Aspiration Bank Review

by | Jul 30, 2020

Is it too much to ask to have a bank that doesn’t steal your money or exploit your trust for its own profit? Aspiration Bank burst on the scene in 2018 to make it clear that no, it is not. And it’s only natural to be suspicious at first.

After a lifetime of unhealthy relationships with our banks, along comes Aspiration saying they are different, and we should trust them? We’ve heard this story before. But, we have to admit, they’ve won us over, and now we want to share them with you so you’ll join us on the rooftop to scream: I LOVE MY BANK, ASPIRATION!

What Makes Us Fans of Aspiration

Aspiration’s Underlying Purpose

Departure from the (predatory) norms

It is a deeply troubling fact that when you hear about a financial institution that is supportive, helpful, and rooting for you to succeed, it is literally unbelievable. But, that reaction makes complete sense. Traditional banking institutions profit when their customers are struggling or make a mistake: maybe that takes the form of high-interest rates, overdraft fees, fees for late payments, or exorbitant transaction fees.

Worse? Traditional banks then use their customers’ money to invest in some of the most destructive industries on the planet like fossil fuels and gun manufacturing. What does that mean for us? 

Well, think about when you get to the front of the check out line with your reusable grocery tote to buy your eco-friendly, nontoxic cleaning products, and you then pay with your Wells Fargo or Chase card. Yes, you made it out without single-use plastic and your family will be free of harmful chemicals in the home, but you’ve also just thrown some support toward the industries that make our planet and communities devastatingly dangerous every day by contributing to your less environmentally or socially-concerned bank.

Consumer impact, and therefore the importance of conscious consumerism, does not stop at what we are buying. What we are using to pay for it—which bank we use—has massive implications as well. 

So, is Aspiration a legit bank?

Okay, now let’s turn this frown train around. The answer to the question is YES! Aspiration IS legit. Aspiration recognizes and openly discusses all of the maladies of the traditional banking industry. Why/how can they be so open about that? Because that’s exactly why they got started.

Aspiration set out to be the type of financial partner they believe a bank should be (a bank as a “financial partner”…who ever heard of such a thing?). Their understanding of banking is painfully obvious, yet shamefully uncommon. At their core is the wild idea that if Aspiration customers are trusting them with the money that keeps their families fed, housed, and cared for, then they should have to earn customers’ trust and protect it. Basically: high-quality financial solutions for banking and investing should be available to everyone, not just the uber-rich. 

Once you learn a little bit more about the people involved, the services Aspiration offers, and the impact they have, you’ll see that Aspiration is walking the walk. 

The People Involved

Who is Aspiration bank owned by?

Aspiration is owned by Andrei Cherney and Joe Sanberg. Here’s a brief profiling of two of our best friends…I mean, not in the traditional sense but…we feel like they really care about us, we want to support their mission for economic justice as much as we can, and we put them in our Myspace Top 8, so things are pretty serious.

 Andrei Cherney is/has been:

  • The son of Czechoslovak Jewish immigrants
  • The youngest White House speech writer ever at age 21
  • A speech writer and policy advisor for many high-level elected officials
  • An advisor to some of the world’s largest companies
  • A lawyer 
  • An Assistant Attorney General in Arizona
  • Co-founder of Democracy— a think tank and journal 
  • Ground-level advocate for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 
  • CEO of Aspiration

 Joe Sanberg is/has been:

From the brief introduction, I’m sure you can see why they are our imaginary best friends. When you have a second, take a look at all the links to see how Aspiration is just one manifestation of these guys’ mission to make the world better for everyone.

Our Aspiration Review: Bank Accounts & Services

No matter what Aspiration account you choose, there are a few constants: you’ll have the same financial protection of deposit insurance (the same FDIC insurance as you had with other banks); your money will never be used to invest in toxic fossil fuel exploration or production; you will be able to easily track your sustainability through your spending; and you have the option to set up additional opportunities for impact. 

This is the reality that brought me to Aspiration, and it’s why I choose to continue banking with them. But, I suppose a few details on the account options are in order.

If you are a U.S. citizen who is at least 18 years old, you are eligible to open up an account with Aspiration. They offer personal checking accounts. We’d love to see business options and credit cards as well, but Aspiration doesn’t offer those services as of now.

Aspiration Spend & Save Account

Pay What is Fair: With this checking account, you choose how much your account fees will be, and yes, you can choose $0. 

Aspiration Impact Measurement: We know that every dollar we spend has an impact on people and the planet. The “AIM” score is a Planet & People impact score, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Aspiration gives you a sustainability score based on the businesses you buy from.

This makes tracking the impact of your own spending readily available to you through the mobile app, and it makes improving that impact easy as well. Aspiration also scores businesses, so when you are deciding where to spend your money, you know the sustainability of the companies you are choosing from.

“People scores reflect company metrics like employee pay, access to healthcare, workforce diversity, and more. Planet scores are based on metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, and renewable energy use.”

Conscience Coalition purchases: Aspiration teamed up with socially conscious businesses who align with their better-for-the-world outlook to form their “Conscience Coalition.” When you use your Aspiration debit card to purchase from members of their coalition, you get 3-5% cash-back rewards on your purchase.

Plant Your Change: You also have the option of planting a tree each time you swipe your Aspiration debit card. Here’s how it works: you opt in to round up every purchase (buy coffee for $3.17, and your Aspiration account rounds it up to $4.00). That covers the cost of a tree through a pre-selected tree-planting partner. 

On top of that, you get monetary rewards based on the number of trees you plant—for example, 30 trees, aka “a Thicket” = $5; 500 trees, aka “a Clump” = $25; 2,500 trees, aka “Woods” = $100.

ATM Fees: Aspiration has over 55,000 in-network ATMs. You get free ATM withdrawals at all of those. The website and the mobile App direct you to in-network ATMs wherever you are.

Savings Account: The Aspiration savings account is what puts the “save” in “spend and save.” Crazy. An improvement on the traditional (forced) savings account, with Aspiration, you can instantly transfer funds from your Spend account to your Save account as many times as you want without penalty. If you’re transferring to or from an external account on the other hand, you are limited to one per day.

   Tip

In case you come across info on the Aspiration Summit Checking Account, that was their initial account offering they made through a partner bank, Radius Bank. The Summit account has now been discontinued and molded into the Spend & Save Account we are discussing here.

My Notes:

To start with the Aspiration save account, this was a game changer for me. Knowing that moving money into savings accounts would make it relatively inaccessible prevented me from committing in the past, and that meant not saving diligently.

Even though you can move your money back and forth as many times as you want, I find that I don’t. But, I feel more willing to push money into the savings because I know, if I need it, it’s available. Which is great…because it’s mine. 

Overall, I think the Aspiration spend & save account is a low-risk way to build your trust of Aspiration because of its “Pay What’s Fair” model. 

In multiple interviews, Andrei Cherny explains that if someone believes Aspiration Bank deserves $0, that leads Aspiration to wonder why—not in terms of what’s wrong with that person, but what services and support can/should Aspiration provide to make that
“partner” feel like they are deserving of the fee. 

How can this possibly be sustainable? Well, it seems like others’ experiences are a lot like mine with this account. I started paying $0. (I think this was hangover spite for banks in general.)

Small experiences with Aspiration made a big impact on my day-to-day spending. For example, getting a notification that I just planted a tree after using my card and tracking my sustainability score made me feel more connected each purchase, and it removed a lot of the mindless spending that typically would create heavy buyers’ remorse that I hate.

So, after some time with Aspiration, paying $0 started to feel less like I was getting what I deserved, and more like I was exploiting something I really supported. That led me to the Aspiration Plus card.

Aspiration Plus Account

Fees: $3.99 monthly fee, or $3.75/month if you pay annually (one payment of $49.99). 

Same as Above: AIM score, over 55,000 in-network ATMs with no fee, Plant Your Change option

Conscience Coalition purchases: Everything mentioned for the previous account applies for the Aspiration Plus account as well. But, with this account, when you use your Aspiration debit card to purchase from members of their coalition, you get 10% cash-back rewards on your purchase.

.25-1% APY on savings: To really get a hint at how much I’ve welcomed Aspiration’s financial education tools, I didn’t know APY stood for annual percentage yield until I got my Plus account and was reading through for all the details on my new banking bonuses. 

The 1% applies on accounts up to $10,000 if you spend $1,000 monthly. If you do not spend the requisite amount, it’s only .25%. If your account has over $10,000, the APY is .10%.

ATM Fees: In addition to the plentiful in-network ATMs you’ll have access to, you also get ATM reimbursement for one out-of-network ATM withdrawal each month.

Planet Protection: With the Aspiration Plus account, Aspiration automatically provides carbon offsets for all the gas you purchase.

My Notes:

One thing that inched me toward the Plus account was when I took a look at the fees I’d  been paying on my Chase and Wells Fargo accounts (YES – I had both..I also had an account at a credit union, okay?!…just let me sit and reflect on what I’ve done). 

With the monthly account fees, maintenance fees (whatever those are), and the occasional overdraft fee, the annual feel with Aspiration was about the same or less than I’d been spending.

Plus, without the unexpected fees I’d become accustomed to, the predictability has allowed me to track my balance much more accurately.

The thing I love the most about the Plus account perks? Obviously the automatic carbon offsetting for the gas I buy. Maybe others are more proactive than me, but no matter how many times I said I would do carbon offsetting myself…I didn’t.

  CONSIDER

We are all about reducing the daily compromises we are forced to make on environmental protection. Carbon offsets are embraced by many companies, organizations, and individuals around the world. In fact, Climate Neutral certified companies rely on carbon offsets to account for those emissions that cannot be reduced away or eliminated. Offsetting is not as good as not using carbon-emitting vehicles at all, but Aspiration’s Planet Protection brings you into the anti-climate change effort.

Last but not least, the Plus card is made out of recycled ocean plastic. Yes, I plan to bring it up every single time I pull it out of my wallet. It’s a crowd pleaser. The people love it. And since they offer 10% cash-back rewards for debit card purchases with companies they support and I love, that card is used every chance I get.

Investing & Retirement

Aspiration’s mission is to make financial services available to everyone. And investing is an aspect of finances most people aren’t familiar with, and therefore get left out of. They do their investing through the Redwood Fund.

Aspiration welcomes new investors (like me), and it only takes a minimum deposit of $10. Investments are professionally managed. 

They also offer retirement accounts, through Redwood IRA, that are equally as accessible as their investment accounts. And, like Aspiration investing, none of your money will be in fossil fuels. Instead, you’ll be investing in companies that treat their employees, community, and the planet with care.

Insurance

Aspiration gives you access to life insurance, renters insurance, and homeowners insurance through them and their partner Lemonade. These are protections that provide peace of mind and a level of security that all people deserve.

   Tip

I saw in a couple places that by paying monthly phone bills with your Aspiration card, you can get up to $600 cell phone protection insurance. I haven’t explored this option for myself, but it’s on my to-do list!

Education

Like I’ve mentioned 986,875 times, and like we all already know, finance is traditionally a very exclusive industry. And that means knowledge of the area is likewise focused within a small group. Aspiration doesn’t only offer opportunities to get more involved in your personal finances, but they offer opportunities to understand with really accessible blog posts and helpful FAQs for every service provided.

Simplifying Your Giving

Once again, I know that many are much more proactive than I am, but what stops me from giving most of the time? Getting started. Aspiration makes giving so simple. They vet the organizations for you. Every single dollar you give goes to the organization you choose. On their online dashboard, you can learn about organizations, choose which you want to support, and giving any amount is only a click away. 

My experience with this kind of accessibility is that it removes the excuses I often rely on that slow or stop my giving. Right at your fingertips, you can choose to give your morning coffee splurge ta cause you care about, and show your home coffee maker a little love.

The Experience of Switching to Aspiration

All of this sounds pretty rosey, but there’s usually one reality that slows or completely stops change…the change. Starting the process of taking any action for something different can be a real deal killer.

But don’t give up on me! It’s a cinch.

Aspiration Bank Account Setup

Signing up: Painless. It took 5 minutes. I put in my email and some basic information, and I was set. But, signing up for banking services generally isn’t the part that takes time and effort. It’s getting started, switching over, and getting familiar with the new systems (and perks)

Activating your card: So, this was new for me, but when I signed up for an Aspiration account and downloaded the app, I had access to a digital card (try losing that). I thought/think that’s really cool and super convenient!

Once I received my actual card, I activated it in about 17 seconds completely through the app as well. 

Switching account type: Again, switching from the Spend & Save to the Plus account was painless. I just looked myself in the mirror and said, “Annie, are you grateful for Aspiration or not!?…also, when was the last time you brushed your hair?” I opened the app, went to the Plus tab, and clicked “Upgrade.” 

Then I winked and blew a kiss to my reflection, and my hairbrush boycott continued. 

Referral Program: When you refer a friend and they sign up with a minimum of $10 to start and spend $250 in transactions within the first 2 months, Aspiration spreads the wealth. They give you $50 cash and plant 25 trees, and they give the new community member you referred $50 cash and plant 25 trees for them as well! 

Not too shabby…

If you decide to sign up through one of the links on this post, the referral money on our end will go to keeping our team working on this Blog and our Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast!

The App

Even with the digital banking we all expect, some online banking systems are not particularly user-friendly, have lots of maintenance days, and for one of my accounts come with “online maintenance fees.” 

So, even though online access is a given, I still wanted to go through my user experience.

Withdrawing & transferring money: Your Aspiration debit card operates like your run of the mill mastercard. (See ATM fee info above). Wire transfers seem to have the same processing time as typical in my experience except for the first 30 days, which has a hold for purposes of protecting against things like identity fraud. As mentioned, the Aspiration spend account is connected to the save account, so it is extremely simple to transfer money between the two.

Depositing checks: Online deposit. Snap a picture front and back, and voila!

Finding your account info: So, you always have your “digital debit card” through the app, which is exactly what you think- it’s a digital debit card front and back.

In addition, you can always quickly access your routing number and account number through the app. All of the information you need to conduct any transaction is in the palm of your hand along with your phone.

   Tip

If Aspiration isn’t seeming like it’s for you, there are other ethical banking options you can choose. Check out some other examples of socially responsible banks to get started with your research.

Aspiration: Finally a Better-for-the-World Bank Solution

It really is a shame that the banks we know to be untrustworthy are still the most commonly utilized. I mean, these are the “big banks” we refer to when talking about stolen funds, predatory loans, and fraudulent accounts…and also when we talk about the companies holding our paychecks, our mortgages, and our future security. How…

And until recently, this made some sense: there just weren’t competitive alternatives. But sad for the banks and great for the people, Aspiration emerged to be just that. Hopefully their better banking practices will set the standard for the finance industry, and in the meantime, we can all just switch over our accounts to wait it out with the good guys!

Annie Bright

Annie Bright

Managing Editor & Dir. of Impact

Annie Bright is from Corpus Christi, TX and now lives in San Antonio, where she’s a law student at St. Mary’s University.  Annie has an insatiable appetite for correcting errors in our posts and podcasts as well as using her brains and heart for leaving the world a better place than she found it.

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