SoFi, the financial institution known for low rates and low fees on student loans and mortgages, is making a foray into consumer cash management accounts. SoFi Money™ will offer a high-yield checking account with no account fees.
We looked at every aspect of SoFi’s new checking account offering to see how it stacks up to competitors.
What sets Money apart from the competition is that SoFi clearly wants this account to be a one-stop shop for both savings and checking. Basically, the SoFi Money account will offer an interest rate that’s much higher than the rate on most checking accounts. This means you can keep your savings in your checking account rather than a savings account. This sounds convenient, but it’s not always the best idea.
Some people may manage to save more money when they separate their money into a different account, even if the account doesn’t have a great interest rate. And you can certainly find savings accounts with higher yields than the 2.25% APY SoFi Money is offering.
We dug into the details that are available at this time to see who should consider replacing their current checking account with SoFi Money.
SoFi Money vs Ally and Simple
The SoFi Money account offers an excellent blend of low fees and high interest rates, but it won’t be perfect for everyone. We’re highlighting a few accounts that shine where the SoFi Money account is a bit weaker.
“The important thing about this account is that it’s not a checking or savings account,” said Ken Tumin, editor of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. “This appears to have more risk than a checking or savings account.” Why is it riskier? Instead of providing FDIC insurance directly, SoFi sweeps your deposits into one or more partner banks for the FDIC coverage. Your money isn’t FDIC-insured until the funds arrive at a partner bank, nor is it SIPC-insured when held with SoFi.
Banking with competitor Ally provides immediate and direct FDIC insurance for your banking deposits. “Its checking account rates may be a little lower than SoFi’s account for most balances, but they also offer savings and money market accounts which offer much higher interest rates. Savings and money market rates have risen much more than checking account rates since the Fed began raising interest rates.”
What’s exciting about the SoFi Money account
No account fees. This will be a huge benefit to people who tend to keep low balances or live paycheck to paycheck, as fee-free accounts are few and far between among traditional big banks these days. With SoFi Money, you won’t pay a monthly maintenance fee and you won’t have to worry about paying non-sufficient funds fee (NSF) or overdraft fees either. You’ll also get free checks, free automatic bill pay and free mobile funds transfers. Very few banks offer this level of “fee free,” and those that do often offer paltry interest rates.
High yield without complicated account requirements. Some high-yield checking accounts require account holders to maintain minimum balances, use their debit card a certain number of times or set up direct deposit. SoFi has no such requirements. The interest rate on the account is currently 2.25% APY, and it is a variable interest rate that is subject to change. In a rising rate environment, you could easily see that rate go up over time, as many other banks have been raising their rates in response to the rising federal funds rate.
Up to $1.5 million in FDIC insurance. One of the unique features of the SoFi Money account is in its design. Money kept in the SoFi Money account is actually “swept” into one of six program banks. All six banks give account holders up to $250,000 in FDIC insurance, so SoFi Money™ holders get up to $1.5 million in total FDIC insurance. While not many people will need that much insurance, it is a notable feature.
ATM fee reimbursement. SoFi doesn’t charge any ATM fees, but SoFi also isn’t part of an ATM network. That means other banks may charge you to make a withdrawal from your SoFi Money™ that bank’s ATM. To help soften that blow, SoFi says it will reimburse account holders for up to six ATM fees per month, even on international ATMs. After that, you have to pay for other bank’s ATM fees out of your own pocket. What’s interesting with this perk is that there’s no dollar amount tied to that reimbursement. They say they’ll reimburse you for six ATM fees, no matter what those fees add up to. In contrast, other banks may reimburse for ATM fees up to a set dollar limit, like $10 at Ally.
Membership with SoFi. Opening a SoFi Money account makes you a member of SoFi. SoFi isn’t an exclusive club, but it provides its members with unique services like career coaching, local networking events and an entrepreneurship accelerator. If you’re looking to grow in your career, spruce up your resume, network with local career-minded individuals or just put a face with your bank, SoFi provides events that can help you out.
Digital first banking. Most people will interact with their SoFi Money account through the digital app. The app will include mobile banking features such as bill pay, photo check deposit, and mobile cash transfers. Although SoFi promises a digital-first experience, it remains to be seen if they can deliver. SoFi had a rocky update to its current app at the end of 2017, but has resolved the issues. Hopefully, the addition of SoFi Money to the SoFi app goes smoothly.
No account minimums. You do not need to maintain any particular balance to avoid fees or to earn interest.
Free checks. Plenty of SoFi Money account holders will forgo physical checks altogether, but those that need them can request checks for free.
SoFi Money features that aren’t so great
There isn’t much not to like about SoFi Money™, to be honest. But there are a few areas where we think other banks do it better. Although, considering the few fees SoFi charges, plus the relatively high APY it offers, some of these shortcomings might be fine to overlook, depending on how you use your account.
Six free ATM uses per month: SoFi isn’t part of a network of ATMs, which means that account holders will get hit with other banks ATM fees every time they visit an ATM. SoFi will refund up to six ATM fees every month as long as the ATM has a Visa, Plus or NYCE logo. This is a decent benefit since SoFi will even refund fees from international ATMs.
However, some banks including Axos Bank (domestic ATMs only), Aspiration Bank, Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking® account and Fidelity® Cash Management Account offer unlimited refunds on other banks ATMs (plus have a network of ATMs).
1% foreign transaction fee: Like most checking accounts, SoFi charges a 1% foreign transaction fee whenever you use your debit card to make a purchase in a foreign currency. Although this is common, some banks waive this fee.
Accounts with better interest rates
Smaller banks that have “reward” checking accounts offer superior interest rates to the rates offered by SoFi. These banks limit their high interest rates to a subset of balances. They also require account holders to meet certain account usage requirements (such as debit card use minimums or direct deposits). Despite these requirements, these checking accounts may be superior savings vehicles.
For example, people with low checking account balances should consider an account at America’s Credit Union rather than SoFi. America’s Credit Union offers a 5.00% APY on balances up to $1,000. (After that, rates drop to 0.10% on balances between $1,000.01 and $15,000 and 0.25% on balances over $15,000.01). This account doesn’t have any monthly service fee, but it doesn’t offer any ATM refunds. Plus, earning the high interest rate requires you to meet several standards including 10 monthly uses of the debit card, at least $15,000 in loans or deposits with ACU, and at least $500 in direct deposits monthly.
Still, with a massive 5.00% APY on the first $1,000, many people can earn more interest by checking with America’s Credit Union. You can learn more about the details, requirements and limitations of America’s Credit Union here.
People with larger account balances (up to $20,000) may prefer holding their account at Consumers Credit Union. This account has no monthly service fees, unlimited ATM reimbursement and high-yield accounts. You’ll earn 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, 4.09% APY on balances up to $15,000 and 5.09% APY on balances up to $20,000.
Consumers Credit Union requires account holders to meet four requirements to earn interest. The requirements include making 12 point-of-sale debit purchases (without using a PIN number), having a direct deposit or bill pay, signing onto the online banking system once per month and signing up for eStatements. The requirements may be annoying, but the interest is shockingly high. Learn more about the account here.
Accounts that reimburse all ATM fees worldwide
One of the drawbacks to the SoFi Money account is the limit of six ATM fee reimbursements per month. If you’re a heavy ATM user (especially while abroad), it’s worth noting that some accounts offer unlimited ATM fee reimbursement even on international ATMs.
The Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account is probably the best example of this feature. Not only will you receive unlimited ATM reimbursements, you’ll also avoid paying any foreign transaction fees. However, this account has an APY of 0.40% compared with SoFi’s 2.25% APY.
Similarly, the Save & Spend Account at Aspiration Bank has unlimited reimbursement on ATMs worldwide. This account also offers a 2.00% APY on all balances. Aspiration also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or overdraft fees.
Accounts with no foreign transaction fees
The 1% foreign transaction fee on SoFi Money accounts isn’t an onerous fee, but some major banks waive this fee. Once again, the Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account waives all foreign transaction fees. It also offers unlimited reimbursements on ATM fees worldwide. This is likely the premier account for international travelers, but it offers a paltry 0.40% APY.
Capital One also waives all foreign transaction fees on its checking accounts. However, these accounts carry a number of other fees and a lower interest rate than the SoFi Money account. Plus, Capital One won’t reimburse ATM fees charged by other banks.
Final take on SoFi Money
SoFi Money is a cash management account that will make a lot of sense for a lot of people. It’s one of the simplest accounts, and it offers unique benefits. The blend of low fees and higher interest rates should appeal to plenty of people. It’s an account that beats out most checking accounts from large banks, and it beats out accounts from most smaller banks, too (especially on the low-fee front).
If SoFi manages to implement the account without messing up its app, this account will quickly become a favorite account among people seeking accounts that don’t charge unnecessary fees.
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