Virtual Cards: Popular Platforms That Offer Digital Debit and Credit Cards
Over the past couple of years, digital payments have definitely taken a step forward. Although this development occurred under subpar circumstances, it’s also been a long time coming. Alongside the growing embrace of mobile wallets, peer-to-peer payments, and more, many have also been utilizing virtual cards. In turn, a number of banking platforms and other financial apps have begun offering virtual card services to their customers.
So what exactly are virtual cards, why are they catching on, and what are some of the services employing them? Let’s take a look at the pros, cons, and a few popular options for using virtual cards.
What are Virtual Cards and How Do They Work?
Just as the name implies, virtual cards are those that may be tied to a banking account but don’t exist in any physical form. Furthermore, these cards can be “tokenized.” which can help protect users from fraud. These days, virtual cards can come in several different forms and offer a variety of features, but there are a few basic pros and cons to these products.
Benefits of virtual cards
What’s the biggest advantage of virtual cards? In a word: security. As mentioned, virtual cards are often used in place of physical cards when shopping online so that, should a data breach occur, the customer’s “real” card information won’t be compromised. Elsewhere, virtual cards have also become popular for use when signing up for free trials as they can help ensure that subsequent charges are not placed. Similarly, subscription-specific virtual cards can help consumers to better budget their funds, become aware of unexpected price increases, and more.
Drawbacks of virtual cards
Turning to the downsides of virtual cards, while the tokenized nature can be helpful for security, some consumers may not enjoy juggling multiple cards. Along those lines, by altering settings or even accidentally deleting cards, users may inadvertently cause future transactions to be declined. On top of that, for credit card enthusiasts that enjoy earning rewards on their purchases, it may not be possible to do this with virtual cards — unless the virtual card is issued by the credit card company itself.
Interestingly, while we’ll be focusing on consumer-centric virtual card options in this post, it’s actually the business community that’s been embracing virtual cards the most. That’s because the technology can be a useful solution for distributing employee cards, managing spending limits, and (once again) keeping account details secure. In fact, American Express recently announced a partnership with Extend that will allow business card customers to create virtual cards. Notably, with this option, Amex cardholders will still be able to earn rewards from their card even when utilizing virtual versions. Hopefully similar options become available for consumer cards as well but, in the meantime, let’s take a look at a few popular virtual card platforms.
Popular Services with Virtual Debit Card Features
It’s pretty safe to say that Privacy is the most well-known virtual card platform currently available. This site allows users to create single-use, vendor-specific, or other virtual cards that are linked to a bank account. Each card created can have its own spending limit and can be easily paused.
Unfortunately, not everyone has been so pleased with Privacy. First, since virtual cards need to be linked to a banking account, it’s not possible to earn credit card or debit card rewards while using the platform. And, anecdotally, a friend of mine was shocked to discover that Privacy had not only closed his account for “too many referrals” but had also done so without warning and voided his balance. So, while the service can be useful, there are definitely downsides.
Moving onto banking apps that offer their own version of virtual cards, Revolut has one of the most robust digital card platforms. If you’re unfamiliar, one of the aspects of Revolut that makes it unique is that it allows customers to exchange and hold multiple different fiat currencies. These currency balances can then be tapped by using the physical debit card that comes with your account or by creating a virtual card. Like with Privacy, users can make several different virtual cards with individual limits (although there is a maximum number of cards that can exist at one time). On top of that, Revlut also includes a Disposable Virtual Card that updates its number every time it’s used.
Another banking offering that boasts a virtual card option is Point. This premium debit card is an interesting product as it charges a $99 annual fee, but also has plenty of rewards potential. Meanwhile, under the Cards tab of the app, users will find a virtual card alongside their physical card details. However, while this virtual card says that it’s “optimized for paying online,” it doesn’t seem to have as many options as other platforms. Although the card can be easily locked, there doesn’t appear to be a way to edit limits, generate updated card numbers, or create additional cards. That said, considering that the company just raised $46.5 million, perhaps these are capabilities that will be added as the service expands.
Next, we come to another FinTech startup that’s making a splash. Cred is a debit card that also helps users to build credit by reporting to the credit bureaus. For Cred’s users, the free metal physical card may be a selling point but the “stealth card” is an intriguing product in its own right. In addition to being able to lock the card, mask purchases, and turn on “high security mode,” Stealth Cards can be regenerated with fresh card details. Sadly, there is not currently a way to create more than one Stealth Card at a time so lose some of the flexibility of other virtual cards.
According to eMarketer data, Current is the second largest neobank in the United States behind Chime. Exploring their service, it’s easy to see why as the sleek app offers some attractive perks and cashback opportunities. As you might expect, they also have a virtual card — but, once again, this one is lacking a bit. In Card Settings, customers will find Virtual Card details and can toggle this card on and off. And while Current users can change spending limits for their account overall, there aren’t card-specific limits to be set. Also, like with Point, it’s not possible to generate additional virtual cards at this time.
Virtual Credit Card Options
Capital One Eno
One of the most comprehensive virtual credit card options comes from Capital One. Those who have consumer or small business cards with the bank can install the Eno Chrome browser extension to create virtual cards on-demand while online shopping. When you create new cards, they’ll be retailer-specific and can you set an Auto-Lock date for the card. Additionally, you can manage your virtual cards after the fact via your account, making this a great option for Capital One customers.
When you think about it, the concept of the Apple Card is basically built on virtual cards. Famously, even the physical version of Apple’s credit card bears no numbers. Instead, users can regularly regenerate new numbers for use online or in person (via Apply Pay or the physical card).
Another credit card issuer that allows customers to create virtual cards is Citi. According to their site, select Citi cards allow users to generate virtual cards for use online. It seems these cards are one-time use, so perhaps not as robust as Capital One’s offering, but notable nonetheless.
Apple Pay/Google Pay/Samsung Pay etc.
Finally, if your credit card doesn’t directly offer virtual card capabilities, you can also consider mobile wallet options such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and the like. All of these options utilize tokenization for payments, giving you similar security to more explicit virtual cards. So, while they may not have as many customizable options as individuals cards, these can be a good backup — and you’ll still earn the rewards you deserve.
Given the continued concern over data breaches and the financial implications they hold, it’s no wonder that virtual cards are now playing a larger role in the banking experience. Whether offered by third-party platforms or integrated into financial apps themselves, there are now several ways that consumers, business owners, and others can take advantage of this growing technology. With that, hopefully virtual cards will continue to evolve, giving customers even more control, protection, and benefits over time.