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Simple is a Portland-based company run in partnership with BBVA USA, a diversified bank with branches throughout the southern United States. 99% of Simple’s revenue streams are from debit card processing fees, interest income on deposited funds lent out by BBVA USA, and loans.
Simple offers FDIC-insured deposit accounts. Simple calls its savings solution the “Protected Goals Account,” a high-yield account that boasts a competitive yield that’s as high as 0.50% APY (as of December 10, 2020). You can use your Protected Goals Accounts to track your progress toward near- and long-term financial goals or obligations without having to manage multiple logins.
Simple harnesses a slew of data about your spending habits and income to provide a complete, responsive picture of your financial life – at least, every aspect of your financial life tied to your Simple ecosystem. For instance, Simple uses authorized transaction data, pending bill payments, and other information to provide a running total of how much you can safely spend from your account; this is known as your Safe-to-Spend. A Simple Visa® Debit card makes spending this money a breeze.
All told, Simple’s features make saving, budgeting, and long-term financial planning easier than many traditional banks, which might provide basic tools to help with these activities but ultimately leave you responsible for doing them.
Simple is great for day-to-day spending and saving, as well as long-term planning. But because it has few long-term savings products or credit products, it’s not a replacement for a full-service bank. Here’s what you need to know about its products, services, and overall suitability.
These are Simple’s most salient features:
Simple Card & Account
The Simple Visa Debit card can be used at any merchant or ATM that accepts Visa, is central to the Simple experience. The card ties to your Simple checking account, which you can replenish with electronic transfers, direct deposits, mailed deposits, and mobile check deposits.
Your Simple account doesn’t come with paper checks, though you can direct Simple to cut and send paper checks using its check mailing service, which carries a $5 fee per checkbook. Note that you can’t overdraft your Simple account; transactions that would normally result in an overdraft simply fail. The nice thing about this is that Simple doesn’t charge overdraft, nonsufficient funds (NSF), or returned-item fees.
If you’ve merged finances with your spouse or domestic partner, or need to jointly manage funds with a co-parent, roommate, friend, or anyone else, you can open a Shared Account with all the features of an Individual Simple account. While many couples maintain separate checking and savings accounts for a variety of reasons, it’s definitely nice to have the option to open a joint account as well.
Goals are special spending and saving designations, similar to budget envelopes. You can create a Goal for any future expense, whether it’s a one-time outlay (such as an upcoming vacation or wedding) or a routine budget line item (such as rent or groceries).
Protected Goals Account
All balances in your Protected Goals Account yield up to 0.50% APY, subject to change with prevailing rates.
You can specify the size of a Savings Goal and Emergency Fund and set a date for when it needs to be funded (such as the date of your vacation or your rent due date). If you wish, you can also direct Simple to set aside a small amount each day to get you closer to that target on schedule. Set-aside funds remain in your account and are separate from your Simple Account to keep it safe from spending; however, there are no withdrawal limits and funds are always available if and when you need them.
Expenses is an automated budgeting feature that quietly stashes away funds reserved for specific recurring bills, such as utilities and rent. Compared with Goals, Expenses is a helpful way to save for expenses you know you’ll face every month. You can track your progress toward target Expense balances each month and manually adjust if necessary – for instance, if your gas bill unexpectedly spikes from one month to the next.
You can also use the Expenses feature to set monthly spending limits on particular categories – for instance, capping your restaurant spending at $200 per month. Whenever you make a purchase that falls into the relevant category, Simple automatically deducts funds from the cap, letting you see at a glance how your finances stack up to your monthly spending and savings goals.
Simple’s Safe-to-Spend feature shows you how much money you can safely spend after accounting for all of your pending authorized transactions, upcoming bills, and Goals. It’s a great way to prevent a spending crunch and potentially a transaction denial due to insufficient funds.
Simple automatically collects and makes sense of a slew of data about your spending. It records each transaction’s specific merchant, merchant type (such as “restaurant” or “grocery store”), amount, time, physical location, and tip (if applicable). Though Simple automatically records broad spending categories, such as travel purchases and restaurant meals, you can also provide a finer level of detail by assigning keywords or hashtags to purchases – for instance, “coffee” or “#fancydinner.”
Simple also has a built-in search feature, similar to an online search engine, to help you find specific transactions. The engine recognizes information such as merchant names, broad spending categories, and customized keywords or hashtags.
Photo Check Deposits
The Simple app facilitates mobile check deposits via the Photo Check Deposit function. To use it, simply snap a photo of the front and back of the check and complete the prompts on the app. Photo Check Deposits also supports money order and cashier’s check deposits, so it’s a useful workaround if you have cash you need to deposit into your account. Simply exchange your cash for a money order and use Photo Check Deposits as normal.
Instant P2P Transfers
Simple facilitates person-to-person (P2P) transfers with other Simple account holders through a proprietary and secure transfer system that’s useful for splitting restaurant bills and settling other small debts. You can access the feature through the Simple app, and there’s no fee to use it. If you’re settling up with non-Simple users, know that Simple works with PayPal, Venmo, and Square Cash.
Fee-Free ATM Network
Simple allows fee-free withdrawals from any machine in the 40,000-strong Allpoint ATM network. It doesn’t reimburse fees charged by out-of-network ATM Owners.
Simple’s customer support team is available by phone during extended business hours on weekdays and 10 am to 5 pm ET on Saturdays. After hours, or if you prefer written communication to verbal, you can send Simple’s customer service team a message through your secure Web account or Simple app. And Simple has an extensive knowledge base with detailed articles that are pretty helpful.
- Great Resources for Budgeting and Tracking Spending. Simple’s defining differentiator is its unabashed use of transaction data – both automatically collected and provided by you – in the service of sound budgeting practices. When used consistently and in concert, Goals, Expenses and Safe-to-Spend provide a tremendously detailed picture of your monthly budget, as long as you use Simple as your primary day-to-day bank account. Depending on how complex your financial situation is, it’s possible to use Simple as a replacement for consumer accounting apps such as FinanceWorks or Mint.
- No Minimum Balance Requirements or Maintenance Fees. Simple doesn’t have any minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance fees, removing a key source of worry for many online bank account holders. By contrast, SunTrust Bank charges a $7 maintenance fee for accounts that aren’t signed up for paperless statements and fail to log at least 10 debit transactions during a given statement cycle.
- Fewer or Lower Maintenance Fees Than Many Competitors. Simple has relatively few maintenance fees. There’s no overdraft fee, and there’s also no nonsufficient funds or returned-item fee. Most other online banks, including Capital One 360 and Bank5 Connect, charge NSF, returned-item, and overdraft fees. And at Simple, it costs nothing to replace a lost debit card, whereas some other banks, including PNC Bank, charge $5 or more for replacement cards.
- Transparent, Straightforward, Supportive Approach to Banking. Simple brands itself as an alternative to traditional banks, and its website is filled with references to its transparency, straightforward pricing, and fair policies. While it can occasionally come off as self-important, there’s plenty to back up Simple’s claims. For instance, there’s very little fine print on its website, and its extensive FAQ section contains all the important caveats and explanations you’d normally find buried in bank disclosures or terms and conditions statements. Simple’s website uses plain, straightforward language that’s clearly written by real people – a welcome change from the legalese common to many other bank websites. The experience is refreshingly honest.
- Solid Yields on Deposits. Funds held in Simple’s Protected Goals Account yield up to 0.60% APY, higher than many online-only competitors and most brick-and-mortar banks. That’s great news for depositors looking to earn a real rate of return on funds earmarked for non-current expenses.
- No IRAs. While it’s great that balances held in your Protected Goals Account yield up to 0.50% APY, it’s a drag that there’s no such thing as a Simple IRA. Simple’s website mentions vague plans to offer a broader product lineup in the future, but it’s nothing to hang your hat on.
- Few Credit Products. Simple offers just one credit product to select prescreened customers: a personal loan for debt consolidation. If you’re looking to buy a car, tap your home equity for low-interest funding, or open a new credit card, you need to look elsewhere. Try Ally Bank for competitive auto loans, Capital One Bank for home loans, and Discover Bank for credit cards.
Simple presents itself as a more straightforward, honest alternative to traditional banks. The website frequently mentions “big banks” in a derogatory context, which is a bit ironic given that Simple operates in partnership with BBVA USA, a huge financial institution. And Simple isn’t unique in its customer-friendly approach to banking. Plenty of no-frills online banks, from big players such as Ally Bank to smaller banks such as Salem Five Direct, have high satisfaction ratings and reasonable fee schedules.
That said, Simple does take transparency to an unusually high level. And its data-heavy approach to tracking spending, budgets, and long-term goals remains the exception rather than the rule – though this may not always be the case given the growing acceptance of big data.
If you’re looking for a nontraditional banking option that treats you like a real person and doesn’t muddy the waters with superfluous offerings, you won’t do much better than Simple. Just don’t expect them to finance the purchase of your next home.
Do you use Simple to track your spending and saving? What do you like about it?