My wife and I have 30 active credit card accounts. Give or take. If you include authorized user cards, the total is closer to 70. We regularly open new cards for the signup bonuses. After a year with each card, we evaluate whether to keep the card, downgrade it to a no fee card, or cancel it outright. More often then not, we keep it or downgrade it.
Some cards have benefits that make them worth the annual fee even if you never use the card. A great example is Chase’s $49 per year IHG card which offers a free anniversary night each year at any IHG property worldwide. That includes properties like the Intercontinental London Park Lane where rooms routinely sell for over $700 per night. Other cards are worth keeping because they offer great rewards for spend. The Chase Ink Cash and Ink Plus cards, for example, offer 5X points for phone, cable, internet, and office supplies. Since it’s often possible to buy gift cards to other merchants at office supply stores, it’s possible to extend the 5X benefit way beyond those categories. Then there are cards worth keeping for their occasional bonuses. Barclaycard, for example, often offers great bonuses to encourage cardholders to use their cards (see this post, for example). And, some cards are worth keeping for their retention bonuses. Citi, for example, often has terrific offers for those who agree to keep their cards.
One downside of hoarding credit cards is that they’re not easy to carry around. I don’t want a George Costanza wallet. When I go out, I try to predict which cards I’ll need. Will I go to an office supply store? If so, I’ll need my Chase Ink card (5X points!). Will I make a purchase that qualifies for an Amex Offer? Then I’ll need an Amex card that is registered to that offer. And, if I’m traveling internationally, I make sure to take cards with no foreign transaction fees, and at least one card with chip & pin capabilities (like the Arrival Plus card).
When it comes to packing my wallet, I don’t always get it right. Sometimes, for example, I’ll find myself at a gas station and only then remember that my Chase Freedom and/or Discover card is offering 5X for gas that quarter. Or, I’ll check into a hotel and realize that I didn’t bring the card that would have earned the most bonus points there. Or, I learn that OfficeMax is selling Visa gift cards at a discount, but my Ink card is at home.
Digital Wallet Cards, also called Smart Cards, offer a solution to these card juggling woes. Competing devices differ in their specifics, but they generally work like this: the consumer loads all of their credit cards into a smart phone app and then selects a smaller number of these cards to be loaded onto the digital wallet card (which looks a bit like a regular credit card). When the consumer goes to use the digital wallet card, they select which credit card they want to be active for each transaction. Then, the card should work just like a credit card (keyword is “should”).
Coin Digital Wallet: Setup
I was pretty excited when my Coin card arrived a couple of months ago. I finally had a solution to my credit card hoarding woes! If it worked as advertised, I could reduce my wallet to a single digital wallet card and maybe one regular credit card for backup. That would be sweet!
Coin comes with a small credit card swipe reader that plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack. To get started, I downloaded the Coin app to my phone and paired it with my card. Next, I used the swipe reader to load a few dozen credit and debit cards to the Coin app. Finally, I picked 8 of those cards to sync to the Coin card itself (eight is the max supported by Coin at one time).
The process of loading credit cards to the Coin app was simple enough. Strangely, the app offers the option to enter a card’s number without swiping it, but you can’t actually use that card until you’ve verified it… by swiping it. Other than that little oddity, I found the process easy and intuitive. Coin allows you to enter a four character name for each card. This, to me, was a fun challenge. I thought carefully about each card to ensure that I would recognize the four letter name whenever I whipped out my Coin card. My cards now have names like ATM, INK (Chase Ink), PREM (Citi Premier), PRES (Citi Prestige), PLAT (Amex Platinum), DISC (Discover), SPG (SPG hotel card), SPGB (Business version of SPG card), etc.
Synching cards from the phone app to the Coin card is also easy. Press the button on the card (the circle below the e-ink display) to turn the card on, and then press and hold the button to put it into SYNC mode. The card shows the word “SYNC” so there’s no doubt that you got it right. The syncing process is initiated from the Coin app and only takes a few seconds to complete.
Coin Digital Wallet: How it Works
The Coin card automatically locks itself when not in use. To unlock it, you can setup and memorize a pattern of 6 long or short button presses (Coin calls this a Tap Code), or simply allow it to unlock automatically when you click the button once with your phone nearby. I’ve used the tap code so infrequently that I don’t even remember it. As long as I’ve remembered to leave Bluetooth running on my phone, the phone unlock method has worked great.
To select which card is currently active, you simply press the button. Each press of the button switches the device to the next available credit card. The card’s screen initially shows the card’s four letter name along with an NFC indicator if the selected credit card works with Coin’s tap to pay feature (more about that later). After a second or two, the display changes to show key info about the card: the active card’s type (Visa, MC, Amex, Disc), the last four digits of the card number, and the card’s expiration date.
Once a particular credit card has been selected, you can pay with Coin either by swiping the card on a swipe terminal or by tapping the card on a tap-to-pay terminal.
It sounds great, right?
My Experiences with Coin
I have three ATM cards that I use regularly. It would have been a nice little win just to replace those three cards with Coin. So, on my first day with Coin, I synced my ATM cards and went on my way to deposit a few checks. My first stop was at PNC bank. I selected the card I had named “PNC” and stuck Coin into the PNC ATM. This particular ATM usually sucks cards inside the machine to read them before spitting them back out. My Coin didn’t taste good to PNC, though. The ATM had no interest at all in sucking in my Coin. That was a quick fail!
Next, I made my way to Chase where I have both a personal and a business account. I started with the business account, “ATMB”. It worked! Then the personal account, “ATM.” It worked too! Great! I decided right then and there to officially put away two of my debit cards in favor of one Coin. Win!
Then, a month later…
I returned to the Chase ATM to withdraw cash, but the machine repeatedly failed to recognize the Coin card. I tried both my personal account and my business account, but neither worked. At one point, the card got stuck: I couldn’t get the darn thing out! Finally, when I was just short of panic, the ATM released its digital wallet hostage. It was then that I realized what had happened. Chase had updated the ATM to read the EMV chip on the ATM card. The machine purposely holds tight to the card until it is done reading the chip. Since Coin doesn’t have an EMV chip, the ATM couldn’t read it. Sigh. Fail.
At this point, my Coin card continues to work at older ATMs, but not at new ones. It’s better than nothing, but certainly not a complete solution.
Restaurant experiences have been better. In most cases, Coin has worked without issue at restaurants of all kinds. At Panera I even tested out the tap to pay feature and it worked flawlessly. I have had a few hiccups, though. At a well known deli in Ann Arbor, the cashier couldn’t get the swipe reader to recognize the card. He was quite excited about the idea of a digital credit card, though. In his excitement he dropped my card… and lost it. After about five minutes of looking all around the register, he finally found it – the card had somehow found its way through the small opening in the cash drawer. I think it was hiding in embarrassment.
At another restaurant, the waitress took my card but didn’t swipe it for a while, so the display had turned off. She came back to ask me whether it was a Visa or MasterCard or what. I clicked the button to wake up the card and to display “Visa”. It then worked fine.
Hotel check-in desks proved to be a complete failure. Not only did the card slow things down due to confusion over what the card was, but in the two times I tried it, the card simply didn’t work. Interestingly, the card did work at every hotel restaurant that I tried. Anyway, I should have tried Coin at more than just two hotels, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
Paying at the pump at gas stations, so far, has worked flawlessly. I haven’t yet tried using the card inside a gas station, but I expect it would work.
Retail stores have been a mixed bag. Sometimes the card works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s the pattern I’ve seen: If the store is equipped to read EMV chips, then I can get Coin to work only by using it’s tap-to-pay feature (simply tap the card on the terminal) or by selecting a credit card that is not yet equipped with a chip. The problem is that there are a number of stores that accept EMV chips, but do not yet support tap-to-pay. Both Target and Walmart fall into this bucket. Neither supports tap-to-pay at the time of this writing. So, the only way to use Coin at those stores, in my experience, is to select a credit card that doesn’t have a chip. And, of course, chip-less credit cards are quickly going extinct.
One pleasant surprise with Coin was at the American Express Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas. I had forgotten to pack my wallet with my Amex Platinum card, so I whipped out Coin instead. I knew that I could get in without the card (because I had read this Travel with Grant post), but I also knew it would be quicker and easier if I could simply select “PLAT”, swipe, and enter. When the woman behind the counter saw my Coin card she immediately told me that it wouldn’t work. Apparently someone had tried it before, unsuccessfully. But, I was using Coin 2.0 during its early days of release, so I thought it was likely that the previous Coin user she spoke of had used Coin 1.0. Maybe 2.0 would work? The Centurion Lounge agent was happy to give it a try – and it worked! I tried it again a few days later at the Centurion Lounge in Miami. And, again, it worked.
My backup card
Now that I’ve lived with Coin for a few months, I still carry it everywhere, but only for backup. I simply can’t trust it to work wherever I happen to be. Instead, as before, I pack my wallet with the cards I think I’ll need. And, in case I get it wrong, Coin comes along too. My wallet hasn’t gotten slimmer. It’s gotten bigger by one card.
Now, when I’m at a gas station and remember that Discover is offering 5% cash back this quarter for gas, I’ll reach for Coin. Maybe it will work.
Next Up: Plastc and Swyp
I love playing with new gadgets, so I ordered all of the digital wallet cards that I’m aware of. These will be valid business expenses for the blog. As I reported before, Stratos encountered financial difficulties and had to sell its business, so I’m not holding my breath on that one. Wocket was the first card to arrive, but it is an abomination that requires you to carry around not just the card, but also a device as big as my wallet. Plastc and Swyp look interesting. Both say they will support EMV, and both appear to have more detailed digital displays than Coin. I’ll have to wait, though. Plastc is supposed to ship no earlier than April 29th [UPDATE: Now expected “August/September 2016”]. And, Swyp says “early summer.”
A few people have asked me for referrals. Here goes:
- Plastc: Use this link to save $20. I’ll get a $20 Amazon gift card.
- Swyp: I don’t think Swyp has a referral program. Here’s a direct link instead.
- Coin: Coin’s referral program is only active for 90 days after you pre-order Coin. I ordered mine more than 90 days ago. So, check the comments of this post to see if anyone has posted their referral link. Or, here’s a direct link.