Money at 30: Aspiration Zero Credit Card Overview
Last year, the environmentally-minded neobank Aspiration announced that it would be launching a credit card (which is issued by Beneficial State Bank). However, at the time, there weren’t a ton of details about what the card would offer. Luckily, more recently, the Aspiration Zero card has become more widely available, giving us a better look at how the product enables consumers to offset their carbon footprint while also earning rewards.
So how exactly does the Aspiration Zero card work and is it worth it? Let’s get an overview of the card’s details as well as my personal thoughts on the offering.
UPDATE (April 10, 2023): Aspiration has announced that it is discontinuing the Aspiration Zero card. All account will be closed by May 3rd, 2023. Below is my original article on the now-defunct offering:
What is the Aspiration Zero Card and How Does it Work?
Tree planting initiative
The “Zero” in Aspiration Zero’s name comes from the idea that, by using the card, consumers can reach carbon neutrality. To accomplish his goal, every time a customer uses their card to make a purchase, Aspiration will plant one tree. By their estimates, most consumers will be able to reach carbon neutrality with 60 trees planted per month. This is based on an estimated average carbon footprint of 14.95 metric tons per person per year and that grown trees can capture 48 pounds of CO2 annually. Of course, trees do take time to grow and mature, so your impact can take some time to catch up.
Currently, Aspiration works with three different tree-planting partners, with plans to add more in the future. The existing list includes The Arbor Day Foundation, The Eden Reforestation Projects, and the aptly named One Tree Planted. To date, through Aspiration’s various offerings, the company has planted nearly 50 million trees.
For more on Aspiration’s tree planting efforts as well as their metrics, you can check out their FAQ.
Turning to the financial elements of the Aspiration Zero card, one downside is that the card does carry an annual fee. Currently, that fee is $60 a year within your first billing cycle, recurring annually.
With the Aspiration Zero card, customers can earn up to 1% back. These rewards will then be redeemed automatically for statements or extra trees planted (at a cost of $1 per tree) at the end of each billing cycle. According to Aspiration’s FAQ, by default, redemptions will be set to 50% statement credits and 50% additional trees until cardholders adjust their preferences.
While it’s true that cardholders will earn “up to 1%” back, they will need to unlock that earning amount via one of two methods — both of which are tied to the idea of reaching carbon neutrality by planting 60 trees in a month. The first option is for customers to make 60 purchases on their card per month. Alternatively, customers who utilize Plant Your Change can achieve their 60 tree goal in as few as 30 transactions. With Plant Your Change, Aspiration will round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and put the “spare change” toward planting one tree. Note that Plant Your Change will be activated by default.
As an incentive for new cardholders to apply for the Aspiration Zero card, the company is currently offering a welcome bonus. At this time (February 2022), new cardholders who are approved for Zero can earn $300 back when they spend $3,000 on the card in their first three months. This statement credit will be applied to the next billing cycle after a cardholder reaches this minimum spend requirement. On that note, while not explicitly stated by Aspiration (at least not that I saw), typically the annual fee is not counted toward this minimum spend requirement.
My Thoughts on the Aspiration Zero Credit Card
Once again, reviewing an Aspiration offering can be difficult as it’s not a purely financial product. However, setting the mission aside for a moment, Aspiration Zero is far from an appealing rewards credit card. First, while 1% is typically a base for credit cards — with select spending categories earning higher rewards — the Zero card earns just 0.5% back by default, with the 1% not coming into play until cardholders make a whopping 60 purchases (or 30 if round up are enabled). That’s a pretty massive number just to end up with what most other cards would give you as a base. On top of that, there’s the $60 annual fee, which I feel would make it difficult for most to see much positive value from the card, outside of the welcome bonus.
Of course, that’s where the environmental benefits come in, as the Aspiration Zero card is undoubtedly an easy way for consumers to help plant trees and make an impact. Personally, however, I can’t help but feel as though most people would be better off maximizing rewards with other cards and earmarking some of their earnings to support organizations fighting climate change. On that note, you can actually connect any credit or debit card to Aspiration’s Plant Your Change feature, so that’s always an option. Still, if you like the simplicity of the Aspiration Zero card and believe in Aspiration’s tree planting plan, then you may ultimately decide that the financial downsides are worth it to you.