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Updated on Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Zero Financial is a fintech startup that combines the convenience of debit cards with the rewards potential of credit cards. A Zero account is a variation on the cash management theme, providing a checking account that works together with an associated credit card — the Zerocard. Zero offers up to 3% cashback on Zerocard purchases, and promises “zero fees.”
With Zero, you make all purchases and ATM withdrawals on the Zerocard line of credit, and the system pays off the credit balance at the end of each monthly billing cycle, out of your Zero Checking debit account. Key to the whole scheme is the smartphone app, which provides a dashboard for the entire checking/credit hybrid account and should users a more accurate picture of what they are spending and what they can afford.
Does all this sound a bit counter-intuitive? We thought so, but once you grasp the concept it begins to make sense, and there’s no question that Zero offers a possibly useful cash management experience. Note that like many fintechs, Zero is not a bank itself. It partners with WebBank to provide the Zerocard Mastercard and with Evolve Bank & Trust to offer and insure Zero Checking deposits.
How does Zerocard work?
Zero calls its unique offering “the debit-style experience.” This experience, it says, provides user with the spending discipline of a debit card and the high cashback possibilities of a credit card. By blurring the lines between the two, Zero ends up with a product similar to a cashback rewards debit card, but unlike anything else available on the market today.
With Zero, you pay for everything with the Zerocard credit card, using its unlimited line of credit. With every purchase, the amount spent shows up on the Zero app as “deducted” from your Zero Checking balance. In actuality, the funds in your Zero Checking account pay off the credit card balance at the end of each monthly billing cycle.
By unifying your credit purchases and checking deposits, as well as your cashback rewards — as you can see in the screenshot — Zero provides a virtual accounting of all deposits and spending. Zero wants you to be able to see exactly what you’ve spent and how much money you have left in your account balance after purchases — even though the card credit balance is in actuality paid off at the end of the month.
Then around bill time, Zero ensures you never miss a payment when you’re enrolled in the debit-style experience (yes, you can de-activate the “experience”; more on that below). You do receive a monthly bill, although Zero automatically pays off your purchases in full, using the funds from your Zero Checking account.
Zerocard fees and fine print
Zero charges zero fees for ATM withdrawals, account maintenance, bill pay, account inactivity and foreign currency transactions. You’re allowed to use any ATM of your choice without being charged a fee from Zero, but you’re still on the hook for the ATM owner’s surcharge, which Zero will not refund unless you are at the highest membership level (more on that below).
Because of the unusual structure of the Zero account, an ATM withdrawal is technically a cash advance against a line of credit rather than a cash withdrawal from a checking account. When you withdraw cash at an ATM using your Zerocard, it’s added to the amount repaid monthly from your Zero Checking balance.
There’s a catch, however. Zerocard is still a credit card, and it lets you choose to either enable the “debit card experience” — so the system pays off your spending every month in full — or turn off the “debit style experience.” If you choose the latter, Zero charges a hefty APR of 24.99% on any accrued balance. In addition, any ATM withdrawals you make start accruing interest charges at the APR rate on the transaction date. Also note that the APR is charged for any balance transfers from other credit cards, no matter whether the “debit-style experience” is turned on or off.
Zerocard APR and fees
No ATM fees, unless the “debit-style experience” is turned off, in which case balances from ATM withdrawals are charged the 24.99% APR starting from the transaction date
Up to $27
Up to $25
Also, when you flip off the “debit-style experience,” Zero will charge for late or returned payments. All in all, it seems clear that you’re best off using Zero as intended by enabling the “debit-style experience.”
- Up to 3% cash back
- Referral program to boost cashback rewards potential
- Automatic bill pay
The Zerocard earns unlimited cash back on all accounts, without any special rotating categories. There are four different levels that determine your rate of cashback rewards:
- The Carbon level earns top-tier 3% cashback on purchases. To qualify for this level, you must either refer four friends to become Zero customers or spend at least $100,000 annually. The Carbon level includes a metal Zerocard.
- The Magnesium level earns 2% cash back on purchases. This requires referring two friends to become Zero customers or at least $50,000 in annual spending. This level also comes with a metal Zerocard.
- The Graphite level earns 1.5% cash back. This is one step up from the base-level Zero card and requires either one friend referral or at least $25,000 in annual spending.
- The Quartz level is the entry-level card for all customers and for those who cannot meet any above requirements. It earns 1% cash back.
Zero’s referral program offers customers the chance to rise to higher-earning levels without having to meet high minimum spending thresholds. Potential users need to understand that simply sending a referral link to a friend isn’t enough to qualify. Your friends must apply and get approved for their own Zero accounts, make two qualifying purchases with Zerocard and receive two qualifying direct deposits to their Zero Checking account, no less than 30 days apart.
Rewards are allocated each billing cycle on or soon after each payment due date. Once rewards are eligible for redemption, you can redeem them at any time through the app. Rewards do not expire for the life of the account. Note that you can only earn cash back rewards on purchases made with your Zerocard. It does not apply to non-card purchase transactions, such as balance transfers.
Zero has a couple features “coming soon,” as well. This includes the ability to deposit and send paper checks into your Zero Checking account, both directly through the Zero app. Mobile payment capabilities, such as Apple Wallet, are also coming soon. Zero does not currently offer joint accounts or the ability to make cash deposits. Another biggie: You can’t deposit cash directly into your Zero Checking account.
Opening a Zerocard
Zero is currently accepting “early access” applications to join the waitlist. This simply requires your email address. When Zero is ready for you to apply, you’ll receive an email at the address you provide. You can submit your email online at Zero’s website or on the Zero app, which is available only in the Apple App Store.
To apply, you will need to provide your full legal name, U.S. physical address, date of birth, tax identification number (e.g., social security number), phone number, email address and a copy of government-issued photo identification. You must also provide your annual income, satisfy certain underwriting criteria and pass a credit check.
Zerocard approval requires you to be a legal resident of the United States with a physical U.S. address, at least 18 years old and have a valid social security number. Zero invites those with little to no credit history to still apply, although you will still need to satisfy certain underwriting criteria and pass a credit check.
Who the Zerocard is best for
Zerocard is designed to simplify the management of separate credit and checking accounts. If you find that you have trouble juggling spending between checking and credit accounts, Zero might help. You automatically see credit card purchases deducted from your checking balance, making it easier to determine what you can actually afford. And Zero automatically pays off your credit card balance in full every month.
When used properly, Zero’s best features can help you stay in budget and out of debt. But remember, Zero is intended for personal and household use rather than business spending. Zero analyzes its customer accounts to identify any patterns they deem inconsistent with personal use. If they find that you are using a Zerocard for reasons other than personal use, they reserve the right to close your account.