June 24, 2021

Empower Review

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Find out how Empower, a new innovative banking platform, uses AI to help you better manage your finances and savings, and more

5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • No overdraft or insufficient funds fee
  • No minimum deposit
  • Cash advance features
  • High monthly fee
  • Low APY
  • No mobile check or cash deposits

Bottom Line

Digital banking and money management app with financial advice and budgeting

Empower online banking provides traditional banking services with a modern, AI twist.

An intriguing combination, but is it the best and most cost-effective option out there?

Learn more about Empower's features, plus pros and cons in our review. Plus, see how it compares to other modern banking and budgeting platforms like PocketSmith and Mint.

What Is Empower?

Empower is a digital banking and money management app founded in 2016 by former Sequoia Capital partner Warren Hogarth and Justin Ammerlaan. They are based in San Francisco, CA.

Empower started with the goal of simplifying the world of finance for young adults.

They offer checking and savings accounts, debit cards, as well as budgeting tools to help you save, manage your bills, and eliminate costly spending habits.

To date, the company has received $24.5M in capital funding, including most recently $20M in Series A funding in March 2020.

How Does Empower Work?

Empower streamlines the features of a cash advance company, digital bank, and a budgeting tool and into a single, handy app.

Their main offerings include:

  • Interest-earning checking account, along with a Visa debit card
  • Savings account, featuring AutoSave
  • Budgeting and spend tracking tools

If you open a checking account with Empower, your savings account will accrue 0.05% interest — which is higher than the national average, but lower than many high-yield savings accounts.

Here's how it works:

  1. You sign up for Empower via their Apple or Google Play app.

  2. They'll verify some of your personal information (like phone number, name, and DOB).

  3. Then, you'll connect your primary bank account to Empower.

    This is so you can take advantage of their saving, budgeting, and spend-tracking tools.

  4. After linking your primary bank account, you're all set up.

At this point, you can start customizing your AutoSave features, customize your budget tracking, and sign up for Cash Advance (which is covered in more detail below).

Customers can also connect their Empower account to Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay for touchless payment options.

Is Empower legit?
Empower's banking services are provided through NBKC Bank, which is FDIC insured. In the event that Empower defaults, the government guarantees your balances up to $250,000 per account.

Empower Pros and Cons

Empower offers a unique set of features that can simplify your financial life. However, there are at least four drawbacks that may turn off some customers.

Pros:

  • Account integration makes keeping track of finances easier than ever before
  • No overdraft or insufficient funds fees
  • $0 minimum opening deposit
  • A+ cash advance feature
  • Integration with touchless payments like Apple Pay

Cons:

  • High monthly fee ($8) for an app designed for people without a ton of savings
  • Only 3 ATM reimbursements per month
  • Low APY (0.05%), especially for a digital-only app
  • No mobile check deposit or cash deposits — this can't be your main bank

Empower Cash Advance

This is a feature not often seen directly from banking institutions. Empower offers cash advances up to $250 with eligibility based on your direct deposit history.

Customers can access free, zero-interest cash advances with no late fees, which can be paid back when your next direct deposit hits your account.

Via Empower: "To be eligible for Cash Advance, you must meet certain minimum qualifications such as account history and activity, recurring direct deposit, and average monthly direct deposit.

Although you don't qualify for Cash Advance now, you may in the future. Empower is always reviewing your accounts and will update your account automatically once you qualify."[1]

Money Management

Empower uses AI to provide customers with financial advice. Empower supports over 10,000 bank, credit card, loan, investment, crypto, and 401(k) accounts.

Users can connect all their accounts to enjoy a host of features, including:

  • Categorize bills and subscriptions, and get suggestions to get rid of unused services

  • Get credit tips on usage and how to improve your score

  • Receive financial advice on budgeting, saving, and investing

With their AutoSave feature, Empower will even study your spending habits and set aside additional money for savings if it senses you have extra cash on hand.

Empower Mobile App

The Empower mobile app allows you to perform the banking basics you've come to expect, such as transferring money, automating savings, and managing your debit card.

Empower separates itself from your typical bank with a handful of features, for example:

  • Get alerts if your spending exceeds your normal habits

  • Connect all your accounts to review purchases made across every bank, credit card, etc.

  • Set up spending categories with auto-generated categories set up by your AI finance assistant (or set them up manually)

Empower Finance App Reviews:
Empower enjoys good ratings for its customer service and app functionality.

How Much Does Empower Cost

Empower offers a 14-day free trial and there is no minimum opening deposit or minimum balance requirement.[2]

After the trial period, there is a monthly service fee of $8 per month.[3]

You may incur ATM fees when using ATMs outside of the MoneyPass ATM network.

How to Sign Up with Empower

Follow these three steps to sign up with Empower:

  1. Get the app: Enter your phone number on the Empower website and a link will be sent to your phone, or you can download directly from the Apple Store or Google Play Store

  2. Enter your personal details: Including name, email, date of birth, Social Security number, and U.S. mailing address

  3. Link your primary checking account: Use this to fund your new Empower account

Logging in to your account:
Empower has no plans to include a desktop version, but you can log into your account using the Empower mobile app with your custom passcode.

Empower Customer Service

First, try Empower's extensive list of answers on their FAQ page.
If you need a specific question answered, you can submit a request form on the Empower request page, email the help desk at help@empower.me, or go to "Help Center" in the mobile app.

Alternatives to Empower

This is an interesting case, because for the time being Empower does not have any direct competitors that offer banking services and personal finance tools. Empower's main draw is financial advice, so we'll compare it to Mint and PocketSmith.

Empower vs. Mint
Empower offers many similar services as Mint, such as categorizing expenses and budget tracking, but Mint is the superior option here.

The Mint app uses state-of-the-art security technology, including advanced security features you don't see often. For example, you can't take screenshots anywhere in the Mint app.

With Mint, you can also compare hundreds of options for credit cards, personal loans, investment services, insurance companies, student loans, and more.

Get our full review of Mint here.

Empower vs. PocketSmith
PocketSmith shares many similarities, such as a "What If" feature and the ability to forecast your accounts up to 30 years into the future to see if you're on track with your finances.

By far the biggest drawback of PocketSmith is the price.

PocketSmith's free account only allows you to link 2 of your accounts for tracking, and you have to manually import transactions.

You will have to pay $9.95 per month for Premium to link up to 10 accounts or $19.95 for Super to get unlimited everything.

The Bottom Line

Although the price tag isn't ideal, Empower has a really impressive product. The combination of banking services, financial advice, and budgeting tools is entirely unique in the industry — don't be surprised if you see other firms following Empower's lead in the near future.

If you're looking for a one-stop shop to solve all of your finance and banking needs, Empower is for you.

References

  1. ^ "Cash Advance FAQ": Empower, 2021.
  2. ^ "Fees": Empower Support, 2021.
  3. ^ "Fee Schedule": Empower, 2021.
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