About Greenlight

By J.R. Duren
HighYa Staff
Published on: Oct 29, 2017

Greenlight is a family-focused app that deposits money on a Greenlight debit card kids can use at stores which parents choose.

The app, in that sense, is really unique compared to some of the other kid-focused apps that we’ve reviewed.

As we researched this app, we had the chance to speak with Tim Sheehan, Greenlight’s founder.

“One thing my wife and I were encountering is that we weren’t carrying cash that often because we frequently paid with debit cards and credit cards,” Sheehan told us. “We were in situations where kids needed money for school trips or traveling sports teams and going to movies with friends.”

Sheehan said those experiences led him to consider coming up with a solution for the cash problem.

“We wanted to give our kids money, but we weren’t carrying cash to do that,” Sheehan said. “My mind started thinking about the problem given my background in tech and financial services. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to solve this.’”

Greenlight was the answer for Sheehan, who spent nearly five years combined at Yahoo! Finance and E*Trade in the time leading up to founding Greenlight in 2014.

As part of his research, he talked with more than 2,000 parents to get a sense of their pain points. The results confirmed what he thought. Parents could use an easier way to give kids money to go out and do stuff.

So, does Greenlight really accomplish that goal? That’s the question that we want to answer with this review. To do that, we’re going to do a quick review of how Greenlight works, how much it costs and what actual users are saying about it.

Along the way, we’ll include some more quotes and insight from Greenlight’s founder.

How Greenlight Works

As we mentioned earlier, Greenlight uses a combination of a mobile app and a pre-paid debit card to help parents give kids spending money.

Here’s a basic description of how that works. So, you sign up for the Greenlight app (it doesn’t take long) and you connect a bank account to your Greenlight account. That bank account is what you’ll use to add money to your child’s card.

Now, how you add the money to the card isn’t that glamorous, but it’s the limitations you put on the card that make it unique.

Choosing the Stores Where Your Child Can Use Their Card

You can choose at which stores the cardholder can use the card. So, let’s say your kid comes in and says they need $30 to buy some school stuff from Target. You can go into your Greenlight account and add $30 to the debit card with the rule that it can only be used at Target. In doing so, you are “greenlighting” Target.

This choose-the-store function harnesses existing debit transaction technology to put limitations on the Greenlight debit card.

“Basically, the way it works is that we are integrated into the authorization stream which means any time a Greenlight card is swiped it would go through MasterCard and then go to our processor and our processor will send it to Greenlight server,” Sheehan said.

At that point, Greenlight’s servers look at the limitations you’ve placed on the account. If you’ve added Target as a permitted store, the transaction will go through. If you haven’t added the store in question, the transaction will be declined. Simple as that.

Because the card’s permission system works via credit card/debit card networks, any store that accepts MasterCard can be added or dropped from your child’s debit card.

Whenever your child uses the debit card to make a purchase – or at least try to make a purchase – you’ll get a notification about the activity.

Should they need more money than what they’ve got, they can send you a request to get extra funds. You approve or deny the request, ensuring that only money you approve is added to the card

Where Does the Money Go When You Deposit It?

Greenlight is one of several apps that allow parents to give kids money via in-app spending categories/locations.

That money doesn’t physically reside in the app, though. The dollar amounts you see represent money held in an FDIC-insured bank via an account known as an FBO, or “for benefit of”. Basically, these accounts contain deposits that are designated with your information and not Greenlight’s.

The bank with which the company works is Community Federal Savings Bank; it’s based in New York.

How Greenlight’s Security Works

In the event that the Greenlight debit card is lost, you can lock the card instantly via the app.

But even if someone steals your Greenlight debit card, it would be difficult for them to use it because:

  • There has to be money on the card
  • The thief has to know which stores are permitted
  • Any use of the card will send a notification

The likelihood of these three scenarios coming together is pretty low. But, if the stars align and the card does go missing, you can lock the card quickly.

In addition to these circumstantial advantages, Greenlight allows you to block certain types of businesses, including the following, according to the app’s website:

  • Wire transfers
  • Money orders
  • Escort services
  • Massage parlors
  • Lotteries
  • Gambling
  • Horse racing
  • Dog racing

Greenlight’s Fees

The cost to have a Greenlight account is $4.99 per month. That fee covers up to five Greenlight debit cards. If you aren’t sure about the app and just want to do a test run, you can try Greenlight for free for 30 days.

Current Greenlight Debit Card Reviews

At the time of publishing, Greenlight had between 10,000 and 50,000 downloads in the Google Play store and had received 180 reviews.

Of those 180 reviews, there were 104 5-star ratings and 30 1-star ratings. About two out of every three reviews were either 5 or 4 stars.

Most of the recent reviews about the app, however, have been negative and focused on glitches in the app. Some people are having a hard time logging into the app – they just can’t flat out sign in after getting a new phone.

There were numerous other issues listed by reviews in the months leading up to this review, too.

The Bottom Line on the Greenlight Debit Card

We think this app’s strength is that it offers something that’s relatively unique on the market today.

BusyKid gives you a way to set up chores and pay your kids for them when the chores are done. Stockpile gives you an avenue to allow your kids to invest in stocks.

But Greenlight stands apart from those because your child gets a debit card and you regulate where it can be spent. That’s a great feature for parents who don’t usually carry cash.

Now, the downside to the Greenlight app is one of functionality. Many of the most recent reviews of the app say it’s got some frustrating glitches.

Keep in mind that these negative reviews aren’t a guarantee that you’ll have negative experiences. While we know that the users downloaded the Android version of the app, it’s impossible to tell what kind of smartphone they had and which version of the Android operating system they have.

Either way though, the streak of negative reviews should be a reminder that you could have problems down the road.


Read 43 Greenlight Customer Reviews and Complaints

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Average Customer Rating: 3.0
Rating Snapshot:
5 star: 20 4 star: 1 3 star: 1 2 star: 0 1 star:  21
Bottom Line: 47% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 43
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  • 7 out 7 people found this review helpful

    Great product for tweens

    My 12-year-old daughter has had this card for about a month, and so far we are thrilled! Children under 13 can’t get a standard debit card from our bank, but this card allows us to auto deposit her allowance and tracks her spending and money through the online app. It completely meets our needs and is helping teach our daughter about managing her finances.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Would recommend

    I enjoyed this service, and my kid does too. Thanks for providing it to your customers! An awesome way to teach your child responsibly, especially in the digital age. I would recommend to any parent out there.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Great way to teach teens about credit card responsibility!

    I remember being a teen and finding myself frustrated at my inability to manage my own money. With only an ATM card and a couple of places to use it freely it felt like my money was always trapped. These days there are places that straight up don’t take cash for a multitude of reasons, electronic payments are more and more common and convenient and teens shouldn’t have to wait until they’re of legal age to practice using and maintaining debit cards. My niece and nephew are already excited to have more than gift cards in their wallets!

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Amazing solution for your kids!

    Anyone with kids and trying to teach them both how to be responsible and financial knowledge MUST get this! Not only do every parent I know get this after hearing about it, they all rave.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Great tool - got us out of several jams

    • Atlanta, GA,
    • May 7, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    We were never comfortable just handing out cash to our kids, and giving them a credit card when they were young seemed very inappropriate and inconsistent with the kind of parents we want to be. Greenlight's control gives the kids the ability to spend without cash and gives us the oversight that we want.

    On three occasions, we had a child stuck without cash and Greenlight saved the day. Transferring funds for specific purposes was simple and instant. We recommend this service without hesitation.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • My child loves Greenlight

    Greenlight debit card has become part of my family's daily lifestyle. As a family, we set a monthly budget for clothes, candy, Amazon "doo-dads" and "kids stuff" all to fit in one bottom line number per month. The Greenlight card has helped our daughter become fiscally responsible and saves my wife and I a ton of angst each week trying to remember to have cash on hand! Keep up the improvements because we will have this card for many years to come!

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Love my Greenlight

    Greenlight is great. Not only do I use it with my kids to help them with their money but I have also replaced my 80-year-old mother's debit card with the Greenlight card. This way I can be assured of where she is using it and can have peace of mind that no one one will steal it or her number from her. In addition, when she loses her Greenlight card (like she has already), with a simple click on my phone, I know that it is turned off.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Parent user

    We have Greenlight cards for both of our kids. It's an incredibly convenient way to help them manage their money, for us to know how and where they are spending, and to make sure they always have funds for essentials when we're not with them.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • My kids love it

    • Atlanta, GA,
    • May 7, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I have a 15 and 11-year-old. We use the allowance feature for our oldest, and our youngest is getting the hang of paying for things here and there. The best experience recently was our son using Greenlight on his school trip - what a relief to have an instant way to get him money in a pinch. Plus we knew he was alive via spending alerts.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 1 out 1 people found this review helpful

    Lifesaver for parents of teens

    We started using Greenlight for our 16-year-old because it was an easy way to transfer money and keep track of her spending. We liked it so much that we also got one for our 14-year-old.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • Great tool, kids love it.

    • Alpharetta, GA,
    • May 7, 2018
    • Verified Reviewer

    I have been using Greenlight for about six months now and it has been a great experience. It really does help me manage and teach my kids how to properly use money, and of course, my kids love having a debit card to use. I only had to call customer service for a security freeze once, and the service was great and it was fixed promptly.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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