It all started with PayPal Key. For those unfamiliar with what PayPal Key was, you missed out. PayPal Key was a product offered by PayPal in which you were given a virtual debit card that you could use anywhere and it would charge to your PayPal account. The key to this was that you could choose any card on your PayPal account to route the charge to. It also would show up as a debit card to retailers so those that charge lower fees for debit purchases (such as rent payments) would allow you to use a credit card but at debit card fees. It would also properly pass the MCC information to your charged card to get rewards points correctly
To much disappointment, PayPal discontinued PayPal Key on April 20, 2022, most likely due to push back from the card issuers (think Amex, Visa MasterCard etc.) and because of the debit card aspect people took advantage of. But from its ashes rose two new players looking to fill a similar void: Curve and Percents
Curve vs Percents
Both offer services that have the same general functionality: use one card for all your purchase and route those purchases to other cards you link to Curve or Percents. Both have additional features baked on top of this but this is the rudimentary service they provide.
The key thing to both is that the MCC and merchant information is passed down to whatever card you choose. So if you make a purchase at a restaurant and charge to a card that has elevated rewards for restaurants, the down stream card correctly awards you for your restaurant purchase. This does not work for things like mobile wallet or PayPal cash back boosts however
Curve offers their card through Hatch Bank and is an actual credit card with it's own credit line. Hatch has an interesting feature where only 50% of their credit applications get a hard pull, meaning that when you apply it is a random 50/50 chance whether you get a hard inquiry on your credit report. All Curve cards get a $500 limit. The actual credit line is used as a backup if for some reason the card you chose declines.
At present, the card is not reporting to credit bureaus yet but that may change in the future. You can apply via a referral link to get instant access to the card or apply via their site. There are also limitations as to which state you can open in. For example, they do not allow you to open the card if you reside in Massachusetts
Percents does no hard pull, does not have a credit line and does not show on your credit report. I am not sure how exactly they get away with this as the card is technically a credit card but at present it has no impact on your credit report/score
To apply, you can either fill out the form on their site or use a referral link to get instant access
Winner: Percents. There is no impact to your credit report/score
Right off the bat it is important to note that Percents is currently iOS only, so us android folks are out of luck. I luckily have an iPhone as my work phone that I use, or you could even purchase an iPhone SE just for the app but that's a bit much IMO
The Curve app is clunky to say the least. They repurposed their EU app (which is the first market they entered) so some features in the app are there but do nothing (such as ATM withdrawal routing since it is a debit card in EU but a credit card in US).
The main view of the app is a carousel of all of the cards you have linked, similar to the Google Wallet carousel. I personally dislike this view as it is unintuitive when you have many cards added; swiping through all of them to find the one you want is annoying
The My Money section is the section I use the most. This shows all transactions you made on the Curve card and which card was used for each transaction
The Percents app is very clean and modern. It's main view is basically the same as the My Money view of Curve which is what I prefer. They also have a graph which shows your spend and cash back earned and have (what they think) your cash back on each transaction is.
The wallet view is similar to Apple Pay which is a nicer layout for lots of cards
Winner: Percents. Cleaner and more intuitive
This is the best feature of these cards IMO. Unlike PayPal Key where you would have to manually set what card will be charged for all transactions, these services that have smart routing which will route particular types of transactions to particular cards. This is very useful for rewards as certain cards are better for certain categories
Curve's Smart Rules
Curve relies on predetermined categories that they support for smart routing. These categories are not customizable and are not exhaustive. For example, gas does not fall under any of these categories. They also have a “general” categories but that is also not exhaustive. If a transaction does not fall under any of the Smart Rule categories, it will choose whatever card you have chosen as your default in app (denoted with a Curve logo on it in your wallet)
Curve also allows you to set a rule based on the amount a charge is. For example, I have all charges under $15 routing to a particular card. This is useful for cards that earn more on small purchases (like Citi's Rewards+ card) or to meet minimum transaction requirements for some debit cards
Percents tackles this in a different way. When you add a card, you are asked to specify which card it is. Percents has a database of most cards (more on this later) where they know what the card's reward structure is like. They use this to route your transactions. This is very hands off and “works like magic”
Unfortunately they do not support all cards yet. For example, my FNBO Ducks Unlimited card is not in their database. I am able to add the card, but Percents does not know what the rewards structure for that card is so Autopilot will not work and the cash back percent in app will not reflect properly. I can manually route the transaction to a different card (more on this later) but it is not hands off as they would like it to be. When adding a nonsupported card, it looks like the above generic card image
Winner: Toss up. I personally prefer Percents method of things but until they support all of my cards it is not a hands off solution for me. In addition, I like the routing based on amount that Curve offers. I hope to see something similar from Percents. Curve's categories are not good but work for most use cases, and again I can manually change it later if needed
Curve supports all debit cards (minus Amex) but only MasterCard and Discover credit cards. The card itself is a MasterCard
Percents supports all debit and credit cards (minus Amex). The card itself is a Visa card so it can be used at Costco
Changing Routed Transactions
When the automatic routing fails or you want to override what it chose, you can manually change the card that was charged. Both services handle this uniquely
Curve's Go Back In Time (GBiT)
Curve allows you to change the card that was charged (GBiT) once the charge as cleared and up to 30 days after the charge was made. You simply select Go Back in Time on the charge in app and reroute it to another card. Once caveat is you cannot reroute charges made to your Curve credit line or Curve Cash (more on this later). You also can only GBiT once per charge
Percents on the other hand only allows you to reroute the purchase while it is pending, which is usually for 24-48 hours. Once the charge has cleared, you can no longer change what card was chosen. During this pending period however, you can change the chosen card as many times as you want.
Winner: Curve. Although having to wait for the charge to clear is annoying, being able to change it up to 30 days is awesome.
If Percents told me the MCC that the charge used in app I would be alright with the current implementation. This is because for example my BofA Customized Cash is set to restaurants to earn 4.5%. However, some merchants have a weird MCC chosen such as “5499 – Miscellaneous Food Stores – Convenience Stores and Specialty Markets” which does not fall under restaurants. With Curve, I can see once the transaction posts to my BofA card if it earned 4.5% then route it after if needed. But with Percents, you can't see the rewards of a transaction until it posts so if it doesn't earn the 4.5%, you're stuck with that card
Curve offers a sign up bonus of 1% additional cash back in the form of Curve Cash. This is a pool of money you can elect to use for a purchase. The 1% promo is for your first 6 months of the card, but was just extended to 1 year for me for some reason. You can also elect to have Curve Cash in the form of crypto but miss me with that
Curve cash is a bit annoying to use as it needs to cover the whole purchases. You can always use an Amazon gift card reload to clear it out though
Since Percents knows what the rewards structure for your card is, they show in app what your cash back percent is. You can also message support to add custom features like the increased cash back for BofA's Preferred Rewards program. They also have a nice graph and tracking app that shows your your total spend or total cash back earnings over a period of time
Also, when a charge is declined when trying to charge one of your cards for some reason, Percents will cover the charge for you until you choose another card to pay with. This is much better than Curve's use of their credit line as you can still choose another card that will earn cash back
For me, both cards have had weird times where they decline my purchase for no real reason. By this I mean the actual Curve or Percents card is declined, not the down stream card the charge routes to. This has most often happened to me at gas station pumps when using the chip or tap to pay with the card. It has stopped for my Curve card but has started acting up with my Percents card
Percents is very early on and seems to have a small but reliable and active support team. Curve on the other hand has an almost useless support system. Many users have reported issues with paying their Curve Credit Line balance off and other issues and get little to no help from support
For larger purchases, if the charge is going to fall under a particular category that one of my cards earn elevated rewards on, I will use the actual card over Percents or Curve. 99% of the time the rewards track correctly but for a large purchase I don't want to risk it
Missed Rewards Tracking
Some cards (mostly debit cards with specific merchant cash back like Juno) don't reliably reward cash back for purchases made on their card through Curve and Percents. YMMV but I try to use the actual card over these services
Curve's Unsupported Merchants
Curve has some unsupported merchants where if you charge the purchase to the Curve card, it will automatically use your Curve line of credit. Lame
As someone who has 19 credit cards and multiple debit cards I use to maximize cash back, these products are must haves for me. I personally prefer Percents as the app is better, the routing is better (although it needs to add support for all my cards) and has a better decline feature, I use Curve because of the current sign up bonus. Once the additional 1% cash back ends I will be transitioning over to exclusively use Percents. Hopefully by then the features I would like to see are added
Winner: Curve until my added 1% cash back expires, then Percents