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I’ve banked with Ally Bank for years, opening both a savings account and CD. In this Ally Bank review, we’ll look at rates, fees and account types.

Ally Bank Review

Just over ten years ago, General Motors was having trouble remaining in business. Its subsidiary that provided customers financing for automotive purchases, GMAC, converted to a bank holding company. The goal was to take advantage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

In return, it received $5 billion from taxpayers through the government. By this time, GMAC Bank, a division of GMAC, already offered retail banking. Its products included savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts.

In an attempt to distance itself from the faltering GM brand, GMAC Bank re-branded itself as Ally Bank. It focused on offering a high-yield interest product. And it began actively seeking new customers and depositors. Later, the bank’s parent company, GMAC, also re-branded itself to become known as Ally Financial. Today, Ally Bank offers some of the most competitive banking products around.

Opening an Account with Ally Bank

Here are my experiences from the Ally Bank account opening process. As I visited the website to begin my application, Ally Bank warned me that I would need my driver’s license (or an alternate state or military identification number) in addition to my Social Security Number to proceed.

Like some other banks, Ally performs a credit check to verify identity. But they may also reject your application if they see you as a credit risk. However, getting rejected because of your credit history is unusual. But since this bank was once a financing company and then a bank holding company, this strategy may become more prevalent.

It look less than two seconds once I submitted my application for Ally Bank to inform me my application was approved. Once inside this virtual gate, I was able to choose whether I wanted to receive paper or electronic statements. I always choose electronic to cut down on paper waste. I wish more services would offer this option from the beginning.

Here’s another great feature: I can create as many separate savings accounts, with their own account names and numbers, as I want. At this point in the initial set-up, I could also add money market accounts and certificates of deposit.

I set up two separate savings accounts, both to be funded electronically from my Citizens Bank checking account. Like configuring linked accounts at any other bank, I will be required to verify two small deposits to ensure I am the owner of the linked account. Options for a one-time initial deposit or a recurring automatic savings plan are available.

Ally Bank then required me to create my security settings for viewing my account information and activity online. The bank has combined most of the security features that have become commonplace over the past few years. I created a username and a strong password, including mixed case letters and numbers.

Then I selected some secret code words and an image I can expect to see each time I log in. I also chose three security questions and answers. Ally provides the option to register the computer you use for accessing the website. This avoids repeated security questions at each online session.

If Ally Bank does not recognize the computer you are using to log into your account, they will send you an email with a single-use password to further confirm your identity. I have not seen this feature implemented anywhere else.

Using the Ally Bank Savings Account

Once logged in, I was impressed with the clean look of the interface.

You can transfer among your Ally accounts and two and from other accounts for free. But keep in mind, for money market and savings accounts there is a limit of six withdrawals per period, due to government regulations.

Ally Bank charges no account maintenance fees and requires no minimum balance. If you exceed the six withdrawals mentioned above, Ally will charge a $10 fee. Cashier’s checks and wires carry an additional cost. A returned deposit item, if a check you send bounces or if you don’t have funds in an external account to cover a transfer, will cost $25.00

The bank is also drawing attention to their 24-hour customer service availability and the plain language used throughout their website. I have not yet worked with Ally’s customer service, but I will be sure to report any future frustrations.

Ally Bank Products

High Yield Savings–This is the best product Ally has to offer in my opinion. The current APY is a robust 1.20%. Ally routinely ranks in the top 1% of all banks in terms of two very important factors: interest rate and customer service.

Interest Checking–It’s not easy to find a high yield online checking account these days. Ally tries their best, God bless ’em. For balances less than $15,000, Ally offers a 0.10% APY. And for balances greater than $15,000, the APY is a much more respectable 0.60%. Either way, Ally charges no monthly maintenance fees, which is rare today when looking for a high quality checking account.

CD’s–If you don’t mind losing a little liquidity for a higher interest rate, a CD is a great option for better returns. Ally has a wide variety of CD options, including high yield CD’s, a raise your rate CD, and a no penalty CD. The no penalty CD is perhaps their best offer, providing a 1.50% APY on balances of more than $25,000.

Money Market–Money Markets have always puzzled me. You see the interest rates above for CD’s and checking. And then you check the Ally Money Market account, and it earns a 0.90% APY on all balances. What would possess someone to open a money market account vs. a savings account? The Ally Money Market account does provide a debit card and the use of checks if needed. But you’re sacrificing a lot of interest for a touch of convenience.

Ally Invest–Ally recently purchased the online discount broker TradeKing and absorbed its business. Now, you can not only open a deposit account, but an investing account with Ally Bank. Trades are charged at a flat rate of $4.95, and options contracts run you $0.65 per.

Is Ally an Ally of Your Personal Finances?

ally1

Opening my account with Ally Bank was painless and quick, and I like how the website operates so far. After my initial deposit transfers, I will have a better idea of how quickly funds are available and can be transferred back to external accounts. I will return with more information at that time.

The main question I have moving forward is how long Ally Bank will be able to maintain their position as one of the highest among high-yield savings accounts. Banks have long used high interest rates to lure new customers, only to drop the rates when they become confident in their position as leader.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) sent a letter on May 27, 2009 to the FDIC requesting that Ally Bank be forced to lower their deposit interest rates, citing the bank’s unfair competitive advantage. It is unfortunate that the ABA would take this stance with savers forced to settle for interest rates that will not reach the rate of inflation going forward. The ABA has since removed the letter from the organization’s website, and I would suspect top tier interest rates so long as Ally is in business.

If you are interested, apply for an Ally Bank savings account here and let me know about your experience by commenting below.

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Republic Wireless claims to offer excellent phones and service at rock bottom prices. In this Republic Wireless review, we put these claims to the test.

review of republic wireless

Mobile devices were supposed to free us from the tethers of landlines. Unfortunately, many wireless plans can leave us tethered to expensive contracts and oppressive terms. This is why contract-free mobile plans have become so popular in recent years.

One of the big stars of the contract-free world is Republic Wireless. Are you thinking of making the switch to this way of talking, texting and browsing?

Republic Wireless Coverage

The first step is determining whether you have coverage in your area. This link takes you to a tool that detects your location and determines your coverage. I tested it in Springfield, MO and had full coverage.

As the map below shows, Republic Wireless covers most of the U.S.

Republic Wireless Pricing

Republic Wireless’ pricing is a breath of fresh air compared to other carriers with complicated pricing layers. The entry price point is $15 per month for the company’s basic plan. How does Republic Wireless offer such low rates while still providing reliable service?

The service is unique because it actually defaults all phone usage to available Wi-Fi. If Wi-Fi isn’t available, it uses the Sprint and T-Mobile networks as backups. Here’s a quick rundown of the essential facts to know about Republic Wireless when comparison shopping:

  • All plans include unlimited talk, text and Wi-Fi data
  • There’s no international calling
  • Monthly plans range in price from $15 to $45 (see below)
  • The carrier uses a unique Wi-Fi calling technology that switches between Wi-Fi and cell usage based on what’s optimal in any particular location
  • Customers can usually transfer their phone numbers to and from the provider easily

Republic Wireless Plans

Republic Wireless offers four plans:

  • $15/month: No cell data
  • $20/month: 1GB of cell data
  • $30/month: 3GB of cell data
  • $45/month: 4GB of cell data

It also offers other plans of up to 10 GB of data. It does not offer an unlimited data plan.

Republic Wireless App and Plan Switching

Republic Wireless offers a free app that tracks data usage every month. You have the option to instantly upgrade to a more expensive tier if you reach your data limit before the month is over. However, it will be your responsibility to switch back to the lower price tier at the end of the billing cycle to avoid the higher rate for the following month.

What We Like About Republic Wireless

Without question the low prices are the best feature. Compared to the big 4 carriers, Republic Wireless’ prices can’t be beat. We also like that you can switch back and forth between plans. This helps when you need a little extra data in a given month.

What Could Be Better

This provider’s biggest strength also happens to be its biggest weakness for some customers. Republic Wireless is able to offer rock-bottom rates because it defaults each phone to Wi-Fi. This means that you can’t automatically bring your own phone or transfer over a phone from another provider without first checking to see if your device is compatible.

Unlike most other commitment-free carriers, Republic Wireless does not sell refurbished phones. The company only sells new phones via its online store.

The absence of any type of family plan also detracts from the appeal of Republic Wireless a little bit. While this won’t concern you if you’re looking for a plan on your own, families looking for an easy and affordable way to divide usage between several people could be disappointed by a lack of options when signing up with Republic Wireless. However, you do have the ability to manage several individual plans under one main account.

Is Republic Wireless a Good Fit?

Republic Wireless isn’t the best provider for super users. You’re really only getting a great deal if you opt to sign up for one of the bottom-tier plans that are available. The larger data plans that are available offer slightly less than what you can get with other contract-free options for what works out to be slightly more money per month.

Republic Wireless is a great option for a person who is a low data user. This would be someone who uses their phone primarily at home while connected to their own Wi-Fi network.

One thing to remember is that the coverage you experience with Republic Wireless could vary depending on where you’re located. This means that super users or people who are counting on their phones while on the road for business might be frustrated by the fact that they won’t be relying on one consistent network to access calls, texts and data at all times.

The silver lining is that this is a commitment-free option that you can leave without facing any fees or penalties. The Republic Wireless 14-day guarantee makes it possible to end service and return your phone without penalty if it turns out that this ultimately isn’t the right option for you. If you find that Republic Wireless isn’t for you, you can check out our other recommendations for low cost cell phone plans.

To get more details, visit Republic Wireless.

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Amex entered banking years ago. Today, they offer great rates with low fees. Check out our take in this American Express savings account review.

American Express savings account review

By far, the most requested review on Consumerism Commentary is for the American Express Personal Savings Account. Amex offers one of the highest interest rates available with this savings account, making it very attractive from the surface. Once you own an account, how does it hold up against All, Discover, CIT and other online savings accounts?

I opened an account to find out.

First of all, if the bulk of your savings is earning less than 0.5% APY, it’s time to change. There is usually no excuse for settling for interest rates that low. It’s simple and easy to double or triple the interest you receive in your account every month. Granted, this might not add up to a lot of money. But high yield savings accounts help to ensure your cash will at least hold its value when up against inflation. Your money loses value over time when sitting in a low-interest or no-interest account.

Banking Deal: Earn 1.30% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Synchrony Bank.

Application process

After visiting the American Express website, I was impressed with the application process. You can zoom in on the overview screen by clicking on the image included here.

The first step is entering your personal information. If you have an American Express savings account currently, you can easily link your current account to the application.

As I do not have a savings account with AMEX, I entered my personal information. Following this, I entered the amount I intend to deposit from my external bank account. There is no minimum deposit, and I decided to start with $500. While there is an option to send a check, I chose to pull the funds from an existing bank account via an electronic transfer (ACH). After confirming my personal information and deposit amount, I agreed to the standard terms of service and entered my external banking information (routing number and account number). I chose to link this account to my personal Wells Fargo brick and mortar checking account.

The strength of American Express, in this first impression, is the bank’s professional appearance. Each step through this process, the bank’s website was very helpful in letting me know what to expect and when to expect it. When I confirmed my external banking information, it was clear that I would need to verify two test deposits into my newly-linked Wells Fargo account. I immediately received an email with instructions for verifying the test deposits, and I received a welcome kit in the mail in [three] days. It took three days, from Friday to Monday, for the deposits to hit my Wells Fargo account.

Verifying deposits

After the weekend, I checked my Wells Fargo account and saw two small test deposits from American Express. Once again, AmEx outlined the process clearly, as you can see from the image here. To finalize the link between my new American Express account and my existing checking account at Wells Fargo, the bank required me to enter my email address, a verification code that was sent to me via email, and the amounts of the two test deposits.

After the confirmation, American Express allowed me to create an online user identity for viewing statements and otherwise operating my new bank account. User names for the American Express Personal Savings Account require at least two numerals, so I was unfortunately forced to use a non-standard user ID. For the first time, I chose to receive online statements in lieu of paper statements. This is a trend I want to continue; I receive too much paper in the mail, and electronic states — when chosen without paper statements — will help reduce my clutter, as well as on a small scale, help the environment.

Using my American Express Personal Savings Account

As of today, I am waiting for my initial deposit to reach my new American Express savings account. Although there is not much I can do, I am able to look at all features contained in the website and get a feel for its operation. My first order of business was customizing the account names. I also looked at the options for downloading activity into applications like Quicken. American Express supports Quicken through the “Web Connect” service as well as Microsoft Money. There are options for QIF and CSV downloads, too.

There are not many different things you can do with this savings account. Although the bank recently lowered the interest rate offered on these accounts, the rates are still comparatively high. The deposits at American Express Bank are fully insured by FDIC, which means there is no risk in depositing your money up to the FDIC maximum, currently $250,000 for an individual savings account. American Express does not currently offer a checking, bill-payment, or other “transactional” account, so this type of service is fine for letting the cash you need to sit and grow, losing as little value to inflation as possible in a savings account.

American Express Interest Rate

On July 14, 2017, American Express Bank increased the rate on its online savings account to 1.15% APY.  This keeps them in the for online banks, but there are a few banks who are currently offering a better interest rate on savings.  Those banks are:

  • Dollar Savings Direct–1.40%
  • CIT Bank–1.35%
  • Ally Bank–1.20%
  • Barclays Bank–1.20%
  • Synchrony Bank–1.20%

Outside of an online savings account, there isn’t much else to the deposit side of American Express. They do offer a range of CD’s, but the interest rates on those are simply not good.  A six month CD will net you an APY of 0.40% and a five year CD comes in at 1.70%.  Keep in mind that these rates can change at any time. Check our high yield savings account page for current rates.

The ease with which American Express allowed me to open an account was terrific.  Their clean interface, transfer options and overall appeal is something that I’m not sure any other online bank can match (for my taste).  That said, their interest rate, while strong, is a bit lower than some other online banks.  If I were a rate chaser, AMEX would not have my business.

American Express Bank
Routing (ABA) number 124085066
Established December 1, 2000
FDIC certificate 35328
Location 4315 South 2700 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84184
Direct Connect Not supported
Web Connect Supported
Mint/Yodlee Supported

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.

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Have you been looking for a new online checking account? Preferably one with a higher-than-average interest rate? Then the FNBO Direct checking account may be the answer.

FNBO Direct checking

I’m a bit particular when it comes to my checking accounts. I don’t like paying any monthly fees, regardless of how much money I keep in the account. I want to be able to easily withdraw my money; I want a debit card, and I want to be able to manage my funds (including paying my bills)… oh, and I want all of that for free.

Narrows the list down a bit, huh? Luckily, the FNBO Direct Checking with BillPay offers all of that and more. Here’s what you’ll get with this account:

  • A completely free online checking account with zero monthly service fees, no matter how much money is in your account
  • Interest earned on your balance – currently 0.65% APY (as of July 21, 2017)
  • Minimum opening balance of $1 – yes, one dollar
  • Free online banking, bill pay, and account alertsfnbo
  • Complimentary FNBO Direct Visa® Debit Card
  • One overdraft fee forgiveness every 12 months (typically a $33 fee)
  • Free incoming wires
  • Free stop payments (I’ve paid as much as $35 for this before, so it’s a great bonus in my book!)
  • 24/7 access to over 2 million ATMs worldwide (no fees charged by FNBO for using out-of-network ATMs, though the machine operator may charge their own fees)

BillPay

popmoney

Being able to automate my bills is one of the biggest perks. The FNBO Direct checking account allows you to not only pay your bills online, but also set up automatic, recurring payments. That way, you’ll never miss another electric bill or charitable donation.

Need to send money to a friend or pay your babysitter? You’ll also have access to the free person-to-person money transfer app, Popmoney®, which is conveniently linked directly to your checking account. It allows you to easily and quickly send (or receive) money via mobile and email.

Earn Interest

For me, one of the best perks of this account is the interest rate. While it is subject to change, of course, the APY currently sits at 0.65%. This is significantly higher than many online savings accounts… let alone checking accounts!

The high yield – and absence of any fees – make this account a must-have for anyone looking to earn as much as they possibly can off of their money.

If you’d like to learn more about FNBO Direct checking with BillPay, or are interested in opening an account, check them out online here.

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FNBO Direct Savings Account — Opening and a Review

by Luke Landes

While I’m generally happy with my Capital One 360 account for a good portion of my savings, I’m looking to spread the money around to take advantage of some higher interest rates. One of the banks I’ve targeted is FNBO Direct, the online arm of First National Bank of Omaha, currently offering 1.10 percent APY as […]

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H&R Block Online Tax Filing Review

by Luke Landes

With W-2s and other tax forms now appearing in our mailboxes (or inboxes) daily, chances are that taxes are on your mind. If you believe you’ll owe money to the government, it makes sense to put off filing as long as possible, up to this year’s filing deadline. If you expect to receive a refund, […]

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Quicken 2015 for Mac Review and Giveaway

by Luke Landes

I have one free download code for Quicken 2015 for Mac to give away to a lucky reader. Instructions are at the bottom of this article. It’s been nine years since Intuit released a version of Quicken that was both fully-featured and designed to run on Apple’s hardware and operating systems. The Quicken Essentials for […]

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Discover it® with 18-Month Balance Transfer Offer

by Joe Taylor Jr.

The Discover it® card with an 18-month introductory balance transfer offer arrived on the market with heavy fanfare, including lots of television ads and billboards touting personal service and a new rebate structure that frees customers from most cash-back traps. This card’s critics have pointed out that other lenders extend far more generous sign-up offers, dangling hundreds […]

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Discover it® for Students

by Joe Taylor Jr.

Discover®’s made strong inroads into student borrowing over the past few years. Discover it® for Students represents the bank’s latest foray onto college campuses, with pricing and features that resemble full-featured credit cards more than the typically watered-down student accounts on the market. Loading up your wallet for the long haul For years, student credit cards earned bad […]

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Discover it® for Students with $20 Cashback Bonus

by Joe Taylor Jr.

Once upon a time, applying for a student credit card got you a cheesy T-shirt, or a hat, or a beer koozie. Often, that same card saddled you with a higher-than-average APR and a bare bones set of features compared to regular credit cards. Instead of spiking your finance charges, the folks behind the Discover it® for Students […]

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