I Switched to an Online Bank Account. Here’s What I Love (And What I Don’t)
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I opened my first bank account when I was 15.
Actually, let’s be real here. My mom opened my first bank account for me.
I was embarking on my first adventure abroad, and a stash of emergency cash in your back pocket isn’t the safest. A bank account — tied to a debit card — seemed like a better idea.
Mom towed me along to our Bank of America branch. She requested to set up a card connected to her account so she could keep tabs on it. And in case I overdrafted, the money could siphon from her account, rather than looping me into a never-ending nightmare. (A bold move on her part…)
Anyhow, I was on my way to becoming a real adult.
Fast forward nine years, and I was still using that same debit card… the one connected to my mom’s account.
Since I went off to college, opening a new bank account always topped my to-do lists but never got done.
Now I was 24, out of graduate school with a full-time job. I didn’t need my mom peeking at my bank statements (though she said she never did) or issuing those “you have more money than me now” threats when it came to who bought dinner.
Yes. It was time for my own bank account.
Aspiration Bank Review: Why I Chose an Online Bank Account
I first heard about Aspiration when I started working at The Penny Hoarder. I’m not going to lie: It sounded like a career-planning app or something.
What I drew me to the account? Its interest rates. I could earn up to 1%, which was 100 times more than what Bank of America had done for me. At Aspiration, my money would work for me.
I also loved that it was fee-free. Heck, I could even pull money from an ATM in Italy, and it’d reimburse my fees. Plus, I only needed $10 to open an account.
It took me nearly a year to finally cut the cord (from my mom’s bank account) and to finally open an account with Aspiration.
So… did it live up to its hype?
What I Like About My Aspiration Checking Account
Yes! It wasn’t too good to be true. Let me outline for you a few of my favorite Aspiration perks.
What immediately intrigued me about Aspiration’s Summit Checking account was the interest I could earn. I’d never heard of a checking account that accumulated interest.
For balances less than $2,500, I’d earn 0.25% APY. For balances $2,500 and over, I’d earn 1% APY. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like much, but until this point my money has been sitting stagnant.
Be Reimbursed for ATM Fees
My second favorite feature was the fact that, no matter the bank, ATM fees are 100% refundable — both in the U.S. and abroad. And I wouldn’t have to manually request the reimbursement; Aspiration automatically issues the refund.
Face No Minimum Balance
My third favorite feature was I only needed $10 to open an account, and I needed $0 to maintain it.
Although I planned to use this as my primary checking account and hoped to the highest of highest powers I’d never see a balance of $0, I knew I’d be OK if it happened, that I wouldn’t get charged.
And if I overdrafted? There’s a $25 fee. However, Aspiration assures that electronic transactions (ATM withdrawals, debit card purchases or online transfers) will be declined if you cannot afford them. That way your balance should never go below zero unless you’ve written a check.
Play It Safe
I also appreciated that the account is FDIC-insured (always a plus), you can set up automatic payments and there’s no monthly fee — unless you want to pay a “tip” of sorts. In that case, you can pick what you pay.
For all those reasons, I was sold.
I signed up and downloaded the app, which was also easy to use.
The Not-So-Good Parts of the Summit Checking Account
Since signing up for Aspiration nearly seven months ago, it’s delivered on all the above promises.
However, I have run into a few hiccups I didn’t appreciate so much…
You Pay for Money Transfers
My first beef with Aspiration came when I attempted to pay my landlord a deposit and my first month of rent. She told me she’d prefer wire transfers directly to her Bank of America account. She isn’t a fan of old-school checks.
At first, I thought my solution would be the free electronic check Aspiration offers. However, it’s not really an electronic check. It’s just a check Aspiration fills out online, then physically sends to the recipient within five to seven business days. I didn’t have that kind of time, so I canceled the order.
I did, however, opt in to order a set of checks for free. Just in case this flustered mess happens again.
Next option? A wire transfer. My Summit checking account had been open for longer than 90 days, so I was eligible.
I filled out all kinds of information I had to hunt down. Then, I received an email from someone named Bill. Or Bryan. Or Ben. (I couldn’t dig up the email after a 30-minute search.)
Bill or Bryan or Ben told me he was going to call within the next few hours to confirm the transfer. He did. It felt weird, but I went with it.
It ended up working, but I was also charged a $25 fee — which Bill or Bryan or Ben had warned me about. I’d asked him how I could avoid that, and he suggested the electronic check. But, as I previously discovered, no one has time for that.
After the frustration subsided, I looked into other banks’ wire fees to compare.
The average domestic outgoing transfer costs $27, according to My Bank Tracker (Bank of America’s fee is $30), so Aspiration’s really wasn’t that bad. Maybe I was just feeling the initial sting of funneling that much money out of my account — and having to pay $25 to do so.
Plus, during that time, I’d so desperately wanted to talk face-to-face to someone to understand what I needed to do, what my options were.
I even impulsively drove to Bank of America and sat in the parking lot, wondering if someone inside would help me. My landlord has a Bank of America account, after all.
Thankfully, I found Aspiration’s customer service — via phone and chat — to be fine and dandy and that I never had to hold too long.
Depositing Cash Isn’t Always a Breeze
Occasionally, I’ll pet sit or house sit or run an errand for a neighbor or elderly loved one. And it never fails: They pay me in cash.
I like to deposit the cash into my checking account so it doesn’t tempt me. However, there aren’t any Aspiration-affiliated ATM locations in my area that’ll allow me to deposit cash.
It is, easy, however, to find those locations with the ATM locator. Filter by “Shared Deposit ATM.”
It’s Not Super Well-Known (Yet)
OK, OK. So now that I’ve dwelled on my first frustration for far too long — which, turns out, is kind of normal — here’s the second: Not all budgeting apps acknowledge Aspiration yet, which could make your favorite app ineffective when you use Aspiration as your main money holder.
I have found, though, that sometimes you just have to search for Radius Bank, Aspiration’s partner bank.
It Doesn’t Have a Savings Account
Other cons? Aspiration doesn’t have a concurrent savings account, so I opened one with another bank, which is just another account to keep tabs on.
Aspiration Bank Review: My Final Verdict
Honestly, I thought there’d be more downsides to Aspiration, mostly because my dad thought the idea was totally ludicrous. He rattled off all the times you’d want to walk into a brick-and-mortar bank. However, you can handle all those tasks online, usually from the comfort of your home.
(Plus, my dad still writes checks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s very… traditional.)
In the end, I caved and opened another Bank of America account. Why? Because I’m a pushover, and it suited my landlord. And because I could electronically schedule my rent out to her each month — free of fees.
However, I’m still hanging onto Aspiration as my primary checking account. Plus, a nice little bonus? I’ve earned more than $40 in interest.
If you’re interested in learning more about Aspiration, explore its site. The layout is straightforward and transparent, so you won’t need to do a lot of squinting at fine print.
We may receive compensation from Aspiration for promoting the company, but we weren't paid for this specific review. All reporting is our own.
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Feel free to reach out to share your own experiences with Aspiration!