Not too long ago Google introduced a debit card that could be linked to their Google Wallet service. Essentially it is a physical card, very similar to the ubiquitous debit cards most bank account holders carry with them every day. The difference being that it draws upon your Google Wallet account instead of a traditional bank account. My initial thought was that it was a good way of expanding the utility of the Google Wallet service, but more or less a novelty.

And then it clicked. I’ve considered temporary and refillable debit cards before for various reasons such as security (minimize the potential loss on the card) and budgetting (keeping you on target by limiting resources from that source), but various refillable cards from banks often had undesirable qualities, including fees, less than customer-friendly policies and just being a hassle. So could a Google Wallet Debit Card fill this role instead?

To clarify, I’m talking about the plastic, physical card Google offers to its Google Wallet members for free; NOT the NFC functionality that is available to users of the Google Wallet App on many, suitably equipped smartphones.

First the questions and concerns:

  • Fees & Charges:  No setup or annual fees. No fee to transfer money to the card from bank accounts. No fees (to user) for purchases.  Transfering funds to/from the card to/from another debit/credit card carries a 2.9% per transaction fee (minimum $0.30). Google will not charge an ATM fee, although indepedant ATM operates may charge for ATM usage. Cash back at point-of-sale will not carry a fee.
  • Minimum Balances:  I could find no evidence that the card required a holder to maintain any minimum balance.  For my purposes this is ideal, since in a security situation, I want limited liability and the ability to “empty” the card remotely if lost or stolen.
  • Automatic Refill:  If you link a debit/credit card to your Google Wallet Account it will automatically draw funds as needed, so you may not wish to do this, if security/budgetting is your goal.
  • Refund & Dispute Policy:  Google Wallet’s refund and dispute appears to be similar to that of many bank’s debit cards. I’ve seen more customer-friendly ones, but it is certainly not the least by any measure (and somewhat better than PayPal’s).
  • Fraud & Security: Google Wallet’s fraud and security policy and practices appear to be similar to those of most banks.

Other Factors:

While bank account transfers are free, they are slower than debit/credit card transfers, taking up to three days.  Obviously, if you are only using your Google Wallet Debit Card as refillable budget/security measure, this shouldn’t be a huge factor, but if you need to load funds on to the card quickly, you’ll have to suck up the transfer fee for using a debit/credit card to load it, or just use your regular debit/credit card.

Does the Google Wallet debit card work outside the USA?

Not at the time of this article. Sorry, not the best solution for overseas travelers but not a show-stopper for my intended use.

Does the Google Wallet Debit Card automatically draw funds from a linked bank account (like PayPal does)?

Now this is the make/break item for me.  I do NOT want it to do this. I want to have to manually add funds to my Google Wallet card/account otherwise, it would defeat the purpose outlined above.

This actually took some digging to figure out, as the information in the Google Wallet FAQ was a bit unclear to me.  However, Google Wallet Support replied very quickly with this clarification:

“I understand that you are more concerned about putting a limit for purchases using your Google Wallet card, the advantage is that, since it works as similar to a prepaid card functions. If your Wallet Balance won’t cover a specific Wallet Card purchase, it will be declined.”

Perfect!

Ok, my Google Wallet Debit Card has been ordered. I’ll keep you updated as to how it works out.  If you are interested in getting your own, simply sign in to your account at wallet.google.com (or sign up for one for free, if you don’t already have an account) and click on the Google Wallet debit card banner at the top of your account information.

 

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