachs’ banking engine (GS) and the MasterCard (MA) payment network.

Apple Card is a digital-first product designed to work within the ecosystem of Apple Pay and the Wallet apps, though a prestige-looking white, titanium card exists when a physical swipe or dip is necessary.

The card offers a not-exactly-groundbreaking 2% cashback reward for most purchases, and 3% on Apple products — if you use Apple Pay for them. If you use the titanium card, you get 1% back. The “Daily Cash” cashback feature differs slightly from the norm by offering the funds instantly, instead of on a monthly basis.

With iPhone sales flagging, Apple has been looking for other service-based ways to grow its business, and this prestige credit card is a clear play. With Apple’s trademark user-friendliness, the company spies an opening for disruption.

The card — and more answers — should come this summer.

But being sleek and user friendly may not be enough, given the stiff competition from JPMorgan and American Express, masters of the premium credit card space.

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In lieu of generous reward points and benefits (like those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve card or the American Express Platinum), Apple is betting on less-flashy features. In its presentation, the company’s vice president of Apple Pay, Jennifer Bailey, trumpeted low interest rates, fewer fees, as well as a new statement view that encourages people to choose payment options that limit interest, such as payments more often than monthly and a live-interest calculator. Apple Card’s app will also break down spending into categories for budgeting purposes, similar to a variety of personal finance apps, like Mint.

Credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

However, the lower fees leave a lot of questions. Bailey said Apple Card would have no late fees, no annual fees, no international fees, and no over-the limit-fees. How this actually works in use is yet to be learned, as is what would happen in the event of an unpaid bill, chronically late payments, or other credit issues. (Though presumably your late payments would impact your credit score.)

Priority on privacy

The company is also putting security and privacy at the forefront, as the payment service will have FaceID and fingerprint technology to authenticate purchases. Apple also promises that it does not have information on what you buy, and that Goldman Sachs will never sell your data.

While the card is pretty and a nice step up from many banking services, the two biggest players in the space, JPMorgan Chase and American Express, already have at least decent user-friendliness and far more to offer when it comes to benefits.

The Card app will have a field that shows users how much interest will be charged depending on the payment.

Ted Rossman, an analyst at CreditCards.com said, “People will sign up for it, but that will be mostly because they love Apple, not because this card is better than anything that already exists.”

Furthermore, Rossman added that the Apple Card won’t even give you the best rewards using Apple Pay. The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card, when used with Apple Pay, shoots back 3% for mobile wallet spending. “That’s really interesting: U.S. Bank offers better Apple Pay rewards than Apple,” he said.

This seems to be the emerging consensus. NerdWallet’s credit card expert Sara Rathner said the credit card’s 3% cash back on Apple products was good, but the 2% was “mediocre” compared to the competition.

2% cash back — only if you use Apple Pay.

“For those who routinely shop at local neighborhood bodegas or other establishments that don't have Apple Pay, you can expect only 1% back on your purchase -- an amount easily beaten by other cash back cards with no annual fee,” she said. “This is similar to the Citi Double Cash card, which offers 2% cash back on all purchases and also charges no annual fee.”

From Apple’s perspective, the company is maneuvering itself to be a payments middleman, adding another layer of its involvement past simply Apple Pay. By putting this card out, Apple Pay use, which has not been embraced nearly as much as many thought it would, could see a spike in usage.

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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