“A credit card spending experience.”
Those are words you don’t hear from Chase, American Express and Bank of America. And that’s intentional, because what cred.ai offers is different from the competition.
In this cred.ai review, I’ll simplify what the company offers, answer common questions, and help you decide if the new “credit card spending experience” they promise is good branding or a worthwhile product.
cred.ai is a worthwhile card for consumers who want to build credit without fear of going into debt. The cred.ai Unicorn Card feels like a debit card, but gets reported as a credit card to the three major credit bureaus. Unlike alternatives, cred.ai also reports both on-time payments and credit utilization, allowing for a greater positive impact on your credit score.
- Prevents you from spending more than you can pay back.
- Reports both on-time payments and credit utilization rate.
- Can be used at over 55,000 ATMs for free.
- Guarantees you will never pay fees or interest.
- Card doesn’t offer cash-back or have a reward points program.
- No interest is earned on the cash held in your deposit account.
If you’re brand new to what cred.ai offers, here’s a breakdown:
- cred.ai’s core offering is a combination of a credit card (called the Unicorn Card) and an FDIC-insured checking account.
- The spending limit on the Unicorn Card is set by how much money is in your cred.ai checking account, so the card feels more like a debit card than a traditional credit card.
- So why not just call it a debit card? With this setup, credi.ai is able to report both on time payments and your credit utilization to all three major credit bureaus, the same as a traditional credit card does.
- cred.ai doesn’t wait until your payment due date to pay off the card. Instead, it uses the funds in your cred.ai checking account to pay down the balance throughout the month. As a result, cred.ai reports a very low credit utilization rate to the three credit reporting bureaus; users report having a 3% or less credit utilization rate.
- You will never pay fees for the card, or any interest on balances owed. This isn’t because it’s a 0% APR card but because the way the card functions prevents you from spending more than you can pay back.
- There’s no minimum FICO score required to apply.
- You can choose to sign up only for the Unicorn Card and not the bank account. In that case, the Unicorn Card acts like a traditional credit card, with some of the extra features we’ll mention below and an APR that will vary depending on your credit score.
Before we get into cred.ai’s features, let’s answer some of the common questions about the cred.ai Unicorn Card and the cred.ai checking account.
cred.ai sounds like a secured credit card. What’s the difference?
Secured credit cards — where you deposit a certain amount of money onto the card, and then can spend up to that deposit amount — have been around for a while, and they help people build credit.
Along with some unique features of cred.ai that we’ll discuss below, some of the key differences between what cred.ai offers and secured credit cards are:
- You can spend up the utilization rate of a secured credit card, while that’s not possible with cred.ai.
- Many secured credit cards report very low credit limits (e.g., $500) while cred.ai will report $1,500.
- It’s still possible to miss payments with a secured credit, while cred.ai handles this for you.
We go into more detail about the differences later in the article.
What are the terms of the credit card?
cred.ai will report a $1,500 credit limit. But, don’t confuse this $1,500 limit with how much you can spend — $1,500 is what cred.ai reports to the credit bureaus.
The amount you can spend is determined by how much money is in your deposit account. cred.ai will limit you to only spending what you can pay back (i.e., how much money is in your deposit account).
It’s like a fail-safe credit card, right?
Yes. As hard as you may try, you can’t get yourself into financial trouble with the credit card combined with the deposit account. If you try to spend more money than you have, cred.ai will deny the charge. While you don’t get bells and whistles of other cards, like cash-back rewards, it’s useful in that it can build your credit score without the risk of incurring debt.
Can you be denied?
While a credit score isn’t required for the cred.ai card, you can still be denied for a credit card.
Can you use the Unicorn card as an ATM card?
Yes. You can use a Unicorn card as an ATM card. cred.ai offers free ATM withdrawals from over 55,000 ATMs across the U.S. You can locate nearby ATMs in the app.
ATM withdrawals are classified as cash advances. However, similar to purchases made, you will not pay interest on these cash advances. Instead, the money you have in the deposit account will pay these off.
Is cred.ai a bank?
No, they’re a software company. The bank account and credit card is issued by Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB (“WSFS Bank”). The credit card is issued by WSFS Bank through Visa.
Is direct deposit required?
No, but not enabling direct deposit will limit some features cred.ai offers, like the ability to access your paycheck ahead of time. You’ll also have to constantly replenish your card cred.ai account if you wish to continue to use the card.
Is the credit card only — without the connected checking account — worth it?
Not really. While cred.ai has some unique offerings, a modern app and no annual fees, the credit card has no cash-back rewards. The terms are not great either, at 17.76% APR on purchases and 24.99% APR on cash advances.
cred.ai’s product is geared towards those who want to build or optimize their credit score without changing their daily spending habits, or are looking for a high-tech debit card replacement. There are better credit cards out there for people not in this demographic.
cred.ai Unique Features
With an understanding of what’s at the core of what cred.ai offers, let’s discuss some of cred.ai’s unique features.
- Flux Capacitor. Link your direct deposit to your cred.ai account and Flux Capacitor will enable you to access not only your paycheck but any future deposit up to two days early, as well as help you budget for upcoming debits.
- Stealth Card. Similar to how one-time use credit card providers like Privacy.com work (we discuss this in our Swagbucks hacks article), cred.ai will give you a working credit card number and CSV code you can use on websites you don’t trust. So, if the website got hacked, your credit card information wouldn’t be able to be reused.
- Cred Optimizer. This is the technology that manages payments from your deposit account to your credit card, so you’re getting reported a low credit utilization rate each time.
- Check Please. Authorize a transaction ahead of time, such as a restaurant charge, with cred.ai to avoid getting it declined. In a way, avoiding the embarrassment from any declined transaction.
- Friend & Foe. Allows you to approve or deny certain transactions. You have the option of selecting merchants to approve and deny. Ideal for those pesky subscriptions you’re finding it impossible to cancel.
- High Security. The ability to create pockets of time where all or certain transactions will be approved or denied.
cred.ai vs. Secured Credit Cards
If you have poor credit and need a quick boost in your credit score, cred.ai is most likely your best option (compared to a secured card). Cred.ai reports $1,500 to the credit bureaus, while secured credit limits tend to run much lower. All other factors being equal, the higher credit limit will provide more positive impact to your score.
But if you have a longer time horizon — like when you have no credit history and are looking to simply get a starter card to begin building credit — you want a card you’re going to keep long-term.
What’s unique about a secured card is that you can upgrade your card down the line, switching from a secured credit card to unsecured card. For example, you can go from a Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards card to another card in the Capital One ecosystem that earns rewards and has no annual fee.
The average age of your credit lines is an important metric for scoring models. By upgrading to an unsecured card from a secured card (which Capital One allows after you’ve proven to use your card responsibly), you keep your oldest lines open and active in the future.
In contrast, if cred.ai is your first card, there’s no upgrade path.
So, you’re going to end up keeping the cred.ai account around just to maintain your credit history, but there’s really no long-term benefit (i.e., no rewards, a low credit limit, and having to keep money in your checking account).
You’re better off having an unsecured credit card from a major bank be your oldest credit line.
This is why I prefer cred.ai more as a short-term credit fix than a first-time card.
Eventually, you’ll want to close your cred.ai account, as there are better alternative cards. But that will be difficult, because if cred.ai is your oldest card, you’re going to see your credit score decrease as soon as you close it.
For more information on alternative options, see our guide on the best starter credit cards for building credit.
cred.ai vs. Chime Credit Builder
Like cred.ai, Chime is a tech company that offers products through an FDIC-insured bank account. They have a similar offering to cred.ai, called the Chime Credit Builder credit card.
How the Credit Builder card works is that:
- To apply, you need a Chime spending account and $200 of direct deposits over the past 365 days. Direct deposits must come from an employer, payroll provider or benefits payer via ACH.
- Once approved, you can spend on your Credit Builder credit card up to the amount of money that’s secured in your Chime spending account. This money is held as collateral and cannot be withdrawn.
- Your balance on your Credit Builder credit card is paid off from the balance on your Chime spending account.
- While Chime reports on-time payments to the three major credit bureaus, they do not report credit utilization.
|Direct deposit||Not required||Required|
|Reports on-time payments||Yes||Yes|
|Reports credit utilization||Yes||No|
|Early access to paycheck||Yes||Yes|
While Chime takes a similar, fail-safe credit card approach — making sure you can’t overspend and that payments are made on-time — there’s a limit to how much of an impact it will have on your credit score as it only reports on-time payments.
All things being equal, you’ll see a quicker boost to your credit score using cred.ai as your credit utilization rate also improves with the product.
For an in-depth look at how Chime works, read our Chime review.
Extra offers a credit building “debit” card with a dynamic spending limit that’s linked to the funds available in your primary checking account. This limit is referred to as “Spend Power,” and is reported to Equifax and Experian (but not to TransUnion).
The major difference between cred.ai and Extra is that the latter has a hefty $8 per month fee (or $12 per month if you opt for the plan that offers reward points).
Learn more about how it works in our Extra debit card review.
Credit Strong offers three different credit builder loan products. One is their “Instal” product, which allows you to add a $1,000 installment loan to your credit report for a cost of $15 per month. Consider Credit Strong if you want to diversify your credit mix with an installment loan.
Read our Credit Strong review to learn more.
Self offers a variety of credit-building products, including four types of Credit Builder accounts and a unique secured credit card that doesn’t require an up-front deposit or hard credit check.
The cost of their credit building loans ranges from $25 to $150 per month, and at the end of the term, you get back the money you paid, minus interest and fees. While Self’s services are beneficial for improving poor or fair credit history, they come with high-interest rates and may not be the best option for those establishing credit.
Learn more about how it works in our Self Review.
Is the cred.ai Credit Card Right For You?
cred.ai is really a fail-safe way to improve your credit for those who need a boost.
If you’ve struggled with debt in the past or have been unable to build up your score, cred.ai is a solid overall product offering. The key is using the combination credit card and deposit account.
As a standalone credit card, cred.ai doesn’t have a lot to offer. While there are no annual fees, there’s no cash-back and the card carries a high APR.