Which Online-Only Bank Is Best?9 min read
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Tired of looking for a branch or navigating a clunky app when you need to manage your bank account?
For anyone who’s ready to walk away from traditional branch banks, an industry of online challenger banks has blown up over the past decade. Technology companies have swooped in to respond to the need for more mobility, better apps and lower fees.
Varo and Chime, two of the top players in the online banking space, compete for customers with no-fee bank accounts and high-yield savings you can set up and manage from your smartphone.
Which is a better fit for you? See how they compare:
Varo vs. Chime Comparison & Features
Varo (previously Varo Money) and Chime each offer checking and savings accounts through user-friendly mobile apps and online banking. Here’s how we rated each company.
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Chime and Varo Bank Account Features
Chime and Varo offer most of the same account options aimed at simplifying banking and savings for anyone who’s ready to say goodbye to traditional banks.
Both accounts offer:
Fee-free checking and savings accounts: Both Chime and Varo include a checking account and optional savings account, both with no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees.
Automatic savings tools: Both accounts include simple ways to automatically build your savings account by setting rules to move money from checking to savings when you get paid and when you shop.
High-yield savings: Both savings accounts offer higher-than-average APY on your savings account balance.
Get paid early: Both accounts make your paycheck available up to two days early if you get paid through direct deposit.
Overdraft protection: Through Varo’s No Fee Overdraft and Chime’s SpotMe, eligible account holders can opt into free overdraft protection up to $50 and $100, respectively.
Cash deposits: With both Varo and Chime, you can deposit money into your bank account at more than 60,000 retail locations with Green Dot, which is a feature many online banks don’t allow.
Bill pay: With either account, you can pay bills through ACH transfer by giving companies your bank account and routing numbers, or mail a paper check.
Secure deposits: Both companies partner with The Bancorp Bank to provide FDIC-insured accounts up to $250,000. Chime also partners with Stride Bank, N.A.
Instant money transfer: With both Chime and Varo, you can send money instantly with no fees to others who use the same app.
Second-Chance Banking: Neither company uses ChexSystems, which many traditional financial institutions use to determine your eligibility for a bank account, so a bad banking history won’t necessarily disqualify you for these accounts. Neither company checks your credit report, either.
Fee-free ATMs: A Chime account gives you access to 38,000 fee-free ATMs in the United States through the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance networks. Varo’s account connects you to more than 55,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMs in the U.S.
Live customer support: Talk to a real person from either company on the phone seven days a week.
Push notifications: Stay on top of your Varo account balance with optional notifications anytime money moves in or out of your account. Chime gives you the option to receive a push notification when a direct deposit hits.
Is Varo a good bank? Read our full review to learn more about its features and decide whether it’s a good fit for you.
Neither Company Offers
Joint accounts or additional authorized debit card users.
Other financial products, like personal loans, auto loans and mortgages.
Small business banking services.
Paper checks (though you can use bill pay to have the banks send checks for you).
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Which Bank Is Better: Varo or Chime?
Chime and Varo bank account features are nearly identical, with details that could sway you one way or the other.
Varo Bank Account: A
Chime Spending Account: A-
Both banks offer a fee-free checking account for deposits and spending. In both cases, you’ll automatically apply for this account when you set up your account in the app (or online). You can fund it through direct deposit or transferring money from an external bank account.
Both Chime and Varo eschew traditional banking fees, including monthly maintenance fees, minimum balance fees and overdraft fees.
Both accounts let you get your paycheck up to two days early compared with a traditional bank, because they release the funds as soon as your employer initiates the deposit.
Both accounts come with a Visa debit card you can use for transactions anywhere Visa is accepted, and for ATM withdrawals. Both are also connected to the Green Dot network, so you can deposit or withdraw cash at retail locations around the U.S.
Both Chime and Varo charge no overdraft fees and offer free overdraft protection — but eligibility and details vary.
Chime SpotMe: Chime will spot you for an overdraft up to $100 and take it out of your next deposit. To be eligible, you just have to receive $500 in direct deposits every month.
Varo No Fee Overdraft: Varo will cover an overdraft up to $50 until your next deposit. To be eligible, you must make at least five debit card purchases and receive at least $1,000 in payroll direct deposits per month.
Varo Savings Account: A+
Chime Savings Account: B
Both Varo and Chime offer optional savings accounts that facilitate automatic savings and yield competitive interest rates.
Funding the Account
You can only fund a Chime Savings account by transferring money from your Chime Spending account — not through direct deposit or an external bank account. To add money from another source, you must first deposit it into your Spending account, then make an instant transfer.
You can deposit money into a Varo Savings account from your Varo Bank account in the app or directly from an external account through ACH transfer.
Savings Account Interest Rates
Both Chime and Varo savings yield interest at an annual percentage yield (APY) above the 0.06% national average for savings accounts reported by the FDIC.
Which bank is better: Simple or Chime? Read our comparison to find which is the best fit for you.
Chime Savings offers a 1.00% APY with no additional requirements.
Varo Savings offers a 1.21% APY with no requirements. You can earn up to 2.80% APY on balances up to $10,000 by making at least five debit card purchases and receiving payroll direct deposits of at least $1,000 in a month. If your savings balance is more than $10,000 or you don’t meet the eligibility criteria in any month, you’ll receive 1.21% APY for that month.
Chime and Varo each let you select one or both of two savings “rules” that automatically move money into your savings account. Varo’s options are slightly broader than Chime’s.
Chime: Save when you get paid by transferring 10% of any direct deposit of $500 or more into savings. Save when you spend by rounding up Chime debit card transactions to the nearest dollar and depositing the digital change into savings.
Varo: Save Your Pay lets you set a percentage of your direct deposits to automatically transfer to savings. Save Your Change rounds up every transaction from your Varo Bank account — including debit card purchases, bill payments and transfers — to the next dollar and deposits the difference into your savings account.
All online-only banks are convenient relative to traditional branch banks, unless you prefer face-to-face service from bank tellers.
Each banking app lets you manage your account 24/7, including mobile check deposit and money transfers, and live customer service agents are available if you need questions answered.
Varo and Chime accounts offer features many online banks don’t, including cash deposits via Green Dot, early paycheck access and overdraft protection.
Varo App: A
Chime App: B
Chime and Varo both offer mobile banking apps that are more user-friendly and easier to navigate than what you’ll get for most traditional bank accounts. However, both are pretty simplistic, lacking the budgeting tools you’d find in a lot of mobile banking apps.
In both apps, you can:
View and manage your accounts.
Transfer money between savings and checking, to and from external accounts, and to other customers of the same bank.
Deposit checks using your smartphone camera.
Locate in-network ATMS.
Freeze your debit cards.
Contact customer support (via chat or email).
Varo’s app gives you the option to stay on top of your bank account balance by receiving a push notification every time money moves in or out of your account — via deposit or withdrawal, debit card purchase, or over-the-counter or ATM cash withdrawal.
Chime’s app gives you the option to receive a push notification when you receive a direct deposit, so you know when your paycheck is available.
Small Business Banking
Neither Varo nor Chime offer small business banking accounts or products and services.
Both companies tout fee-free banking that eliminates many of the costs associated with traditional banks — largely because they don’t bear the expense of running brick-and-mortar locations.
You’ll pay no maintenance fees, overdraft fees or foreign transaction fees, and you can avoid ATM fees by using in-network ATMs.
With both banks, you’ll just pay for:
Out-of-network ATM: $2.50 for using an out-of-network ATM, plus any fee the ATM owner charges.
Cash deposit: You’ll pay a retailer fee up to $5.95 to deposit cash via Green Dot.
OTC cash withdrawal: You’ll pay a retailer fee up to $5.95 for a cash withdrawal via Green Dot. Chime also charges a $2.50 fee for over-the-counter withdrawal, while Varo does not.
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Which Bank Is Right for You?
Overall, Chime and Varo offer similar banking products that will likely appeal to the same types of banking customers.
You might prefer either account over traditional banks if:
You prefer the easy access and mobility of online banking.
You regularly run your account balance close to $0 or live paycheck to paycheck.
You’re often paid through direct deposit — you could benefit from an early payday!
You’re often paid in cash but want an online bank account.
You want an easy way to save money automatically.
A traditional bank or credit union is probably a better fit if you want to manage your checking, savings, loans, credit cards and investment accounts all in one place.
Varo is better than Chime if:
You want to build an emergency fund. Varo’s Save Your Pay rule lets you set aside any percentage of your paychecks you want, so you can set it above Chime’s 10% Save When You Get Paid rule to help you reach your savings goals faster.
You want to make the most of your savings. Varo also offers at least 20% higher interest than Chime and more than double Chime’s interest rate on savings for qualifying account holders.
You live in the Mountain states. Although services in general tend to be limited in this region, Allpoint’s ATM network has a little more coverage than both MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
Chime is better than Varo if:
You run on a tight budget. Chime provides overdraft protection with just $500 in monthly direct deposits compared to Varo’s $1,000-deposit and spending requirement. It covers you up to $100 compared to Varo’s $50.
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Ready to Switch to Varo or Chime?
You can sign up for either Varo or Chime by downloading their mobile apps or visiting their websites.
Neither account requires a minimum opening deposit, but you can connect an external bank account to transfer money in right away or set up direct deposit to fund your account when you get paid.
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Our Bank Review Methodology
The Penny Hoarder’s editorial team considers more than 25 factors in its bank account reviews, including fees, minimum daily balance requirements, APYs, overdraft charges, ATM access, number of physical locations, customer service support access and mobile features.
To determine how we weigh each factor, The Penny Hoarder surveyed 1,500 people to find out what banking features matter most to you.
For example, we give top grades to banks that have low fees because our survey showed that this is the No. 1 thing you look for in a bank. Because more than 70% of you said you visited a physical bank branch last year, we consider the number of brick-and-mortar locations. But more than one-third of you use mobile apps for more than 75% of your banking, so digital features are also considered carefully.
Ratings are assigned across the following categories:
Credit card and loan products are not currently considered.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.