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What Is an Online Savings Account and How Does It Work?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · August 27, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is an Online Savings Account and How Does It Work?

Online savings accounts function similarly to traditional savings accounts, except you will manage your account entirely online. If you like keeping things digital, you’ll probably appreciate how convenient these savings accounts are. Plus, they may offer you a healthier interest rate than accounts held with a bricks-and-mortar bank.

So, what is an online savings account, and could one be right for you? Keep reading for more insight into how online savings accounts work and their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll answer:

•   What is an online savings account?

•   How does an online savings account work?

•   How can you deposit money into and withdraw from an online savings account?

•   What are the pros and cons of an online savings account?

•   How do online savings accounts and traditional savings accounts compare?

What Is an Online Savings Account?

Here’s one definition of an online savings account: It’s a savings account that functions similarly to one offered by a bricks-and-mortar bank, except you manage your banking needs online. With an online savings account, you won’t have the option of walking into a bank when you need support, but you will be able to quickly click your way ahead and complete most transactions.

As a refresher course, savings accounts are a type of bank account designed to help you save. They keep your savings separate from the money you spend on essentials like rent and groceries, which is usually held in a checking vs. savings account.

Since the principle is that your money will sit and grow in these accounts, rather than flow in and out constantly, banks pay you interest on these funds. They get to use your money, and they give you interest in return for that privilege. As your cash grows in the account, you can achieve different goals, such as building up an emergency fund, saving for a vacation, or getting a down payment together for a house. It’s your choice!

How Does an Online Savings Account Work?

You start an online savings account with an opening deposit, and then you’re ready to start saving. With an online savings account, you can manage your savings from anywhere in the world at any time of day. While there are plenty of banks and credit unions that have online account management services, purely online savings accounts often come with unique perks. For example, online banks usually don’t have a minimum balance requirement like traditional banks do. They often pay a higher interest rate, too.

You can transfer funds in and out as needed, as with any savings account. Typically, savings accounts allow six or fewer transfers per month. Initiate more than that, and you might have to pay a fee. However, many banks have stopped following this guideline in recent years. Check with your bank to know the details.

It’s also worth mentioning that with an online account, you won’t be able to deposit or withdraw cash into your account by strolling into a branch. There aren’t physical banking locations to visit. You’ll need to transfer funds in and out electronically, or you may be able to use ATMs. There’s a silver lining, though. In exchange for not having to pay for the overhead that comes with running an in-person bank, online banks often offer lower fees and higher interest rates.

Depositing Funds Into an Online Savings Account

As mentioned above, it’s not possible to deposit cash into an online savings account by visiting a branch. Instead, you can deposit money in the following ways:

•   Transfer money from a linked account into your online savings account. (If you’re really committed to saving, you may want to automate recurring transfers).

•   Use a check; this deposit can be done by mobile deposit or by mail.

•   Complete a wire transfer into your online savings account.

•   Set up direct deposit of funds (say, your paycheck or other benefits) to go into the account.

Withdrawing Money From an Online Savings Account

Now, let’s look at the other side of your financial life: withdrawing and spending money from a savings account. When you have an online savings account, here are your options:

•   Transfer funds into another account (say, one held at a traditional bank), and then take out cash in person.

•   Use an ATM. Some online banks allow you to link your savings to a debit card, which makes this possible.

•   Initiate a wire transfer.

•   Put in a check request.

•   Digitally send money to other people (say, by a P2P transfer) so you don’t need to take out cash.

Cash Deposits

Unfortunately, online don’t banks normally enable you to deposit cash, as there is no physical banking location available. See above for some of the other ways you can move your funds around so your cash gets where you want it to go.

Benefits of Using an Online Savings Account

Now, let’s look at some of the key benefits you may enjoy with an online savings account. These are among the reasons why you may opt for and enjoy this way of stashing your cash.

•   Higher interest rates and lower fees. Online savings accounts often have lower fees and higher interest rates, which means you’ll earn more on your savings. These higher interest rates are possible because the financial institution doesn’t have to pay for expensive bricks-and-mortar banking locations.

•   Manage accounts anywhere, anytime. It’s possible to do all of your basic savings account management whenever and wherever you like. The only requirement: a good, secure wifi connection.

•   Helpful mobile banking apps. Plenty of traditional banks have mobile apps, but online banks tend to have high-tech apps with better features.

•   More accessible customer service. You are likely to be able to get all of the banking support you need from the comfort of your own home. Online banks were built to be responsive in this way.

Disadvantages of Using an Online Savings Account

On the flip side, there are some disadvantages when you bank online. Here are some of the cons of using an online savings account.

•   No face-to-face interaction. With online savings accounts, you can’t go into a physical banking location, ask questions, or sit down with a bank representative. For those who like face-to-face interaction, this can be a disadvantage.

•   Can lose account access. When a savings account is entirely online, you may lose account access if the bank’s system goes down.

•   ATM access is constricted. Some online banks don’t have their own ATMs. They may try to provide greater access with some independent ATM networks or by reimbursing customers for ATM fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs.

•   Limited services. Online banks tend to offer more limited product selections than larger traditional banks. If you’re looking to manage your savings account, loans, and other financial products in one place, you may find that an online savings account doesn’t meet your needs.

Pros of Online Savings Accounts

Cons of Online Savings Accounts

•   Higher interest rates and lower fees

•   Ability to manage accounts anywhere, anytime

•   Helpful mobile banking apps

•   More accessible customer service

•   No face-to-face interaction

•   Can lose account access

•   ATM access is constricted

•   More limited services

Opening an Online Savings Account

If you decide you want to open an online savings account, here are the steps you will likely take.

1.    Fill out the application. This process will happen entirely online. Generally, you will be expected to provide such information as your name, proof of address, Social Security number, and government-issued photo ID (say, a driver’s license or a passport).

2.    Choose account type. There may be an option to choose between different savings account types, such as an individual account or a joint account that you can share with a family member.

3.    Designate beneficiaries. Next, you will need to choose a beneficiary to whom the savings account would go if you were to pass away.

4.    Deposit funds. Some online banks won’t require a minimum initial deposit or will only request $1. Whatever the amount may be, you will need to make that minimum deposit. (There’s no typical online savings account minimum balance to maintain, by the way. Check with banks to understand their particular guidelines.)

5.    Create login information. All online savings accounts will need a username and password. It’s important to make the password a secure one that includes one or more capital letters, numerals, and symbols. Also, it bears repeating: Don’t reuse passwords. Unique passwords will help keep you secure from hackers. This is a big issue if you are wondering whether or not online savings accounts are safe.

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Online Savings vs Traditional Savings: Which Is Best for You?

There are both advantages and disadvantages to consider when choosing between an online savings account and a traditional savings account. Being aware of the unique advantages and disadvantages of each can make it easier to find the right fit.

Online Savings

Traditional Savings

•   Better rates and fees

•   Stronger digital tools and features

•   Limited product offerings

•   Minimal ATM access

•   Hard to withdraw cash

•   No face-to-face customer support

•   In-person banking locations

•   More ATM access

•   Broader range of products

•   Fewer online resources

•   Lower interest rates and higher fees

The Takeaway

If you’re considering an online savings account vs. a traditional one, it’s wise to carefully consider the pros and cons of each. Online savings accounts can be more convenient, have more digital features, and offer lower fees and better interest rates. Traditional banks, however, can make it easier to withdraw and deposit funds, and they can be the right choice for people who like face-to-face interaction when it comes to their finances. Figuring out the right fit depends on your money style and goals; consider which factors matter the most, and you’ll be ready to make your choice.

If online savings is right for you, check out what SoFi has to offer. We help you bank better when you sign up for our mobile banking app with direct deposit. You won’t pay any of the usual account fees, you’ll earn an impressive APY, and you’ll have access to a network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs.

Better banking is here with up to 3.25% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

How do I use an online savings account?

Exactly how does an online savings account work? With access to a computer or a smartphone, consumers can access their online savings accounts from anywhere at any time by simply logging in.

What is the typical minimum balance for an online savings account?

That depends. Some online savings accounts have minimum balance requirements while others don’t. Check at the banks you are considering.

Is my money insured in an online savings account?

Your money should be safe in an online savings account, as long as the online savings account is insured by the FDIC. If so, your account is automatically insured for up to $250,000.

What is the typical interest rate for an online savings account?

Interest rates vary over time and from bank to bank. Generally, online savings accounts have higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts, such as a rate of up to 1.25% APY at press time.

How can online banks offer such good interest rates?

Because online banks don’t have the expensive overhead that comes with managing in-person banking locations, they can afford to pass their savings to their customers in the form of higher interest rates.


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. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.25% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 11/3/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet

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