Simple offers an online alternative to traditional banking, with a goal of providing features you care about and excellent customer support. Here's a look at what they have to offer and how you can get faster access to their invite-only service.
I switched to Simple a few months ago and it has made managing my finances far easier than Bank of America. I don't have to worry about fees, I always know how much money I have, I'm alerted about any changes instantly, and the customer support team always offers quick answers to any problems that come up. While online banking isn't for everyone, I've really enjoyed my experience so far. This post details some of the best stuff Simple has to offer and a way to skip to the front the invite queue if you feel like giving it a try.
How Simple Works
Simple is, well, pretty simple to understand. Instead of depositing your hard-earned cash in a physical bank, you use technology to do the job for you. When you sign up, you get a Simple VISA card that you can use to withdraw cash from an ATM or make purchases like you would with any bank debit card. The fun starts when you begin to see instant updates and alerts on your iPhone or Android. For example, when you purchase gas for your car Simple will let you know that the gas station may authorize $75 worth of charges but the final amount will change to the total given to you at the pump. When funds are available, you'll receive notifications, too. You can check up-to-the-minute information about your account on your smartphone, locate one of over 50,000 fee-free ATMs based on your location, scan checks for deposit, and much more. Essentially, Simple is a bank you interact with via your smartphone and computer rather than in person. That may frighten some, but many will find that the benefits are worth the sacrifices.
Because online banking is a little scary for some, Simple requires strong passwords and an extra PIN on your smartphone to block out unwanted access if your mobile is lost or stolen. You can't use Simple without an iDevice or Android smartphone, which provides additional security because your bank account won't work without access. (You can, however, dump your smartphone after the initial setup.) Simple also allows you to block access to your debit card via the site and your smartphone, so if your card is lost (temporarily, anyway) you can just turn it off. (If you need to request a replacement through customer support, however, you won't be able to turn it back on.) Additionally, your money is insured to at least the FDIC limit (currently $250,000) and your personal information is never sold or shared with anyone. Simple wanted to create a banking replacement that provides the services of a Chase or Bank of America while adding new better features and focusing on making the experience ideal for the customer.
Simple operates more like a tech startup than a bank, because in many ways that's what it is. This offers a number of advantages because it means new features are added regularly. Earlier this month Simple released their long-awaited Android app. Just today, they added several new features including the option to attach photos to purchases (e.g. receipts, general images), the option to spend from your savings goals (which we'll discuss shortly), and the aforementioned ability to block usage of your card for as long or as little as you desire. This fast-paced iteration means your bank gets feature upgrades frequently. Here are a few key features Simple offers that provide a better experience:
Safe to Spend tells you exactly how much money you can spend right now. It factors in any pending transactions as well as savings goals you may have in place (explained below).
Savings Goals automatically sort your money into categories of your choosing. For example, if you want to save $1,500 for a vacation in March you can set a goal to do that. Simple will automatically move a little money every day into that goal until it's filled up. When you're ready to spend that money, you just switch on the "spend from goal" option on your smartphone. Of course, you don't have to spend the money—you can just use a savings goal to keep your cash out of your "safe to spend" amount.
A Smart Transaction History knows where you spent your money, what type of transaction it was, and if you added a tip or paid a fee. These transactions are always tagged accordingly (tags you can add to as well), and Simple's web app offers a powerful search tool to locate any transaction based on several factors. Want to know how much you spent on groceries in a given month? You can search for that exact query and even save it for easy access later. If there's anything you want to know about your transaction history, Simple makes the information easy to find.
Photo Check Deposit allows you to deposit checks using your smartphone's camera. Just take a picture of the front and back, input the amount, and wait for the deposit to come through. While you can't make cash deposits with Simple, depositing checks only takes a minute and doesn't require a trip to the bank or an ATM.
A Fast ATM Locator in Simple's smartphone app will check your current location and quickly show you where you can find a fee-free ATM. Simple uses the Allpoint network, which offers over 50,000 locations in the United States.
Send Money to Anyone by typing in their name, address, and specifying an amount. Simple will issue a check and mail it for you, free of charge. If you pay the same person often, such as a landlord or service provider, you can add them to your address book or even schedule a recurring monthly payment to save you time and effort.
Exportable Data gives you the option of quickly saving your transaction history as a CSV or JSON file in two clicks.
This is just a short list of features that Simple provides, but should give you an idea of some of their advantages.
The Support Team
Simple puts a high priority on customer support. Not only is that important because they're an online bank, but because you want to work with kind people you can trust when it comes to your money. If you want to talk to a human, you can just give Simple a call. They also respond to email and messages on Twitter most often in minutes rather than hours. You don't receive just "yes" or "no" answers in most cases, either. If you have a problem and there isn't an outright solution, Simple's support staff will help you find a workaround. This is incredibly important with online banking because a number of transactions aren't as easy (e.g. cash deposits, large withdrawals) but are still possible. If you want to get an idea of how helpful their support team can be before switching, try inundating them with any number of questions. In my experience, they'll answer them enthusiastically, quickly, and with just the right amount of detail.
When it comes to downsides, Simple offers many of the same issues that any online bank would: some transactions that may have been easy with a physical bank require a bit more effort. That said, you're trading that convenience for a number of new online conveniences. You can also retain a local bank account for the sole purpose of making local deposits when necessary.
Simple also isn't accessible to everyone. If you don't own an iPhone, iPod touch, or Android smartphone, you can't use their service. You also have to wait to be invited, though we have a work-around for that below.
For more on the ups and downsides of online banking, and help figuring out if it's worthwhile for you, check out this post.
How to Sign Up and Get Invited ASAP
Simple keeps their system closed and invites groups of people as they are able to accommodate them. That means you have to sign up for an invite and wait until they have room to provide you with an account. Normally that wait can be a little while, but Simple has agreed to give Lifehacker readers if they request an invite anytime this week (until 11:59 PM on Sunday, February 3rd 2013). All you have to do is click the link below to visit the Simple site, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and request an invite like you normally would. They'll know you came from Lifehacker and send you an invite within a few days. If you've already requested an invite from Simple but have yet to receive one, go ahead and make another request by following the aforementioned instructions. Be sure to do it by Sunday, however, as priority access is only available for that long.