Zero, a tech start-up based in San Francisco, has developed a hybrid rewards credit-debit card, Zerocard, that lets you earn rewards without worrying about overspending. Zerocard immediately deducts any charges from your account’s outstanding balance, but also gives you rewards for all purchases.
Sounds like the best of both worlds, right? All gain, no pain.
Not exactly. The most tempting rewards are reserved for those who spend the most, and many of the card’s features are similar to those of existing prepaid cards. Where Zero is truly noteworthy is its lack of fees. It doesn’t charge for overdrafts, wire transfers, bill pay, stop payments, ATMs, or inactivity.
For someone who wants to avoid traditional banks (Zero is not a bank) and traditional credit cards, Zerocard is a real option.
How Zero(card) works
Like the best credit cards, Zerocard offers cash back rewards of up to 3 percent. Like a debit card, transactions are immediately taken out of your account balance.
Earning 3 percent cash back sounds great, of course. However, you’ve got a spend a lot to get that three percent—$100,000, to be exact.
The Zerocard has four levels of rewards, all based on how much you spend in a year:
- Carbon: 3 percent cash back ($100,000 in annual spending required)
- Magnesium: 2 percent cash back ($50,000 in annual spending required)
- Graphite: 1.5 percent cash back ($25,000 in annual spending required)
- Quartz: 1 percent cash back (no minimum spending required)
You also can’t use business expenses to pad your annual spending. It’s all got to be personal and household use.
How can they know? Zero analyzes your spending and flags anything that doesn’t look legit. If they think you’re using Zero for business purchases, they might close your account.
Zero offers rewards but the best are reserved for those with a lot of money
While a flat 3 percent rewards rate (without category restrictions or caps) is pretty unheard of, it’s also nearly impossible for the average person to get with Zero. If you’ve got $100,000 in spending each year, you probably don’t worry all that much about paying your credit card bills.
In many other ways, Zero is very similar to prepaid or secured credit cards, in that users load up the card with money and then spend down that balance. Zero also lets you transfer money, pay bills, and have your paycheck direct deposited to your Zero account, all things many prepaid cards do as well.
The difference, of course, is that Zero gives rewards and most prepaid and secured cards don’t. The Zerocard may only give 1 percent back for most people, but that’s still 1 percent more than they’re getting elsewhere.
Zero brings with it a few other nice features, including a sleek app and a service called Intelligent Advisor, which aims to predict your future income, spending, and balance.
For those truly wary of credit cards, Zero offers a way to earn rewards, even if those rewards aren’t anything to write home about.
How Zero makes money
Zero charges no fees, and it’s able to do so because of the processing fees it gets from the stores, restaurants, and other retailers where you shop.
Since Zero is technically a credit card, it can charge merchants much higher fees than debit card issuers can.
That’s also why they require high spending for higher rewards—they need to make sure they’re making more money off the merchants than they’re giving you in rewards.
Referring friends lets you “level” up
For those who don’t have $100,000 to spend in a year, there is currently another way to reach those Graphite, Magnesium, or Carbon. If you’re currently on the waiting list, and you refer several friends who then sign up for Zero, you may be able to move up to a higher level without spending any more money.
Once Zero is launched to the general public, this referral program goes away. Any status you earn through referrals you get to keep for the rest of the calendar year and for all of the calendar year after that.
Once that’s over, higher level Zerocard status must be re-earned each year, just like with airline loyalty programs.
If you’re wary of credit cards, but you’re looking to build credit and earn some rewards, Zerocard might be perfect for you. It’ll eliminate the need to worry about a monthly bill, or about racking up charges you can’t pay for.
However, if you’re comfortable with how much you spend and are eager to earn as much cash back as possible, there are credit cards that offer pretty good cashback on every purchase, without requiring you to spend $25,000 – $100,000 annually.