Empower Review - Financial Tips From a Human Coach
The robust Empower app is a great way to start budgeting while also building savings in an account with no overdraft fees and no minimums.
- Financial tips from a human coach
- Renegotiates bills to save hundreds of dollars a year on average
- Link your financial accounts and monitor them on a single app
Based in San Francisco, and launched in 2017, Empower is an online banking and budgeting app. More than 650,000 have downloaded the Empower app to master their money. It works as a financial aggregator that enables you to connect all your financial accounts on your smartphone. In that way, you’ll not only see all your accounts on the app, but also track your spending and even find ways to save money.
The app is designed to provide four primary functions:
- Lower your expenses by tracking spending.
- Take advantage of the intelligent AutoSave feature that will automatically direct excess cash into a savings account.
- Find savings in your cable, internet and phone bills.
- Provide unlimited one-on-one access to a financial coach.
They also have a new cash advance feature. It allows eligible members to get up to $150 in fast cash direct to your bank account.¹ Even better, there are no interest charges, no late fees, and no need for a credit check. The feature is designed to provide a “bridge” until your next paycheck. Best of all, since the cash advance is not a loan, it won’t affect your credit score.
iOS users rate Empower 4.6 stars out of five on the App Store, based on 7,600 reviews, while Android users rate it 3.9 out of five stars, based on nearly 5,000 reviews.
Related: Best Online Banks
How Empower Works
Automatic Savings (AutoSave). You can set weekly savings goals and the Empower app will create a strategy to make it happen. It’ll do that by monitoring your checking account activity every day, including the source and frequency of cash inflows and outflows. They’ll be able to determine when you have extra cash and when you’re running low. Extra money will be set aside in your AutoSave when the funds are available. The AutoSave feature can be set up directly from the app.
Empower will make anywhere from one to four smaller transfers each week to hit your weekly goal. They’ll transfer money at most once a day, up to four transfers per week if they’re supported by your spending activity and the balances in your external accounts. Transfers can be one per day, Monday through Thursday. You can pause or restart the AutoSave feature at any time.
Effortless Budgeting. You can use this feature to customize your budget categories and track your spending on a 24/7 basis. You can create budgets for every category of spending, and get real-time alerts on bills and purchases. The app will give you the ability to set limits on how much you can spend in any category, as well as the frequency with which those expenses are incurred. And to help you better manage your finances at the bigger-picture level, you can also set overall monthly spending limits.
Your income and expenses will be recapped at the end of each month, and you’ll be provided with a monthly report.
Human Coach. If you have any questions or specific concerns, you can get personalized coaching for all kinds of financial questions. Empower’s human coaches are available on standby to help. They can be contacted via SMS through the app.
Interest Checking. You can earn interest on your savings, with no minimum balance required. The money is held in an interest checking account through Empower that’s held with nbkc bank. The account comes with no overdraft fees and no insufficient funds fees. Interest on the account compounds daily. Empower deposits are FDIC insured up to $250,000.
You can set up direct deposit from your employer by providing your Empower account and routing numbers to your payroll department. Direct deposit can also be set up if you’re paid by the following payroll services: ADP, Zenefits or Gusto.
You’ll be provided with monthly bank statements directly from the app. Statements will be available around the fourth business day of each month.
Smart Recommendations. Empower will provide proactive recommendations helping you earn more and find extra savings in your budget. The app will monitor your financial activity and send you updates. You’ll be notified of bill increases, bills, bank fees, credit utilization, and other important financial information. Knowing exactly what’s going on will help you to better react to what’s happening with your money.
Save money on subscriptions, phone, cable and internet bills. Empower will help you save money by providing a snapshot of your subscriptions and will help you cancel any you no longer use. The App can even analyze your phone, cable and internet bills, and negotiate to lower them. Users have saved an average of $444 a year on their cable and phone bills.²
Other Empower Features and Benefits
Mobile app. Empower can be downloaded on the App Store for iOS devices, 9.0 or later, and is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It’s also available at Google Play for Android devices, 5.1 and up.
Empower Visa Debit Card. Issued by nbkc bank, the card can be used to make purchases and access any ATM machine. Empower will reimburse up to three ATM transactions per month.³ You can order and activate your debit card directly from the app. It will be sent to you by USPS and will generally arrive in five to ten business days. You’ll also have the ability to immediately lock your debit card if the card is lost or if you see suspicious activity.
Your Empower Debit Card is subject to a daily ATM withdrawal limit of $500 and a daily purchase limit of $2,000. You’ll initially be limited to $2,500 in daily transfers, but that limit will increase to $5,000 31 days after your first transaction. There is no overdraft protection, so any transactions that will put you over your limit will be declined. The card comes with the Visa zero liability insurance for unauthorized transactions.
Customer contact. Empower can be contacted by email or chat in the app; there is no phone contact offered. No hours of contact are indicated.
Fees. The app is free to use for the first 30 days, then a $6 per month fee applies for access to the full suite of money management features. Empower will cover up to three ATM fees per month, including those incurred during international travel.² There is also a foreign exchange fee on international transactions of 1%.³
Account security. Empower protects your information using bank-level security. That includes 256-bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and encryption, multi-factor authentication, Touch ID, and strict access controls.
How to Sign Up with Empower
As mentioned above, you can download the Empower app on the App Store for iOS devices, or on Google Play for Android devices. Alternatively, you can download it on the website by entering your mobile phone number.
To be eligible to open an account, you need to meet the following requirements:
- Be 18 years old or older.
- Hold a bank account at a U.S. financial institution.
- Have a mobile phone number that can operate in the U.S. and can receive SMS messages.
If you want to open an Empower bank account you’ll also need a valid Social Security Number and a valid U.S. physical residential address.
You’ll need to furnish two forms of identification, with the first being one of the following:
- U.S. state issued driver’s license
- A valid U.S. state issued ID
- An unexpired passport
- An Armed Forces ID with a photo
The second form can be any one of the following:
- A recent pay stub
- Utility bill – water, gas, electric, or cable
- Lease agreement
- Auto registration
- Official bank statement
Once the app is downloaded, you can fund your account using direct deposit from your paycheck, by bank transfer from a linked financial account, or by using mobile payment service apps, like PayPal, Square Cash, Cash App and Venmo. Empower does not currently support cash or check deposits, but they are working on a mobile check deposit feature.
You will also be able to activate your debit card and set up the AutoSave feature.
Connecting your accounts to Empower
You can connect your spending accounts so they can be tracked. It can take up to three business days to perform a manual review of the accounts added. The more accounts you can link to the app, the more comprehensive your financial management will be.
You can connect an account by tapping “Connect Account” when you sign up. Your accounts will be connected using the data provider Plaid.
To connect the app to your external accounts, you can use one of two methods:
- Use your Empower account and routing numbers
- Connect your Empower account using your phone number and passcode (this option is only available if your external account uses plaid)
As you might expect, the app has a number of pre-loaded financial institutions for you to choose from. In fact, you can connect to over 10,000 U.S. banks, credit card accounts, lenders, investment accounts, cryptocurrency and even 401(k) accounts.
Empower Pros and Cons
- Link your financial accounts and monitor them on a single app — Empower allows you to link your financial accounts and monitor them on a single app.
- Customizable budget that limits how much you can spend — You can create a customized budget that limits how much you can spend in a week or month, or even in a specific expense category.
- Passive savings accumulation — Empower works to allocate additional funds into savings. The process is completely passive, eliminating the need for you to expend any effort building up your savings.
- Earn interest in a no-fuss checking account — Once in your Checking Account, your funds will be completely FDIC insured for up to $250,000.
- Renegotiates cable, internet and phone bills to save additional money — Renegotiates cable, internet and phone bills so you can save more.
- Human Coach available with one-on-one financial guidance — Human Coaches are available for one-on-one guidance on any financial questions.
- Earn interest on your checking deposits — You can earn interest in your Empower checking account.
- Transfer funds to linked accounts — You can transfer funds between your Empower account and your linked external accounts.
- Charges a fee of $6 per month in a field with many free apps — Empower does charge a fee of $6 per month, but there are similar apps available free of charge.
- No “in-network” where you can use your ATM debit card free of charge — There is no “in-network” where you can use your ATM free of charge. Instead, you can use any ATM and you’ll be reimbursed fees on up to three transactions (see footnote 2). Additional ATM transactions may incur fees.
- Empower does not have a web-based version – it’s a mobile app only — Empower does not have a web-based version – it’s a mobile app only.
- Contact is limited to email or chat only, with no phone contact offered — Contact is limited to email or chat in the app, with no phone contact offered.
- Can't deposit cash or checks — No ability to deposit cash or checks into your Empower bank account.
Alternatives to Empower
The number of online banking and other financial apps to help you get better control over your spending and increase your savings has increased in recent years. Empower is joined by other apps that have their own unique features, some you may prefer.
Personal Capital is a free financial aggregator that links all your financial accounts on one platform. That will enable you to get a high-altitude view of your complete financial picture and make changes as necessary. But a big advantage of Personal Capital is its orientation toward investing. If you have any investment accounts, or you’re working to build one, the app can provide investing tools to help you improve your portfolio performance. And if you have at least $100,000, they can also provide a direct investment management service.
If you’re primarily looking for a budgeting app, take a close look at Mint. Like Personal Capital, Mint is a financial aggregator and is completely free to use. The app is designed specifically for budgeting and even enables you to pay bills.
If your main goal in budgeting is to find money to save, a more passive alternative is Acorns. Rather than focusing on budgeting, it connects with your primary spending account and rounds up your purchases to transfer the overage into savings. For example, if you make a purchase for $6.25, your account will be charged $7, with $.75 going into savings. Once you reach $5 in savings, the funds are transferred into an Acorns investment account, where the Acorns robo-advisor will create and manage a diversified portfolio for you.
Is Empower the Right Choice for You?
If you’ve never been able to successfully budget in the past, you’re going to need help. That can all be done for you through the Empower app. Not only will it track and budget your cash flow but it will also look for ways to save money. That will include canceling unused subscriptions or renegotiating your cable, phone, or internet bills. The money you’ll save on the expense reductions alone will pay the $72 per year ($6 per month) fee several times over.
There are plenty of financial apps available today, particularly for budgeting and banking. But Empower is one of the few offering Human Coaching to help you navigate more complicated financial matters. It’ll be like having a personal financial expert in the app.
But the most exciting feature of Empower is undoubtedly its ability to help you to accumulate savings without any additional effort on your part. The app constantly monitors your financial situation and allocates funds to savings as they become available. That’s the perfect solution for you if you’ve been struggling to save money up to this point in your life.
If you’d like more information, or if you’d like to sign up for the app, visit the Empower website.
Banking services for new accounts provided by nbkc bank, Member FDIC.
¹ Access to the cash advance feature and different cash advance amounts are determined by Empower based on various criteria including bank account history and activity, recurring direct deposits, average monthly direct deposit, repayment history, and other factors.
² Bill negotiation services provided by Billshark, which charges 33% of savings. Customer savings may vary.
³ Reimbursement for up to 3 ATM fees per month, with a maximum reimbursement of $10 per ATM withdrawal.
Empower does not charge foreign transaction fees for the use of the Empower Visa Debit Card outside of the US. However, Visa charges a foreign transaction fee of 1%. Empower does not reimburse this 1% transaction fee on foreign ATM transactions or on any other foreign transactions or purchases.