What are virtual cards and how do they work?

18 April 2023

Think of a virtual card as a debit card you can’t touch. “But why would I want one of those?” we hear you cry. Here’s the skinny.

When your entire life’s on your phone, having a physical card in your wallet can feel a bit extra. That’s if you even have an actual wallet at all. Virtual cards are the digital native’s answer to a 20th-century issue; the plastic problem.

What is a virtual card?

A virtual card is exactly like a physical debit card. Except it’s not physical… 

The easiest way to get your head around a virtual card is to imagine it as a card that lives in your phone. And is even safer than the retro one that’s in your wallet. 

We’ll get into exactly how they’re safer in a bit, but for now, it’s good to know virtual cards have their own:

  • Card number
  • CVV
  • Expiry date

And you don’t have to worry about memorising any of it, or your details falling into the wrong hands. Because all that info’s always on hand, secured in your banking app.

Virtual, digital and disposable cards – what’s the difference? 

Before we get into “how they work”, it’s good to know that there are three types of electronic card available right now; virtual, digital and disposable. And they each work in a slightly different way. Here’s the TL;DR on what you need to know. 

Virtual cards are debit cards that live in your phone. You can use them to pay online or make contactless payments in-store (by adding them to your phone’s wallet app). They have their own unique card details (like card number and expiration date), too. 

Digital cards are exact copies of your physical card that are stored in your phone. They use the same card details as the one that lives in your wallet. 

Disposable cards are single-use virtual cards. After you’ve used one to check out online, it gets “destroyed”. This means you can’t use that disposable card again. Ever. But you can generate a new, single-use disposable card.

Algbra Virtual Card

Where can I use a virtual card? 

Almost anywhere. You can use them to check out online (just like you would with a physical card) and in stores, too. You can even use them to spend in apps. 

To use them IRL, you have to add your virtual card to your phone’s wallet app, and turn on NFC (that’s tech talk. It means near-field communication). Then you just tap your phone to pay. 

Your phone will ask for your biometrics (or passcode) to make sure it’s really you paying. This helps to keep your money safe. It also means you can spend more than the £100 contactless limit – because your account provider knows that it’s definitely you checking out. 

How easy are virtual cards to use? 

Virtual cards are just as easy to use as physical debit cards. 

If you want to buy something online, all you have to do is fill in your virtual card’s details, like you would with a physical card. 

Checking out in person’s easy, too. Add your card to your phone’s wallet app and then tap to pay. There’s no rummaging through your bag, looking for your wallet any more.

 Virtual cards are quick, safe and environmentally friendly, too.

Algbra Virtual Card

Are virtual cards safe? 

Virtual cards are just as safe as regular debit cards. They might be even safer. Because they can’t be stolen or “skimmed” (this is a type of financial scam where fraudsters use a card reader to get ahold of your debit card information). And you can’t lose a virtual card, either. Because it lives in your money app. So you don’t have to worry about leaving it behind anywhere. 

Can I only use my virtual card one time? 

No. And yes. 

Some virtual cards are “disposable”. This means they can only be used once. Disposable cards are great for shopping through a website you haven’t used before, or if you want to sign up for a service without fully committing. 

But other virtual debit cards work in the same way as your physical ones. They have an expiration date and can be used until then. And when you reach that date, all you have to do is generate a new one.

Algbra Virtual Card

The benefits of virtual cards. 

Better for the environment. 

As they don’t require any physical materials to make, virtual cards are much more environmentally friendly than old-school debit cards. They don’t need any plastics, metals or other resources to produce, so straight away they make your money a bit more green. 

Ditch your wallet. 

Let’s be real – it’s a rare occasion when we leave the house without our phone these days. A wallet’s just an extra thing to carry and keep track of. If your debit card’s digital, you can leave your wallet at home and use your phone to pay for everything you need. 

Instantly block and unblock. 

Imagine someone, somehow has managed to get your virtual card details. With Algbra, you don’t have to worry. Because you can use the app to instantly freeze your card to stop them from using it. Without contacting us. (TBF, you can freeze your physical Algbra card too. Just sayin’.)

Instant activation. 

Can’t wait for the postman to deliver the hottest biodegradable card around? With a virtual card, that’s not an issue. You can start using your Algbra account instantly – and start earning cashback on your everyday spending. And offsetting your carbon footprint, too.

How do I get an Algbra virtual card? 

Algbra’s 100% biodegradable cards are hot property. But our virtual cards are even more eco-friendly. And they’re so easy to get started with. 

When you’re opening your Algbra account, you can choose whether you want a physical card or a virtual one that lives in your phone. You can get one later too. To order a virtual Algbra card: 

  1. From the home screen, tap Cards.
  2. Press the + button (that’s at the top-right of your screen).
  3. Select “Virtual card”.

It’s that easy to get an Algbra virtual card.

Algbra Virtual Card

Join the movement and get your virtual Algbra card today 

Ready to make your money a little greener? Then sign up to Algbra. Download the app to see and offset your spending’s carbon footprint. And earn up to 1.5% cashback on your everyday spending. Get started with a virtual card today.

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