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American Express Zync Card Review

Notice: The Zync card from American Express has been discontinued; this article is for historical purposes only!

American Express Zync Charge CardThe American Express Zync Card, a charge card geared towards twenty-somethings, is a possible alternative to traditional credit/debit cards for anybody under 30. I have been a fan of Amex charge cards and used one myself for a while.

So what’s the Zync Card all About?

You may have noticed that American Express has been running ads to renew interest in the product that made Amex famous to begin with—charge cards.

Basically, Amex is betting that as consumers wrestle with the recession, try to spend wisely, and face credit cards that have raised rates and slashed credit lines, Amex’s charge cards will look attractive. Why is that, exactly? Charge cards like the American Express Green, Gold or Platinum card work like credit cards, with some key differences…

  • Charge Cards Are Always Due-in-Full: You must pay your balance, in full, every month. Failure to pay results in steep late fees and the suspension (if not cancellation) of your card. That’s not pretty, but it’s actually better than getting caught in a credit card debt spiral for years.
  • Charge Cards Do Not Charge Interest: There are no finances changes, but they do charge an annual fee.
  • Charge Cards Do Not Have Credit Limits: That is, you don’t have a predefined credit limit. You can spend a reasonable amount per month based upon your income and history with American Express. If you want to make a big purchase, you should call them first to avoid the embarrassment of having your card declined.

Plus, unlike most debit cards:

  • Charge Cards Protect You: They provide fraud and purchase protection so that if your card gets stolen or you make a purchase from a sketchy merchant that doesn’t deliver, you won’t lose any money.
  • Charge Cards Reward You: Just like rewards credit cards, charge cards pay rewards points for purchases. These rewards can typically offset these cards’ annual fees.
  • Charge Cards Help You Build Credit: It’s something your debit card simply can’t do, and if you ever want to buy a home someday, you’re going to need to build credit some how.

Although Amex charge cards enjoy a classic, sophisticated image, to many young people they mind as well be their great-grandfather’s credit card. Amex is looking to change all that with the Zync Card.

Behind the Amex Zync Card

The American Express Zync Card works just like all its other charge cards:

1. You apply for it like a credit card. So although this card is aimed at youngish adults, you do need the beginning of a good credit history.

2. You make monthly charges to the card. There’s “no pre-set credit limit”, but you generally won’t be able to spend more than what Amex thinks you should be spending in a month based upon your income. Then, you pay the balance, in-full, the next month.

3. As with all American Express Charge Cards, the Zync Card has an annual fee. Good news is, at $25, it’s a bargain. The Green Card charges $95, the Gold Card $125 or $175 depending on your rewards program, and the Platinum Card charges $450. Although there are some benefits with each level of card, I have concluded that spending more for the various levels is mostly a prestige thing.

For the $25 annual fee, the Zync Card comes with the Amex Membership Rewards program, but users can also choose to pay an additional $20 a year for four different “packs” that yield additional rewards. For example, the Go pack doubles the points you earn on airfare; the Social pack doubles points at restaurants and on concert and theater tickets. Amex says it may add or adjust these pack benefits according to user feedback.

Should You “Go Charge”?

I started using an American Express charge card about two years ago. Personally, I enjoyed having the protection of a credit card without the temptation to rack up debt. I could avoid paying an annual fee and either use a fee-free credit card or my debit card, but I choose to pay a little bit to combine the convenience of both.

Eventually, however, I swapped my charge card for the Chase Freedom Card because I was out of debt and used to paying off my balance every month. I chose the Freedom card because a) it’s excepted everywhere, b) it pays straight cash back rewards and c) unlike my charge card, there’s no annual fee.

I miss Amex’s great website and customer service, but charge cards aren’t perfect.

Even though you have to pay them in full every month, you can still spend money on a charge card when you don’t have the cash in your checking account, making it possible to overspend.

Plus, there’s the “no pre-set spending limit” thing. As I’ve written before American Express cards do have spending limits. Amex takes your credit history, your income (albeit the one you provide to them), and your spending history to calculate how much they think you can spend in any one month. If you exceed that amount, your card can be declined. I ran into this problem when I was using my card for business travel. Traveling for business, I was spending far more than I would’ve on myself, but Amex didn’t see the distinction. That said, I haven’t had a problem since I started using my card just for personal purchases.

What do you think? Do you use a charge card? Would you be interested in this new American Express Zync Card? Or does the idea of paying a fee something that is neither credit card or debit card seem crazy?

Published or updated on December 18, 2009

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. A.S. says:

    Hi, i was just apporved for a Zync card and my credit is not the best, its in the high 600’s with a repo on it. I am only 24(yea I know kinda young for a repo, but I learned to never listen to a parent about your finainces). Anyway, I wanted to say that the American Express Zync card will give you a limit if you do not qualify for the “real” thing. They will give you options such as takinga 500 limit with a requirement that they can automatically withdrawl from your bank account each month to pay your balance. If chosing this option you get $10. The other option would be a 200 limit, that has no additional requirements. I am only saying this as a heads up to others with bad-fair credit, depending on whats on it you’ll get a limit.

  2. DT says:

    Hi David, my daughter just received and American Express Gold card and a Zync card
    she is in college and has a job….which card would be better suited for her.

    also, she listed me on the gold card for a card in my name, does this use of this card report to my credit history? the account is not technically in my name, just curious…

    • Ed says:

      Hi, I am 18 and will be a freshman in college. I have no credit history, but have a checking account with a decent amount of my own money I made from work. I plan to get a job in college as well. Do you think it would be possible to get approved for a Zync card as my very first card? If not, what steps can I take to get one?

  3. Myia says:

    I just got approved today! I think $25 annual fee is reasonable! And I added the $15 fitness pack because I plan on paying my gym membership monthly with it and earning rewards! I like that is has to be paid off monthly. I mainly got it because I missed out on some pre-sale tickets for the Live Glee tour and thought, well if I had an Amex I could have bought my tickets already! Although I will miss the pre-sale for glee I do believe this card will be great to have. Thanks for all the comments, it was helpful and the article was helpful.

  4. Matt says:

    I don’t see the advantage of Zync. I have an Amex BlueSky card. I get 1.33% back on all my purchases to be used for travel – any travel, hotel, flight, whatever. Also, no annual fee. And if I need to pay for a purchase over a few months, I can.

    It seems like the Zync offers you .5%, you have to purchase rewards through their system, and there’s an annual fee.

    I would rather just have some self-control and pay off my free card every month at 1.3% rewards.

    Maybe this card is good for people with bad credit, but I do not see the advantage of this card for people with already established credit. Also, I could understand if people can’t get a BlueSky/BlueCash card and can get one of these, I LOVE Amex Customer service.

    • David Weliver says:

      Matt, you make good points. When looking at the numbers, it’s hard to beat Blue Cash. You get Amex’s customer service and generous cash rewards for no annual fee. I don’t know if you can get a Zync card with a lesser credit score than other Amex cards, but what I maintain is attractive about a charge cards is the requirement that the bill is paid in full every month. We all can exercise self control, but for some, knowing that their primary card must be paid in full every month is helpful to keep spending in check…a matter of preference and possibly worth $25 a year.

  5. Garrett says:

    does anyone know how often that the american express zync card refers to the credit bureaus? I’m in need of rebuilding my credit and I’m hoping that a secured card isn’t my only option. (I recently cancelled a Capital One secured card application after hearing enough stories about them.
    I heard that Orchard Bank is great for rebuilding credit. Also b/c it contacts the bureaus EVERY month. I’m hoping Zync does this.

  6. It’s a shame this card is not available in Canada! Actually, there are a lot of great cards we don’t have here (like Chase’s Freedom card). I would get the Zync. I currently have BMO’s SPC Card (MasterCard) and I’ve been really responsible with it. I’ve had it for a year now.

  7. Princess says:

    Does the Zync card build your credit?

    • David Weliver says:

      Princess, yes, charge cards including the Zync card are reported to the credit bureaus and can help build credit history.

  8. C-los says:

    On the zync card, as a charge card they most likely will close your account if you don’t pay in full unless there’s some previous agreement with amex and I believe you need to have a long relationship with them for that to happen. The blue one, however you can pay a certain amount and they will charge you interests on your next billing cycle. You need to have more than perfect credit to get a blue one thou.

  9. C-los says:

    The Amex Zync card is not a credit card, it is a charge card. This means you have to pay it in FULL every month and they will not charge you interests

    • Sergio says:

      Thank you C-los… but, what if I don’t do it… which would be the interest? I’m trying to understand the difference between the sync and the blue ones… looks like the blue is the best one because it doesn’t charge any annual fees.

  10. Sergio says:

    So… let’s compare Sync and a normal credit card for a minute…

    I spent $1000 this month. If I pay only $500 at the end of the billing cycle, with a normal credit card I will get about 17% to 19% interest for the $500 left, correct? And if I do the same, paying only $500 out of the $1000 on an AMEX, is there an interest? I couldn’t find it… What would be the difference then between the SYNC and a BLUE AMEX?

  11. Chris says:

    This Card is Useless , If you have to pay it off every month…..Why not use your debit/cash????

    No spending limit……..BS they determine based on your account status and income/debt ratio formula.

    this is like those prepaid crappy cell phones you see in the supermarket checkout line….they require no credit rating….because they don’t need to trust you.

  12. Adam Porter says:

    Just signed up for the Zync. I pay my card in full every month, anyway, so I might as well move to a charge card.

    The real reason behind the switch is that my current card’s points are only redeemable on the purchase of a vehicle. Sadly, I have built up far more points than I’m ever allowed to use on one. Plus, they can only be used on a new vehicle. :\

    It’s time to start making my points work for me, allowing me to spend them nearly any-which-way I want!

    Can’t wait to get mine in the mail.

    Thanks for the review, David!

  13. musheded says:

    The Zync intrigues me as well, but I already have an AMEX One card that has no preset limit and a nominal yearly fee and I get all my ‘rewards’ in the form of cash that goes into a high-yield savings account that I can also put money into to earn extra interest. Yes the current 1.3% APY isn’t great, but it is way more than he paltry less than 1% that most banks are offering.

    I really want to know how the restaurant ‘pack’ works since unfortunately most of the ‘rewards’ they list are for restaurants that don’t exist where I live in CA (seems very east cost/NY centric, but I know that where AMEX is based). We always charge our meals out since I don’t trust restaurants with my debit card (have had too many suspect ‘tips’ added even though I put down zero on the tip line), but would a meal at a fast food place count towards the restaurant points?

    The Connect ‘pack’ seems like a good deal though if I paid all my ‘connect’ bills with it I could definitely earn some good rewards, but if I use my AMEX Clear card I can get cash rewards instead.

    Guess I’ll just need to think about it and decide if the Zync is worth it since the annual fee is pretty cheap compared to what I used to pay for my Green AMEX.

    • David Weliver says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts; will be interested to hear what you decide. I always liked the One card because it encourages you to save your rewards; it’s too bad that Amex no longer offers it to new customers.

  14. Paul says:

    One caveat I found out the hard way, and it applies to all credit cards I have ever investigated: NEVER give anyone or any merchant authority to continually or “automatically” add chargest to your card. This is something many try to get you to agree to, because they’ve learned how the card issuers work. I.e., the card issuers will, FOREVER FROM THEN ON, ALWAYS pass on ANY charges from that merchant or entity with no questions asked. They can even be fraudulent, but the card issuer will pass them on. All bets are off and everything’s up to you. This still applies even if you CANCEL the card! So I no longer EVER give ANYONE authority to charge more than one specific charge at one time.

  15. hamiltonstudent11 says:

    I was just approved for Zync today and I’m super excited! I’ve had a BofA Visa card for about 3 years now (got it 2 months before I started college, they basically just handed it to me when I opened a checking account…MISTAKE!), and at points I have gotten myself into some pretty nasty debt. Now that it’s all paid off, I’m excited to start fresh and use this like a debit card for only what I can pay off every month, while getting points!!

  16. mona says:

    im supposed to get my new zync card in a few days and im very excited , ive had my capital one credit card for almost a year , but the interest rate if i happened to miss a payment is ridiculous , and its been months and my credit limit hasnt increased , the zync however has the prestige of american express telling u we dont put limits on ur spending , thats silly , but we will require that whatever u want to spend has to be paid in full every month. i think thats fair , its good to know u have almost an unlimited credit amount but at the same time , its a good way to remind u to only spend what u can pay for. i think the zync card is a great idea.

  17. Matt says:

    I’m in the same boat as Jon. I have had an Amex Blue Card since 2005. I always pay the balance.

    I am looking at the Green Card. This Zync card has me intrigued.

  18. Jon says:

    I have a Amex Blue Card and I’m wondering if this card would be a good move. I’ve been with Amex a long time, I already have a good credit history and pay my balance off every month in full, always!

    I guess Im interested in the double points, extended warranties and all the other little things they add that appears to not be on my Blue card but dot want to pay the high annual fees with other Amex cards.

  19. Carlos says:

    I’ve always wanted to have an American Express and this is my first month using the Zync card. I still do not know how good/bad it is to use a charge card because I am always thinking I might go over my limit. The Zync card, the green and the gold are the ones that I was pre-approved for but I the one that I really really wanted was the Blue Cash, so I am just hoping to build a good relationship with AMEX and get the blue cash later so I won’t have to worry about going over my limit.

  20. Greg M. says:

    I love my zync card!! I’ve had it for 3 months now and had no problems. The only thing I don’t like is that you have to wait until the billing cycle is over and paid to access the membership reward point from the cycle before that. The most expensice charge I made was about $1,500 at one time without a problem. I am now starting to spend more now because I’m starting to travel. The customer service is ok and people tend to think your in some exclusive club when you use it! In all I think the card is good for someone that has bad credit or someone who needs to build there credit. I had a capital one card for almost a year now and my score has only gone up 9 points and my limit is the same even though I use less than half of the credit available. I would recommend this card to people but be careful because what you spend is what you have to pay back at the end of the billing cycle. So, you might end up in a situation that will mess you up!

  21. Josh says:

    One other thing to put the spending limits in perspective. My household income after taxes is about $60,000 a year. I spend on average about $2500.00 a month on my AMEX. When I first got the card and I had no credit history with them I was limited to about $1500.00 a month for the first six months. I have charged as much as $10,000.00 on a single charge with my monthly bill being around $12,000.00 and had no problem. I did however notify them that I was going to make the purchase before I did it.

  22. Josh says:

    I am a firm supporter of AMEX and the use of charge cards. I think that the Zync card is great for young adults trying to establish their credit. Using a charge card does two things, It allows individuals to manage their monthly budget easier, and AMEX is one of the best companies to use to increase your credit score. I am not a Zync card member however, I have been a green card member for a long time. The other benefits that come along with AMEX is their travel insurance as well as their customer service. I had a layover in Chicago on a trip I took from Denver to Columbus. I subsequently became ill in Chicago and was taken to the Emergency room. AMEX paid the hospital bill in full with no cost to me because I purchased my entire trip with my AMEX card. As far as customer service goes Amex can’t be beat. They have the best customer service of any credit card company out there, and they are based out of the continental North America (I have been connected to Canada once). Obviously as in Serb’s case if you don’t pay your bill they will cut your card off. I don’t see how a person can be upset with that. Another point I would like to make is that I have never had a problem making large purchases with my AMEX. However, I always give them a heads up when I’m going to make a large purchase. You can do this either on line or over the phone. Another thing to keep in mind with AMEX is that they are very proactive on their fraud prevention. I recomend that you always give them a heads up if you are going to be traveling, especially if you are traveling outside the country. The cards are well worth the annual fee however, I would not upgrade past the Green card unless you travel a lot. If that is the case I would skip the Gold card and go strait to the Platinum Card. The Gold card’s benefits are too similar to the Green card to justify the additional cost. The Platinum card gets you free room upgrades and ticket upgrades at shows and stuff like that, but it costs 495 dollars a year.

  23. Anthony says:

    I filed Chapter 7 earlier this year and need to start rebuilding my credit. Seems like the Zync is designed for young adults looking to establish credit. Does anyone know if they accept individuals with a recent BK? If not, do you have a recommendation of a creditor that will with reasonable fees?

    • Brian says:

      You filed for bankruptcy and you think that Amex is going to issue you a card to start rebuilding your credit? Think again! You’re credit rating is now completely destroyed by filing bankruptcy and the only people that will issue you a card are the vulture companies like captial one, and even that is unlikely given the current environment.

    • David Weliver says:

      I agree with Mark that a secured card is the way to go after a BK. I did this research a year ago, so double check the fees, etc. But you can get secured cards from major banks:

      I haven’t yet seen a secured credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee (because that’s how they make money on secured cards), but you can avoid the real stinky ones by sticking with your local bank (call them up and ask them) or one of the big banks. Here are a few I found:

      1. Citi Secured MasterCard. There’s a $29 annual fee and 13.24% variable APR. Minimum $200 security deposit in a CD. An early-withdrawal fee applies if the account is closed before 18 months pass.

      2. Wells Fargo Secured Visa Card. $18 annual fee, variable APR is at 18.99 percent. Minimum $300 deposit. Customers may be eligible to upgrade to an unsecured account after 12 months.

      3. U.S. Bank Secured Visa Credit Card. Minimum $300 deposit and $35 annual fee. After 12 months users may be able to upgrade to an unsecured card.

      • Mark says:

        Thank you, David. Bankruptcy doesn’t mean you’re doomed as far as credit cards go. I received a secured card from Wells Fargo after I filed for bankruptcy. A year later I qualified an unsecured Platinum Card, and I now have their Signature Card, which, I believe, is the best they offer.

  24. I love my GREEN card so far… From my second month of using it my credit score jumped 30-40 points….Dont really know why..

  25. Steve says:

    I’d rather just use a traditional credit card that has no annual fee with rewards, and just pay it off in full every month. If you overspend on the zync card you are in a lot more trouble than overspending on a traditional card.

    • Andrew says:

      Agreed – Amex Blue Cash, paid off every month, nets better rewards (cash) with no yearly fee and the same consumer protections

  26. Victor says:

    Why would anyone apply for a card where the issuer determines what you can spend and what you cant ? I want a card with a predetermined limit .Also, they want me to pay them for extra perqs? They are joking , right ? Don’t we all want to know if we can order steak on a date or should we take a chance and let AMEX choose hotdogs ?

  27. David Weliver says:

    Julio: Charge cards (like the Zync Card), don’t have predetermined credit limits. Typically, they allow you to spend whatever AMEX considers a reasonable amount based upon your income per month. Then, if you spend more than that on average per month and pay your bills on time, they increase it.

    In my experience, if you’re a new charge card customer, you can probably spend up to about $1,000 per month on the card to start.

    As for the travel rewards, I’m not sure more than what’s posted here, but you could check the AMEX site for details.

  28. Julio says:

    What is the credit limit on a ZYNC card? Also I was curious about the details on the travel rewards. That is one reason why I got this Card for the Travel rewards.

  29. Julie says:

    I would say that for the demographic I fall into the charge card is rather ideal. I’m 29, steadily employed, have never had a credit card, have a small student loan that I have mostly paid on time every month, and otherwise, non-existent credit history. I’ve been told the only way I can get a card is to secure a card, but had no interest in tying up my savings like that. I pretty much missed the magic window in college where they were falling over themselves to give everyone $10,000 limits, because I didn’t want the possibility of debt and been punished for my responsibility since, as I am “non issuable”. Every year or two I try to get a card, clean up my credit report and check for errors, and every time I am declined.

    The zync card is something I am really excited about getting in the mail [I was approved!], since it will allow me to build my credit history for the nominal fee of $25, that’s why I think it is a great tool. The member rewards of amex are great and all, but I don’t care so much about that and I think it’s something the other commenters kind of missed. I want to be mortgage-able one day, and this is a great step to get to that place. Yup, finally feeling like a grown up.

  30. askmrlee says:

    I like that this new Zync card offers much of the $95/year Amex Green Card benefits including $1 for 1 point Membership Rewards for only $25/year. This would make it a great alternative to an airline credit card which earns points which typically have annual fees exceeding $49. Airline rewards should only be earned by people who actually fly as only charging your way to a free ticket is a poor way to earn awards. Then again if you frequently fly coach on Continental, then you may want their card just to avoid the checked luggage fee.

    Membership Rewards points should only be redeemed for airline frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program points. The value of merchandise and cash awards is worth much less than using typical cash rewards Visa or MasterCard.

    • askmrlee says:

      I’ve learned from another report that Zync offers Membership Rewards Express, which is NOT the same as “standard” Membership Rewards, so Zync does not have the ability to transfer to airline programs. So in this case, Zync is not a cheaper way to into the Membership Rewards program as I previously reported.

      • adonys says:

        Now that you mention the fact that it gives you membership in the Rewards Express version, what are the differences between Membership Rewards Express and the standard Membership Rewards programs?

        • Brandon says:

          Standard MR program is a 1:1 redemption in all categories provided. The Express program will give a 2:1 redemption which can be utilized for airmiles as well, it will just cost you more points.

  31. I agree that charge cards are probably better than credit cards, but I am still a big fan of the debit card, especially when fighting the war against debt.

    Since “the average outstanding credit card debt for households that have a credit card was $10,679 at the end of 2008.” [Source: Nilson Report, April 2009], most people should only spend what they have and nothing more.

    Just curious, What kind of penalties occur if you carry a revolving balance one month with a charge card?

    • Jake says:

      To answer your question about penalties against a revolving balance, American Express calls it their “sign and travel” expenses… You pay no fee up front for diverting a charge balance to a revolving balance, but what does happen is that a fairly hefty interest rate does take effect on whatever the balance amount is that you are paying down ( If I remember correctly, it was something in the neighborhood of 22% on a green card account). I also believe that you can elect to either pick certain purchases and pay them over time or a set dollar amount of the balance.

      The drawback to this behavior, obviously, is that you turn your charge card into any old credit card, but its a good safety in the event that you run into an unexpected situation where you cannot afford to pay your entire balance I guess.

      Hope that’s the answer you were looking for!

  32. Hank says:

    I love using a charge card. It keeps me honest with my purchases by having to pay them off every month. This may be a great alternative to credit cards for young adults.

    • Seb says:

      FORGET about AMEX
      Customer Service = CRAP
      Missed one payment and they stopped my card without noticing me. I filled complaint with police and case is going to be tried … in 2 years or so maybe… cause they didnt respect their contract with me… AMEX is not serious anymore in doing business.

      • David Weliver says:

        Seb, I deleted the subsequent comment you posted here under the name “Marko”. Although it’s fine to post “anonymous” comments, it is not okay to assume identities or otherwise create the impression you are multiple people when you are, in fact, one.

        I’m sorry to hear about your frustrations with Amex. We do not know the specifics of your grievance, and this is probably not the proper forum to discuss them, but I often find myself trying to gently remind readers that in most cases, when you open a credit card, you are at the mercy of the card issuer.

        They have the power, not you. The are lending you money, and they will go to great lengths to make sure they see it again. That’s what creditors do. Amex and every other creditor out there.

        If you don’t like how the game is played, don’t use credit/charge cards.

      • Jenn says:

        Hey Seb,

        If you don’t pay your electricty bill- guess what- your electricity gets shut off. That is how it works. My advice, pay your bills, dufus!

      • Alex says:

        Are you SERIOUS!? You called the POLICE because YOU missed a payment to your charge card company? You’ve got to be kidding me. Under what law is your case going to be tried? I call bs.

        Your the reason the world thinks America is stupid.

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