Simple Bank Review - Living Up to Its Name
If you’re looking for a bank account that combines checking with budgeting–and the ability to save money–Simple may be the service for you.
- Learning to budget
- Encourages saving
- Free app
Founded in 2009, and based in Portland, Oregon, Simple is a banking app designed to help you reach your financial goals. They offer only a single account–a checking account– that can be opened with no minimum investment. From there, you can set up an automatic savings transfer plan with as little as $1 per transfer.
The Simple plan revolves around the creation of a goals-based checking account. If you’ve been unable to save money in the past, Simple will enable you to create savings goals that are a part of your regular budget. You’ll have expenses to pay–which are also established as goals–but you’ll also have your savings goals. You’ll pay both every month, enabling you to build up your desired savings goal as you go along.
Simple also offers a spending and budget tracking tool, enabling you to find places in your budget where you may be able to save money. It’s something of a micro-savings app, similar to Acorns and Digit, but attached to an actual bank account.
That bank account not held by Simple, but in an account at BBVA Compass Bank, which is their partner bank. In that way, BBVA Compass is the actual bank, while Simple is the banking app. In fact, Simple itself has no bank branches whatsoever.
Simple helps you allocate money for specific financial goals. For example, you can use it to pay down debt, create an emergency fund, or save money for a major purchase.
Once you set up the account, you begin transferring money into it. The best way to do this is through direct deposit, though Simple offers other ways as well.
You then set up a budget that includes saving for your goal. They use basic envelope budgeting, which is the process of storing your money in separate categories. Naturally, the entire process happens online, using digital “envelopes”.
You create goals for regular spending categories, like rent, loan payments, and groceries. These funds are moved from a Safe-To-Spend status, to the specific expense goal. You can pay all your regular expenses through your Simple account, just the way you would an ordinary checking account.
There’s also the Riding Zero feature, which is available if you want to keep your Safe-To-Spend near zero. That will maximize the use of funds for each goal in your budget.
Apart from regular expenses and debt payments, you can also set savings goals, such as creating an emergency fund. You can then determine a specific amount you will move into that goal at regular intervals. You can do this with any savings goal you choose, or even several at the same time.
Once again, the only account offered by Simple is a checking account. No savings account is available, nor does Simple offer business accounts. The checking account is optimized for branchless, online banking, though it has many of the same features as a typical checking account.
The account comes with the following features:
- Visa debit card, for both purchases and ATM transactions
- Photo check deposit
- Direct deposit
- External account linking
- Instant transfers to other Simple customers
- Third party payment services, like Square, Venmo, and PayPal
- You can block your card online if it’s been either lost or stolen
- Ability to accept wires from other banks
- Supports pre-authorized withdrawals and interbank transfers through the Automated Clearing House (ACH) Network
One noteworthy missing feature of a Simple checking account is the absence of physical checks. However, you can mail a check to any party in the U.S. When you schedule a payment, you’ll see the date the payment will be withdrawn and the date it’s guaranteed to arrive.
To mail a check to another party, you must add that person or company to the Simple app. You can do this just by adding the payee’s name and address.
There are certain parties you can’t mail a check to. These include:
- Tax payments
- Payments to city, state or federal government agencies
- Court appointed fines or fees
- Collection agencies
- Payments to parties outside the U.S.
Deposits and Withdrawals
As noted earlier, Simple comes with both direct deposit and mobile deposits through photo check deposit. It can also accept wires from other banks.
Withdrawals can be made at ATM machines using the Visa debit card, or by cash back on purchases made by using the card as a credit card.
Simple Bill Pay: Large businesses are paid electronically, with payments arriving in about two business days. Smaller payees will be mailed a check, which will arrive in about three to five business days.
Simple Instant: This feature gives you the ability to instantly move money between accounts with no holds. You can add another Simple customer to your instant contacts using their email address and phone number. Once they confirm the connection, you’ll be able to both send and receive funds instantly. There is no fee for this service.
Earning interest on your account balances: When you open a Protected Goal Account, you can earn up to 2.02% APY with a daily balance of at least $2,000. Otherwise, interest earned on a Simple account held through BBVA Compass Bank earns just 0.01%, as of June 2019.
ATM network: You can use the Simple Visa Debit Card to access your account at more than 40,000 in-network ATMs through the Allpoint ATM Network. You can also get cash back on Visa purchases from thousands of merchants.
The simple mobile app is available for both iPhone and Android mobile devices. It can be downloaded free at either the App Store or on Google Play.
The mobile devices must be Apple iOS 10.0+ or Android 5.0+ (Lollipop). The device must also have the ability to receive text messages for two factor authentication.
Both the iOS and Android versions come with the following features:
- Photo check deposit
- Goals, Safe-To-Spend, and instant transfer widgets
- Instant real time push notifications for every transaction
- Personalized transactions with photos and notes
The iOS version also comes with Apple Pay and 3D Touch enhancement, while the Android version offers Google Pay and is Android Wear compatible.
The mobile app self-serve features include:
- The ability to link another bank account and transfer money
- The ability to block your card
- Deposit checks
- Reset your passphrase or retrieve your username
- Download your statements
- Get the info you need to set up direct deposit
- Inform Simple that you’re traveling outside the U.S.
- Send payments with the Simple bill pay service
- Update some of your account information, as necessary
One of the most attractive features of Simple is that there are no fees connected to the service. There are only two potential fees, and both are third party charges:
- Fees charged by out-of-network ATMs
- A 1% transaction fee charged by Visa for international transactions
If Simple doesn’t charge customers any fees, how did they make money to stay in business?
In their partnership with other banks, those banks split their interest margin with Simple. But the company also makes money on the Visa debit card. Each time you use the card to make a purchase at a merchant, the merchant is required to pay a small fee. That fee is also shared with Simple from their partner banks.
You can contact Simple either by toll free phone, at (888)248-0632, or by sending a support message through the app.
Phone contact is available Monday through Friday, from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Eastern Time, and on Saturdays, from 10:00 AM 5:00 PM, Eastern Time. Simple is closed on Sundays and national holidays.
Simple also has a dedicated phone line if you’re either traveling abroad, or if the regular number doesn’t work. That number is +1(424)652-5294.
All Funds held in your simple account are covered by FDIC insurance through BBVA Compass Bank. The funds are insured for up to $250,000 per depositor.
Since the account comes with a Visa debit card, you’re also covered by the Visa Zero Liability policy. Anytime a transaction is processed as a credit card transaction, you’re not liable for fraud as long as you notify Simple within two business days after the fraud is noticed. If the notification occurs after two business days, you can be held liable for up to $500.
On debit transactions, you’re liable only for the first $50 as long as notification takes place within two business days.
The actual security procedures employed by Simple are extensive. But some of the procedures employed include:
- Card numbers, mag-stripe data, and security codes are handled in accordance with PCI DSS requirements.
- Web API’s and web pages are secured with high assurance SSL certificates that support encryption algorithms with key lengths up to 256 bits, and prohibit any key lengths shorter than 128 bits.
- Simple’s cloud infrastructure employs multi-factor authentication for management operations.
- Industry standard (symmetric and asymmetric) encryption algorithms with appropriately size keys are used to protect sensitive customer information.
- Simple services are designed to tolerate failures in supporting infrastructure while maintaining continuity of operations. They place a high priority on redundancy and ensuring maximum availability of services.
- Simple employees use encrypted storage, encrypted chat and voice, encrypted channels (VPN and SSH), and encrypted email for sensitive internal communications and operations.
- The app is completely free to use: They don’t even charge the usual bank fees, like deposited item return fee, stop payment fee, or account closing fee.
- No minimum initial deposit required: Plus, no minimum account balance requirement.
- Good for learning to budget: Simple is a budget-based checking account that emphasizes organizing your finances to cover expenses, while also carving out some room in your budget for savings.
- Encourages saving: Simple’s goals-based checking enables you to save money by effectively organizing savings into specific goals, and funding them just the way you pay ordinary expenses.
- No checks: Even though it is a checking account, you are not issued paper checks.
- ATM fees: Simple doesn’t reimburse ATM fees charged by out-of-network ATMs, the way many online banks do.
- Interest rate: Simple’s interest rates are “nominal”, and not competitive with high interest online banks. To earn a better interest rate, you have to keep a daily balance of $2,000 in a Protected Goal Account.
- Limited to checking accounts: The bank does not offer products typically associated with banking, including credit cards, certificates of deposit, mortgages, and other loan products.
- Only available in the United States: Simple is not available if you live outside the U.S.
To open an account with Simple, you should have a mobile device with the specifications described earlier. But you must also have a computer capable of running a modern web browser, like Internet Explorer 11, Safari 7+, Chrome 37+, or Firefox 32+.
Though it is possible to use the app using the web application only, the best use of the service requires a mobile device.
To open a Simple account, you must be a U.S. citizen, over 18 years old, and with a valid Social Security number. Accounts can be either individual or joint (through Simple Shared). With joint accounts, each partner has a separate account, with each connected to the shared account.
You open the account using a simple four-page application.
One the first page, you’re asked to create a username and password, enter your email address, and indicate what you plan to use the account for (cash, checks, domestic wire transfers, international wire transfers, domestic ACH transfers, or international ACH transfers).
On the next screen, you enter your full name, address, occupation, and source of income. You’ll then be asked to provide your phone number, so that Simple can send you a code to verify that number, and grant you access to the remainder of the application.
On the third page you are required to verify your identity, then finally review and submit the application from the fourth page.
The entire application process takes only a few minutes to complete.
Question: Why does Simple offer a checking account with no checks?
Answer: Simple is free service. Offering checks would raise the company’s expenses, and likely eliminate the free component from the equation.
Question: I already save money on a regular basis, how can Simple help me?
Answer: Simple really works best for non-savers. But even if you are already a committed saver, the app has an excellent budgeting feature that could help you to organize your finances, pay your bills, and allocate specific amounts for savings. As you begin to accumulate money in your Simple account, you could move it into accounts at other banks or investment firms that offer higher returns.
Question: Simple only offers a checking account. Will they ever offer other products, like savings or certificates of deposit?
Answer: Actually, additional banking services are on the horizon. But Simple is primarily an app, and it’s only been around for a few years. They’re taking it slow, and preserving the no fee feature, while they work on adding additional banking products.
Question: Will it be better to have a relationship with a traditional bank while working with Simple?
Answer: In most cases, yes. You may want to establish a banking relationship with an institution that will be available to provide other services, particularly loans.
Simple is an excellent app to use if you have had difficulty saving money up to this point. It enables you to create a budget covering every expense in your financial universe. You can begin saving money simply by adding savings goals, and funding them like ordinary expenses. You can start out with small amounts, and small goals, then graduate up to bigger goals with larger savings targets as you move forward.
To help you in that effort, Simple charges no fees. That will make sure that bank fees don’t become yet another expense, reducing your ability to save money. And though the service does not offer traditional checking, it provides plenty of alternative ways pay bills, transfer money and access cash.
The major disadvantage of Simple is the very low rate of interest being paid on the amount of money you save in your goals. Unless you can keep a $2,000 minimum balance in a Protected Goal Account, you won’t benefit from the interest rate. If you’re looking for a high rate of return on savings, you’ll be better off working with high interest online banks. The interest being paid on Simple accounts is only a hair above zero, and will not contribute to reaching your savings goals.
This is more a service for non-savers to become a savers, and less suitable for someone who’s already in the saving habit.
If you’d like more information, or if you’d like to sign up for the banking app, visit the Simple Bank Online Bank website.