Simple's streamlined and user-friendly checking account lets you budget and save---all the while charging you almost nothing in fees.

The word “disruption” is overused. Too often, a supposedly disruptive new company just puts a fancy gloss on the same old stuff—all the while sidestepping regulations and taxes.

So I’m not going to say that Simple, a new online checking account,“disrupts” banking. But it does radically reorient the online banking process around a customer’s actual needs, rather than the bank’s business interests. And that feels quietly revolutionary.

Simple keeps it, well, simple

Simple’s online experience is streamlined and user-friendly. Those cluttered, confusing interfaces, overflowing with offers for credit cards, IRAs, and CDs? Nowhere to be found on your Simple dashboard: The checking account is all they offer.

That frustrating search to figure out how to report your card lost or stolen, or figure out your routing and account numbers, or find out how to transfer money? Non-existent. You can quickly exhaust all of Simple’s menu items, and every one of them is something you actually need, not something the company wants you to buy.

For years, I’ve had a checking account with USAA, another bank with a mission to serve customers rather than just make profits. I was skeptical of Simple, and how it would compare.

After a month of using Simple, however, I’m genuinely torn on whether I should go back to USAA or stick with Simple.

That’s not to say that Simple is perfect: There are tradeoffs to be made when switching from the establishment, bloated and inefficient as it may be, to an upstart.

Related: USAA, A Nice Bank If You Can Get It

Simple takes a hands-on approach to its customers’ finances

Most banks are pretty agnostic when it comes to how their customers should manage their money. Their platforms are neutral, neither encouraging good habits nor discouraging bad ones.

And since many banks make serious money on overdraft fees, they probably don’t mind if their customers are a bit forgetful or reckless with their balances—that just means more fees, and thus more money, for them.

Simple is different. It has a few key features that help its customers live within their means, save for what they want, and avoid stupid mistakes.

Simple puts your Safe-To-Spend money front and center

One of Simple’s biggest innovations is something so obvious it’s almost ridiculous that every other bank doesn’t already do it: Their Safe-To-Spend number, which pops out at you in large, white font upon log-in, is not your balance, but rather your balance minus any scheduled transactions (transfers that haven’t gone through, paper checks that haven’t been cashed) and contributions toward your savings goals.

Other banks, of course, often show you scheduled transactions, but they don’t automatically deduct them from your available balance. My old account at USAA hides scheduled transactions in a drop down, and often keeps old transactions in “scheduled” long after they’ve already gone through.

Simple makes saving a part of your checking account

And other banks don’t let you set aside money within your checking account. That’s another of Simple’s great little innovations: Goals. You can create a goal for anything, and just about on any time table.

I started saving up for a cycling jacket shortly after opening my account, and I’m now more than halfway there. (I’m going very slowly.) You can choose to fully fund a goal right away, or set an end date. Simple will figure out what you need to contribute on a daily basis to meet your goal by that date.

Minor quibble: You’re limited to saving all at once, or day by day

My one quibble with goals is that they’re aren’t more frequency options: I’d love to be able to fund a goal weekly or even monthly. It seems a bit silly to me to put a couple of bucks aside each day, when I could just put $10-$15 away each week.

For instance, my partner and I take turns paying the rent, which means there are months where I need to set aside money for rent that won’t be due for several weeks. Right now, I’ve created a workaround in Simple: I create a goal, fund it with the amount I want, then pause the goal. The next time I get paid, I’ll un-pause it, fund it again, and pause it again. It works (sort of), but I’d really prefer if I could just fund the goal on a biweekly basis.

Despite this complaint, goals are a great way to avoid that classic budgeting trap: Assuming that you’ll save what’s left over at the end of the month, only to find you have nothing left over.

Once you’ve saved up the money, you can then connect a particular charge (say, my sweet cycling jacket) to the goal, showing that it was met. It’s a nice way to reinforce and reward good habits; a lot of budgeting apps treat any spending as bad, and thus ignore that the endpoint of saving is usually spending—just with intention and planning.

Simple charges hardly any fees

You know those terrible $35 overdraft fees that put your even more in debt? Simple doesn’t have them.

It also doesn’t have monthly maintenance fees, transfer fees, or ATM surcharges.

The only fees you’re likely to be charged with a Simple account come from other banks’—namely ATM fees. (More on that in a minute.)

Simple’s paper checks are kind of slow, but their online transfers are fast

You can send a paper check via Simple, though they encourage electronic transfers. Transfers—say to a savings account or another checking account—are remarkably fast, often clearing in one business day. You can also instantly send money to other Simple customers—kind of like an intra-bank Venmo.

Their paper checks, on the other hand, are notably slow. I tried to pay my rent using Simple, but found, when I went to send it, that it would arrive five days after the rent was due! I ended up using my USAA account which, though I didn’t get around to scheduling it until three days after I tried to schedule with Simple, still got my check to my landlord by the first of the month.

In short: If you use Simple, either go electronic or plan way ahead.

Simple works like a lot of other online banks

You deposit checks via their app by taking a picture. If you want to deposit cash, you’ll need to buy a money order.

One of the first things that impressed me about Simple was how easy it was to set up direct deposit—Simple asked a few questions, then created a PDF that already had my signature on it. It’s little things like that, where Simple takes the tedium out of a thankless task, that really sets the company apart.

It’s also easy—and pretty obvious—how to set up travel alerts if you’re going on a trip, how to put a freeze on your card if you lose it (or worry it’s been stolen), and how to change your PIN.

Simple’s biggest issue: Their less-than-stellar ATM network

Simple has no branches, and thus it has no ATMs. Like other online accounts, it belongs to a network of ATMS—in Simple’s case, the Allpoint network.

The Allpoint Network has ATMs in drug stores and gas stations across the US—they’re those hulking grey machines discreetly hidden in your local Walgreens or 7-Eleven. Not all of them are scary and anonymous-looking: Of the three near me, one was branded by Citibank, another by a respected local bank (Bangor Savings), and the third had no branding at all.

Obviously, if you have qualms about these ATMs—and many people do—and you make a lot of cash withdrawals, then this might be a deal breaker for you. I don’t even make that many withdrawals and I still find the availability of ATMs to be one of the more mildly annoying parts about exclusively banking with Simple. (Which is why I currently don’t bank exclusively with Simple.)

USAA also uses the Allpoint network, but not exclusively. As part of Moneypass, it allows its users to access ATMs at “real” banks and credit unions without paying fees. And, beyond that, USAA also refunds ATM fees (up to $15 a month) charged by other banks, so if a fee-free ATM isn’t available, you can use the nearest ATM and not pay a fee.

Simple does not do that. If you’re nowhere near an Allpoint ATM (which is relatively unlikely), and you need cash, you’ll just have to pay the other bank’s fee.

One thing to note if you use your Simple ATM card at an Allpoint ATM: The machine will still warn you about a $3.50 fee, and it’ll even be printed on your receipt. However, if you check your Simple balance, only the amount of your withdrawal will be deducted from your account.

On a recent test, I had to cancel my transaction and do it again because I thought I was still getting charged a fee, and I wanted to make the most of my withdrawal. Later, I was mildly miffed to learn that this was unnecessary, and that I had taken out more money when I didn’t need to.

Read more: Learn more about Simple or open an account now.


Simple takes the checking account—an essential but unexciting part of the personal finance toolkit—and gives it some real punch. By getting rid of almost all fees, and adding in features that help you budget and save, Simple brings needed innovation to an old standby.

If you’re unhappy with your checking account—or your bank recently had a serious ethical stumble—then give Simple a look.

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About the author

Total Articles: 26
Lauren Barret is a staff writer at Money Under 30. She has an MFA in creative writing from The Ohio State University, and a BA from Kenyon College. She lives in Portland, Maine.