Money at 30: Mezu and MezuCard Review
What did we do before apps like Venmo and Square Cash? Given how easy these peer to peer (P2P) payment apps have made sending money between friends, it’s really no wonder why they’ve become so popular. That said there is one minor flaw in these apps: you typically need to know the e-mail address, name, or phone number of a person in order to send money to them.
That’s where Mezu comes in. Describing themselves on their website, Mezu says it’s “Just like cash. But smarter.” Their big idea is to allow people to send money digitally without sharing any personal information. On top of that, they recently launched a digital debit card called the MezuCard that enables users to access their Mezu funds and spend them wherever MasterCard is accepted online or via digital wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.).
So how does Mezu’s digital cash proposition work? Let’s take a look at the features of Mezu and their MezuCard debit card.
Signing up for Mezu
Given the emphasis Mezu puts on privacy, you may be surprised by how much information they request during the sign-up process. In addition to basic info like your name, you’ll also need to enter your address, phone number, and even the last four digits of your social security number. In a prompt that appears before you enter this information, Mezu explains that the reason for these questions is to help keep the community safe from fraud. They also write, “Funds held on behalf of verified Mezu users will be FDIC insured on a pass-through basis for the benefit of the primary account holder.” But they assure that they won’t sell, trade, or share your information.
Adding payment methods and loading funds
In order to use Mezu, you’ll of course need to add money to your account. To do this you’ll want to link a bank account or other funding source. For bank accounts, Mezu utilizes the popular Plaid API, allowing you to securely log into your bank’s site and select which account you want to establish transfers for. The other option you have in terms of funding sources is a debit card. As you’d expect, this is done by entering your card number and other relevant information. Transfers to Mezu can be made on a one-time basis or you can be set up as automatic transfers, including the ability to reload your account when you dip below a certain balance.
Notably Mezu does not seem to allow you to fund your account with a credit card. That might sound like a negative but, considering that some other digital payment apps charge you a fee for transferring money from a credit card, I actually see this as a good thing. Besides, thanks to Plaid’s ability to access a vast number of bank accounts as well as the added debit card support, there are already plenty of funding source options in the app.
Give and Get
The first of the main tabs you’ll encounter in Mezu is “Give.” Here you can select how much you’d like to transfer to another user without the other person gaining any personal info. Instead of entering a username or other identifier, once you select the amount you’d like to give, you’ll be provided with a four-digit number.
As for what to do with that four-digit number, that’s where the “Get” tab comes in. Simply by entering the provided number on this screen, the funds will be credited to your account. That’s really about it.
Something important to note about these functions is that they are geo-locked. In other words, you’ll need to be in relatively close proximity to redeem a given code. This is apparently a bid to keep codes to just four-digits, which also keeps things simple.
Going back to the Give section for a moment, while the default squares are for $1, $2, $5, and “enter amount,” tapping the pencil icon in the upper right corner will allow you to alter these. Beyond some other pre-programmed options, you can also make a completely custom square (three specific amounts and then the “enter amount” space). To me, this is a nice touch and could definitely come in handy for frequent users.
The Give and Get tabs aren’t the only way to anonymously transfer money with Mezu. Another option is the “Drop” tab, which houses so-called MezuBoxes. In this tab, you can set up a MezuBox of your own, view nearby boxes, or search for boxes by number.
There are a few ways in which MezuBoxes are similar to the standard Give-Get options but, on the whole, they’re quite different. One big similarity is that MezuBoxes are also geo-locked. However, in this case, you can set an area for your MezuBox, allowing those within a radius of five to 50 miles to drop money to you. Furthermore you can select a location for your MezuBox even if you’re not there. For example, since I’m selling my book at the D23 Expo next week, I set up a MezuBox located in Anaheim, California with a 50-mile radius.
Again, I suspect that the reason for the geo-locking with MezuBoxes has to do with keeping the codes short. All of the MezuBoxes I saw or created simply start with an M followed by four digits. I should also note that these boxes expire if they go unused for eight weeks, which likely also helps keep a supply of numbers in stock.
One word of warning: by default, your MezuBox will be placed at your current location. This means the box I set up to test this feature was literally located at my home address. With no names attached to these boxes, this wasn’t a huge deal, but it did mean that my address (minus the apartment number, thankfully) was viewable to those browsing local boxes. Basically this was a rookie mistake I’d try to avoid in the future.
Those looking to Mezu for a “traditional” P2P payments experience will find it in this section of the app. By giving Mezu permission to access your contacts, you’ll be able to select friends to send money to them. Actually, despite the name of this tab, you can also request money from friends here as well.
Like with other P2Ps you’re surely familiar with, you can append notes to your payments should you so choose. Interestingly, speaking to Mezu’s mission, you can also elect to send payments to contacts anonymously. I did wonder if you could also request money under the same shade of privacy, but no such luck.
As with other apps these days, Mezu rewards you for spreading the word about it. To encourage you to share the app with others, you can earn a $5 referral bonus — and they’ll also gain a $5 credit. In order to earn this reward, you’ll first want to find your personal referral code by tapping the icon (featuring a silhouette of a person — we’ll call it “Menu” from here on out) and scrolling down a bit until you see the “invite friends” widget. This code will likely feature at least part of your first name as well as some numbers. For example, my code is KYLE173.
In order for you and your friend to snag your $5 bonuses, there are a few things they’ll need to do. Once they’ve downloaded and signed-up for Mezu, they’ll want to visit that same Menu section where you found your code and scroll down to “Redeem a code.” After a valid code is entered, there’s still one more thing they’ll need to do before bonuses are paid: send at least $5 using a linked funding source. To be clear, this means they won’t be able to simply receive funds and send them back out to qualify. Instead, they’ll need to link a bank account or debit card, add at least $5 to their account, and then send it out. In my experience, as soon as this requirement is met, both the referer and the person they referred will be credited with their $5 bonus.
When you want to cash out some of your Mezu funds and send them back to your bank account, you’ll have a couple of different options. When you tap that Menu icon in the upper-left, you’ll see a Withdraw button at the bottom left of the screen. From here, you can enter the amount you want to withdraw and select where you want it to go. You also have a choice to set-up automated withdrawals but I only tried the one-time option.
Similar to some other digital payment apps, there is both a standard and an Instant Withdraw option in Mezu. For the latter, you’ll need to be withdrawing using a debit card. As for fees, while Mezu’s fee schedule shows that instant transfers cost the “greater of $0.25 or 1%,” they also note that this fee is currently (as of August 13th, 2019) being waived for customers. Sure enough, when I selected my debit card as my withdrawal medium, a “FREE Instant Withdraw” option came up. Meanwhile transfers to a bank account are also free but can take up to three business days to process (although they can also take as little as 0 days, with my withdrawal showing up in less than one).
Mezu Money Time
Last but not least, one of the most interesting aspects of Mezu are their Mezu Money Time broadcasts. Airing Mondays at 2:45 p.m.ET/11:45 a.m. PT as well as Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:45 p.m. ET/5:45 p.m. PT, Mezu Money Time gives users the chance to win some extra cash. All you’ll have to do is watch live and be ready to tap in numbers really fast.
You can find Mezu Money Time broadcasts in the Get tab of the app. That might sound random but it’s actually for good reason. During the game, you’ll have a few chances to win that will require the number pad. In between some short sketches and messages, a four-digit number will appear on the screen. If you’re among the first to enter this number correctly, you’ll win the stated prize.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I tuned into Mezu Money Time but, to my delight, I managed to score $3 my first time out. These winnings were immediately added to my balance and even available for withdrawal. While I struck out with the other two chances during my maiden broadcast, there’s no doubt that I’ll be participating again — I just need to make sure I have push notifications on so I can remember when new games are happening.
Things to know
- Mezu users are limited to making $2,999.99 in transactions over the course of any given seven day period.
- This also means you are limited to withdrawing up to $2,999.99.
- However this limit can be raised to $3,999.99 if you submit a photo ID to Mezu.
- To do this, visit your profile and scroll down to the “Send us your photo ID” option.
- Note: I haven’t done this myself but Mezu adds that they’ll ask for a selfie in addition to the government-issued ID to verify it’s you.
Recently Mezu launched a digital debit card in partnership with MasterCard known as the MezuCard. This product is open to all Mezu users and allows them to spend their balance online or via mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about MezuCard and how it works.
Activating your card
Since MezuCard is a digital debit card, activating it is incredibly easy. All you’ll need to do is go to the Menu, tap “Your MezuCard,” and then “Start using it.” Once you do this, you’ll see your MezuCard, complete with a 16-digit number. You can choose to hide this number as one of the options below and can also choose the freeze the card if needed.
Adding to Apple Pay
Considering how simple it was it activate my MezuCard and that it’s a digital-only card, I’ll admit that I expected the process of adding the card to Apple Pay to be just as easy. Sadly it did take a little more effort than I thought. While I anticipated there being an “add to Wallet”-style option, that was not the case. Furthermore, although MezuCard does allow you to copy your card number with just a tap, it seems Apple Pay won’t allow you to paste numbers. I suppose this all makes sense but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised.
With all that said, the process of adding my MezuCard to Apple Pay was still far from difficult. All I needed to do was go to my Wallet, tap the plus icon, and manually enter my MezuCard number. Since I couldn’t paste the number, I did have to toggle between Mezu and Wallet to enter it but this wasn’t a huge deal. After confirming the addition, the card was ready to use.
Using the card
Being the diligent reviewer that I am, even though my MezuCard appeared in Apple Pay and I was satisfied that it would work, I decided to give it a try anyway. Sure enough, the card worked just as any other Apple Pay purchase would and my Mezu balance was quickly updated afterward. Mission: accomplished!
Of course you can also use your MezuCard online. And, as I mentioned, you can easily copy your card number by first displaying your card details in Mezu and then holding down on the digital card. Personally I have yet to try this but, again, I see no reason why it shouldn’t work. On top of that, while this is just speculation on my part, I suspect the card could also be used in stores if the cashier manually entered the number, expiration, and CVC. However I do wonder if some retailers might disallow this practice for security reasons — I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself.
When I was scouring Mezu’s FAQ section in preparation for this review, I came across an interesting section about MezuCard Rewards. In it, they discuss Boost and Cashback opportunities, explaining a Boost might be “$5 off on any purchase of $10 or more and spend $10 using your MezuCard at the specified merchant” while a Cashback reward might be “50% on the first $10,” with the credit being applied to your Mezu balance after the purchase is complete. With that description, Boosts sound kind of like the same-named feature for Square’s Cash Card — which is a good thing in my book — while Cashback offers also sound enticing.
It turns out, these special offers are presented on select editions of Mezu Money Time. In fact, I encountered my first MezuCard Reward last night (a couple of days after I initially published this review). During the broadcast, they mentioned that, if you won money during that session, you’d also gain a bonus: cash back when you used your MezuCard to make a purchase on Amazon. Sure enough, once I scored my $1 prize, I also received an alert saying I could get 20% back on the first $10 I spent on Amazon using my MezuCard. So I headed to Amazon, added my MezuCard to my forms of payment, reloaded my Amazon gift card with $10, and was alerted a few seconds later that I had earned $2 in cash back from Mezu — voilà!
Basically, just when I thought that Mezu Money Time couldn’t get any cooler, it did. More importantly, I’m glad to now understand how these MezuCard Rewards work and how I can (hopefully) score more of them.
Things to know
- Just in case it wasn’t 100% clear, I want to state again that MezuCard is a digital-only debit card and, thus, you won’t receive a physical version of your card at all.
- This also means the MezuCard debit card does not offer ATM access to funds.
- MezuCard’s fee schedule does show a 3% international transaction fee, however this fee is currently (as of August 13th, 2019) being waived for MezuCard users.
- Also according to their fee schedule, a $2.50 per month fee will begin applying after 12 months of an account being dormant or inactive.
- Finally there’s an interesting note that says you can activate three virtual debit cards for free while activating a fourth will come at a cost of $3.00 (I don’t know why you’d need four debit cards — or how you could lose a digital debit card — but there you go).
Final Thoughts on Mezu and MezuCard
Mezu is definitely different than other P2P payments app I’ve ever used. Between the Give/Get interface, MezuBoxes option, and the more traditional Send feature, I find Mezu to be incredibly clever and useful. At the same time, I can’t help but feel it’s the type of app that needs to really catch on in order to be as effective as it wants to be. For example, while I love the idea of being able to tip people or donate to them via the Give/Get function, the receiving person would probably already need to have Mezu set-up as I don’t see making an on-the-spot pitch for them to download the app and enter all of their information (including the last four of their Social) in order to recieve my $5. Similarly, while you can at least move the location of MezuBoxes, part of me wishes there was a way around the geo-lock feature so you could accept Drop payments from anyone.
As for the MezuCard, I was impressed with how easy it was to generate the card and start using it. With foreign transaction fees currently being waived, I could see myself using the card as a back-up on trips should my other options fall through. I’m also very much looking forward to trying out any Boosts or Cashback rewards they might offer in the months ahead.
Overall, even if you already have a preferred P2P app, I think it’s worth supporting Mezu and their mission. Heck, I’d say it’s worth a download just to play Mezu Money Time and try to score some bonus cash. But, more importantly, I hope Mezu continues to grow so that their idea of “Just like cash. But smarter” can truly be realized.
Also published on Medium.