Life is always easier with more money to spend, especially when you don’t have much to begin with. The MBNA Smart Cash line of credit cards is perfect for those with little money to spare and a strict budget to adhere to. This tailored approach does come at the cost of appealing to more affluent individuals, but as you’ll see in this review, the trade-off is worth it.
Taking a Closer Look at the Cards
One fundamental piece of information about the MBNA Smart Cash card line is that it includes two varieties of card: the Platinum Plus Mastercard and the World Mastercard. The Platinum Plus Mastercard is the free version in this line and allows you to earn some respectable amounts of rewards. Charging expenses to it will net you 2% cash back on gas and groceries, plus 0.5% on all other things you buy. That’s a pretty standard breakdown, but what’s unusual about it is that uses spending thresholds in addition to bonuses. There is a $500 monthly spending limit that applies to the bonus categories, meaning that if you purchase more than $500 in things that would usually get the 2% rate in one month, the remainder will only earn you cash back at the base rate. This might sound punishing to the cardholder, but it actually favours the kind of lower spending that most people are likely to do. Almost everyone needs to make regular purchases at the gas station and grocery store, so almost everyone will also get to benefit from the bonus rate. Because it’s tied to the first dollars you spend and not just the ones after you surpass a certain amount spent in a month, too, no one will be immediately cut off. You will only lose out slightly if your typical budget allots more than $500 monthly for these things. That’s not unheard of, especially for people who have families and other people to provide for. However, there are many people for whom that figure is almost exactly what their budgeted amount is anyway. For those people (and we cannot overstate that there are a lot of them), the cut-offs won’t matter in the slightest.
The World Mastercard, on the other hand, is a slightly more premium card that gets its users a little more value and utility in exchange for a modest annual fee. While perhaps not as elaborate or appealing as the World Elite or Visa Infinite cards that are common from many other providers, this one does allow for an appealing upgrade to the reward rates that you would have been getting if you had stuck with the basic version. Instead of getting just 0.5% cash back for every purchase that doesn’t qualify for the bonus rate, you’ll get 1% back. You’ll earn a little more for the same amount of spending, and even if that increase isn’t likely to add up to much without having you kick up your spending much more than that, the boost is never unwelcome.
You’ll also receive a small amount of auto rental insurance when you get the World card, perfect for keeping yourself financially safe when you’re away from home and still need the use of a vehicle. With that insurance in your back pocket, you can rest assured that at least you won’t have any trouble with being sued if you happen to experience a collision while out or you damage the rental car somehow. Remember, though, that the amount that this policy covers isn’t unlimited, and that if you get into a bigger accident, it’s fairly likely that you will end up owing more than what the policy will pay. In those cases, you will still have bills that you will be responsible for paying. This isn’t a likely scenario, of course, but it should serve as some motivation to drive carefully so that your chances of a major wreck are as low as possible.
Which Card Should You Go With?
Now that you know that there are two possible cards you could go for in the MBNA Smart Cash lineup, you’re probably thinking about which one you would be better off choosing to apply for if you got the chance. That’s a more complicated answer here than it would be with most card lines. While different cards with the same reward scheme from the same provider tend to be made very differently from each other so as to appeal to a wider crowd of people, these two are extremely similar to each other and vary less drastically than you would expect. If you really want to get rental car insurance out of this deal, you should obviously go for the World version. However, if that isn’t a big concern with you, the answer to this query comes down more to budget than anything else.
To show you what we mean, let’s take a common mid-level budget and break it down with each of these cards’ rates applied to the spending. Our hypothetical person spends $200 on gas, $400 on groceries and $400 on other miscellaneous purchases every month. That’s $600 in bonus-qualified spending each month, which puts them over the $500 monthly threshold for the 2% rate. Holders of either card will therefore receive $10 a month from that spending alone. The other $600 is where things differ. At the MBNA Smart Cash Platinum Plus rate, that spending gets you another $3; at the MBNA Smart Cash World rate, that becomes $6 instead, for a difference of $3 each time. Over the course of a year, that’s $36 extra for upgrading the card. Remember, however, that the upgrade itself comes with an annual fee of $39, effectively wiping out all the bonuses and even costing you $3 extra. What this means is that if you’re interested in the higher-level card purely for its rewards, you’ll need to be spending a little more than $600 a month in non-bonus purchases in order to at least break even. The more you spend from that point forward, the better off you’ll be.
Why No High-Tier Option?
While it’s possible that MBNA Canada has examined the possibility of providing such a product to the Canadian market, there is no evidence to suggest that they have done so. The one thing that most points to this being something that they may look at adding to their lineup in the future is that both their rewards cards and their travel cards have World Elite versions that offer much better reward rates and benefits than their lower-range counterparts. Usually a provider will make their rewards, travel and cash back card lines fairly similar to each other apart from their different primary focuses, so this lack of a market option that the other two have stands out as being unusual in the MBNA Smart Cash lineup. However, it is distinctly less odd than it would have been if the missing card had been from the travel line instead, since that is usually the main focus of every provider and tends to be what they use to draw in elite customers.
You could argue that this is because getting extra cash in relatively small amounts (as you would from even lavish credit card spending through a reward program) is not nearly as exciting for people who already have money as it is for people who sometimes find themselves feeling a pinch in their daily financial lives. To some people, an extra $30 a month is extremely exciting and a great excuse to go treat themselves and relieve some of the stress they constantly carry around with them; for others, it’s a drop in the bucket and can’t get them anything of appreciable value because they are used to making purchases of that size without a second thought. This is especially the case for cards like this that give bonus rewards to you when you buy basics like groceries and gas, as this will inevitably be a much bigger part of a poorer person’s budget than it would be for a richer person. This is doubly the case when those bonus rewards are capped off at a certain level of monthly spending, suggesting that users are only meant to reach a low spending threshold when they use the cards. When someone of greater means can easily surpass those limits, the bonus means nothing to them.
In this way, the entire premise of the MBNA Smart Cash credit card line is in conflict with the idea of an elite card being a part of it. These are cards meant to please the majority of people, the ones who do not have that much money to spare and who are always happy to get a little more of it, no matter how small the amount may be. Even if they were to introduce a high-tier option, it would not be well-suited to the ethos of the line. That makes it much less surprising that such a thing doesn’t exist.
Are There Better Options Than Cards From MBNA Canada?
It should be clear from the discussion just above that if you were hoping to get a card meant for exclusive elite-tier customers only, you won’t get it here. That’s not something you can reasonably expect to change anytime soon. Therefore, if you’re the type of customer who would usually choose that type of product, you’ll obviously not want to stick to what’s on offer here when looking for your new card. As good as these two options are for people with lower incomes, more mediocre credit, or an aversion to extra fees, they simply don’t compare to the things you will be able to get from high-level cards at other establishments. You deserve to be rewarded commensurately for more significant levels of spending, so if you do in fact spend several thousands of dollars on your card each month, you should definitely take another look around to see what else is out there.
Aside from that caveat, though, the only real reason to look to other cards beyond these ones is if you know your spending habits skew differently than what the card rewards. We’ve talked about how for most people, it should be almost a perfect match – however, that doesn’t mean that exceptions don’t exist or shouldn’t be accommodated. Even if you have a lower income, you might regularly take public transit and survive mainly off of fast food, both things which would make you ineligible for the bonus rates on these cards for most of your spending. There are cards out there that would give you the extra cash for those types of purchases, though, even if they tend to be ones that a person with a low income might have trouble qualifying for. Regardless of that potential roadblock, you owe it to yourself to investigate the possibility of a card that fits your lifestyle rather than trying to make your lifestyle conform to what a credit card gives bonuses for. Providers always strive to fill every possible niche in the market, so you might be surprised at what you can find.
Making the Decision to Choose an MBNA Smart Cash Card
Just because a credit card is good doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, and that’s certainly the case with the MBNA Smart Cash credit cards. They shouldn’t be your first go-to option without any reflection, but they could easily end up being the best prospects you have under certain conditions. The Smart Cash Platinum Plus Mastercard and the Smart Cash World Mastercard are both great options for people with certain types of budgets and desires. If you spend mostly on necessities and don’t mind forgoing the chance to score some extra insurance or fun perks, either of them should satisfy you plenty. This line of credit cards goes out of its way to be accessible and useful to the general public, after all, making it a great prospect for those who aren’t too picky.