This Guy Gave up on Banks — Until He Learned About This Online Account

A man uses an ATM to get money out of his Aspiration bank account.
Cole Sartell, 26, of Arlington, S.D. made the switch to Aspiration after getting tired of Wells Fargo's minimum balances and monthly debit card transactions, and the reports of fraudulent accounts. Matt Gade for The Penny Hoarder
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in February 2018.

Cole Sartell, 26, doesn’t have the fondest memories of his former bank.

“It was like balancing on a trapeze,” he describes.

Between the minimum balances and the required monthly debit card transactions, Sartell felt as though he were on a high wire each month, trying not to fall into a pit of fees.

He’d only switched to Wells Fargo’s checking account because that’s where his employer housed his 401(k) and health savings account. Sartell just wanted to make life easier — keeping his money in one spot and monitoring it from one simple app.

But when he left that job, he had no reason to stick with the big bank. Plus, he wasn’t thrilled with what he’d been seeing on the news — those reports of fraudulent accounts.

“It was ridiculous,” he says. “And seeing the excuses they were making up…”

For those reasons, Sartell canceled his checking account (not without some sass from a teller first) and moved his money to a local credit union in a nearby town of Brookings, South Dakota.

He was fine there — felt as though his money was secure and the institution valued him as a customer. He certainly didn’t miss the extra fees. He had plans to stay and avoid big banks forever.

One day, about a year after switching to his credit union, Sartell came across an ad for a little-known online-only account with Aspiration. Something about it made him reconsider his opinions on banking services.

Editor’s note 2/21/2019: Aspiration now offers a new and improved account with buckets for spending and for saving. You’ll earn 2.00% APY interest on your savings and 0.5% cash back on debit card purchases with the spending account. Some of the information below has been updated to reflect the details of this new account.

Why Aspiration Appealed to This Tired Bank Customer

holding debit card up in front of laptop computer
Sartell enjoys the fact that Aspiration donates 10% of every dollar it makes to charity. Matt Gade for The Penny Hoarder

Ironically, that ad Sartell spotted was from us, The Penny Hoarder.

But he says he wasn’t 100% sold just yet.

“I wasn’t going to just put my personal information in and sign up,” he says.

He bookmarked the page and returned later to dig in.

Here’s what he learned about the Aspiration account:

  • He only needed $10 to open an account, and there were no minimum balance requirements, meaning he didn’t have to worry about teetering on that trapeze.
  • Additionally, the company boasted no hidden fees — no monthly service fees and no minimum balances or no minimum deposits on the spending account. In fact, through its “Pay What Is Fair” model, he could choose what he wanted to pay per month for the service, even if that was $0.
  • Customers can actually earn money using the account — 2.00% APY on savings.
  • He could use any ATM in the world and could get reimbursed for any fees. Yes, even remote ATMs in the middle of South Dakota.

Sure, all of this was fine and dandy for Sartell, but what really sold him was Aspiration’s do-good attitude, which was something he’d never experienced with a bank.

For one, Aspiration commits to donating 10% of its earnings to charities.

“I mean, there are banks in town, and they’ll do those promotions where they donate $200 to cancer when you open an account,” Sartell says. “But what they’re doing seems more like a marketing ploy. Aspiration is more consistent.”

Second, it provides its customers with an AIM, or Aspiration Impact Measurement.

This allows him to monitor his spending and helps him shop at other businesses that are doing good. The “people” score grades companies on metrics such as employees’ pay, access to healthcare and workforce diversity. The “planet” score looks at companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy use.

“I know you can’t be perfect with every decision,” Sartell says. “But I want to feel good about where I’m putting my money.”

For all these reasons, Sartell was sold. He signed up by submitting his email address. He then received an email, and it took about five minutes to finish the process.

His only complaint? Sartell said he wasn’t thrilled he had to wait two days to get approved. He says he’s a very impatient person.

Six Months Later, Here’s Sartell’s Review of Aspiration

Sartell is satisfied with Aspiration, and he’s recommended it to friends and coworkers. Matt Gade for The Penny Hoarder

It’s been six months since Sartell opened his Aspiration account, and he’s happy with the decision he made.

First, he loves the app. It’s simple and clean.

Second, he loves that he can use any ATM in the world and get reimbursed for the fees.

When asked if he missed having a brick-and-mortar banking location, Sartell says, “I can’t tell you the last time I actually walked into my own bank. The only time I go in is if I can get a discounted movie ticket or to see if I can get a loan.”

So, no, he doesn’t really miss it.

In fact, Sartell has recommended Aspiration to friends and coworkers. When they sign up with his referral link, both parties get $25 to donate to a charity of their choice. He says his $25 will go to any charity that helps feed kids.

Sartell’s next step is to save a little more money. Once he feels comfortable, he plans to open an Aspiration Redwood Investment account, which would allow him to invest in causes he believes in. Plus, he could start with just $100.

For now, Sartell is more than happy with his account — the little ol’ one he first heard about on Facebook after he’d given up on banks. But he’s weighing his options for the future.

“I’m actually considering moving everything [to Aspiration],” Sartell says, referring to the money he still has with his local credit union.

If you can relate to Sartell all too well, learn more about Aspiration, and sign up through its secure platform here.

We may receive compensation from Aspiration for promoting the company, but we weren’t paid for this specific interview. All reporting is our own.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also banks with Aspiration, and as weird as it might sound, she totally bonded with Sartell over their mutual love for the bank.