Most credit card reviews on travel blogs are about the reward points you can earn or the elite membership benefits you might get. One concern rarely addressed is the safety of your financial information when traveling in countries with lots of credit/ATM card fraud. I have previously recommended the prepaid American Express Bluebird debit card for those high risk transactions and today, I’m looking at the Simple Visa card – let’s see how it stacks up!
Why you should have a prepaid debit card: When you travel to places you are not familiar with or to countries with high rates of credit card or ATM fraud, you should protect yourself and your financial information. And the easiest way to achieve peace of mind is to use a prepaid debit card in high risk situations. You can load it with $300-500 (or whatever you are comfortable with) and be sure to never lose more than that. Fraudsters won’t be able to get to your main bank account or critical financial information – and you don’t have to fight with your bank to get money back!
Features: SImple is a new financial company that is targeting young people by offering a bank account and Visa debit card managed completely on your mobile phone. You can easily manage your budget and see what is “safe to spend” based on your budget. You can pay bills, get cash with your Visa card and pay wherever Visa is accepted. You can also send money from your phone to friends, easy and convenient. It works with iPhone and Android. Simple is currently available to US citizens over the age of 18.
Similar to Bluebird’s “set aside accounts”, Simple lets you define “Goals” that protect some of your money from using it. For example, you can have a “Travel Goal” of 1,000 for your trip and reduce that goal by $100 each day to pay for expenses, while only having $100 “at risk” – a great way to manage your budget and your risk!
Fees: What makes Simple interesting for travelers is that there are few fees and many security features: Simple claims to not charge any fees – and they don’t charge monthly maintenance, overdraft or many other bank fees. Simple doesn’t charge ATM fees either, but does not reimburse for fees other banks charge at their ATMs. They DO charge a 1% fee for foreign transactions, a problem for anybody using it to travel, while AmEx Bluebird does not charge an FX fee. But despite that, Simple is still cheaper than most pre-paid cards.
Safety: Simple also offers a number of safety features few other cards offer: The app shows you the transaction immediately, so you can check the amount while you are still at a restaurant or shop! Unfortunately, this is made harder by only showing USD, but not the local currency! You can block your card or reset the PIN from your mobile app. If you lose your card or you suspect that it has been compromised, for example at an ATM or merchant, you can immediately secure your account. Should it turn out to be not a problem, you can reactivate it just as easily! You can also give a travel notice in the app, identifying the countries and dates you will be using your card abroad, making it much easier than having to call customer service to do the same thing!
That focus on safety can get into the way of traveling though: The card will not work in countries that have very high rates of fraud – the very countries you’d want to use a prepaid card. They also block app access in some countries the card can be used – very inconsistent, as it is safe enough to use the card, but not safe enough to use the app?
Bottomline: Simple offers an easy way to manage your money, charges low fees and has great safety features to give you peace of mind! Since AmEx Bluebird stopped allowing foreign ATM usage, I needed a new prepaid card and Simple Visa it is! Despite the country restriction and the foreign exchange fee of 1%, this is still the cheapest pre-paid card I could find, it’s widely accepted and the app makes it very easy to use.
Update: The digital ink is barely dry and there is a big change at Simple. They are changing the bank handling accounts for them, requiring all current members to receive new accounts and cards, a big change! Current customers are giving a “take it or leave it” choice to move their accounts within 30 days or will have their accounts closed. That’s not only poor customer service, but also a very short time frame to change key financial information.
If you are considering to get a Simple card, I’d recommend to hold off till April 2017 to let the dust settle over this. You don’t want to set up a new account, just to have everything change shortly after! I have removed the link for sign-up and will review the post again later this year!