The Curve smartcard lets you combine your various debit and credit cards – all while avoiding foreign usage fees. However, you will lose a vital piece of consumer protection if you do sign up.
With debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, store cards and driving licenses, it's no surprise that our wallets are groaning.
One possible solution is Curve, an app and MasterCard that allows you to combine all your existing cards in one.
The company behind Curve claims that its smartcard will simplify payments and help everyone become savvier with their money. whilst saving on holiday spending.
But does Curve live up to the hype?
How it works
Curve combines all your other bank cards on to one card and works in conjunction with a smartphone app.
To get started you need to download the Curve app, which is available from the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Then it’s a case of taking photos of your cards to add them to your mobile wallet (you can store an unlimited number of Visa or MasterCard cards) and adding in the security code like you would when shopping online.
Using the app, you can select what card or account you want to use when making payments. Then your Curve card works just like the card you've selected and draws money from that account, so you don't need to top it up.
You can set a default card and then select other cards for specific transactions. You don’t need to open the app for every purchase – just if you want to switch the card used.
Everything is processed like a UK shop transaction, which eliminates the foreign usage fees cardholders often face for using their card abroad (apart from the fees charged by Curve itself - see below).
The app lists every payment made with the card, allowing you to track your transactions and keep on top of exactly how much you've spent.
Curve works on the MasterCard network so can be used wherever Mastercard is accepted – including magnetic strip terminals (still common abroad), chip and PIN, and contactless terminals.
Furthermore, all foreign transactions carried out on the card will be charged at the MasterCard wholesale rate.
These transactions are fee-free - up to a point.
For Curve Blue, the free version, you can spend up to £500 abroad and withdraw up to £200 a month without fees: it's £2 or 2% thereafter. For Curve Black, which costs £50, the limit is far higher: a £15,000 annual spending cap and £400 monthly cash withdrawals cap.
However, for both Curve Blue and Black cards you will have to pay a fee for foreign spending on the weekend: 0.5% for pounds, US Dollars and Euros and 1.5% fee for other currencies.
This rather irritating clause means that Curve can be beaten by several credit cards that allow fee-free spending and withdrawals abroad, although these are largely restricted to those with an excellent credit rating.
Alternately, you could get a Starling Bank account. The app-based bank charges no foreign spending and withdrawal fees whatsoever and pays 0.5% interest on balances: read more about it and other top banks for travellers here.
What about security?
Curve is basically a prepaid MasterCard, so has bank level protection and all the security features of traditional cards.
With Curve, your original card details and data are never revealed to the merchant. Instead, when making a purchase with Curve, online or instore, a unique token is used to process your payment, keeping your identity and the actual card numbers safe.
Curve claims these added layers of security protection against fraud and removes the worry that often comes when a bank card is lost, as the original cards are safely at home.
If you lose your Curve card, you can cancel it instantly from your phone or online. Curve will send a replacement card for free.
If you use Curve for big purchases you won’t be covered by Section 75 protection if anything goes wrong – in the same way as PayPal or Amazon are third party purchases, using Curve is not a direct purchase from your original card.
The bottom line is you won't be protected if any purchase you make over £100 turns out to be faulty or doesn't arrive. It's a vital piece of consumer protection and is a big drawback of the Curve card.
Another downside is that it’s not compatible with American Express cards, so if you have a lot of these the app won’t be much use to you.
With regards to reward schemes, Curve won’t let you accrue additional points often on offer for using cards linked to specific retailers.
For example, supermarket cards such as Tesco and Sainsbury's offer extra points if you use them in the supermarkets in question. Using Curve will mean you just get the standard rewards on these transactions, rather than a boosted return.
Being able to combine all your cards into one, and just having to remember one PIN number, is hugely convenient.
With the Curve Blue card being free to get, it could be worth giving it a go.
However, it's worth noting that Apple and Google Pay do a similar job and include Amercian Express cards, unlike Curve, although mobile payments aren't accepted everywhere.
We're also not convinced that Curve offers the best-value solution for foreign spending. Trying to remember whether you're under your withdrawal limit whilst on holiday is frustrating when there are fully fee-free debit and credit cards out there.
Therefore although Curve can save you time, there are better ways to save your money.
Be better off with loveMONEY:
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