Empower Banking App Review: 4.30% APY for 30 Days with Each Referral (But Be Careful)

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Update April 2019: I have had trouble with Empower after opening an account, specifically getting them to credit my interest. I would not recommend Empower as a bank replacement at this time. They do not have have any phone number for customer support and their text-based support is often slow to respond. Combined with the fact that there are no branches, I don’t like that there is nobody to talk to immediately if there is an important problem.

Original post:

The Empower app is a combination of an online checking/savings account and an “AI” assistant that analyzes your income and spending activity from external bank accounts as well. The savings account currently offers a base 2.15% APY and the checking offers 1% cash back on the first $1,000 in debit card purchases each month. A newly referred user can get a 30 day boost of double those numbers – 4.30% APY and 2% cash back. You can get an additional 30-day boost for each friend that you refer. I’ve had this account open for a week now, and here are my thoughts.

Application process (App-only). You must do everything in the iOS or Android app – initial application, funding, transfers, etc. They require all the usual bank things like SSN, but they explicitly state that they will not run a credit check. I don’t believe there is a web browser interface at all. Everyone who opens an account gets both a checking and savings account, plus the digital assistant. Note that when you link an external bank account, the digital assistant will parse through your historical and ongoing transactions and look for ways to save you money. You can easily turn it off, but this may affect the choice of what bank account you wish to link.

(Note: The referral program may only be available to those who use the Apple iOS version of their app. This might have changed already or may change later, but I only have the iOS app running right now.)

Empower Checking has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, and free ATM withdrawals from the 25,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass network. In addition, they will reimburse you for one (1) out-of-network ATM transaction each month. I like this last feature as I only take cash out of an ATM about once a month. They give you your debit card number immediately, but will send you a physical Visa debit card as well.

This is a “real” FDIC-insured bank, with deposits insured of up to $250,000 per titled account through Evolve Bank & Trust, FDIC certificate number #1299. The routing number provided in the app is that of Evolve Bank. You can use the routing and account numbers to link your Empower account to other online banks (on their side) without giving Empower access to your transaction history.

The linked debit card offers a base 1% cash back on the first $1,000 in purchases spend each month. Newly referred users get a 30-day boost to 2% cash back, and each time you successfully refer someone to Empower, you will receive another 30-day boost. Debit card purchases have no foreign transaction fees.

Empower Savings has no minimum balance and no monthly fees. The current base interest rate is 2% APY. Newly referred users get a 30-day boost to 4% APY (capped at a $50,000 balance), and each time you successfully refer someone to Empower, you will receive another 30-day boost. You can transfer money between checking and savings instantly, but the savings account is still subject to the federal law limiting withdrawals from savings to six (6) times per month.

Referral program details. There are some important clarifications to their referral program. Here are selected parts:

  • You earn 30 days of boost for each referred friend that opens an Empower bank account and deposits at least $10.
  • Your boost will start the first day the funds clear into your referred friend’s account. If you are already receiving a boost, your boost for any subsequent qualifying referrals will start once any prior boosts conclude. (i.e. invite 3 friends and your can earn three consecutive 30 day boosts).
  • Your referred friends each get a 30 day boost starting the day their deposit of $10 or more clears into their Empower account.
  • During each 30-day boost, each person will earn an additional 1% cashback on the first $1,000 of their debit card transactions during the boost period and an additional 2% per annum Cash Reward on up to $50,000 of savings account balance. The 2% per annum Cash Reward is in addition to the 2.00% APY that is paid on Empower savings accounts.
  • Boost rewards are paid out at the end of each boost period.
  • Invite friends by logging in to your Empower app and sending an invite SMS to your friends.
  • The phone number you text must be the same phone number that your friend signs up for Empower banking with to be eligible.
  • The invited friend cannot be an existing or previous Empower banking customer, nor can they have been invited by someone else in the past.

My experience. Empower feels like the future. Everything is done via app, and it’s kind of creepy. (Yup, that’s my view of the future. Apps and kinda creepy.) The user interface is smooth and I actually like that part. Once you link your external bank, it immediately scans your transactions and points out ways to save money (“You need a new insurance quote! Your premium of $1,234 is too high!” or “Cancel this subscription!”). You may love this feature, or not. My bet is that the megabank apps from Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo will all do this type of stuff eventually.

However, I would not recommend Empower as a bank replacement at this time. They do have have any phone number for customer support and their text-based support is often slow to respond. Combined with the fact that there are no branches, I don’t like that there is nobody to talk to immediately if there is an important problem.

In the end, I don’t see anything drastically new that would make me recommend this app on an ongoing basis unless you had a lot of friends that want a new bank. Lots of online checking accounts offer ATM reimbursements now. 2% APY is common across online savings accounts. The 1% cash back on debit card purchases isn’t that special.

Now, if you did have 12 friends to refer (and $50,000), you could get 4.30% APY on up to $50,000 for a year. That’s an extra $1,150 in annual interest as compared to 2% APY, nothing to sneeze at.

Bottom line. Empower.me is a new fintech banking app that combines a no-minimum checking account, a no-minimum savings account, and AI financial assistant that analyzes your spending and makes suggestions. The feature that makes it noteworthy is that a new user can get a 30 day boost of double their normal interest to 4.30% APY for each friend that they refer to open a new account. However, I would not recommend Empower as a bank replacement at this time due to their lack of even a phone number for customer service. Most online banks have at least a phone number during business hours, and for example Ally Bank has humans available 24/7.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.



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Comments

  1. I didn’t want to write a review, I’ve been trying to let Empower prove me wrong and earn trust. I cannot wait.

    I’ve had a horrible experience with Empower – because the limits of the 4.30% boost and transaction limits weren’t transparent I deposited a sizable sum – my bad… but then, the money disappeared! Despite *many* messages between me and Empower representatives, I didn’t get the impression that anyone was taking my concerns seriously. They kept telling me it was my other bank’s problem. It wasn’t.

    After 2 weeks of being dicked around and experiencing near panic, I used a contact in the banking industry, and personally blew up the phones of 3 different banks that are connected to Empower. It was only at this point that that the money was found. Never did I speak to anyone on the phone at Empower during the time the money was missing. I did a ton of leg work that I never should have had to. And it is still difficult to communicate with them. They really seem like a fly by night shop – I’m not sure how many employees they have.

    Empower has been slow to resolve my request for back interest for the days the funds were missing and we disagree on the number of days I should be receive back interest for. I think *only* asking for back interest is me being generous. Their rep, who had been snippy with me over e-mail, expressed empathy, and told me that this kind of thing happens very rarely… even if it happens 20 times, that’s way too many. Beware.

    • That sounds like a nightmare, I’m sorry to hear that. I have also updated my review with my own negative experiences and documented their lack of phone customer support. I also get the feeling that they don’t have their act together right now and are making things up as they go.

  2. Well Empower has been fine for me until Today. I open my app to check on a couple deposits, to see if they had posted yet. And open the app and my card is greyed out and says “Card Disabled” so i immediately try and reach out to the support team and sux because you cant contact them via phone and have to wait on emails. Aftr sending about 3-4 emails asking whats wrong with my acct, I finally get a response from a “Syd” stating the following: Sorry to hear you’ve been locked out. Can you tell us what happened that you got locked out of your account? Did you switch phones or phone number recently? Did you get an error message? We will need to ask you some verification questions before we can unlock your account.”

    I reply back and asking him for the verification questions being i had to be at work soon. No response at all from Syd, then I get a response from Michael saying the same thing I respond the same and let him know what Syd said.. then Michael replies with the following: We can do that right here
    What institution(s) you have connected to Empower?
    What is the current balance of your checking account?
    After we verify this information, we can unlock the account for you and you will be able to reset your passcode in the app” .. So feeling a little relief I reply providing him details of his inquiry, then an hour goes by, another hour and NO REPLY, im sending emails asking for a response then finally a “SACANDAR” jumps on the email thread and responds to me stating the following:
    Hi Megan, As my colleague Michael mentioned, we’re looking into this issue, and hope to have an answer for you within one business day. We’ll let you know when we’ve gotten an update. Sacandar

    FOR STARTERS: that is NOT what his colleague Michael said nor did Syd say that. So how Sacandar just came up with a script to respnd to me with i dk but none of what he said was mentioned at all. Not only that he just said what he said and totally disconnected me pretty much as if we were on the phone and hung up on me. And while going back and forth i receive notifications from Empower notifiying me of my deposits posting to my acct. but of course I dont have access and im certain it doesnt matter to them. But all i want is my funds and they can close my acct. especially after the rude made up comment given by Sacandar via email. However I am glad to have the conversation in writing though proving what Sacandar said to be completly false. And NO i would NOT recommend Empower app to anyone for the simple fact that you cannot speak to anyone and the fact that u have todeal with them via email pretty mch lets you know how serious they take any issues u may have with your acct. so if u can avoid them and bank elsewhere then its probably your best bet. How do u just sleep on your consumers . This issue was discovered at 1pm in the afternoon and at 4:55pm Sacandar wants to reply with the one business day etc . They had several hours to figure this out.

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