Can You Cash a Check at an ATM?

Can You Cash Checks at an ATM?

If your paycheck or another check is burning a hole in your wallet, you might be able to cash it at an ATM. Depositing a check into an ATM can be a convenient, painless way to get your cash fast.

If you don’t have access to remote banking or just can’t make it to a bank during business hours, cashing a check at an ATM can be an excellent alternative. Here’s what you need to know in order to make the transaction happen, including answers to:

•   When can you cash checks at ATMs?

•   What are the steps to cash a check at an ATM?

•   What kinds of checks can be cashed at an ATM?

•   What are alternative ways to cash a paper check?

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Steps to Cash a Check at an ATM

The first thing you’ll need in order to cash a check at an ATM is a checking account. A checking account traditionally comes with an account number and a debit card. You will need both of these.

Make sure you’ve activated your debit card, selected and memorized a PIN number, and know your account number. The debit card and PIN number are essential for performing the most basic of transactions, including making ATM deposits and withdrawals.

Once you have your account details, card, and PIN number, cashing your check at an ATM is pretty much the same as making a cash deposit at an ATM. Most banks will require you to have a minimum amount in your checking account in order to cash your check.

Here are the steps to cashing a check at an ATM:

•   Endorse the back of your check. With a pen (not pencil), sign your name on the back of your check and write your account number. Security tip: Wait until you get to the ATM location to sign the back of your check, even if you have to bring a pen with you. If an endorsed check gets lost or stolen, someone else could cash it.

However, do add your signature before your turn at the ATM itself to save time and as a courtesy to those waiting behind you.

•   Fill out a deposit slip. Some banks may still require you to fill out a deposit slip to insert into the ATM along with your check. The deposit slips are typically available in the bank branch or the ATM area. Some banks may require you to put a check and the slip into a deposit envelope.

•   Insert a compatible card. To begin the transaction, you’ll need a valid ATM card, debit card, or prepaid debit card issued from a bank or credit union.

•   Enter your PIN. After inserting your card, the ATM will prompt you to enter your personal PIN number. Do not share your PIN number with anyone.

•   Follow the prompts. Follow the ATM’s instructions that appear on the screen. This can involve selecting “Make a deposit” and “Get cash back” and entering a dollar amount.

•   Insert the check into the machine. The ATM will invite you to make your deposit. If no check envelope is used, it will scan your check and ask you to confirm the amount.

If you are a customer who qualifies for same-day deposits, you may be able to withdraw funds right away, essentially “cashing your check” while avoiding additional transaction fees. In other situations, you may only have, say, $225 available to withdraw.

One thing to keep in mind: Even an in-network machine may have ATM withdrawal limits — typically between $500 and $1000 per day.

With some bank’s ATMs and account types, the funds may not be available until the second business day after the deposit. And if you are using an out-of-network ATM, you may be charged additional ATM transaction fees, and it can take up to 5 business days before you see the money in your account.

Types of Checks That May Be Cashed at an ATM

There is more than one kind of check. Personal, cashier’s, and certified checks are all ways to distribute sums of money without the risk of handling cash. But what kind of checks will an ATM accept?

Here are some check types you can feed an ATM that won’t get spit back out:

•   Personal checks. If you find yourself wondering, “Can I cash a personal check at an ATM?”, the answer is “yes!” So, go on — deposit that birthday check from Aunt Trudy. You can even write a check to yourself from another account and deposit it.

•   Cashier’s check. A cashier’s check draws on a bank’s funds and is signed by a cashier to guarantee the money. To cash this kind of check, it is beneficial to use an ATM connected to the bank that issued the check. You can also deposit it in your own bank’s ATM if you want the money to go into your account.

•   Certified checks. Like cashier’s checks, certified checks are issued by the bank but signed by you vs. a cashier. As long as you have your debit card, you can go ahead and deposit it in the ATM.

•   Any pre-printed check. Basically, any pre-printed can be deposited and withdrawn against at an ATM if your bank allows it. Government checks (such as a tax refund check) are the easiest for a bank to verify, and you might get your money right away. Foreign-issued checks may take longer to process.

Do All ATMs Support Check Deposits?

Not all ATMs support check deposits. Some ATMs located in grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, and other businesses may only have the ability to dispense cash and check your bank balance.

If you’re looking to cash a check at an ATM, your best bet is to use the machine at your bank. Most major banks and credit unions support check cashing at their ATMs. Plus you’re likely to avoid ATM fees.

Alternative Ways to Cash a Check

You don’t have to use an ATM to turn your paycheck into paper money. There are other ways to cash a check for free because who wants to pay more in bank fees? These techniques include:

•   Go to a bank teller. If you have time during business hours, you can cash your check the old-fashioned way. Your bank branch or credit union will likely perform the service, as long as you have a deposit slip, debit card, a valid ID, and meet your account’s requirements.

•   Go to the check distributor’s bank. You may be able to cash the check by paying a visit to the bank where the check writer holds the account. This could be a valid option if you are unbanked (don’t have any bank accounts). The check writer’s bank will probably be able to verify that the issuing account is in good standing and extract the funds for you.

•   Mobile apps. Who uses cash anyway these days? If your bank offers a mobile banking feature, also called mobile deposit, and you have a smartphone, you can use their app to snap a photo of your check and deposit it from the comfort of your living room sofa. You can gain access to your money quickly (instantly with some accounts), and pay back your bestie through Venmo.

•   Visit a retail store. Some retail shops, such as Walmart, grocery stores, and even gas stations may cash your check. However, they could charge you a small fee.

•   Check-cashing stores. The name says it all. Check-cashing businesses will give you cash for your check, but typically charge a stiff transaction fee. You may want to pursue other options and save this as a last resort due to the steep charges.

The Takeaway

Using an ATM to cash a check can be a quick and secure way to get your money. As long as you have a bank that supports check cashing, have the minimal required funds in your account, and have your debit card and PIN number ready, you’ll likely be on your way with some green in your hand.

3 Money Tips

1.    Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

2.    When you overdraft your checking account, you’ll likely pay a non-sufficient fund fee of, say, $35. Look into linking a savings account to your checking account as a backup to avoid that, or shop around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting.

3.    If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Can you deposit a check at an ATM?

It depends on your bank or credit union, but most banking institutions allow you to deposit checks at an ATM.

How long does it take to cash a check at an ATM?

As long as you’ve endorsed your check, written the account number on the back, and have your debit card and PIN number ready, cashing a check at an ATM shouldn’t take more than a few minutes if the financial institution makes the funds available. Not all ATMs will be this fast; in some cases, it will take at least two days for the funds to clear.

Can any type of check be cashed at an ATM?

As long as the routing and account number are legible, you can insert most traditional check types into an ATM. Personal and government-issued checks will probably be validated and credited to your account faster.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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What Are Multi-Level Marketing Schemes?

Tips to Avoid Schemes Disguised as Multi-Level Marketing Companies

Multi-level marketing businesses— also called direct sales, direct marketing, or network marketing — are legitimate enterprises that involve selling products or services to a network of peers (i.e., friends and family) and recruiting more salespeople.

The problem? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), many illegal pyramid schemes disguise themselves as legal multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. Even legal MLMs can be bad news; most people make little or no money with MLMs, and some even lose money.

Read on to learn:

•   What’s an MLM?

•   What are the differences between MLMs and pyramid schemes?

•   How can you avoid multi-level marketing companies?

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


What Is a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Company?

A multi-level marketing business, or MLM for short, is a legitimate business that sells products and services through independent distributors. These companies rely on such distributors to sell to networks of peers, typically friends and families. The distributors, often called “participants” and “contractors,” must also recruit new distributors for the program.

The companies are found in a variety of categories. They might be selling supplements, personal-care products, kitchen utensils, or any other number of items.

Recommended: Common Credit Card Scams

How Do Multi-Level Marketing Companies Work?

What is an MLM company, and how does it operate? In a multi-level marketing business, distributors must first buy the products wholesale from the company. They then make commissions off the products that they sell at retail prices.

Distributors also earn a commission from their recruits’ sales, which incentivizes distributors to recruit more people into the business. Those at the top of the company, with multiple levels of distributors beneath them, thus earn the most money without even needing to purchase more products to sell.

Multi-Level Marketing vs. Pyramid Schemes: What’s the Difference?

Though sometimes questionable, multi-level marketing programs are legal. Pyramid schemes, however, are illegal types of money scams. Unfortunately, many pyramid schemes disguise themselves as legitimate MLMs. Here are key differences:

•   Pyramid schemes are more focused on recruiting than actually selling the products. While MLMs do ask you to recruit more distributors, the focus is on sales.

•   Pyramid schemes may also require distributors to buy more products at regular intervals, even if they have not sold all the products they already have. Sometimes, in a pyramid scheme, you have to buy more products just to get paid or earn a bonus. This is a major red flag.

In the end, most people who are swindled into pyramid schemes run out of money, are stuck with products that they can’t sell, and quit — meaning they lose everything they invested in the business.

Recommended: Are You Bad With Money? Here’s How to Get Better

Real-Life Examples of Multi-Level Marketing Companies

Some products marketed and sold through network marketing companies are from legitimate MLM businesses — and you can feel comfortable purchasing them. In other cases, recognizable products can emerge from pyramid schemes.

Here are some real-life examples of legal, established MLMs. You may be surprised to learn that what is an MLM can be a familiar and trusted brand:

•   Amway

•   Avon

•   Herbalife

•   Vorwerk

•   Mary Kay

•   Infinitus

•   Perfect

•   Quanjian

•   Natura

•   Tupperware

•   Nu Skin

•   Primerica.

Recommended: 9 High-Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

Why Is Multi-Level Marketing Legal?

Multi-level marketing businesses must adhere to strict FTC guidelines to be considered legal. The FTC regularly goes after suspicious MLM companies that may actually be pyramid schemes.

Though sometimes seemingly predatory, MLM is just a form of direct sales. When adhering to FTC guidelines, these businesses aren’t breaking any laws.

Recommended: What’s a Pump-and-Dump Scheme?

What Is the 70% Rule?

Though not technically a law, the 70% rule is a common term in MLM discussions. It arose in a 1979 case against Amway.

In analyzing the business structure of Amway, the FTC determined that, because Amway required distributors to sell at least 70% of the products they bought in a given month to earn a bonus, Amway was attempting to operate as a legitimate MLM. Their business model involved profited from sales, not shady recruiting tactics.

Now, the 70% rule is a loose term that means an MLM is focused on sales, rather than requiring distributors to buy more products or recruit more people to earn bonuses. The trouble with this rule is that it is difficult to enforce: MLMs typically trust their distributors to tell the truth about how much product they’ve sold but cannot always verify the numbers.

Are the Products That MLMs Sell Legitimate?

The products and services that MLMs and even pyramid schemes sell can be completely legitimate. Just think of that trusty Tupperware in your kitchen cabinet or your favorite lipstick from Mary Kay.

But even if a product is good, the distributor requirements of a legitimate MLM or shady pyramid scheme can still cause the seller to lose money.

Recommended: A Guide to Credit Card Protection

Can You Create Financial Freedom by Joining an MLM?

Multi-level marketing companies require a lot of entrepreneurial hustle from distributors to make money. As contracted sellers, distributors don’t earn a salary but instead make commissions.

While someone with a true sales spirit may make some money in an MLM, most do not make enough money to achieve any kind of financial freedom without another source of income. In fact, the FTC says some people even lose money from legitimate MLMs.

Pyramid schemes are worse, having left some people in economic ruin.

Tips for Recognizing Predatory MLMs and Pyramid Schemes

While MLMs are legitimate, they may not be worth the effort and could also cause you to lose money. Illegal pyramid schemes, however, are usually designed to hurt the low-level distributor.

So how can you spot a predatory MLM or pyramid scheme? Here are a few warning signs:

•   Hyperbolic claims of excess income: If a brand promoter is promising outlandish amounts of income — even saying you can quit your day job and retire early — that’s typically a red flag.

•   “Act fast” pressure: You should be able to think about any financial decision and be given the time to talk it over with friends and family. Brand promoters of pyramid schemes and predatory MLMs may use high-pressure tactics, like telling you that you must act now or you’ll lose out on the opportunity.

•   An emphasis on recruiting: In a true MLM where you at least have the potential to earn money, the emphasis should be on sales. If during initial conversations with a promoter, the emphasis is on recruiting other members, this is likely an indicator of a pyramid scheme.

Recommended: How to Verify a Check

Tips for Avoiding Predatory MLMs and Pyramid Schemes

The first step to avoiding a shady MLM or full-on pyramid scheme and protecting your finances is recognizing them when you see them.

Here’s what you can distinguish what are MLMs from pyramid schemes and avoid the latter:

•   Researching the company: Take the time to conduct research online. The FTC recommends googling the name of the company with terms like “scam” or “complaint” and then analyzing the results. The FTC even suggests reaching out to your state attorney general to inquire about complaints for a specific company. Uncovering evidence of lawsuits during your research is often a tell-tale sign.

•   Analyzing the products: Legitimate MLMs can sell good products. Pyramid schemes might even have products that you recognize. But if any company has poor-quality products that they expect you to sell, there’s a good chance it’s a pyramid scheme. Watch for products that are priced too high, claim to have “miracle” ingredients, or “guarantee” results.

•   Asking good questions: If the promoter is unwilling to answer very basic questions, like how refunds work or what happens if you can’t sell the product, they are likely hiding something.

•   Not making decisions in a vacuum: It’s a good idea to discuss all major financial and business decisions with a trusted friend or family member. If you have paperwork for an MLM that you’re unsure about, you can even have a personal accountant or lawyer review it before you sign.

Recommended: Jobs That Pay for Your College Degree

The Takeaway

Multi-level marketing companies are legitimate and legal direct-sales businesses, but they rarely enable a distributor to make good money; some distributors may even lose money. Pyramid schemes are typically disguised as MLMs and can lead to financial ruin. Such schemes are illegal. In general, it’s a good idea to avoid any kind of MLM company if you are unsure of their trustworthiness.

Looking for other ways to grow your finances? Open an online banking account with SoFi to take advantage of our super competitive APY and the fact that we don’t charge account fees, which can help your money grow faster.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Is it legal to join an MLM?

Yes, it is legal to join an MLM. However, very few people earn enough money from multi-level marketing companies to make them worth the effort. In fact, some people lose money in MLMs.

What makes an MLM illegal?

MLMs are legal, but pyramid schemes are not. Pyramid schemes often disguise themselves as legitimate MLMs. However, with pyramid schemes, the emphasis is on recruiting new members and forcing distributors to buy more products, rather than focusing on empowering distributors to successfully sell to customers.

Are MLMs the same as pyramid schemes?

No, MLMs are not the same as pyramid schemes, but pyramid schemes often disguise themselves as MLMs. Multi-level marketing companies are legitimate businesses that require distributors to buy products and earn commissions by selling them to a network of peers. Pyramid schemes are more focused on recruiting new distributors and forcing them to buy products than empowering distributors to sell the products.


Photo credit: iStock/Makhbubakhon Ismatova

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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What Is Budget Billing?

Guide to Budget Billing

When your home energy usage peaks in the summer and winter, you could be surprised by a higher energy bill — and might have to scramble to cover the cost. Signing up for budget billing with your utility providers can eliminate these unexpected cost surges and make it easier for you to plan your monthly expenses.

But what exactly does budget billing mean, and is it right for everyone? Here, you’ll learn:

•   What is budget billing?

•   How does budget billing work on a monthly basis?

•   What are the pros and cons of budget billing?

•   Does budget billing save you money?

•   Can you start budget billing on your own, without the utility provider’s help?

What Is Budget Billing?

Budget billing is an alternative, optional payment program for utilities like gas and electric. By opting into budget billing, you will pay the same predictable amount each billing cycle, regardless of how much or how little energy you actually used.

With budget billing, you can avoid the roller coaster-like highs and lows of utility billing — where costs skyrocket during sweltering summers and frigid winters. For many, this makes building a monthly budget much easier.

To opt into budget billing, call your utility provider or check out the website for information about what is available.

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


Recommended: How to Organize Your Bills

How Does Budget Billing Work?

Energy prices and usage fluctuate throughout the year. This can make it difficult to anticipate what your gas and electric bills will be each month. Depending on where you live and how harsh the seasons are, you might be in for a surprise on a few bills each year.

Budget billing eliminates those bill fluctuations. Instead, your utility provider analyzes past energy usage for your residence (usually over the prior 12 or 24 months) to estimate an annual total. The company then divides that total into 12 identical payments for the upcoming year.

Of course, it’s unlikely that your energy consumption will be exactly the same as it was the previous year. And with increased inflation and unpredictable weather events, the price of electricity and natural gas could increase over time. To account for this, your utility provider will track your actual energy usage throughout the year and calculate what you would owe (sometimes called a “true-up amount”).

•   If you overpaid for the year, the provider will issue you a credit on an upcoming bill.

•   If you underpaid for the year, you’ll have to pay the outstanding balance.

Either way, the utility provider will use this year’s worth of data to calculate a new monthly payment for the year ahead.

Note: While annual plans are common for budget billing, some providers may also offer a quarterly (three-month) plan.

Recommended: Automating Your Finances

Does Budget Billing Save You Money?

Budget billing does not save money on utility bills. Instead, it just makes your monthly payments more predictable. Some months, you will likely pay less than what you actually owe. In others, you could be paying more than what you would owe.

Having a predictable line-item budget may make it easier for you to handle other monthly expenses or keep you from needing to dip into your emergency fund to cover an especially high energy bill.

Advantages of Budget Billing

So what are the pros of budget billing? For many families, budget billing can add some stability to their finances. Here’s how it may help you out:

Easier Budget Management

Not knowing how much you’ll owe your utility providers each month can make it tough to build a budget. With predictable bills, you’ll know how much money to set aside each month for utilities. You’ll also know how much is left for other expenses, as well as for savings and retirement contributions, debt repayments, and investments.

Less Financial Stress

If seeing an unusually high total on an email statement or paper bill can send you into a panic, you may appreciate the stability afforded by budget billing. Budget billing won’t save you money, but when you know what to expect each month, you might rest a little easier.

Reducing Late Payment Penalties

If you receive a high energy bill that you can’t afford to pay, you may have to take on unwanted credit card debt with a high interest rate, dip into emergency savings, or even just pay the bill late. The latter could result in late payment penalties.

With budget billing, you won’t have to worry about a spike in your monthly energy bills. This may help you avoid late payments altogether.

Drawbacks of Budget Billing

As helpful as budget billing can be for some families, there are also some cons to consider:

Potential Fees

Some utility providers charge a fee to enroll in budget billing. On top of the startup fee, the provider may charge ongoing fees for the service. If that’s the case, budget billing will actually cost you more money than a traditional billing program. It’s a good idea to ask about fees before signing up for any new program.

Recommended: Can You Change the Due Date of Your Bills?

Chance You Could Underpay

At the end of the program — usually a year after it kicks off — the gas or electric company will calculate what you actually owed for the year, based on your energy consumption. If you overpaid, you’ll get a credit on a future bill (nice!).

But if you didn’t pay enough each month, you’ll owe whatever remains. If it’s a sizable amount, you may have to rely on a credit card to cover other expenses or take money out of savings to pay off the bill. Many people enroll in budget billing to avoid such surprises to begin with, so this can be counter-productive.

Complacency

When you’re on a budget billing plan, you might get used to a low electric bill in the summer and be tempted to blast the AC. Similarly in the winter, it could be tempting to get all toasty by cranking up the heat. You won’t feel the financial repercussions of those decisions until much later, when your provider calculates your true-up amount and determines that you owe more money.

If you don’t think you can be responsible with energy consumption without the threat of a high bill looming over you each month, budget billing may not be the right fit for you.

Recommended: How to Pay Bills with a Credit Card

What Happens If You Are Billed Incorrectly?

Mistakes can happen. When you opt in to budget billing, it’s a good idea to read the agreement and understand how your monthly total is calculated. You want to be sure you understand how bill pay works. Even if you have your bill set to autopay, you may want to review your statement each month to ensure it’s what you expected. If it’s not, you can call your utility provider to discuss.

Recommended: Pros and Cons of Automatic Bill Payment

Can You Make Your Own Budget Billing System?

You don’t have to opt into a utility provider’s system to take advantage of budget billing. In fact, you can make your own budget billing system if you’re willing to do some math.

Just analyze what you spent on utilities over the previous 12 months to figure out an average monthly total. Use this amount when building your monthly budget.

If your first bill comes in and is less than your monthly budgeted amount, pay the bill and hang on to the leftover funds. Stash them somewhere safe, where you won’t spend them. When your bill is eventually higher than what you’ve budgeted, you can dip into that leftover money to cover the difference.

By handling budget billing yourself, you can avoid any potential fees the utility provider might have charged you. Plus, you can store leftover budgeted funds in a high-interest savings account. While this approach requires discipline, it can be well worth the effort.

Alternatives to Budget Billing

Budget billing may not be for everyone. Some alternatives include:

•   Traditional bill programs: You’ll pay what you owe each month, but that means some bills might be high in the summer and winter. In other months, you may enjoy lower-than-average bill totals.

•   DIY budget billing: If you don’t mind doing some math to figure out an average monthly payment, you may be able to do budget billing without the fees and hassle of going through a provider. You’ll still pay what you owe each month, but by planning ahead and setting money aside in savings, you can make a more predictable budget.

•   Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Depending on your income level, you may qualify for government assistance with your home energy bills. Qualifying for the program does not guarantee assistance; roughly 20% of households that qualify actually receive help through LIHEAP.

Recommended: What to Do If You’re Bad With Money

The Takeaway

Budget billing allows utility customers to pay a set amount each month for electricity and gas, based on past usage patterns. You won’t save any money with budget billing, but it can make monthly budgeting more predictable. Before enrolling in a budget billing program, it’s a good idea to review the pros and cons and understand how it can affect your finances each year.

3 Money Tips

1.    Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts will pay you a bit and help your money grow. Online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

2.    An emergency fund or rainy day fund is an important financial safety net. Aim to have at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses saved in case you get a major unexpected bill or lose income.

3.    If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Do all utility companies offer budget billing?

Not every utility company offers budget billing. Your state may have a network of regulated electric and gas providers that are required to offer this program, but unregulated suppliers may not offer budget billing.

Am I better off budget billing or not?

Budget billing can be helpful if you like a predictable utility bill each month. Knowing what you’ll spend may make it easier to budget for other expenses. However, budget billing does have its drawbacks, especially if the utility provider charges a fee for the service.

Can I budget bill for other areas of my budget besides utilities?

Outside of utilities, most recurring monthly bills are predictable — rent or mortgage, internet, phone, student loan payments, etc. But if you like the predictability offered by budget billing for utilities, you might benefit from creating your own budget billing program for other unpredictable monthly totals, like groceries and fuel for your car. To do so, just calculate your expenses from the last year and divide by 12 to determine your average monthly total. You may want to account for inflation when estimating expenses like food and gas.


Photo credit: iStock/Milan_Jovic

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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What Does 2% Cash Back Mean? Is It Worth It?

What Does 2% Cash Back Mean? Is It Worth It?

Who doesn’t like a bit of extra cash in their pocket? And earning money from spending you’re already doing is arguably even better. If you prefer cash-back rewards with your credit cards, a card that features a 2% cash back flat rate — meaning 2% back on all purchases — can be a solid way to reap rewards.

Let’s go over the ins and outs of what 2% cash back actually means, as well as the pros and cons of a 2% cash-back credit card, to help you determine whether it’s worth your while.

What Is Cash Back?

Cash back is a form of reward that cash-back credit cards offer that allows you to earn money back on purchases you make. Other examples of credit card rewards include points or travel miles.

With a flat-rate cash-back card, all of your purchases earn the same amount in cash back. Other credit card issuers might offer higher cash-back rates on certain spending categories, such as on gas or groceries.
Meanwhile, some may feature rotating bonus categories to give your rewards-earning abilities a boost. For example, you might earn 5% cash back in the fall months on purchases made at restaurants and on gas.

You can redeem the cash-back rewards you earn in the form of a check, bank transfer, or gift card, or as a statement credit. Other options might include making a charitable donation or making a purchase through the issuer’s online portal. Depending on the credit card, there might be a spending threshold you need to meet before you can redeem your cash-back rewards.

What Is 2% Cash Back?

If you’re wondering, ‘What does 2% cash back mean exactly?,’ here’s how it works. Earning 2% cash back simply means that for every $100 you spend on your credit card, you’ll get $2 back. So if you were to spend $1,000, that’s $20 back in your pocket — though you’ll then have to redeem that cash back in order to make the rewards usable.

How 2% Cash-Back Credit Cards Work

As mentioned previously, having a 2% cash-back credit card means you’ll earn 2 cents back for every $1 you spend using the card, or $2 for every $100, and so forth.

There might not be a limit to how much you can earn in cash back. However, in other cases, the card may cap the amount of cash-back rewards you can earn for either regular spending or spending in bonus categories.

Pros and Cons of 2% Cash Back

While a 2% cash back card does come with some advantages, there are some drawbacks as well. Let’s take a look at both:

Pros and Cons of a 2% Cash Back Card
Pros Cons
Easy to use Higher APRs compared to non-rewards credit cards
Can rack up rewards quickly Earning caps may apply
Often no annual fee Don’t often offer travel rewards or perks

Pros

•   Easy to use: A major benefit of a 2% cash-back credit card is that the rules are simple: You spend money, and get a certain amount back. Plus, redeeming rewards is usually pretty straightforward, and you have a choice of how to do so.

•   Can rack up rewards quickly: If you use your credit card for everyday purchases, you’ll accrue rewards fairly fast. Of course, only put everyday purchases on your card if you can afford to pay them off, and always use your card responsibly, considering what a credit card is and the implications overspending can have for your credit score.

•   Often no annual fee: Many cash-back cards don’t have an annual fee. That means you won’t need to worry about spending enough to offset the fee.

Cons

•   Higher APRs compared to non-rewards credit cards: While your annual percentage rate (APR) on a card partly depends on your credit and other financial factors, rewards credit cards like cash-back cards tend to carry higher interest rates. If you keep a balance on your account, you can expect to pay a pretty penny in interest, given how credit cards work.

•   Earning caps may apply: While some credit cards allow you to earn unlimited cash-back rewards, others place a limit on how much you can earn. If you’re looking to max out your rewards potential, a cap could make that harder to do.

•   Don’t often offer travel rewards or perks: If you’re hoping to earn rewards that apply to travel, such as airline trips or hotel stays, a cash-back credit card likely isn’t the form of rewards credit card for you. While some cards may offer travel redemption options, most don’t, and many also charge foreign transaction fees.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Is a 2% Cash Back-Credit Card Worth It?

Whether a 2% cash-back credit card is worth it really depends on how you’ll use the credit card. This includes what types of purchases you’d like to make, and if you plan on using your card for bills and everyday expenses, such as gas and groceries. If you use the credit card regularly, you’ll be able to earn a greater amount of cash-back rewards.

However, you’ll also want to balance that spending with sticking to important credit card rules, like not spending more than you can afford to pay off. Because rewards credit cards tend to have higher interest rates, it’s important to avoid carrying a balance so you don’t cancel out the cash back you earn.

A cash-back rewards card might not be worth it if you prefer to use your credit card rewards for travel. In that case, a travel rewards credit card typically will offer more lucrative ways to earn points or miles to use on trips.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Guide to Using a 2% Cash-Back Credit Card

If you get a 2% cash-back card, here are some tips to keep in mind to use it effectively:

•   Read the redemption rules. Familiarize yourself with credit card requirements, and see if there are any limits on how much cash back you can earn. Similarly, check if you need to hit a minimum amount in cash-back earnings before you can redeem those rewards.

•   Be intentional with your purchases. Devise a plan for how you intend to use your cash-back credit card. Perhaps you would prefer to use it on big-ticket items, or maybe on seasonal purchases, such as during the holidays or back-to-school season. This will help you make the most of your card.

•   Choose how you’ll receive your rewards. You’ll also want to decide whether you plan on receiving the cash-back in the form of an ACH transfer to your account, as statement credit, or as a check dropped in the mail. You also might be able to use your rewards by making online purchases through the credit card’s shopping portal, or by purchasing gift cards or donating to charity.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Maximizing 2% Cash-Back Earnings

If you have a cash-back credit card, it’s worth your while to take the time to determine how to maximize your earnings. Here are several ways to do so.

Use Your Card For Everyday Purchases and Bills

Consider using your cash-back card on major spending categories to earn the most on rewards. For example, if you spend $4,500 a year on food for you and your family and put all of your groceries and dining expenses on your card, you’ll get $90 in cash-back on just that spending alone.

You might also consider putting your recurring bills and subscription services on your credit cards. This will allow you to scoop up points in areas you already spend.

Just make sure you aren’t spending beyond your means. Keep an eye on your expenditures, and commit to paying off your balance in full each month.

Put Big-Ticket Buys on Your Card

If you’ve been saving up for a sleek new laptop or coveted designer shoes, consider putting that cost on your 2% cash-back card. That way, you can get the item and earn a bit of cash back on the purchase.

Your card may even come with added perks, such as purchase protection or an extended manufacturer’s warranty.

Look for a Card With No Annual Fee

A card without an annual fee means you won’t need to spend as much to make the cash-back rewards worthwhile. Case in point: If you get a card with a $40 annual fee, you’ll need to put $2,000 in purchases to break even at a 2% cash-back rewards rate.

Pay Off Your Balance in Full Each Month

As cash-back credit cards tend to have higher APRs, make it a point to pay off your card in full. This will help you avoid racking up interest charges, which can cut into the cash-back rewards you earn.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Strategize When You’d Like to Redeem Your Cash Back

To maximize your 2% cash-back rewards card, it helps to be intentional with how you choose to redeem your cash-back rewards as well as when you do so. For instance, if you tend to dig a debt hole during the holidays, use your rewards to pay for gifts and other related expenses. Or, you can put the rewards you’ve accumulated toward a statement credit, or redeem it for a gift card for your loved one.

The Takeaway

Whether a 2% cash-back credit card is right for you may depend on a few considerations, such as how often you plan to use the card, whether you may purchase higher-priced items with it, and if you plan to pay off the balance in full each month. It’s also important to understand all of the rules that apply to the credit card. Some cards have limits on how much you can earn in cash back or have annual fees that could cut into the value of your rewards.

A 2% cash-back credit card that’s used regularly, however, can provide you with a steady stream of extra cash that could benefit your budget, and you can also be strategic about how you redeem the rewards depending on your needs at a given time.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Is 2% cash back good for credit cards?

A 2% flat-rate, cash-back credit card can be a strong choice as a go-to credit card if you intend to use your card for everyday spending. Earning rewards at a flat rate and in this manner is simple and straightforward, as you don’t have to worry about keeping track of rotating categories or figuring out point conversion values.

Is 2% cash back better than points?

A 2% cash back credit card is a no-hassle, straightforward way to earn rewards. While you might earn more points on a travel card, redemption values and ways to redeem points on a travel rewards card can be more complicated. A flat-rate cash-back card can be a good choice to use as a foundation. Then, you can also open a travel card if it makes sense for your needs.


Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What Is a Money Pool?

Guide to Money Pools

Money pools provide a platform for friends, relatives, or colleagues to combine their savings. The purpose of this arrangement is to leverage each member’s financial resources to save money, reach short-term money goals, or create financial security.

While money pools gained popularity centuries ago in developing countries, such as India and Southern Africa, they have continued to provide a banking solution for migrant communities in the U.S. Here’s a look at how money pools work and how they benefit folks that don’t have access to traditional banking products like savings accounts.

Read on to learn:

•   What is a money pool?

•   How do money pools work?

•   What are the pros and cons of money pools?

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


What Is a Money Pool?

So, what are money pools exactly?

A money pool is when a group of individuals (friends, family members, neighbors, or coworkers) combine their savings into one pot. The group decides on a monthly contribution amount they will each put into the pool.

Then, every month, one person from the group will receive the total sum of the money pool to do as they wish. The group can either draw names to decide who gets the money or make an arrangement based on a mutual understanding. Funds are distributed monthly until the entire pool is depleted. In this way, it’s somewhat akin to peer-to-peer lending.

However, money pools don’t just happen; they must have a responsible party that organizes the group. The money pool organizer tackles tasks such as collecting the money, tracking contributions, and planning distributions. The organizer keeps order, so each member understands and adheres to the group’s guidelines.

Money pools mainly exist in developing countries, with minimal access to credit or banking solutions like savings accounts. However, many U.S. immigrant communities nationwide use money pools as a solution for helping people within the community pay bills or save for financial goals. It can also serve as an example of pay-it-forward finance and helping those close to you.

Recommended: Short-Term Financial Goals to Set for Yourself

How Do Money Pools Work?

A money pool works like this: Let’s say a group of three friends decide to create a money pool. They decide that they will contribute $400 per month creating a $1,200 money pool. Each month, one friend from the group will receive $1,200. No matter who receives the funds for the month, every person in the group continues to contribute so the money pool amount always has $1,200 in it.

A money pool provides an immediate source of funds for someone needing to pay for unexpected expenses. In other words, the money pool can act as an interest-free loan to pay off medical expenses you can’t afford, car repairs, or tuition costs. A money pool can also provide a forced savings method for the last person who receives the funds.

The organizer usually determines who should receive the funds first. They may consider financial needs to assess the arrangement of the distribution of funds.

Reasons Why People Use Money Pools

For centuries, people have been using money pools around the world as an alternative to traditional savings solutions. However, folks are more likely to use money pools if they have:

•   Limited or no access to traditional banking institutions.

•   A bad credit score that making it challenging to qualify for financing.

•   Minimal financial resources; the money pool can be a way to save money with a low income.

•   The need to borrow or save money.

Examples of Money Pools

Money pools exist around the world and often go by various names. In U.S., Americans usually refer to this type of arrangement as a money pool or rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA).

Different communities call money pools by different names. Some examples of other names for money pools are:

•   Tandas in south and central Mexican communities

•   Cundinas between northern Mexico and Washington state

•   Susus in the Caribbean

•   Pandeiros in Brazil

•   Hui in Asia

•   Arisan in Indonesia

•   Ayuuto in Somalia

Recommended: Creative Ways to Save Money

How to Determine if You Should Join a Money Pool

If a money pool piques your interest, consider a few key points before moving forward with this financial decision.

•   Affordability of recurring payments. Make sure you can afford and have the money discipline to contribute the recurring payment amounts. A money pool isn’t like a traditional savings account where you can pull money out whenever you want. Think carefully to be sure that contributing won’t put you in a financial bind.

•   Trustworthiness of key members. You may feel uncomfortable contributing to a money pool with a group of members you don’t know well. Instead, consider creating a money pool with people you know and trust.

•   Organization of the money pool. Someone must be the organizer if you establish your own money pool. Money pool apps are available to help you organize your group and streamline contributions and distributions.

If you’re still on the fence, you may want to explore Community Development Financial Institutions or CDFIs as an alternative solution. What is a CDFI? These financial institutions cater to underserved communities. In addition, CDFIs offer banking products such as checking accounts to those who may have been turned away by traditional banking institutions. So, if you have a low credit score or are struggling to find a suitable savings vehicle, CDFIs could be worth considering.

Pros of Money Pools

Money pools can be advantageous to consumers for the following reasons:

•   Provide access to cash. A money pool offers an alternative solution for accessing funds if individuals don’t have access to lending institutions.

•   Members instill accountability. The social pressure of accountability encourages the group members to adhere to the money pool commitment.

•   Interest-free loans. Money pools provide an interest-free way to pay for unexpected expenses like medical bills or car repairs.

Recommended: What Is a Lifeline Checking Account?

Cons of Money Pools

While money pools have benefits, they can also have some drawbacks, including:

•   Funds in the account are not interest-bearing. Members can grow their money in other interest-bearing accounts, like a high-yield saving account.

•   Members who don’t make payments put the group at financial risk. Members of the money pool could suffer a financial loss if someone doesn’t contribute when they are supposed to. This is especially true for the last member to receive the lump sum.

•   Risk of social disapproval. You must make an agreed-upon payment or you could be kicked out of the money pool and face social consequences such as being shunned from your community.

Recommended: Different Types of Savings Accounts

The Takeaway

Money pools allow a group of people to combine their savings while helping each other financially. Each member contributes to a fund of money, which is then disbursed to members sequentially, allowing every person involved to receive a lump sum of cash. While this type of savings vehicle is used in the U.S., it’s more prevalent in developing countries since financial resources are often limited.

3 Money Tips

  1. Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.
  2. If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.
  3. When you feel the urge to buy something that isn’t in your budget, try the 30-day rule. Make a note of the item in your calendar for 30 days into the future. When the date rolls around, there’s a good chance the “gotta have it” feeling will have subsided.
Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Is there a reason for developed countries to use money pools?

Yes, for communities with limited access to traditional banking and credit, money pools can offer a platform to help individuals achieve their financial goals.

Are money pools safe?

While there is a risk of members failing to contribute to a money pool, the peer pressure of the group usually ensures they will go to great lengths to make timely payments. So even though it’s possible, loss typically occurs only rarely.

Do money pools still exist?

Yes, money pools exist. You may find them in developing countries as well as the U.S.


Photo credit: iStock/bob_bosewell

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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