Aspiration vs. SoFi Money: Which Online Banking Option is Better?
For those who can live without depositing cash and speaking with in-person tellers, online-only banking options have a lot to offer. Moreover, as the popularity of these offerings continue to grow, competition has brought even more attractive features to consumers. Of course, as a dedicated reviewer and blogger, I’m always on the lookout for attractive accounts with interesting perks. That’s what’s led me to two accounts in recent months: Aspiration and SoFi Money.
Incidentally I previously reviewed each of these accounts on their own. However, since they share (or shared) some common features along with a few notable differences, I thought a head to head comparison was in order. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Aspiration and SoFi Money stack up in a number of areas and which I think is ultimately the better pick.
Editor’s note: this article was updated in August 2019 to address recent changes made by both offerings.
Comparing Aspiration and SoFi Money
A quick note
Before we jump in, I wanted to note something about Aspiration. The institution is unique in that it puts an emphasis on charity and the environment. This includes donating a portion of their profits, allowing account holders to see what kind of impact (positive or negative) the businesses they shop at have, and more. Because of this there may be reasons beyond basic banking needs that one might want to support the company. Still, for the sake of this review, I feel it’s only fair to set this goodwill aside and focus strictly on the services they offer.
First of all, just like traditional banks, funds you deposit with Aspiration and SoFi Money are FDIC insured. However, in both cases these companies actually partner with multiple banks and sweep customer funds into accounts at one of those banks. Interestingly, since they’re utilizing multiple banks to sweep funds into, Aspiration says that customer funds are insured up to $2 million per depositor, while SoFi Money account holders are insured up to $1.5 million per depositor. I’m going to go ahead and assume that half a million dollar spread won’t make much of a difference to you but the point is that the money you keep with either of these institutions is protected.
Aspiration and SoFi Money each offer savings and checking services, albeit in different ways. Once upon a time Aspiration offered what the called their Summit account that earned interest as well as a debit card. But earlier this year they changed their model, splitting their accounts into Aspiration Save and Aspiration Spend.
Meanwhile SoFi Money is a hybrid account akin to what Summit used to be. This has its pros and cons as some users might prefer having partitions between their savings and checking funds. Of course, for others, the single account simplifies things. Therefore this one really just comes down to preference and current needs.
Interest on savings
Both Aspiration and SoFi Money pay out interest on their accounts that amounts to 200 times what most traditional savings accounts offer. Although rates are subject to fluctuate over time, currently Aspiration boasts up to 2% APY on savings, while SoFi Money currently pays 2% APY (accurate as of August 8th, 2019). The “up to 2%” disclaimer with Aspiration is because you’ll need to deposit at least $1,000 a month into one of your accounts — a recent change as the previous requirement was just $1 a month. If that won’t work for you, if you have a balance of at least $10,000 on any day during the month, you can earn 1.5% APY. Sadly, failing to meet either of these requirements will result in a 0% interest rate. Additionally only funds in your Aspiration Save will earn interest.
SoFi Money has no such stipulations.
It should be no surprise that a debit card is included with both the Aspiration and SoFi Money accounts. Aspiration’s debit cards are issued by Mastercard while SoFi Money’s are Visas. In terms of looks, the Aspiration debit is mostly blue but features the bank’s “Do well, do good” tagline. While that certainly makes a statement, SoFi’s debit goes for more of a fashion statement with its blue-green design, vertical orientation, and display of only your initials on the card’s front.
Turning to functionality, one advantage Aspiration’s debit offering has is that users can earn cash back on purchases they make with the card. Speaking to the bank’s mission, the amount of cash back varies based on the retailer’s AIM (Aspiration Impact Measurement) score. Originally, when using your card at businesses with high AIM scores, you would earn 1% cash back, while all others would earn you 0.5%. However this arrangement has since changed, with the vast majority of purchases now netting you just 0.25% cash back while the 0.5% cash back tier is reserved for just a couple dozen retailers. Currently this limited list includes Apple, Target, Verizon, Wal-Mart, and others — all of which Aspiration says have among the “highest AIM scores.”
Meanwhile, SoFi Money offers no cash back on debit card purchases.
Something that attracted me to both Aspiration and SoFi Money was their promise of no ATM fees. This not only means that they’ll reimburse fees you may encounter while using domestic teller machines but will even cover international cash withdrawals (note: as of August 2019, Aspiration now limits ATM reimbursements to 5 per month). As someone who likes to have at least some of the local currency on hand when I travel, this was a big win for me.
I actually got to do a side by side comparison of Aspiration and SoFi Money on a recent trip to Paris and what I found was pretty interesting. While at Charles DeGaulle Airport, I decided to use my Aspiration and SoFi cards moments apart, withdrawing €20 each time. Oddly, when these charges reached my accounts, the converted amounts differed. For Aspiration the charge in USD came out to $22.39 while SoFi’s was $22.35. Yes that’s only a 4¢ discrepancy but I suppose it could add up if you’re withdrawing enough.
Another difference between the two is that Aspiration automatically reimburses you $4 whenever you use a foreign ATM (although they note you can submit receipts to be reimbursed if your fee was higher than that). As a result I was credited $4 after using this machine. However it seems that I wasn’t actually charged a fee for the ATM. SoFi Money didn’t bother to reimburse me for a fee since I never paid one.
One of the main reasons why people flock to online banking options is that they tend to offer far fewer (or lower) fees than mainstream brick-and-mortar accounts. SoFi Money and Aspiration are no different as both waive things like overdraft fees and maintenance fees while also carrying no minimum balance requirements. However there is a slight difference in the fee policies of these two accounts.
Aspiration operates under what it calls a Pay What is Fair model that allows account holders to select their own monthly fee. While a recommended amount will display when you first apply, you can select any amount you want — even if its zero. That said, the company writes that, although you can elect to pay nothing, “We really hope you won’t. And our business is built on trusting that you won’t.” This plus the fact that 10% of these fees go to charity, you may feel guilted into at least throwing a dollar their way each month.
Meanwhile SoFi Money asks for nothing in return. To be fair, they do have a couple of fees such as a replacement fee for your second replacement debit card and a stop payment fee of $20. Still most customers will be able to use their services without spending a dime — and won’t need to feel any shame about it.
Something I complained about in my review of Aspiration is that it seemed transfers took a while and just hung in pending without updates. That’s why I was pleased to see that, when I first set up a transfer to SoFi Money, it told me exactly when my funds would be available. For larger transfers, this may actually happen in a couple of stages but it will tell you both dates before you even initiate the transfer. This is a small touch but one that I truly appreciate.
With this being the 21st century, it should be no surprise that both Aspiration and SoFi Money allow you to manage your accounts via mobile apps as well. These will allow you to transfer money, view transactions, and more. Unfortunately these applications also have their shortcomings.
There are four main tabs in Aspiration’s app: Summary, Manage, Impact, and Setting. The most useful tab for me is Manage where you’ll be able to deposit checks, set up transfers, and more. One quirk here is that, while you transfer money from accounts you’ve already linked, you’ll need to set up additional accounts via their desktop site for some reason. Nevertheless it’s a serviceable app that fits most of my needs.
SoFi Money, on the other hand, doesn’t actually have an app of its own. Instead it shares space with the company’s other offerings, such as investing, loans, etc. In fact Money only gets one tab in the app. Despite this, it packs a lot into that tab, including check deposit, bill pay, P2P payments, and transfers. Speaking of transfers, unlike Aspiration, you can either set up transfers to/from accounts you’ve already linked or add another account on the fly. Ultimately I do wish SoFi Money was its own app but it could definitely be worse.
Last but not least, you can of course also access your Aspiration or SoFi Money accounts via their respective websites. For the most part the experiences are similar to the app (with SoFi Money again being relegated to a single tab). That said, this is where one pet peeve I have comes in.
When I initially reviewed Aspiration, I notice that their site didn’y display a running tally of how purchases and deposits affected your balance. Thankfully, this has since been corrected, making for a much better experience. On the other hand, the PDF statements you can download are still kind of confusing and not very helpful.
Thankfully SoFi Money has always displayed historical balances alongside transactions and their PDF statements are far more straightforward and easy to follow.
The Verdict: Aspiration vs. SoFi Money
When I initially wrote this comparison, Aspiration and SoFi Money were in close contention in my book (although I ultimately gave the edge to SoFi). Unfortunately, in just a few short months, Aspiration has made a series of changes that have been for the worse in my opinion. From quietly lowering their cash back debit rewards to raising the requirements for earning interest and capping ATM reimbursements, I’ve honestly been quite disappointed with how things have developed. As a result, I’ve moved all but a few dollars of what I had with Aspiration over to SoFi Money.
With all that said, those who opt to use debit cards instead of credit and want to earn cash back that way will likely want to look into Aspiration. Despite the aforementioned changes to this program, their debit rewards still best SoFi as the latter doesn’t offer any cash back checking at the moment. I also need to give Aspiration credit for finally adding running balance totals to their app and site. Lastly, while I said I’d be setting it aside for this review, obviously those who believe in Aspiration’s mission and what they’re trying to achieve will feel good about supporting them.
Nevertheless, the clear winner for me is now SoFi Money. With an impressive APY that you don’t need to do anything to earn, unlimited ATM reimbursements, and an overall enjoyable online banking experience, I’d definitely recommend giving them a look.
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Also published on Medium.