Are bank branches finally going the way of the fax machine?
Branchless banking platforms like Chime and Simple certainly hope so. With seamless money management suites, extensive ATM networks, and virtually no fees, they’re drawing thousands of disaffected clients of traditional banks. They’re even making inroads with account holders at first-wave online banks like Ally Bank and Axos Bank.
Chime and Simple can’t be everything to everyone. Neither provider offers money market accounts, IRAs, or taxable investment accounts. And to be clear, neither replicates the multichannel experience of traditional banking — that’s by design. If you want to preserve the option to walk into a physical bank branch and speak in person with a human banker, neither Chime nor Simple is for you.
Chime and Simple have much in common, but they’re by no means identical. Each has different features, perks, drawbacks, and overall suitability for your individual money management needs.
There’s not a tremendous amount of difference between the most important features of Chime and Simple. But the apps aren’t quite carbon copies.
Mobile Banking Features
As branchless banking service providers, Chime and Simple both have extensive user-friendly mobile apps that can accommodate most or all the banking functions you need to execute in a given month. But their features vary slightly.
Chime’s Mobile Banking Features
- Mobile Payments and Transfers. Chime’s fee-free mobile payments feature lets you send money to other Chime users with a few taps. Chime also allows fast, free transfers to external bank accounts linked to your Chime account.
- Mobile Payment App Compatibility. Chime is compatible with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. Simply link your Chime account to your mobile wallet, leave your Chime debit card at home, and say hello to a world without wallets.
- Bill Pay. If you need to pay a friend, relative, or vendor (such as a babysitter) by paper check, no problem — Chime can cut one and send it for you at no cost.
- Mobile Check Deposit. Chime’s mobile check deposit feature allows you to deposit paper checks into your Chime spending account with a couple of photos and a few taps. You don’t even need to send your check by mail as you did in the old days.
- Daily Balance Alerts. Chime’s daily balance alerts let you know precisely how much you have at the beginning of the day.
Simple’s Mobile Banking Features
- Mobile Payments and Transfers. Simple offers instant, fee-free transfers to other Simple users and external person-to-person transfers via popular payment apps like Venmo and Square.
- Mobile Payment App Compatibility. Like Chime, Simple is compatible with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. It’s easy to link your Simple Account to these apps and pay on the go.
- Traditional Personal Checks. This is a nonelectronic option for getting funds to those not signed up with Simple or an incompatible third-party app, including small-time landlords and behind-the-times utility companies. One checkbook costs about as much as your morning latte.
- Mobile Check Deposit. Simple’s mobile check deposit feature lets you deposit funds by snapping photos of the front and back of the check and following the in-app prompts. If you prefer to send checks in by mail, Simple can accommodate that as well — though, as with Chime, it’s not required if you use mobile check deposit. But mail-in deposits take longer to receive and deposit.
Chime’s Deposit Account
Chime’s deposit account is an FDIC-insured spending account with no minimum opening deposit, ongoing minimum balance, or monthly maintenance fees. Account holders have fee-free access to approximately 38,000 ATMs in the United States through the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance networks. Chime charges $2.50 per out-of-network ATM withdrawal or in-branch withdrawal, so it’s best to avoid either type of transaction.
Chime deposit accounts come with a chip-enabled, Visa-issued debit card that’s accepted anywhere Visa is.
Chime doesn’t permit joint accounts for couples who’ve merged their finances. If you’d like to manage household finances as a unit, you can link separate individual Chime deposit accounts through a third-party budgeting app like Mint.
Chime executes direct deposits two days before most competitors. For example, if your payday normally hits on a Friday, you’d receive it on Wednesday with Chime.
Simple’s Spending Account
Simple’s spending account is an FDIC-insured checking account with no minimum balance requirements or maintenance fees. Account holders enjoy fee-free access to tens of thousands of ATMs nationwide, and out-of-network ATM transactions don’t incur Simple fees, though third-party ATM owners often levy their own fees. Like Chime’s, Simple’s spending account comes with a chip-enabled Simple Visa® Debit card accepted in millions of locations worldwide.
Unlike Chime, Simple does offer joint accounts, which they call “Shared Accounts.” Simply create two individual accounts — one for you and one for your partner — and then open a joint account to manage shared income and expenses.
Savings Account & Tools
Both Chime and Simple have FDIC-insured high-yield accounts. Simple’s Protected Goals Account, a high-yield checking account, is more extensive and feature-rich and boasts a higher yield.
Chime’s High-Yield Products
Chime’s savings account is a bare-bones offering with an attractive yield (subject to change). But it does offer two hassle-free automated savings tools:
- Save When You Spend. This feature automatically rounds debit card transactions on your Chime deposit account up to the next dollar and diverts the difference into your Chime savings account.
- Save When You Get Paid. When you deposit your paycheck into your Chime deposit account, this feature lets you transfer up to 10% of it into your Chime savings account. You set the percentage, and you’re free to adjust it or turn off the transfer feature altogether at any time.
Simple’s High-Yield Products
Simple has a more robust savings apparatus built around a high-yield checking account. Like many interest-bearing accounts, its yield is subject to change with no warning. Called the Protected Goals Account, it routinely ranks in the top echelon of online high-yield accounts.
Simple’s high-yield checking account supports a digital, low-clutter spin on the envelope budgeting method. Whereas envelope budgets designate a physical envelope for each spending category or goal, Simple’s method designates a digital envelope, called a “Protected Goal,” for two types of goals: “emergency fund” and “savings goal.”.
The analogy isn’t perfect, as you don’t regularly raid your Protected Goals Accounts like you do with envelopes, which the method expects you to drain each month. But the outcome is similar, albeit on longer timescales: your Protected Goals Accounts make it easy to assign relatively small chunks of your income to discrete savings objectives.
Simple’s high-yield checking account has features similar to Chime’s:
- Recurring Savings Transfers. Simple allows account holders to automate savings by setting recurring dollar- or percentage-based savings transfers from their spending account to various sub-accounts.
- Round Up the Change. This feature rounds debit transactions to the next dollar and automatically transfers the windfall to your savings account when the rounded-up balance reaches or exceeds $5.
Simple also offers a 12-month CD with competitive rates and no penalties for early withdrawal.
Chime’s deposit account comes with fee-free overdraft protection for depositors who receive direct deposits totaling $500 or more per month.
Called SpotMe, the service is simple and very fair: Approved depositors can overdraw up to $100 or more (limits start at $20 and rise with responsible use) without incurring a fee or having the transaction declined. The negative balance remains until the next deposit. SpotMe accepts voluntary fees (called “tips”), but ponying up isn’t required and won’t affect the service.
Simple doesn’t offer overdraft protection, a significant disadvantage for account holders with low balances and tight budgets. On the bright side, Simple doesn’t charge nonsufficient funds or overdraft fees. When you attempt a transaction that would typically result in an overdraft, it simply fails.
Budgeting & Money Management Tools
Chime’s budgeting offerings are basically limited to its automatic savings features. While those are undoubtedly helpful for savers who need the nudge, they’re not suitable to replace a full-service budgeting app.
On this front, Simple comes closer. Its budgeting and money management tools include:
- Expenses. Expenses is a short-term budgeting tool for account holders who don’t want to remember to allocate funds for recurring expenses, such as housing payments, utility bills, and estimated taxes. Just set up each recurring obligation as an Expense in your Simple dash and let Simple do the rest.
- Safe-to-Spend. Safe-to-Spend is the “spendable” portion of your Simple spending account — the balance not earmarked for Expenses or destined for your Protected Goals Account. Safe-to-Spend bases your spendable cash on your projected inflows (direct deposits and other sources of income) minus recurring expenses paid from your Simple account (up to 30 days out) and Goal balances. If your financial situation isn’t overly complicated and your top priority is making sure you consistently spend less than you earn, the Safe-to-Spend feature may be insightful enough to supplant a full-fledged budgeting app.
- Trackable Spending. Simple automatically records valuable transaction data, including merchant name and category, transaction amount, location, and time. You can add more detail by assigning custom keywords, photos or hashtags to specific purchases. Your entire spending history is searchable by these standard and custom terms, empowering you to zero in on potential overspending or simply get a better handle on where your money is going.
Security & Account Control
Chime and Simple both have robust security features and intuitive account controls. Shared Chime and Simple security and control features include:
- Real-time transaction alerts that ping you every time there’s a transaction on your debit card
- Two-factor authentication required at login
- Support for fingerprint authentication
- Instant card locking through the app, which comes in handy if you believe your card or card number has fallen into the wrong hands
- EMV chip security
The Chime app allows you to restrict international transactions too — a nice feature to have if you know you’re not going to purchase from a non-U.S. vendor anytime soon.
The Verdict: Is Chime or Simple Right for You?
Still, Chime and Simple diverge enough to appeal to distinct user groups. Which is right for you?
You Should Open a Chime Account If…
- You Love Getting Paid Early. Chime’s early direct deposit capability features prominently in its marketing materials. You can’t blame the bank for tooting its own horn on this point. When cash flow is tight, every day (and every payday) counts. In extreme cases, Chime’s ability to execute direct deposits two days before the competition makes it one of the best apps to help you make it to payday. It helps cash-strapped depositors avoid predatory payday loans or high-interest cash-advance products.
- You Need Overdraft Protection. Chime offers fee-free overdraft protection to depositors with more than $500 in monthly direct deposits. If your spending account balance routinely hovers near $0, this simple feature can dramatically reduce your out-of-pocket banking fees and ensure you’re able to complete critical transactions on the first attempt.
- You Don’t Need Extra Bells and Whistles. Chime is a pretty lightweight financial product. That’s not a bad thing. You just won’t find as many extra features here, especially on the budgeting front. If all you seek is a place to spend and automatically save your hard-earned money, Chime is tough to beat.
You Should Open a Simple Account If…
- You’re Looking for a Holistic Budgeting Solution. Simple’s money management tools, such as the Safe-to-Spend feature and the Protected Goals Account, make it a plausible alternative for consumers seeking the structure of a budgeting app without the clutter. Simple’s budgeting features make it easy to save for short- and long-term goals, categorize recurring and one-off expenses, and determine just how much you can safely spend at any given time.
- You Want to Maximize Savings Yield. Although subject to change with prevailing rates and bank policy, Simple offers one of the better yields on the market today. Chime, by contrast, offers virtually no savings yield. Provided your account balances are moving in the right direction, you could earn a great deal more over time with Simple.
- You Want a Joint Account With Your Partner or Spouse. Simple permits jointly held accounts, a sought-after capability for married or committed partners who’ve merged their financial lives, roommates, coparents, and others. Chime doesn’t yet offer joint accounts, though it may do so in the future.
Both Accounts Are Great If…
- You Hate Banking In-Branch. If you’ve held off on switching from your traditional bank or credit union until now, perhaps the prospect of never having to set foot in a bank branch again can convince you to make the change. Both Simple and Chime are branchless. When you bank with either, the closest you’ll ever come to setting foot in a bank lobby is the nearest in-network ATM vestibule.
- You Still Need to Cut Checks. Both platforms allow account holders to write paper checks. Chime does it for you as part of its bill-pay service, while Simple offers checkbooks for a modest fee. If you still need to pay rent or utilities the old-fashioned way, Chime and Simple have you covered.
- You’re Tired of Bank Fees. These platforms charge very few fees. Indeed, in the ordinary course of affairs, it’s unlikely you’ll incur any fees with either. The one possible exception is ordering a checkbook from Simple.
Together, Chime and Simple are shaking up the still-staid banking world. Both offer quality, low-cost products that do away with branch-based bloat while preserving real-world convenience and access. Both banks offer Visa Debit cards, which are accepted pretty much everywhere, and tens of thousands of in-network ATMs around the United States.
Because it costs nothing to open an account with Chime or Simple, it’s difficult to come up with a scenario in which it makes sense not to take the first step — if only to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re not thrilled with your experience, you can close your Chime or Simple account and return to your regularly scheduled branch-based bank programming.
Do you use Chime or Simple — or both? How has your experience been so far?