SmartyPig Review: With Less Fees, Are Piggy Banks Back?

When I first heard of SmartyPig, it sounded like a pretty cool idea. Give us back the piggy banks we had as kids, but make it virtual and public so that others can help directly with our goal. But a bunch of fees made it expensive and my enthusiasm disappeared. However, the folks at SmartyPig seem to have really listened to feedback, made some changes, and now I think it is deserving of another look. I opened an account to check things out. So, how is service different from a traditional bank?

Multiple Accounts For Specific Goals
With SmartyPig, you can create as many separate accounts as you want for different goals. Tuition for your kid, a Wii, engagement ring, whatever. Why not, they are all free. Yes, you could simply use one big savings account and a notepad for all of this, but if this convenience helps you visualize your goal better then what’s wrong with that? I use mental accounting like this all the time.

You Must Setup Automatic Contributions
No broken resolutions here. You must set up regular contributions of at least $25 per month from an external bank account. You also must add a $25 contribution to start, and your goal must be at least $250. Here is a screenshot of setting up a goal:

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Friends and family can help contribute to your goal. You have the option of making your goal public. Grandma can then send over some money for little Jane’s tuition via credit card, but will be charged a 2.9% processing fee. SmartyPig accountholders can send each other money for free using their bank accounts. (It used to be a $5 fee for each external contribution, but that was dropped.) Now the question is, will Ms. Manners think it’s polite to hint at some Smartypig cash gifts?

Upon goal achievement, you can redeem for gift cards with “up to” a 5% bonus. So if your goal was $500 for electronics, you might get up to a $525 gift card to Best Buy (see update below). You could also settle for a pre-loaded Mastercard for $500. However, these “boost” percentages are not revealed ahead of time. I even called customer service, and they still wouldn’t tell me as they said they can change in the future. I would prefer more transparency, but for now I’ll just assume I’ll be withdrawing cash. If there is appropriate gift card upon my goal completion, then it’ll be gravy.

Update: Reader Tom shares the current gift card boost percentages. Best Buy is actually only 0.75%… but 2% for Amazon.com doesn’t look bad.

Doesn’t it cost money to take out cash?
Up until recently, they did charge $25 to withdraw via a check, which was a big bummer. It basically promoted “spending” on consumer goods and eliminated potential goals like an emergency fund or tuition at many universities. But as of now the check-request fee is gone, and you will soon be able to simply withdraw your money directly back into your funding account for free. I’m glad to see this.

Summary
With the elimination of these fees, SmartyPig might finally rival my current piggy bank setup with Capital One 360. They are paying 0.75% APY right now. Unless your goal is huge, it probably won’t make much difference, but it’s something. Anyone want to contribute to my “Used Jeep Wrangler” fund? :)

Comments

  1. Ted Valentine says:

    You save more per month than what 90% of your readers earn and you ask for a contribution. LMAO!!!!111

  2. How are you still getting 4.3%-they’ve lowered mine several times and it’s currently around 2.9%.

  3. Ted – Ha, Steve Pavlina makes more than me and he asks for donations. Would it help if I got a subprime mortgage loan first? ;)

    Kris – I meant SmartyPig is paying 4.3% APY. I think I got my nouns right?

  4. Are there any restrictions to how quickly you can achieve goals and receive the boost? why not fund a goal for books in one month at Amazon and get the 2% boost? Or if you know you will be taking a cruise, set a very short-term goal and achieve it quickly for the 3.75%. 4.3% also sounds pretty good right about now.

  5. Teeej –

    No… you can set whatever time frame you want for any goal as long as the goal is $250 or more. Also, the 4.3% APY is factored into your monthly contributions, so the longer you save for the goal the more you will benefit from the 4.3%.

  6. Ted Valentine says:

    Jonathan – I just checked out Steve Pavlina for the first time. I’d donate to you 100 times before I sent anything for that quasi-religious drivel. At least what you write is practical and useful. Seriously, find your meaning in life in 20 minutes by writing phrases down until you cry? Hello Tony Robbins wannabe. Please tell me that’s a satire site, right? If so I may consider a donation for making me laugh.

  7. Payperpost much?

  8. the whole idea sounds kind of dumb to me. a whole lot of red tape and hassle just to save a bit of money, and yet one more account to keep track of.

  9. The notebook idea does not appeal much to me so I was going to write my own program to do the tracking but now with this I might just not have to :). I was looking at it the other day and sounds like it would be exactly what I am looking for.

    SS – The idea is to help save for multiple things using one (I believe) account instead of opening multiple ones. I for one have a bunch of different things I would like to start saving for and this would help easily track my progress.

    Ted – Wouldn’t expect anything else from ya :) I thought pretty much exactly the same thing first time I checked out SP. I listened to his (free) podcast on starting a business and thought it was ok. The rest of the stuff sounded too fishy (for the lack of better word). But since then I have listened to all of his podcasts and a lot of it made sense (more or less). I still don’t read his blog nearly as much as Jonathan’s but I did pick up a few good things from there (non-financial).

  10. teeej – Sounds like a good idea, now that we have an idea of what the boosts are.

    Peter – Just to be clear, this was not a paid post. I have exchanged e-mails with the CEO though, and without these recent changes I would not be recommending this service. I get a lot of press releases and it is good to see a company respond quickly to feedback.

  11. Jonathan, i’ve been an avid reader of your blog for some time now. However, some of these posts are starting to look more and more like advertisements rather than useful information.

  12. John – I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve always tried out lots of different financial products, and the above is my honest opinion. Yes, it is a positive one. But when was the last time you saw a financial company lower its fee schedule within a month, in order to respond to consumer feedback? I was certainly surprised.

  13. I agree. sometimes posts do seem a bit like ads to me. Perhaps you could make them more subliminal.ing Or try to be more objective direct.

    but seriously, Since beginning reading this blog I’ve made or saved hundreds of dollars, started investment plans(which I timed poorly, but dollar cost average), and benefit enough to check in frequently for the newest deal. Thanks Jonathan for doing lots of the leg work for us.

    If only piggy would give out a little bonus I would definitely cave and open an account…(consumer feedback, if they’re reading)
    With so many bonuses out there, I often feel like waiting for a company to offer a bonus is worth it. I’ll have to check the ultimate rate chaser calculater before I open an account without a bonus

  14. I might contribute to your used Jeep Wrangler fund, if you will contribute at least an equal amount to my used Hummer H3 fund. I’ve wanted one for a long time, but just can’t bring myself to spend that much for a vehicle (but that’s a story for another day) …

  15. Jonathan,
    I have also signed up for a SmartyPig account however I stopped short of created any goals, etc when I realized the limitations you mention in your post. Namely I would have to set up a reoccurring payment of a minimum of 25.00 and the goal would have to be at least 250.00.

    Maybe one day when I have a much larger increase in cash flow I can afford to play the SmartyPig way. :)

    Cheers!

  16. My mistake, Jonathan loyal reader here.

  17. I stopped just before creating one when I realized that for family to fund – they either have to pay the credit card transaction fee, or sign up for a smarty piggy account themselves. Most of my family will do neither.

    Anyone know of a similar site that allows for easier contributions from family?

  18. does anyone know what options are available to fund your initial deposit? by any chance is there a credit card option?

  19. I was thinking about opening this. I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Too small of a bank and difficult for people to contribute to you.

  20. Did you open an account Jonathan? Do you still recommend this?

  21. Thanks for the article — I was looking at their website and I was wondering if it was too good to be true. You seem to get about a 1% boost on your savings because of the relationships they have with other companies.

  22. Ari Isaak says:

    Am I missing something. 2.75% APY is the best non-intro rate savings account around. The best bankrate.com can come up with is is 2.5% APY. ING is giving me 1.4% APY. You cannot get smartypigs return with 3, 6 or 1 yr CDs. Only 5 yr CDs can give up to 3.55% APY. This is the best FDIC insured saving account out there.

  23. Stay AWAY from Smartypig! These guys are serious bad news. I tried to close an account with them and they made me wait 9 business days!! I had over $40,000 with them in deposits and I tried to close the account – but they held it up because they needed 9 (that’s NINE) business days to verify whether a recurring (get this) $10/month deposit would in fact clear. When I explained that they were holding $40,000 that I needed access to within 5 days hostage for $10 (which they could simply credit back or hang on to for all I care), they SO could not care. stay away from this bunch – quite rude and inflexible. Oh and their wbesite really works hard to hide their phone number from you….

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