Picking the right card can help you maximize rewards, speed up transactions
Personal Finance Writer
Exploring the cultural impact of credit cards
Award-winning videographer, editor, and commercial producer.
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“Default card” is the new “top-of-wallet card.”
With the rise of online shopping and mobile payments, consumers are now faced with this question: “Which card should I pick as my default card?”
If you have only one or two cards or don’t care much about the cash back or rewards points you might earn on each transaction, the decision on which card to park in the default slot might be easy.
But when you want to optimize your return on a fistful of rewards/cash back credit ards, to unseat and reseat your default card with some merchants can not only be tough on the thumbs, but costly on your wallet.
Default payments account for roughly 84 percent of all digital transactions, according to a 2016 study on the evolution of default cards by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services.
Here’s what you need to know to pick the right default card. Want to know how to set up your favorite mobile wallet and select the default card on Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay? Watch the video at the top of the article!
What exactly is a default card?
Here’s how Jason Tinurelli, senior vice president of digital for U.S. Bank, describes it: “All mobile wallets have a default card which acts as your top-of-wallet card. When you go to pay with your device, the default card is the card that is automatically selected unless you change it, either at the point of sale or before.”
Digital wallets such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay allow you to add more than one form of payment, including credit and debit cards, but in most cases you have to select one of them as the “default.” Unless you choose a different card at the register, your digital wallet will use your default card to make a payment – or the most recently used or added card, in the case of Samsung Pay.
The number of online and mobile services where you may be able, or even asked, to set up a default payment is growing, ranging from PayPal and Amazon to food and drink apps such as Starbucks, to airline rewards apps such as United Airlines’s MileagePlus X.
During the development of mobile payments, consumers considered default cards a perk. “A digital top-of-wallet card makes it so the customer can make a purchase ‘tap and go,’” Tinurelli explains. “It removes the additional friction of having to select a card to make a purchase.”
However, with the explosion of rewards cards, cash back cards, gift cards and coupon apps, picking one card as your default payment can be cumbersome, especially if the app or service you’re using won’t let you switch from the default card to a different form of payment easily.
“It really depends on the back-end platform that the merchant has, and if they have that capability,” says Roger Brooks, senior vice president of Florida-based ZipLine Payments, a private-label mobile payments provider. “It can get cumbersome, because some merchants may have a very robust back end and others may have a very simple back end that would not allow for multiple default cards.”
Fear of fraud has also soured consumers on parking a default card with some merchants. According to the Deloitte study, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of participants had recently removed their default card from a web service or merchant for fear that their card data was not being stored securely.
Default card setting made easy
Advancements in mobile payment processes and apps such as Chase Pay, Apple Pay, Masterpass, Samsung Pay and Visa Checkout are quickly erasing consumer frustration with the default card by making it mobile with the twitch of a thumb.
Still, it pays to be cognizant of how your digital wallet works.
“The last card used typically is the one a new purchase will be charged to, and with recurring payments, cardholders still designate one card as the default,” says Brigette White-McFarland, vice president of product management for Mastercard, which offers a digital wallet called Masterpass.
How to pick the right default credit card
How can you use the new mobility of your on-file card to maximize your return on a fistful of card options, each with its own seductive pick-me pitch? Here are a few techniques:
- Study your reward cards.
- Learn the terms of the reward cards in your wallet, especially spending thresholds and frequencies, purchase types and reward expiration dates. These and a handy calculator will help you determine which card to use for which purchases where.
- Do you have a new rewards card that requires you to meet a minimum spend to receive a sign-up bonus? Set that card as your default payment form in your digital wallet and websites where you shop frequently. “Increased frequency of purchases, and in some cases ticket size, could earn more rewards from merchant loyalty programs and card issuers,” says Masterpass’s Brigette White-McFarland.
- Designate on-file cards for various purchase types.
- Digital wallets are currently accepted by 36 percent of merchants in the U.S. Chances are you might be able to pay with a digital wallet only in a few places.
- If most supermarkets in your area now accept digital wallet payments and you have a card that gives you cash back on groceries, consider picking that card as your default.
- If, by contrast, you have a card that gives you extra cash back on dining, make sure that is your default form of payment on apps such as Starbucks, UberEats or Grubhub.
- If you have a card that gives you 5 percent cash back on Amazon purchases, make sure to set that card as your default option on your 1-Click settings, if you use that payment service.
- Unsure about your card pick? There’s an app for that.
- Like a financial Fitbit, mobile wallets such as CreditCards.com’s Wallet app help harvest your card rewards by showing you which card to use where for maximum return.
- “If you use cards for specific reasons, you will need to keep that in mind when paying with a mobile wallet,” Tinurelli cautions. “Each wallet acts differently to change your card temporarily or by default, so you will need to familiarize yourself with your wallet’s functionality beforehand.”
- Rack up digital wallet-only rewards
- Merchants, card issuers and payment systems are all adjusting to the new reality of mobile on-file cards, often developing new consumer incentives and rewards.
- Issuers offering bonus rewards for mobile payments now include U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and Chase.
- Discover recently launched the ability to redeem cash back rewards on Apple Pay.
- Samsung Pay launched its own Samsung Rewards program in November 2016, which works similarly to airline loyalty programs. The more you use it, the more rewards to can rack up. You can then redeem points for gift cards or merchandise.
Coming up: New opportunities to score mobile-wallet rewards
Brooks says new ways to e-pay, and thus reap rewards, will debut over the next two years, including drive-thru apps that transact payment with your vehicle’s dashboard and voice and facial recognition that will remember and reorder your last purchase with the nudge of an emoji.
“This world of convenience, rewards and top-of-wallet status is all converging right now, especially payments and loyalty,” he says. “There’s just a tremendous convergence happening there.
See related: 3 mobile payment security risks, and how to avoid them, Will ‘pay pain’-free mobile wallets make us poor?
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