Does the new Apple Card live up to all the hype?

Credit card experts surveyed by NBC News BETTER aren't wowed by the new Apple credit card, but it does boast some innovative features.
Image: Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay, speaks during an Apple product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park on March 25, 2019.
Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay, speaks about the Apple credit card in Cupertino, California, on March 25, 2019.Michael Short / Getty Images file
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By Herb Weisbaum

Does the world really need another credit card? Apple thinks so. The company calls its Apple Card “a new kind of credit card” that “can do things no other credit card can do.”

Apple Card, issued by Goldman Sachs, is a rewards Mastercard with no fees and an annual percentage rate (APR) that ranges from 12.99 to 23.99 percent, depending on your creditworthiness. The average rate for all credit cards is currently 17.8 percent.

With this card, the sizeable rewards are for those who use Apple Pay, the company’s mobile contactless payment technology. For example:

  • Three percent back on purchases made directly with Apple.
  • Three percent back on purchases made with Uber and Uber Eats. (This was recently announced, and Apple says it will add other popular merchants and apps in the coming months.)
  • Two percent back on all other purchases made through Apple Pay.

Use the optional titanium card and you only get one percent cash back. Unlike many other rewards cards, the Apple Card does not offer a sign-up bonus.

Unveiled in March, the Apple Card had been available by invitation only. On Aug. 20, Apple announced the nationwide rollout.

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

To separate reality from all the hype, NBC News BETTER contacted a half dozen credit card experts for their evaluation: Compare Cards, Credit Card Insider, CreditCards.com, LowCards.com, NerdWallet and WalletHub. We asked them to rate the Apple Card on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how they think it compares to other rewards cards already on the market. The average score: 6.5.

“It’s probably a 9, if you’re an Apple Pay user, and a 4 if you’re not,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com.

“I’m not wowed,” said Jill Gonzalez, analyst with WalletHub. “It’s just not competitive in the current market.”

“The bells and whistles are cool, but the rewards just don’t match up,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CompareCards.com. “The average consumer simply wants a card with either the best rates or the best rewards. This card has neither of those.”

“I’m not a big fan of Apple Card for rewards chasers,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst with CreditCards.com. “People will sign up for it because they love Apple — not because it’s better than anything else that exists.”

“While the Apple Card offers thoughtful design features, it doesn’t have as much to offer for consumers who want to maximize their ability to earn rewards,” said Sara Rathner, credit card expert at NerdWallet.

In a recent blog post, NerdWallet compared how the Apple Card stacks up against the competition.

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Taking security to the next level

If you disregard the rewards program, Apple has created a credit card with some compelling features. Two of the key areas are security and privacy. Apple Card is “a step ahead of the rest” when it comes to security, our experts said.

Rather than using your Apple Card account number, a unique token — useless to a hacker — is generated to complete each transaction. That means your card number is never associated with that purchase. A few other credit card issuers offer virtual credit card numbers, but it’s a service the customer needs to request.

Those who want the physical titanium Apple Card — you don’t need to get one — will notice that the only information on the card is your name; there’s no account number, expiration date or card verification value (CVV) security code. All that information is accessed through Apple’s Wallet app.

“It's much more secure for online purchases,” said CreditCard.com’s Rossman. “If your card is lost or stolen, it can't be used online unless they've also got access to your phone.”

Apple says the “unique security and privacy architecture created for the Apple Card means Apple does not know where a customer shopped, what they bought or how much they paid.”

Some other innovative features

These other card features impressed our experts:

  • Easy application process: Apply through the Wallet app on your iPhone (iPhone 6 or later model with the latest software installed) and within minutes learn the credit limit and APR you’ll be granted. There’s no hard inquiry on your credit report unless you accept the terms, and you have 30 days to do that. You can start using it as soon as your approved.
  • No fees: This truly is a no-fee card: No annual fee, late payment fee, cash-advance fee, foreign transaction fee or over-the-limit fee.
  • Daily Cash tool: Cashback rewards are credited daily through the Wallet app. You can use that money immediately with no minimum redemption required. You don’t earn any more this way, but it does provide instant gratification for those who don’t want to wait until the end of the month to receive their cashback reward.
  • Budgeting tools: The Apple Card app has features that encourage responsible use, to help cardholders control their spending and pay less interest. The app gives real-time, color-coded feedback on spending: orange is for food, pink is for entertainment. When you’re ready to make a payment, the app shows a range of payment options and calculates the interest costs for not paying the balance off in full.

A few other noteworthy features: The due date is at the end of the month, making it easier to remember. The app makes it simple to set up a weekly or biweekly payment, if you want. And instead of mysterious merchant codes, Apple Card lists the merchant’s name along with its location on a map.

People will sign up for it because they love Apple — not because it’s better than anything else that exists.

Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com

Who is this card best suited for?

All the credit card experts we contacted agreed: This is a card for people who use an iPhone and want to earn extra rewards from Apple.

“If you’re a zealous Apple Pay user and frequently make purchases from Apple, the App Store and iTunes, it is possible to make some fairly significant cash back,” said Oliver Browne, industry analyst at Credit Card Insider.

It should also appeal to someone new to credit or rebuilding credit after a misstep.

“With its higher likelihood of acceptance for consumers with lower credit scores and relatively bare-bones rewards program, it’s a product geared toward applicants who don’t have the credit history more premium cards demand,” NerdWallet’s Rathner said.

Just don't scratch it

Should you opt for the physical Apple Card you need to be careful how you handle it, carry it and clean it — or it could get scratched.

“If your titanium Apple Card comes into contact with hard surfaces or materials, it's possible that the coating can be damaged,” Apple cautions on its support page. “Some fabrics, like leather and denim, might cause permanent discoloration that will not wash off.”

The support page also has tips on how to clean the card and safely store and carry it — in a wallet, pocket, or bag made of soft materials. The card could become scratched, Apple warns, if you put it in the same slot as another card already in your wallet or billfold.

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CORRECTION (Aug. 26, 2019, 2:00 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misidentified credit card analyst Matt Schulz's employer. He works at CompareCards.com, not CreditCards.com.