Mobile-Only Banking with Absurdly High Interest Rate


One of the big innovations of the last few years is the emergence of cash management accounts. A lot of financial services technology companies (fintech) have started marketing banking services with their core offerings. These fintech companies partner with major banks to hold the money, to get FDIC insurance, but they offer all the services on top of the banking layer.

Betterment is a robo-advisor but they also have a “savings” account in their Everyday Cash Reserve product.

Personal Capital is a wealth management tool and robo-advisor but they also offer Personal Capital Cash, which offers high yields.

But then you have banks that are simply “white-labeling” other banks – these are called neobanks. We saw this with Simple, which partnered with BBVA USA until BBVA acquired them in 2014.

Varo Money is an example of the latter, a neobank that uses the bank services of The Bancorp Bank.

If you’re comfortable using a non-traditional bank – one that operates entirely from a mobile app and charges very few fees – take a close look at Varo Money.

Their checking account option gives you all the features of traditional bank checking accounts, but without the many fees they charge. Additionally, their savings account option will provide you with an interest rate comparable to the highest paying online banks.

What is Varo Money?

Founded in 2015, and based in San Francisco, California, Varo Money is a mobile banking app offering both free checking and high-yield savings. One of the factors that distinguishes Varo Money from the many thousands of available banks is that it operates entirely as a mobile banking platform. Not only are there no physical branches, but there’s no traditional browser access either. It’s all on the app.

As I mentioned earlier in the introduction about neobanks, Varo Money partners with The Bancorp Bank: a $4.4 billion bank based in Wilmington, Delaware.

To keep things simple, Varo Money offers just two accounts: a checking account and a high-yield savings account. Unlike traditional banks, they don’t offer other deposit products (like certificates of deposit). They also don’t provide loans, such as personal loans, auto loans, or credit cards.

The absence of these additional services enables Varo Money to keep their operations completely streamlined and pass the savings on to their customers in the form of no-fee banking.

Varo Money has a Better Business Bureau rating of “A+”, the highest rating on a scale of A+ to F. Meanwhile, the service is rated 4.6 out of 5 stars by more than 11,000 users on Google Play, and 4.7 out of 5 stars by more than 34,000 users on The App Store.

Varo Money Bank (Checking) Account

This is Varo Money’s primary bank account. It provides all the services of a traditional bank checking account including the ability to send paper checks, but it does so with very few, if any, fees. What’s more, there’s no minimum balance required in the account.

You can deposit checks, make transfers, and pay bills, all with no fees. The account also comes with a Visa debit card (see description below).

Your checking account may be eligible for “No Fee Overdraft” of up to $50 for purchases made using your Varo Visa Debit Card. There is no fee to enroll; you’ll be notified if you’re determined to be eligible. If you are, you’ll have the option to either turn on or turn off the feature
(if you prefer not to have overdraft at all).

Paper statements will not be mailed to you, but you can access them through the app. Don’t worry that the bank has no brick-and-mortar branches. You can get cash from a very large no-fee ATM network, and make deposits five ways (see Making Deposits below).

Paper checks. The checking account doesn’t offer paper checks, but you can send a check to anyone in three- to nine-business days using the app. There is no fee to send a check this way.

Varo Money Savings Account

This is a high-interest savings account that requires no minimum initial investment. Current interest paid is 1.92% APY on all balances.

However, you can earn 2.80% APY if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You make at least five Varo Visa Debit Card purchases in each calendar month, and
  2. Receive total direct deposits of $1,000 or more in the same calendar month, and
  3. Keep an account balance of up to $50,000. (If your balance exceeds $50,000, the rate will drop to 1.92% APY.)

It’s very similar to a rewards account in that you have to make debit card purchases but the number is low, only five to qualify. Many rewards checking accounts require ten, twelve, or even fifteen transactions a month to get a higher rate.

But those are the only requirements – pretty easy. Also, there are no monthly fees on the account.

Varo Visa Debit Card

Your account will come with the Varo Visa Debit Card that can be used anywhere Visa is accepted – which is virtually everywhere. It can be used with both Google Pay and Samsung Pay. Apple Pay is available for iOS devices only. Varo is working with Zelle to add that service, but they warn it’s still not fully functional.

The debit card can also be used internationally, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Using your debit card, you can make no-fee withdrawals from more than 55,000 Allpoint ATM machines. If you make out-of-network withdrawals, Varo will charge a fee of $2.50 per withdrawal (This is a policy change that went into effect beginning February 19, 2020).

The card has a spending limit of $2,500 per calendar day, as well as a maximum cash withdrawal amount of $500. However, you can also get up to $500 in cash back through point-of-sale transactions at merchants.

You may also be able to make over-the-counter cash withdrawals at banks and credit unions that permit them. If you do, you’ll need to bring your debit card and a valid government issued ID. Varo Money permits the withdrawal of up to $1,000 per calendar day through over-the-counter withdrawals.

Combined withdrawals from ATMs, point-of-sale, and over-the-counter is limited to $1,000 per day.

How Varo Money Works

Making deposits: Varo Money provides five ways to make deposits into your accounts:

  1. Direct deposit – you can use this method to deposit payroll checks, government benefits, and other regular income sources. Using this method you can receive your paycheck up to two days early. You can also receive deposits from income derived from Uber (Instant Pay) and Lyft (Express Pay).
  2. External bank transfers – make transfers into your Varo Money accounts from third-party banks using ACH transfers. Expect transfers to take between two and four business days.
  3. Digital wallets – your account can accept transfers from Cash App, Venmo and PayPal.
  4. Mobile deposit paper checks – snap a photo of the check, then upload it to your app. The amount you can deposit will be limited based on how long your account has been open as well as prior account activity.
  5. Cash deposits – you can deposit checks at thousands of Green Dot locations, including: Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, 7-Eleven stores, Dollar General stores, Family Dollar stores, Albertsons, Safeway, Kmart, and Kroger. Varo Money does not charge a fee for Green Dot deposits, but the store location will charge a fee of up to $4.95. You can also deposit cash by purchasing a Green Dot MoneyPak (usually in the same locations where you can make deposits). There is a fee of $5.95 payable to Green Dot for MoneyPak.

Varo Money Mobile App: Everything goes through the app. You’ll need it to apply for an account and you’ll need it to access the features of the account. The app is available at The App Store for download on iOS devices, 11.0 or later. It’s compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It’s also available at Google Play for Android devices 5.0 and up.

Save Your Pay: You can have a percentage of your direct deposits automatically transferred into your Savings Account. You’ll decide what that percentage will be.

Save Your Change: If you’re familiar with micro-savings apps, Varo offers its own version. You can round up every transaction to the nearest dollar and transfer the funds from your checking to your savings account.

Referral Program: If you refer a friend to Varo, and that person opens an account receiving a qualifying direct deposit of at least $200, you’ll be eligible to receive a $75 bonus. You can receive up to $500 in total referral fees. You’ll be provided with a unique link, either by email or in the Settings of the app, which you will provide to the friend you’re referring.

Varo Money security: Your accounts are fully covered for up to $250,000 in FDIC insurance through The Bancorp Bank, Varo Money’s sponsoring Bank. Meanwhile, all information transferred is protected by 256-bit AES encrypted technology, and as is always the case when opening a financial account, your identity is fully verified according to federal law.

Customer service: Available by either phone or email, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, except holidays (all times Eastern).

Varo Money Pricing & Fees

Neither the checking nor savings accounts have monthly service fees. In fact, Varo has very few fees at all. For example, there are no overdraft fees and no foreign transaction fees.

There are no fees charged for use of in-network ATM machines, but you will be charged $2.50 for any non-network ATM machine use.

As described earlier under Making Deposits, there are fees associated with use of the Green Dot system. Though Varo doesn’t charge any fees for use of the service, participating merchant locations can charge up to $4.95 per deposit, or you can pay $5.95 to enroll in the Green Dot MoneyPak program.

Also, in 20 states where Varo is licensed, there are return check fees ranging from $15 to $30 per returned item.

How to Sign Up with Varo Money

To be eligible to open an account with Varo Money you must be at least 18 years old, be a US citizen or permanent resident, and have a valid Social Security number. You’ll also need to supply a form of personal identification, preferably a state-issued photo ID such as your driver’s license. Be aware that Varo offers individual accounts only and has no capacity to accept joint accounts.

You’ll also need a mobile device, including either an Android or iPhone, as Varo Money is only accessible through its mobile app. The sign-up process takes place entirely through the mobile app.

A major advantage with Varo Money is that neither your credit report nor your FICO score will be obtained during the sign-up process. If you have credit issues, that shouldn’t be a problem in signing up for this service.

Once you open your account, you can link it with accounts at thousands of banks, credit unions, credit cards, and loan providers. If your particular institution doesn’t appear on the drop-down list, you can have it added by contacting customer service.

Varo Money Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • There are very few fees for use of either the checking or savings account.
  • Varo Savings pays interest rates higher than the highest yielding online banks.
  • Varo Money does not run your credit report or obtain your FICO score, making it a suitable banking service if you have credit issues.
  • The Save Your Change feature is a micro-savings app that enables you to build your Savings Account by rounding up your purchases.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees when using your Varo Visa Debit Card- saving you 3% compared to traditional bank credit and debit cards.

Cons:

  • Varo Money doesn’t offer many of the services usually provided by traditional banks, like certificates of deposit.
  • As a mobile banking app, there are no brick-and-mortar branches and no online banking platform.
  • Varo Money does not provide loans; however, their Help Center does refer to personal loans that do not appear anywhere else nor are any other details provided. It’s possible they offered personal loans at one time.
  • Individual accounts only, Varo cannot accommodate joint accounts.
  • There is no capability to send or receive either domestic or international wires.

Should You Use Varo Money?

If you’re looking for a simple, no-fee banking service, and you’re comfortable handling your banking entirely through a mobile app, Varo Money should be on your short list of providers. They even pay interest on your savings account that’s comparable to the highest paying online savings banks.

If you’d like more information, or if you’d like to sign up for the app, visit the Varo Money website.

Varo Money

Strengths

  • Very high interest rate on savings
  • Very few fees
  • Save Your Change microsavings features
  • No credit check to open an account
  • No foreign transaction fees

Weaknesses

  • No branches, no browser access
  • No Certificates of Deposit
  • No Loans
  • Individual accounts only (no joints)
  • No wire transfers



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