Upgrade Review: Checking

Upgrade offers a rewarding checking account, but you won’t be able to deposit cash or checks.
Ruth SarrealOct 4, 2021

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Overall bank rating

Upgrade
  • Checking

  • Banking experience

  • Overdraft fees

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line:

Upgrade is a digital-only neobank. With FDIC-insured Cross River Bank as its partner, Upgrade offers Rewards Checking, its mobile checking account that can be accessed online and through a mobile app. It rewards you with cash back for purchases made with your debit card, and there are no monthly fees. But you can’t deposit cash or checks.

 

What to know about neobanks: Neobanks can be solid options for consumers who prefer online-only banking. Funds deposited in these accounts are usually FDIC-insured through partner banks, which will also typically receive customers’ money if a neobank closes, so customer funds are safe. Neobank accounts often have low monthly fees and earn strong rates. However, they may also lack traditional banking features, including in-person customer service and access to personal or cashier’s checks (often required for large purchases, such as buying a home) or wire transfers. (Learn more about neobanks.)

 

Best for: Those who only need a checking account, want to earn cash back and don’t need to deposit cash or checks.

Pros

  • No monthly fees and no overdraft fees.
  • Up to 2% cash back on debit card transactions.

Cons

  • Cash and check deposits aren’t accepted.
  • No free ATM network; to get ATM fee rebates, you’ll need to meet some requirements.

Full review

Upgrade Rewards Checking

Upgrade Rewards Checking

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Monthly Fee

$0

The Rewards Checking account from Upgrade has no monthly fee. Rewards come in the form of cash back. You’ll get 2% cash back on purchases at drug stores, restaurants, gas stations and other everyday places, as well as on payments for utilities, phone, streaming services and more. For all other debit card purchases, you’ll earn 1%. You can only earn 2% cash-back rewards on up to $500 each year. After that, you’ll earn 1% on all purchases or payments for the rest of the year.

Upgrade doesn’t have its own ATMs or belong to a shared ATM network, but each month, it will rebate up to five ATM fees charged by another institution for making withdrawals. You’ll need to qualify for those rebates: Your previous month’s average daily balance must be at least $2,500, or you must have had direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 in the previous month. In the first two months, Upgrade will refund up to five ATM fees whether or not you meet the requirements.

You can deposit money only through direct deposit or by making transfers from an external account. Upgrade doesn’t accept cash or check deposits.

Rewards Checking account holders can also get a rate discount of up to 20% on Upgrade loans and credit cards. (Learn more about Upgrade’s personal loans in our review.)

Banking experience

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

Upgrade offers live customer service by phone every day: on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, and on weekends from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Help is also available on Twitter. And the bank’s mobile app earns high user ratings.

Overdraft fees

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

Upgrade doesn’t charge overdraft fees, which is a policy that some other online banks, financial companies and credit unions offer, too. But unlike many other financial institutions, Upgrade doesn’t provide overdraft protection transfers. In most cases, charges that would overdraw the account are automatically declined.

Upgrade Rewards Checking

Upgrade Rewards Checking

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Monthly Fee

$0

The Rewards Checking account from Upgrade has no monthly fee. Rewards come in the form of cash back. You’ll get 2% cash back on purchases at drug stores, restaurants, gas stations and other everyday places, as well as on payments for utilities, phone, streaming services and more. For all other debit card purchases, you’ll earn 1%. You can only earn 2% cash-back rewards on up to $500 each year. After that, you’ll earn 1% on all purchases or payments for the rest of the year.

Upgrade doesn’t have its own ATMs or belong to a shared ATM network, but each month, it will rebate up to five ATM fees charged by another institution for making withdrawals. You’ll need to qualify for those rebates: Your previous month’s average daily balance must be at least $2,500, or you must have had direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 in the previous month. In the first two months, Upgrade will refund up to five ATM fees whether or not you meet the requirements.

You can deposit money only through direct deposit or by making transfers from an external account. Upgrade doesn’t accept cash or check deposits.

Rewards Checking account holders can also get a rate discount of up to 20% on Upgrade loans and credit cards. (Learn more about Upgrade’s personal loans in our review.)

How does Upgrade compare?

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Federally insured by the NCUA

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Monthly Fee

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

APY

N/A

APY

0.10%

With $2,500 minimum balance

APY

0.25%

With $0 minimum balance

Bonus

N/A

Bonus

N/A

Bonus

N/A

RATING 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, banking 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.