Is Ability to Overspend a Good Reason to Choose a Bank Account?

Some apps blur the line between getting a bank account and accessing credit. But should you, too?
Spencer Tierney
Annie Millerbernd
By Annie Millerbernd and  Spencer Tierney 
Published
Edited by Kim Lowe

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In need of cash? Some apps can help — but they want to be your bank account, too.

Apps at banking fintech firms Dave and MoneyLion offer small, short-term cash advances to eligible consumers. If you open a bank account or set up direct deposit, the apps sweeten the deal with lower fees or larger borrowing amounts. Apps at other firms, such as Chime, Current and Albert, offer a similar perk for those with accounts: No-fee overdraft services that cover an expense when your account has nonsufficient funds.

But a single feature like extra cash between paychecks is likely not a good reason to wed yourself to a new bank account, says Adam Rust, director of financial services with the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit that represents consumer advocacy organizations.

Between banks and credit unions, consumers can choose from more than 8,000 federally insured banking institutions, he says. The flexibility to overspend may be one of many qualities you look for in a new bank.

Here’s how to think through these two separate financial decisions: Getting extra cash and choosing a bank account.

Extra cash: An enticing offer, but with strings

When you urgently need extra money, a hurdle like setting up a bank account — and potentially adding direct deposit — may seem easy to clear if it means getting the cash you need.

Dave's fee for immediate funding is 5% of the advance amount for users with an external bank account, but just 3% for users with a Dave checking account. MoneyLion offers cash advances of up to $500 to users with external bank accounts, but increases the eligible advance amount to $1,000 if they set up direct deposit to a MoneyLion checking account.

The fee-free overdraft feature from Chime, Current and Albert will pay for certain customers’ transactions when they don’t have enough funds in their account, but only if they have a bank account that receives direct deposits. Chime requires at least $200 a month in direct deposits, and Current requires at least $500 a month. Albert requires direct deposits plus a subscription.

Apps with cash advances or overdraft coverage seem like helpful tools to bridge an income gap. They don’t check credit or charge late fees, and you can usually get a small amount of money — up to $250 covered for overdrafts and up to $500 from a cash advance app — on short notice. Your next paycheck or bank account deposit typically repays what you borrowed. And none of these apps have overdraft fees, which can be around $35 at banks.

But opening a new bank account just for a cash advance or overdraft feature might lead to unexpected inconveniences or worse. Switching banks is hard for a reason: You set up a relationship with a bank or firm, including using your bank account to pay your ongoing bills and subscriptions.

“That’s such a significant part of your financial life — it’s the foundation of your financial life — and to pick that because of a once-every-direct-deposit transaction seems, to me, like a risk of making a mistake,” Rust says.

Compare bank accounts based on low fees and available features

Choosing where to bank involves assessing available features and their associated costs. A good checking account typically has low or no monthly fees, low or no minimum balance requirements, a free ATM network and cheap ways to move money around.

Banking fintech firms — or neobanks — tend to check many of the boxes for a desirable checking account: low costs and some perks not often available at traditional banks. Dave and MoneyLion have $1 monthly fees, either as part of membership or for bank account usage. Chime and Current have no monthly fees. These four offer free ATM withdrawals nationwide through third-party networks, direct deposits up to two days early and cash-back rewards. Albert has all of these features but charges a nearly $15 monthly fee.

Consider features they lack, too

Knowing a bank account’s limits is as important as knowing the perks, Rust says.

Banking fintech firms often focus on a narrow set of accounts and features. None of the five mentioned offer joint accounts or business bank accounts, in case you manage money with a partner or run a small business. These firms don’t have branch networks for in-person services as an alternative to online or phone support. They’re also not part of the Zelle network, which enables nearly instant transfers across different banks. Other features, such as paper checkbooks, foreign currency and cashier’s checks, aren’t available either.

Most banking fintech firms have federally insured accounts through partner banks instead of being banks themselves. If the firms fail, there can be risks that bank failures don’t have. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) sweeps in to protect customers at failed banks to prevent any loss or delay to money access, but that doesn’t happen for bankrupt companies that partner with banks. Neobank failures can result in delays to accessing your money or bank accounts.

Even credit-related perks have limits. Dave and MoneyLion set caps on the amount users can borrow between paychecks. Overdraft features at Chime, Current and Albert have maximum coverage amounts — starting as low as $20 — and some transactions, like online bill payments or transfers, aren’t covered.

Bear in mind, too, that setting up direct deposit with a cash advance app’s bank account just to meet the criteria for a larger advance could disrupt your finances. Funneling your paycheck to two different banks may mean you'll need another set of login credentials to access your account online, you may need another debit card — and things get even more complex if transfers take days to move from your new account to your primary one.

“It can obviously be a loss of convenience for the consumer to have multiple accounts or to have to only use their MoneyLion account because it could get them greater advances,” says Andrew Kushner, senior policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending.

Find alternatives for extra cash

Cash advances and overdraft coverage can be helpful if they’re used occasionally, but if you’re struggling to cover everyday expenses like gas and groceries, consider alternatives that require less commitment to an app and low or no fees.

Some national banks offer small, affordable loans to existing customers, and federal credit unions may provide low-cost payday alternative loans. Financial assistance programs from local nonprofits can help with necessities like food and clothing. Or consider taking out a low- or no-interest loan from a family member.

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