I Switched My Money to an Online Account. Here’s What I Love (and What I Don’t)

carson kohler and a dog sitting on a sea wall
Carson Kohler finally switched from her old Bank of America account — the one her mom set up for her in high school — to an online-only checking account that gives her 1% interest. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated to reflect the details of current Aspiration products.

I opened my first bank account when I was 15.

Actually, let’s be real here. My mom opened my first bank account for me.

I was embarking on my first adventure abroad, and a stash of emergency cash in your back pocket isn’t the safest. A bank account — tied to a debit card — seemed like a better idea.

Mom towed me along to our Bank of America branch. She requested to set up a card connected to her account so she could keep tabs on it. And in case I overdrafted, the money could siphon from her account, rather than looping me into a never-ending nightmare. (A bold move on her part…)

Anyhow, I was on my way to becoming a real adult.

Fast forward nine years, and I was still using that same debit card… the one connected to my mom’s account.

Since I went off to college, opening a new bank account always topped my to-do lists but never got done.

Now I was 24, out of graduate school with a full-time job. I didn’t need my mom peeking at my bank statements (though she said she never did) or issuing those “you have more money than me now” threats when it came to who bought dinner.

Yes. It was time for my own account.

Aspiration Review: Why I Chose an Online Account

I first heard about Aspiration when I started working at The Penny Hoarder. I’m not going to lie: It sounded like a career-planning app or something.

But, when I started researching Aspiration, I was immediately sold. (Plus, my trusted co-worker Dana Sitar had given it a good review.)

What drew me to the account? Its interest rates. I could earn 2.00% APY on savings. At Aspiration, my money would work for me.

I also loved that it was fee-free.* Heck, I could even pull money from an ATM in Italy, and it’d reimburse my fees. Plus, I only needed $10 to open an account.

It took me nearly a year to finally cut the cord (from my mom’s bank account) and to open an account with Aspiration.

So… did it live up to its hype?

What I Like About My Aspiration Account

Yes! It wasn’t too good to be true. Let me outline for you a few of my favorite Aspiration perks.

Earn Interest

What immediately intrigued me about Aspiration was the money I could earn. I’d never heard of an account that offered 0.5% cash back on debit card purchases. This meant I didn’t necessarily need my rewards credit card to reap the benefits of cash back.

Plus, I can earn 2.00% APY on my savings account balance. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like much, but until this point, my money had been sitting stagnant.

Be Reimbursed for ATM Fees

My second favorite feature was the fact that, no matter the location, there are no ATM fees. If you happen to use an ATM that charges you a fee, Aspiration will 100% refund you — both in the U.S. and abroad. And I wouldn’t have to manually request the reimbursement; Aspiration automatically issues it.

Face No Minimum Balance

My third favorite feature was I only needed $10 to open a spending account, and I needed $0 to maintain it.

Although I planned to use this as my primary spending account and hoped to the highest of highest powers I’d never see a balance of $0, I knew I’d be OK if it happened, that I wouldn’t get charged.

And if I overdrafted? There’s no fee. Aspiration assures that electronic transactions (ATM withdrawals, debit card purchases or online transfers) will be declined if you cannot afford them. That way your balance should never go below zero unless you’ve written a check.

No Fees

I also appreciated that there’s no monthly fee — unless you want to pay a “tip” of sorts. In that case, you can pick what you pay.

For all those reasons, I was sold.

I signed up and downloaded the app, which was also easy to use.

The Not-So-Good Parts of the Aspiration Account

Since I signed up for Aspiration in 2017, it’s delivered on all the above promises.

However, I have run into a few hiccups I didn’t appreciate so much…

You Pay for Money Transfers

My first beef with Aspiration came when I attempted to pay my landlord a deposit and my first month of rent. She told me she’d prefer wire transfers directly to her Bank of America account. She isn’t a fan of old-school checks.

At first, I thought my solution would be the free electronic check Aspiration offers. However, it’s not really an electronic check. It’s just a check Aspiration fills out online, then physically sends to the recipient within five to seven business days. I didn’t have that kind of time, so I canceled the order.

I did, however, opt in to order a set of checks for free — just in case this flustered mess happened again.

Next option? A wire transfer. My Aspiration account had been open for longer than 90 days, so I was eligible.

I filled out all kinds of information I had to hunt down. Then, I received an email from someone named Bill. Or Bryan. Or Ben. (I couldn’t dig up the email after a 30-minute search.)

Bill or Bryan or Ben told me he was going to call within the next few hours to confirm the transfer. He did. It felt weird, but I went with it.

It ended up working, but I was also charged a $25 fee — which Bill or Bryan or Ben had warned me about. I’d asked him how I could avoid that, and he suggested the electronic check. But, as I previously discovered, no one has time for that.

(Editor’s note Dec. 2018: The fee for a domestic wire out from the Aspiration account is now just $0.82.)

After the frustration subsided, I looked into other banks’ wire fees to compare.

The average domestic outgoing transfer costs $27, according to My Bank Tracker (Bank of America’s fee is $30), so Aspiration’s really wasn’t that bad.

Plus, during that time, I’d so desperately wanted to talk face-to-face to someone to understand what I needed to do, what my options were.

I even impulsively drove to Bank of America and sat in the parking lot, wondering if someone inside would help me. My landlord has a Bank of America account, after all.

Thankfully, I found Aspiration’s customer service — via phone and chat — to be fine and dandy and that I never had to hold too long.

Depositing Cash Isn’t Always a Breeze

Occasionally, I’ll pet sit or house sit or run an errand for a neighbor or elderly loved one. And it never fails: They pay me in cash.

I like to deposit the cash into my account so it doesn’t tempt me. However, Aspiration doesn’t allow me to deposit cash through ATMs.

It’s Not Super Well-Known (Yet)

Here’s my final concern: Not all budgeting apps work with Aspiration yet, which could make your favorite app ineffective when you use Aspiration as your main money holder.

Aspiration Review: My Final Verdict

Honestly, I thought there’d be more downsides to Aspiration, mostly because my dad thought the idea of an online-only account was totally ludicrous. He rattled off all the times you’d want to walk into a brick-and-mortar bank. However, you can handle all those tasks online, usually from the comfort of your home.

(Plus, my dad still writes checks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s very… traditional.)

Overall, I’m loving  Aspiration as my primary account. Plus, a nice little bonus? I’ve earned a good bit of money, thanks to that sweet, sweet interest.

If you’re interested in learning more about Aspiration, explore its site. The layout is straightforward and transparent, so you won’t need to do a lot of squinting at fine print.

We may receive compensation from Aspiration for promoting the company, but we weren’t paid for this specific review. All reporting is our own.

*Aspiration Partners, Inc. and its affiliates are committed to “All Extra Services Provided at Cost,” meaning that it’ll only charge you what it costs them to provide the extra service (such as a wire transfer), and not a penny more. Besides these at-cost service charges, the only account fee you pay is the fee you choose, even if it’s $0, which is why it’s called Pay What Is Fair.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Feel free to reach out to share your own experiences with Aspiration!