Review: The Aspiration Summit Account

Posted May 2, 2018 8:00 a.m. EDT
Updated July 5, 2018 6:00 p.m. EDT

The Aspiration Summit Account is a new checking account that, depending upon your personal situation, can offer exceptional value. Here are the best features:

  • You earn interest on your checking account balance. You will be paid 0.25% on balances up to $2,499.99 and 1.00% on the entirety of balances of $2,500 or more.
  • You can use any ATM in the world, for free. Aspiration will not charge you an ATM fee. Even better, the account offers unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees charged by other banks within the U.S. and even overseas.
  • The monthly fee can be $0. You decide how much you pay each month, and you can set that fee at $0. (We explain this rather bizarre pricing strategy below).

The 1.00% interest rate is one of the best checking account rates in the country. If you move both your checking account and savings account into a Aspiration Summit Account, you would be able to earn a high interest rate on your money while avoiding the risk of overdraft and enjoying the convenience of only having one account.

However, this account is far from perfect, or free for certain situations. In particular:

  • There is an overdraft fee of $25, which rivals the “gotcha” fees of the big banks.
  • Other fees are also fairly lower than big banks. Outgoing wire transfers cost $20.
  • Receiving an incoming wire transfer will cost you $10. And to stop a payment will cost you $25.

Aspiration is a fairly new financial services company that aims to be “the investment firm for the middle class.” In this video (that could pass for a parody if you didn’t realize they were serious), the company proclaims that it is possible to be a “capitalist with a conscience.” Lofty goals are behind the company and the products they have designed. The CEO (Andrei Cherny) was a former Clinton White House aide, and with Aspiration he is trying to take action and create a new type of financial services firm that lives up to his ideals.

All products offered by Aspiration (which includes two investment funds and a checking account) have the same pricing model. You decide how much to pay. Yes, the fee is set entirely by you, the customer. You can set it to $0 or you can set it to any amount below $10. You can change the fee whenever you want. They provide a service and you decide what it is worth.

Aspiration is making a big bet.

With traditional banking, people are nickel and dimed every month. Make an out of network ATM withdrawal, and you could end up spending $10 in fees. Put your money into a savings account, and earn only 0.01%. By banking at Aspiration, you could be much better off financially than banking with your traditional bank. And you can do your own calculation and decide how much of that savings you share with Aspiration. They are hoping that you will share enough for the business to continue.

Application Process for the Aspiration Summit Account

In order to open an account, you need to be invited.

We believe they have created the invitation process to make you feel like you’re joining an exclusive community. Hopefully the contrived exclusivity will be dropped in favor of an easy account opening process soon.

To apply for the account, you first have to “secure your spot.” You can do that on their website here. You simply have to enter your email and click on the Get Started button.

After you provide your email to “secure your spot,” you will receive this message:

Immediately after, I received this message:

At that point, I was able to create my account online and apply for the checking account. Because this is an online checking account, there will be extensive KYC (know-your-customer) and compliance questions. I was required to provide:

  • Answers to identity verification questions. These are questions generated by a credit bureau. So, you will be asked to provide your social security number, but they ensure that they won’t “run the kind of credit check that will ding your score”. You might also be asked to answer questions about your mortgage payments, car loans, and other credit bureau items to identify yourself.
  • A link to an existing bank account. This is used to provide the initial funds in the account. I put $10 into the account for a test drive. (By doing this, Aspiration also reduces its risk, because you will have gone through the compliance checks of your existing bank).

Once you finish the account opening process, it may take a few days for the account to be open and for you to receive your debit card in the mail. Although the brand is “Summit” (the account) and “Aspiration,” (the business) it is actually Radius bank that is the bank operating your account. Aspiration has partnered with Radius in a way that is similar to how Simple operated. (Simple, for those who remember, was not a bank. It created the front-end user interface, but partnered with an FDIC-regulated bank).

Aspiration Summit Account Mobile App

In 2016, Aspiration joined the rest of the banking industry with the launch of their mobile app. Their app allows you to view your Aspiration Summit Account balance and transaction history, remote deposit checks using your phone’s camera, schedule transfers between the Aspiration Summit Account and other bank accounts, pay bills, and track the impact of your spending habits. The mobile app also allows you to use fingerprint authentication to secure the data.There are two features that stand out:

  • Their Payments feature
  • Their Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM) feature
  • Payments

    Payments is Aspiration’s bill pay feature. Not only does this feature allow you to pay your bills, but it also allows you to pay your friends. However, unlike other bill pay and money transfer features (like Zelle), Aspiration’s Payments feature sends payees a paper check with your name, address, and optional memo if you choose to include one. This feature is available at no charge to the account holder.

    Since this feature is sending a paper check, you can expect the payee to receive the check within 5-7 business days from the send date. Fortunately, Aspiration doesn’t limit the number of payments that can be scheduled and they don’t limit the amount of money you can send.

    Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM)

    AIM is a pretty unique feature as it allows you to see the impact you’re making on the planet and people based on your spending habits. This feature will provide you with a score that is determined by the types of businesses you frequent. The score is calculated by how the businesses treat their employees, customers, community, and environment. So, businesses are given a score and you’re given a score based on where you do your shopping.

    Aspiration shares that they created AIM “so that we can all think about how our everyday spending can make the world a better place.” This may sound very “kumbaya”, but there’s no denying that they’ve created an innovative feature. If you’re not too keen on this feature, you are given the option to turn it off in the Mobile App’s settings.

    What We Like

    • Unlimited, global ATM fee reimbursement: With this account, you can use any ATM in the world and it won’t cost you a dime. Not only won’t Aspiration charge you a fee, but you will be reimbursed any fee charged by the other bank whether they are located in the U.S. or in another country.
    • One of the best interest rates in the market: At a traditional bricks-and mortar bank, you would receive no interest on your checking account, and you would earn only 0.01% on your savings account. With this account, you earn 0.25% on the first $2,500 and 1.00% on everything above that amount. The best online checking account in the market is currently paying 2.01%, but only as an introductory rate.
    • You no longer need to have a separate savings account and checking account. With that, you no longer need to worry about overdrafts. At a traditional bank, you could end up paying $10 just to have money automatically transferred from your savings account to your checking account if you make a mistake. Because you can keep all of your money in one account, you will not need to worry about overdraft transfers.
    • Full FDIC insurance, up to $250,000 per account per individual.

    What We Find Lacking

    • Bill pay functionality. While Aspiration does mention that they will be making updates and improvements to their Payments feature, they don’t seem to mention going away from the paper check method. While sending paper checks may be a good solution for a feature that once didn’t exist at Aspiration, it’s still not as efficient as most online bill pay features that other banks offer.

    Who Could Benefit From the Aspiration Summit Account Now?

    The perfect profile for a Summit customer today would be:

    • You travel a lot, and frequently need to use ATMs that are outside of your bank’s network
    • You have a lot of cash that you keep in your account and would like to earn interest on that money
    • You are about the impact you make on people and the environment.

    LEARN MORE Secured

    on Aspiration’s secure website

    Alternatives if This Account is Not Right For You

    This account is going to get better over time. It won’t come as a surprise if this account starts to become much more competitive.

    Depending upon what feature is most important to you, there are excellent alternatives:

    • If you want the highest interest rate, you can earn up to 1.90% with an online savings account with a moderate deposit amount requirement. You can find the best savings account here.
    • If you want to avoid ATM fees globally, but need better bill pay capabilities, you should open a Charles Schwab checking account. You can find that account, and others, on our checking account page.

    This Looks Great and Will Get Better. But is it Sustainable?

    One of the biggest worries we have at MagnifyMoney is the following: when something looks too good to be true, it usually doesn’t last long. The offer can last for a few years, but eventually market forces will catch up with it.

    Providing unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees globally is expensive. Ally originally offered the same perk and then capped that benefit at $10 per month ($120 per year), because it was impossible for them to make money on the checking accounts otherwise. Aspiration does not have a magic formula, and eventually the business will need to make money somewhere.

    Often, banks do not make money on checking accounts. Instead, these accounts serve as the foundation account and the bank cross-sells other products. Perhaps this is Aspiration’s plan.

    Regardless, the product is very consumer friendly and potentially lucrative. According to CrunchBase, the business has raised over $20 million. Clearly, the business will need to raise more capital as it scales, especially given the low level of customer profitability expected. There is certainly limited risk to taking advantage of the great offer available now. At MagnifyMoney, we just hope that they find a way to make money sustainably. As Ally customers know all too well, it can be frustrating to switch accounts based upon a strong feature (unlimited ATM reimbursement), only to have that benefit taken away when it is deemed too expensive.

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