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UFB Direct Bank Review: Checking, Savings

Banking, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts
ufb-direct-bank-review-checking-savings
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NerdWallet rating: 4.0/5.0

UFB Direct isn’t just another online-only bank. Its rewards debit card for American Airlines members and its money market account set it apart from online — and offline — competition.

Where UFB Direct shines:

  • Debit card rewards for American Airlines members
  • Money market account paying 1.60% APY, among the highest rates in the industry
  • Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements

Where UFB Direct falls short:

  • You need $100 to open checking and savings accounts, and $5,000 to open a money market account
  • You need a hefty balance to earn more than minimum interest on savings


Where UFB Direct shines:

  • Debit card rewards for American Airlines members
  • Money market account paying 1.60% APY, among the highest rates in the industry
  • Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements

Where UFB Direct falls short:

  • You need $100 to open checking and savings accounts, and $5,000 to open a money market account
  • You need a hefty balance to earn more than minimum interest on savings


Where UFB Direct shines:

  • Debit card rewards for American Airlines members
  • Money market account paying 1.60% APY, among the highest rates in the industry
  • Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements

Where UFB Direct falls short:

  • You need $100 to open checking and savings accounts, and $5,000 to open a money market account
  • You need a hefty balance to earn more than minimum interest on savings

The bottom line

UFB Direct bank offers definite advantages when it comes to interest rates. Its regular savings account pays up to 1.00% APY, and its money market account pays 1.60% — nearly the highest in the industry. Even its checking account is rewarding, especially for American Airlines members. However, you’ll need to deposit at least $5,000 to take advantage of UFB’s money market rates and at least $20,000 to earn the highest rate for regular savings accounts. Those with lower balances will find better deals at other banks or credit unions.

Best if: You have a chunk of money to deposit — or are an American Airlines member.


Read on for details about UFB Direct’s checking and savings accounts, customer experience and more.

Checking: 4.5/5.0

UFB Direct’s checking account may not pay interest, but it rewards customers in other ways.

Rewards checking: American Airlines members can earn up to 120,000 points or miles annually, one for every debit card POS transaction of $3 or more. (POS transactions are typically ones made in person at a merchant.) Grocery store and wholesale store purchases, among others, don’t count. This isn’t much compared with the rewards offered by credit cards, but it stands out because few checking accounts offer interest or rewards at all. (For more that do, click here.)

Those who aren’t American Airlines members can still reap benefits by activating cash-back offers at merchants where they regularly shop.

No monthly fees: UFB’s checking account doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement or charge monthly maintenance fees.

Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements: You’ll be reimbursed for unlimited ATM fees incurred in the U.S. Abroad, you’ll be charged 2% — lower than the 3% charged by banking giants such as Bank of America and Chase — and you’ll probably be charged fees by the ATM owner as well.

Cash deposit option: It’s not always possible to deposit cash with an online bank, but UFB’s partnership with Green Dot lets users make cash deposits at participating retailers, such as CVS and Walgreens. You might pay up to $4.95 to do so. (Read this to learn about alternatives to cash deposits.)

However, there’s a higher barrier to entry than with competitors’ checking accounts.

High minimum to open: You must plunk down $100 to open a UFB Direct checking account. Many online competitors — including Ally and Capital One 360 — don’t require an opening deposit.

» Looking for checking alternatives? Browse the best rewards checking accounts of 2018

savings: 4.0/5.0

UFB’s money market account made our list of the top MMAs this year, and its other two savings options are also worth investigating.

Potential for high interest: UFB’s savings rates are impressive. Its regular savings account pays up to 1.00% APY and its premium account pays up to 1.30% APY. Its money market account pays 1.60% APY on all balances — once you’ve come up with $5,000 to open one.

Easy access to money: UFB savings account holders receive a free debit card, and money market account holders can access one as well. Those with money market accounts can also write limited checks. All are subject to a legal maximum of six transfers out per month.

Potential for low fees: There are no maintenance fees for UFB savings accounts. Keep a minimum average daily balance of $5,000 or more in your money market and you won’t pay any on that account, either — otherwise, it’s $10.

But not everyone can take advantage of the accounts’ best features.

High minimum to earn top savings rates: You need at least $20,000 in your regular UFB savings account and $25,000 in your UFB premium savings account to earn the best rate. Otherwise, you’ll earn 0.2% APY, which is still higher than average — but you could earn more on a lower balance at a competitor such as Ally.

High minimum to open: You’ll need $5,000 to open a money market account at UFB. This isn’t unheard of, but some banks — including Discover — require less. And you’ll need $100 to open either savings account. You can open a savings account with $0 at other banks, such as Ally and Barclays.

» Want to make your money go further? Explore the best money market accounts of 2018

Overdraft fees: 3.0/5.0

UFB’s overdraft policies are middle-of-the-road. The bank does offer users some ways to protect themselves.

Offers overdraft protection: UFB Direct’s overdraft fee ($25) is lower than the national median, and it charges customers up to three times per day, which is less than some competitors. However, other online banks — including Simple and Chime — don’t charge overdraft fees at all, and some charge a maximum of only one per day. (For a look at what other banks do, click here.)

Free overdraft protection transfers: If you overdraw your checking account, UFB will transfer money from a linked savings or money market account to cover the shortfall at no cost.

Interest-only overdraft protection line of credit: You can also use an overdraft line of credit to protect yourself from overdraft charges. It’s free to apply for UFB’s program, and you’re charged only interest (18% APY) if you use it.

bank experience: 3.5/5.0

UFB Direct’s customer service is robust, and its tools could help many users.

24/7 customer service: UFB Direct has 24/7 customer service via phone. It also offers support via live chat and email.

Money management apps: UFB’s mobile apps are highly rated for both iOS and Android. And it offers FinanceWorks, a budgeting app powered by Quicken.

But some will prefer in-person service or more tech-savvy customer assistance.

No Twitter service: UFB doesn’t respond to customer concerns directly on Twitter, routing customers to the phone instead.

Only one branch: San Diego-area customers can bank at UFB Direct’s one location. Some online banks don’t have any branches, but those who prefer an in-person experience might want to try a traditional brick-and-mortar bank or credit union.

» Ready to take the next step? High interest rates make banking with UFB Direct appealing — if you have plenty of money to deposit. Compare it with similar banks such as Ally (see our review) or Capital One 360 (see our review) to find which one fits your needs best.


Ratings methodology

NerdWallet’s overall ratings for banks and credit unions are weighted averages of several categories: checking, savings, certificates of deposit or credit union share certificates, customer experience and overdraft fees.

Factors we consider, depending on the category, include rates and fees, ATM and branch access, account features and limits, user-facing technology, customer service and innovation.

The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

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