Comparing the Growing List of 2021 FinTech Debit Cards
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when your payment options were mostly limited to cash, credit card, or the dreaded check. Finally the debit card was introduced, giving customers access to their checking funds via a piece of plastic that looked and functioned much like a credit card. While the majority of consumers now cite debit cards as their preferred form of payment, there are many ways in which traditional debit products are lacking.
Enter the scrappy FinTech startups, who have strived to create better financial products for Millennials and everyone else. Noticing that most debit cards came with several fees and no real perks, a recent trend finds peer to peer payments apps, micro-investment tools, and other FinTech firms introducing their own twist on debit cards. In addition to erasing many of the most common fees that customers incur, some of these cards also add some enticing bonuses to lure new users.
With that, let’s take a look at the growing roster of FinTech debit cards, including some of the best perks each one has to offer.
Editor’s note: this article was last updated in January 2021 with the latest APY information and more.
PayPal Cash Mastercard
Biggest perk: Easy access to PayPal funds
Peer to peer payment services are an obvious app type to introduce debit cards as many users carry a balance in their accounts. With that in mind it’s really no surprise that PayPal offers a debit card that allows users to access their funds and spend them wherever Mastercard is accepted. On top of that, cardholders also have access to 33,000 MoneyPass ATMs nationwide for no fee.
Aside from those basic features, the PayPal Cash Mastercard doesn’t have much else to offer. In fact it’s actually one of the least intriguing products on this list. Then again, given PayPal’s long history and mass popularity, the company might not have to resort to gimmicks to gain users like some of the younger startups.
Biggest perk: Venmo Rewards cashback
Like PayPal’s debit card offering, the original selling point of Venmo’s card was the ability to access your Venmo funds without having to transfer them to an external bank account. Moreover on their website promoting the offer they note that using the Venmo card makes it easy to track your purchases and split them with your Venmo contacts. Plus, if you’re in need of cash, the card also provides fee-free access to MoneyPass ATMs.
However those standard features were recently overshadowed when Venmo announced the launch of Venmo Rewards. With this program, cardholders can earn cashback when using their Venmo Card at select retailers. This feature is actually powered by the cashback app Dosh, although it seems that some of the Venmo Rewards offers are exclusive to the card. Additionally, while Dosh has a $25 minimum users need to reach before they can cash out, Venmo Rewards cashback is automatically applied to customer balances.
Being the younger, hipper alternative to PayPal that it is, Venmo’s debit cards come in a variety of bright colors such as yellow, pink, blue, and green in addition to the more standard black and white. Interestingly, although the PayPal Cash card alludes to foreign transaction fees, Venmo’s FAQ notes that the card can only be used in the U.S. This also means that you can’t use your Venmo card to purchase from a foreign retailer online, even if the transaction is made in USD.
Once again, there’s wasn’t a whole lot to Venmo’s debit card aside from it maybe appealing to hardcore Venmo users. However the launch of Venmo Rewards changes my opinion for the better as this integration with Dosh seems like a no-brainer. Plus, Venmo recently introduced a cash deposit feature — although fees may apply if you want to cash your check quickly. Still, at the end of the day, the debit card is free so, if you’re interested, go for it.
Square Cash Card
Biggest perk: Boosts (Discount offers)
Another peer to peer service that’s diversified into debit cards in recent years is Square’s Cash app. Although Square is best known for its small business payments and point of sales solutions, the company launched Cash as a rival to Venmo, PayPal, and the like. The Cash Card then followed in 2017.
The Cash Card is the one product on this list I have some personal experience with. I’ve been using the card for over a year now and have become a fan of its Boosts feature. Boosts allow cardholders to instantly earn discounts on select restaurant and retailer purchases. In some cases these discounts are a percentage off (e.g. 10% off at Starbucks) while others may be more general. To that later point, some current offers as of January 2021 include 10% off any grocery store purchase, 15% off DoorDash orders, and 5% back in Bitcoin on any three purchases. Needless to say, these are pretty generous rewards, besting what you’re likely to find elsewhere.
As a Cash Card user myself, I may be a bit biased, but I find this offering to be the best of the first three P2P options on this list. For what it’s worth, Square Cash is also my favorite P2P app to use in general, so perhaps that also plays a factor. In any case, the Boost feature shows that companies can create value for their customers by partnering with other brands (something that will come up again later). Because of this I definitely give Square credit for creating a debit card that’s actually worth using.
Biggest perk: 0.25% APY on your balance and cashback offers
SoFi is a FinTech startup that seems to do a little bit of everything these days. While the company might be most associated with loans, they’ve recently pushed active and automated investment accounts as well. Elsewhere, they also offer their SoFi Money account and MasterCard debit card.
Billed as a hybrid account, SoFi Money boasts that it currently pays users up to 0.25% APY (accurate as of January 20th, 2021) on their money without charging them any monthly fees. However, customers who joined after June 9th, 2020 will need to deposit at least $500 a month into their account in order to earn that APY, with all others earning just 0.01% APY.
Another benefit of SoFi Money is that they also offer cashback rewards. In addition to select deals you can activate in the Offers tab, the account occasionally installs other earning opportunities. For example, one recent promotion allowed members to earn 10% back on streaming subscription payments.
Sure 0.25% might not be the absolute best APY available — especially since you’ll now need to deposit $500 a month to earn it — but it’s still not terrible, especially for a hybrid account. Meanwhile, the addition of cashback rewards help make up for the cuts to the APY rate. Ultimately, while new customers may not get to enjoy all of the benefits that long-time users like myself do, SoFi Money is still among one of my favorite and most recommended options.
Cost: $3 a month
Biggest perk: Instant Round-Ups
If you’re not familiar with Acorns, the app has made a name for itself with its round-ups concept for micro-investing. The app’s pitch is that users can start investing just by saving up their digital spare change. Following the success of that basic premise, Acorns has since expanded their offerings to include, among other things, a specialty debit card called Acorns Spend.
One of the features that comes with Acorns Spend is instant round-ups. Currently, without the debit card, users need to accrue more than $5 in roundups before funds are transferred to their investment account. The company also says that cardholders will have access to additional “Found Money” offers that allow users to earn cashback from retailers and restaurants that is then deposited into users’ investment funds.
After a lengthy beta period where Acorns was only shipping its Spend cards to those on the waitlist, it is now openly available. These metal cards do come at a cost of $3 a month — although this fee also includes Acorns Core (the app’s flagship investment product) as well as Acorns Later (their retirement savings option).
Ultimately $3 may be a steep price, but this does include three products. The key here actually isn’t the card itself but the Acorns Core and Acorns Later features that come with it. Those who have sizeable balances in each of these accounts might not find that monthly fee to be much to fret over. Meanwhile those who aren’t heavy users of Acorns or don’t plan to build up their accounts to a notable balance any time soon will likely want to pass.
Cost: Card is free but Stash account is $1 a month (or 0.25% annually for investment account balances over $5,000)
Biggest perk: Stock-Back rewards
Next up is another investment app that’s come out swinging in the debit card game. Like Acorns, Stash allows users to start investing with as little as $5. Now they’re also offering customers a new way to build their portfolios by adding a clever perk to their Stash debit cards.
Last year Stash announced Stock-Back for its debit card product. Now users will be able to earn fractional shares of stock in the companies they shop at using their Stash debit cards. In fact the company says cardholders will be able to earn Stock-Back at any store in the United States. Obviously not every shop in the country is publicly traded, so Stash says it will instead issue users a stake in “Stash-approved ETFs” when a corresponding public stock is not available.
According to MarketWatch, the amount of Stock-Back shoppers will earn will depend on the retailer. For example they note that Netflix and Spotify will offer 5% on purchases, while Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks purchases will net users 2% back. As for everything else, cardholders will either get 0.125% back by default or 0.25% if users enable a direct deposit to their Stash account.
The concept of Stash Stock-Back is somewhat similar to FinTech app Bumped. However that service allows users to link their existing credit and debit cards in order to earn stock for their purchases. Of course the other major difference between the two is that Bumped currently allows users to choose a total of 14 companies (one from each category) among more than two dozen options instead of opening the field to every store like Stash is.
Overall Stash’s Stock-Back perk will undoubtedly earn some attention. Unfortunately I fear those who may be excited by the premise may be disappointed in the small percentage they’ll actually be earning — unless the company beefs up its participating partner roster as they say they plan to. Still this may be one to watch and hopefully gets many younger adults interested in investing.
Biggest perk: 0.3% APY and wide ATM availability
After more than one year and following one false start, the Robinhood Cash Management account — complete with debit card — is really here. Currently the investment app is working its way through a long waitlist, sending out cards in batches. Thankfully, I was among those who made it off the list just a couple of weeks ago.
For some history, this account was originally set to offer 3% APY on savings. Long story short: that didn’t happen. Still the 0.3% APY (accurate as of January 20th, 2021) is nothing to scoff at these days. Additionally the card offers fee-free access to a network of more than 75,000 ATMs, which can easily be found through the app. As I discovered, there were plenty of options right in my area, so the reach here seems pretty strong thanks to the company partnering with both Allpoint and MoneyPass.
As an extension of Robinhood’s brokerage services, their Cash Management account makes a lot of sense. Whether you want to stash cash for potential trades (and earn interest on it in the meantime) or want a way to spend any dividends you might earn from your portfolio, this account makes those things possible. At the same time, there’s not a whole lot more to it.
While you can set-up direct deposit or transfers, there’s currently not a way to deposit paper checks. In other words, this Cash Management account isn’t the “Checking & Savings” it was originally supposed to be. Still, for what it is, I think it’s well done.
Cost: Intro card is $0 annually with a $21 activation fee, Premium card is $150 annually with $0 activation fee
Status: In beta
Biggest perk: Ability to earn Bitcoin on purchases and earn bonuses on gift card purchases through Fold
Fold is an app that allows you to purchase name brand gift cards and earn Bitcoin back. Needless to say, the platform has been getting a boost lately as cryptocurrency prices soar. That’s why it’s probably good news for the company that they’re in the process of rolling out two new debit card options.
At this time, there are two main plans to choose from: the Intro card and the Premium card. The biggest difference at first glance is that the Intro card carries a $0 annual fee but does have a one-time cost of $21 (not to mention a $5 a month inactivity fee if you don’t make a purchase for a year) while the Premium card is $150 a year but waives the activation and inactivity fees. Both cards allow customers to earn enhanced Bitcoin-back rates on gift cards purchased through the app but also gives them the chance to score additional Sats — small pieces of Bitcoin — for other purchases they make with their cards.
With Fold Card still in beta and evolving with each passing week, I won’t dive too deep into my initial impressions about the product. However, I will say I was a bit taken aback by the $21 activation fee. Once I got over that, I really enjoyed earning better rates on gift card purchases. Plus, using a debit card is much easier than attempting to pay via Lightning (the previous method for earning the most Bitcoin back). Surely I’ll have more to say as this option rolls out but, for now, I’d see if you enjoy the Fold app before considering expanding your relationship with the service.
Credit Karma Money Spend
Status: Rolling out to select customers
Biggest perk: Instant Karma opportunity
After previously debuting a savings account, Credit Karma has begun offering a checking account and debit card to match it. In turn, they’ve rebranded these offerings to Credit Karma Money Save and Credit Karma Money Spend. As mentioned, the latter of these accounts includes a free debit card.
Like other options on this list, Credit Karma Money Spend utilizes the Allpoint ATM network, allowing customers to access more than 55,000 fee-free machines. However, the most intriguing perk is what they call Instant Karma. When you make a purchase (for more than $1) using your card, you may just end up having that transaction comped up to $5,000. The odds of this happening aren’t clear, but it’s nice to think about winning.
Just as Credit Karma Money Save is a fairly barebones offering, the Spend account is as well. While the Instant Karma perk is interesting and somewhat exciting, it’s hard to count it as a true benefit since it likely only occurs sporadically. Still, if you already have a Save account or are just a Credit Karma user, there’s nothing wrong with this debit card offering per se.
Credit Sesame Cash
Biggest perk: Cashback perks and credit score rewards
Before Credit Karma debuted its debit card, competitor Credit Sesame introduced its own. Sesame Cash is a free checking option, complete with ATM access in the Allpoint network, direct deposit capabilities, and more. Yet, it’s the other features that really shine.
First, the app allows customers to activate various cashback deals for various restaurants and retailers. For example, one current deal boasts 15% back at Burger King. Incidentally, however, it seems these offers are identical to those featured in SoFi Money at the moment. In any case, they’re still nice to have.
The other benefit of Sesame Cash is their unique Rewards program that motivates customers to improve their credit score. When you make a deposit of $25 or more, Sesame Cash will record your current credit score. Then, if you’ve improved that score by 10 points or more at the end of 30 days, you’ll earn a $10 bonus. Better yet, if your score increases by 100 points or more in that time, you’ll earn $100. This can be a little complicated, so I’d recommend checking out the terms before pursuing these rewards.
For as similar as Credit Sesame Cash and Credit Karma Money Spend may seem, the former actually has interesting ideas and benefits of note (and they were first, for the record). The cashback deals it includes are nice but it’s the Rewards program that makes it unique. Personally, I haven’t been able to put this feature to the test but, if you’re looking to improve your credit and want to be rewarded for doing so, I definitely think it’s worth checking out.
In just the past couple of years, several debit card offerings from FinTech ventures have hit the market. Although some of these products merely provide customers with an easier way to spend their peer to peer payment balances, others are employing interesting perks and gimmicks to give users a reason to choose them over rewards credit cards and other options. With these early adopters seemingly catching on, it’s only more likely that additional players and perks will follow. Stay tuned!
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Also published on Medium.