Chime vs Varo vs Current: Best US Bank App? (2024)

April 10, 2024

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Legacy banks in the United States can be hit or miss with customers. On the one hand, banks help millions of people to plan their financial lives. They also provide a range of products and services for every need. On the other hand, some banks routinely discriminate against people of color by denying them loans or charging them higher rates.

A few banks regularly make headlines for the wrong reasons, such as Wells Fargo and its numerous scandals and Goldman Sachs and its constant engagement in criminal behavior. (People run banks, and the same suspect people are responsible for the dishonest acts above. However, these individuals are rarely held accountable. Instead, many leave unpunished, get golden parachutes, or work in the White House.)

The shortcomings of US banks have created opportunities for alternatives. Secondly, new generations of users seek different banking experiences. “Challenger banks” are startups that compete directly with established banks in a country. They aim to make financial dealings more convenient, mobile, hassle-free, transparent, and cost-efficient. For example, customers can open accounts using smartphone apps instead of visiting branches. Also, unlike traditional banks, their products and services are meant to accommodate new types of workers, including freelancers, remote workers, digital nomads, and global citizens.

Chime, Varo, and Current are three challenger banks that should be on your radar. In this post, we’ll review what they offer.

How to Choose a Mobile Banking App/Company

Choosing the best mobile banking app depends on your needs, financial goals, and budget. Understanding those aspects will make selecting the right partner and company easier.

Assess your needs first. Before evaluating financial apps, consider your requirements. For example, you want flight insurance because you travel a lot. You request payments often and want to use a customizable link to make the process more efficient.

Understand your financial goals. For everyday financial transactions, mobile-first banks are excellent. If you have unique needs, you may require a traditional bank. Suppose you want to start investing or seek a tax-exempt account. Most challenger banks don’t offer robust investing platforms. Moreover, tax-free accounts are rare.

Consider your budget. While free accounts/plans are standard with neobanks, users must pay to access more features and benefits. It’s the classic freemium model that thousands of tech companies use. They offer free plans to convert users to premium accounts. Secondly, monthly plan/subscription fees can add up to over a hundred euros, pounds, or dollars annually. For some people, paying monthly fees might not be financially prudent or practical for their budget/saving objectives or debt obligations.

Standard Features

Challenger banks, neobanks, and financial technology companies (fintechs) will continue to add products, services, and features to compete with their rivals and traditional banks. What one company doesn’t have today will likely be offered in a few months to a year. Therefore, you needn’t worry about missing out later. Challenger bank apps typically have these features:

  • No monthly fees or minimum balances
  • Virtual and physical bank cards
  • Instant push notifications on all transactions
  • Analytics and the categorization of expenses
  • Multiple accounts for saving and budgeting goals
  • No foreign exchange fees when spending abroad
  • Free money transfers to other users
  • Make recurring payments
  • Download and print account activity
  • Connectivity to third-party apps, for example, Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Card lock/unlock at your discretion. For instance, if your card gets lost or stolen

US Challenger Bank Apps

Chime Overview

Chime makes mobile banking easy with a modern and intuitive banking app that handles everything from tracking your spending and savings to paying friends. Chime has the following features:

  • Mobile and online banking access
  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Fee-free overdraft protection up to $200 (Chime SpotMe)
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Mail checks to businesses and individuals (Chime Checkbook)
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Automatically transfer 10 percent of every paycheck to your savings account
  • Build your credit history and increase your FICO score

Varo Money Overview

Varo offers premium bank accounts, high-interest savings accounts, and tech-first features to help people manage their money more efficiently. Varo is an independent bank with a banking charter and has the following features:

  • Mobile and online banking access
  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Get an advance of up to $250 (Varo Advance)
  • Earn interest with a high APY
  • Connect your other financial accounts to manage all your money
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Automatically transfer a percentage of every paycheck to your savings account
  • Deposit cash at thousands of retail locations nationwide
  • Deposit checks in the app or have Varo mail paper checks for you for free
  • Build your credit history and increase your FICO score

Current Overview

Current is built to meet the needs of people with unique lives whom the traditional banking industry has overlooked. It started as a mobile banking app for teens but has expanded its services to become a challenger bank. Current has the following features:

  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Fee-free overdraft protection up to $200 (Current Overdrive)
  • Earn up to 15x points when you swipe your card at participating merchants
  • Deposit cash instantly into your Current account at 60,000 stores
  • Automatically set aside money for specific purchases and savings goals
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Immediately refund holds that gas stations put on your card after filling up
  • Buy and sell crypto without trading fees

Wise 2023 b 300x250

Open a Free Wise Account

Products and Services

Checking Account

A checking (current) account is a bank account that allows you to conduct everyday financial activities, such as deposits, withdrawals, bill payments, and recurring payments. A current account typically doesn’t attract interest but may receive it if it maintains a minimum amount set by the bank, such as $25,000. All three challenger banks offer checking accounts.

Savings Account

A savings account is a bank account where you can store money you don’t need immediately while having easy access to funds. It typically earns a modest interest rate. All three challenger banks offer savings accounts.

Overdraft

Overdraft protection can be costly, but many people find it useful. Chime offers SpotMe, an alternative to bank overdrafts. SpotMe lets you make debit card purchases that overdraw your account without overdraft fees. Customers can overdraw by up to $200. Current Bank offers free overdraft protection for up to $200. Varo doesn’t officially provide overdrafts but offers Varo Advance, which is similar. Varo will spot qualified customers up to $250.

Other Products

All three companies lack insurance and international money transfer products. Alternatively, Wise is a money transfer service available to US citizens. It also offers a “borderless” account, like a zero-interest savings account. Users can send, receive, and hold multiple currencies and exchange money at mid-market exchange rates and low fees.

Revenue Models

Since challenger banks differ from traditional ones, you might wonder how Chime, Varo, and Current make money.

Chime makes money from interchange fees. Every time a customer uses her Chime Debit Card, Visa processes the transaction and charges an interchange fee. Chime gets a percentage of that fee every time. For example, it charges $2.50 when you get cash from an over-the-counter withdrawal or an out-of-network ATM. Click here for Chime’s fees.

Varo makes money by splitting the interest margin and receiving a percentage of interchange fees when customers use their debit cards. Click here for Varo’s fees.

Current makes money from monthly fees for premium and teen accounts. It charges 3 percent on international transactions. It gets a percentage of interchange fees when customers use their debit cards. Replacement card and express mail fees apply. Click here for Current’s fees.

Product Comparison

ChimeVaroCurrent
Checking account
Savings account
Personal loan
Overdraft
Intl money transfers
Insurance
Investments
Monthly feesNoneNoneNone

Alternatives

Traditional Banks

Traditional banks are playing catch-up with mobile banks, but that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed. Many established banks and financial institutions have mobile apps for financial management. For example, Discover offers online and mobile banking, various accounts, no account fees, insufficient funds or overdraft charges, minimum balances, free ATM withdrawals, and more.

European Challenger Banks

US challenger banks pale compared to their European counterparts, and the latter has noticed. European challenger banks, including N26 and Monzo, offer an impressive suite of products, services, and features in their home countries. Knowing this, they’ve entered the US market to replicate their offerings and successes.

US Challenger Investment Apps

Challenger investment apps focus on low account fees, trading costs, and low-cost investments like exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Secondarily, some offer interest-bearing cash accounts, which differ from traditional checking and savings accounts. If saving is your goal, challenger investment brokers are worth reviewing.

Other Financial Apps

Wise (formerly TransferWise) allows you to hold, spend, transfer, invest, and save money in multiple currencies. You can also send and receive money in different currencies and make purchases online or in stores. Wise charges meager fees for its services.

Oportun (formerly Digit) offers an effortless way to borrow, save, and invest for whatever you work toward. Tell them your goals, and they’ll provide the tools to help make it happen.

Which Bank to Choose

  • Best checking account: Chime
  • Best saving account: Varo
  • Best overdraft: Chime
  • Best for account options: Discover
  • Best for sending money abroad: Wise
  • Best for holding multiple currencies: Wise

Your Next Move

US challenger banks are making steady progress, and consumers should take note. While they don’t offer a wide selection of financial products, they aim to be cost-free, technology-driven, and convenient, with more products to come.

I will be watching Chime, Varo, and Current closely. I will also be following European neobanks to see what inroads they make. Challenger brokers are successfully upending the investment marketplace so that they may do the same in banking. Ultimately, US customers have ample choice to circumvent high and hidden fees, nefarious activities, discrimination, long lineups, and unnecessary paperwork. Financial mobility is here, exciting, and available on your smartphone.

Chad Tennant
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