Apple CEO Tim Cook said the Apple Card would arrive in August on the company’s last earnings call, and here it is: Apple’s new credit card, issued in partnership with Goldman Sachs, will begin a “preview rollout” today, and then become broadly available to all iPhone owners in the US later this month.
Apple says a random selection of people who signed up to be notified about the Apple Card will be invited to sign up today, although the company won’t disclose exactly how many people will be in the preview group. The signup process, which requires iOS 12.4, involves entering your address, birthday, income level, and last four digits of your Social Security number. That information is sent to Goldman Sachs, which will approve or decline your application in real time — Apple says it should take less than a minute. (There’s a TransUnion credit check involved, so if you’ve locked that info you’ll have to unlock it.)
Apple says the Apple Card is not meant to directly compete with premium cards like the Chase Sapphire or American Express Platinum cards — the goal is to be broadly accessible to every iPhone owner, so the signup requirements will not be as strict as those cards.
Once you’ve been approved, your new card will show up in your Apple Wallet immediately and be available for use — you can request Apple’s fancy titanium card for free during setup and it will arrive in the mail later. Setting that card up is neat: the envelope it’s in has an NFC tag, so you just tap the phone to it and it activates automatically, no phone call or sticker required.
I got to hold the card itself and it is very nice, although it is fairly thick and felt a little bit heavier than the typical metal credit card. You can use the card without your phone nearby like any other card, but it doesn’t support contactless payments — Apple obviously wants you to use your phone or watch for that.
Once you’re all set up, you will actually have three credit card numbers associated with your Apple Card: the number assigned to your phone, the number assigned to the physical card, and a virtual number you can access in the app for online merchants that don’t take Apple Pay. You can request a new virtual number at any time. The card itself doesn’t have a expiration date or security code, and it doesn’t have a number printed on it, but you can lock the card if you misplace it or deactivate it entirely from the Wallet app with a single tap.
The Apple Card interface in the Wallet app is extremely nice: it provides detailed information about all your purchases, using machine learning to clean up merchant names and categorize your spending over time. You can set payment schedules in a variety of ways, play with a circular slider to see exactly how much interest you’ll be charged, and see how much you’re spending weekly and monthly.
Compared to something like Intuit’s Mint, it’s definitely smarter and simpler, but it’s also limited to just one card, so its overall utility is a little limited if you have any other cards or payments in your life to manage.
Apple isn’t charging any late fees, annual fees, or international fees on this card, and it says that it doesn’t see any of your purchase data at all — all that transaction data cleanup and categorization happens locally on your phone. Goldman Sachs can obviously see that data since it has to approve or decline purchases, but Apple says it’s entered into a special privacy agreement with Goldman that restricts Apple Card purchase data from being used for anything other than operating the card itself — it can’t be used for advertising, sold to third parties, or anything else.
Apple’s rewards program is much simpler than any other major card: the company offers 3 percent cash back on any Apple transaction, from the Apple Store to the App Store to even iCloud storage, 2 percent on any Apple Pay transactions, and 1 percent on purchases made with the physical card or virtual card number. That cash hits your Apple Pay Cash account every day, and you can use it to pay off your balance, send it to friends, or transfer it a bank.
It’s a little skimpier than other premium card perks like access to airline lounges, concierge services, and so on, but Apple believes the simplicity and speed of just getting cash back will entice premium card customers who are frustrated with complicated points schemes to switch, while the payment and financial health features will appeal to everyone else. (Basically: people with less money.)
There has been some fierce criticism of Apple’s fairly standard APR, which starts at 12.99 percent and goes up to 24.24 percent, but Apple says its goal is to be among the lowest possible rates you can qualify for. This is impossible to know until people start signing up, but it’s fair to say that this is still a credit card, and you should definitely treat it like one, regardless of how good the software looks.
And just like any other credit card, while it’s easy to sign up for an Apple Card and easy to spend money with it, it’s not necessarily easy to get rid of it: canceling an Apple Card requires messaging or calling Goldman Sachs.
That’s actually the most interesting thing about the Apple Card, and the thing we’ll see shake out as people get them: Apple is providing a lot of the user experience of the card, but the card itself is still a credit card issued by Goldman Sachs, and when you click the support button in Apple Wallet, you’ll be chatting with Goldman Sachs reps. Apple says the two companies are working very closely together, and that Goldman Sachs employees are being trained using Apple tools and technologies, including specific language around helping people understand credit issues. Basically, Apple says this is much more than just a very nice front-end to a Goldman Sachs card — it’s a product Apple has designed like any other.
But the end of the day, Apple can’t issue a credit card without a bank, and Goldman Sachs is that bank. We’ll just have to see how the experience of the Apple Card matches up with the high expectations of Apple customers.