PerkStreet Financial℠. You’ve seen the PerkStreet℠ ads all over the web. Blogs are abuzz with the hype. PerkStreet.com says you can earn thousands* in cash back (*thousands over the typical lifetime of a checking account, 10 years), earn up to 5% cash back on debit card purchases, and can rest assured that deposits are protected against fraudulent activity.
PerkStreet Financial Review: Our Experiences
Wow. That’s amazing! But is PerkStreet Financial for real? Because it sounded almost too good to be true, I decided to give you – the readers of The Christian Dollar – a thorough review of the company after I had some time to try them out for myself. In October of 2010, my wife and I signed up for an account. What did we discover? Well, you’ll have to continue reading for the pros and cons.
This 3,100+ word review of PerkStreet Financial is intended to be straightforward and honest. I’m not leaving any of our noteworthy personal experiences out of this review, good or bad. This is the PerkStreet Financial Review: The Ultimate Guide from Real Customers. These are our experiences. There’s a lot to learn here, so let’s jump right in!
How Did PerkStreet Financial Start?
Glancing through the pages of their website, you’ll find a few key motivations behind the beginnings of the company. Dan O’Malley, the CEO of PerkStreet, saw the need for change after working as an executive in the banking and credit card industries. Dan believes that there are incentive problems within those run-of-the-mill institutions, encouraging customers to take on tremendous amounts of debt through the use of credit cards. The PerkStreet website states:
Before PerkStreet, Dan co-founded Capital One’s Payments division, where he created the industry-changing decoupled debit card and launched the company’s prepaid business. Dan loves launching breakout new strategies, which he did in Capital One’s corporate strategy team and at Oliver Wyman, one of the world’s largest management consultancies. He also loves math (even if that makes him a dork), with a background in quantitative analysis and a BSE in Operations Research from Princeton University. Other loves? Baseball, cooking, and lightly roasted African coffees.
Out of these experiences, Dan set out to create something new in the banking world – something innovative. Whether he and his team have created something innovative is up to you! Let’s start by looking at some PerkStreet advantages and why you might want this account in the first place.
The PerkStreet Financial Benefits Explored
Note: As of April 4th, 2012, changes to the PerkStreet perks program are taking place (read more about these changes here). These changes are added to this review and old information will be stricken like this:
old information. Thoughts regarding these changes will also be added for comparison sake.
There are a number of PerkStreet advantages that do indeed position it well ahead of the competition. The most prominent advantage is the PerkStreet Financial℠ Debit MasterCard® (previously offered was a PerkStreet Financial℠ Visa® Debit Card).
The PerkStreet Financial Debit MasterCard and Free Checking Account
Here’s how the cash back perks work. By using your PerkStreet Financial Debit MasterCard, you’ll earn:
- 1% cash back on all non-PIN* purchases
if your checking balance is less than $5,000 at the start of the dayat any balance you have in your checking account.
- 2% cash back on all non-PIN* purchases
if your checking balance is $5,000 or more at the start of the dayyou make online at Amazon.com, Apple.com, iTunes, Walmart.com, Target.com, and BestBuy.com. You can also make 2% when you and a friend both pay with your PerkStreet cards together at the same restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. And, if you still want to maintain a $5,000 checking balance, you can get 2% cash back online and offline at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Apple stores. You can earn 2% cash back on $2,500 worth of purchases online and $2,500 worth of purchases offline.
- 5% cash back (called PowerPerks) on all non-PIN* purchases when you shop at select retailers announced on PerkStreet’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. You can earn 5% cash back on $5,000 worth of purchases in PowerPerk categories.
* Note that you must NOT use your PIN during a transaction in order to receive your perks. Using your PIN deducts money directly from your checking account, whereas not using your PIN (online purchases and signing a receipt, for example) processes money through the MasterCard network and earns you perks.
You can choose from various ways to redeem your perks, including gift cards to some top retailers and restaurants. There are now over 35,000 locations you can redeem your perks! Check some of them out below!
Previously, PerkStreet offered the MasterCard® gift card option and I was able to spend my perks on everyday purchases. Unfortunately they no longer offer this option, but they do offer a direct deposit of $20 into your bank account when you use 22 of your perks.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that for a limited time PerkStreet also offered a way to donate the money to disaster relief to help the people of Japan recover from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The cash back debit card that PerkStreet offers is different from other banks in that they provide more opportunities for cash back, such as 5% cash back in new categories announced every month on their blog!
Note: The following estimate is based on the earnings of the old PerkStreet rewards program prior to April 4th, 2012. However, PerkStreet has stated that more customers will have access to 2% perks with the new PerkStreet rewards program described above. For many (those who couldn’t maintain the $5,000 minimum balance for 2% cash back), this can increase the amount of perks earned!
So, how much can you earn in cash back annually from a PerkStreet account? PerkStreet Financial estimated this in the following typical budget:
What do you think about this estimate? Is it accurate? Unfortunately, I feel that the monthly expenses listed above have one flaw: the housing payment category. Many people have mortgages where a debit or credit card can not be used. Even renters might have a difficult time paying for their housing with a debit card. If they can, usually there is a fee to do so which wipes out any cash back rewards earned from this category.
However, our cash back results have almost lived up to PerkStreet’s claims in the end. Check out our cash back results below!
Our Old Cash Back Results
Here are some real world results from what we have earned in cash back since we activated our debit cards:
- We earned an average of $49/month cash back from our PerkStreet debit card over 4 and a half months of using the cards.
- Therefore, we predict we will average $588/year or a bit less in cash back by using PerkStreet.
- We spent money using our debit cards on some extras during this time such as flights, a new computer, and college.
- We still decided to use the envelope system with cash for categories where we might overspend (groceries, fun money, clothing, and date money).
- We had a few extra perks (see Additional Required Information section below) for the first month of using PerkStreet, and then just a straight 2% cash back thereafter.
In conclusion, our results lined up closely with PerkStreet’s cash back estimate of over $600 cash back every year*.
* PerkStreet comes to the estimate of over $600 a year in cash back using the following formula:
Making $601 in weekly non-PIN purchases will earn you $625 in perks annually (when you maintain a balance of $5,000). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $601 per week on purchases that could be put on a debit card, including stuff like utility bills or rent.
Note: In a tally conducted on March 8th, 2012, we found that we made a little over $300 in perks due to changes in our spending.
Our New Cash Back Projections
I believe that under the new PerkStreet system we will be earning less perks. But we are in the minority. Most will earn more perks because they no longer have to maintain a $5,000 balance in order to get 2% cash back – although they will only get 2% cash back online at Amazon.com, Apple.com, iTunes, Walmart.com, Target.com, and BestBuy.com.
We were in the under 10% of customers who maintained a $5,000 balance, so we previously received 2% cash back everywhere we used our card. I must admit, I’m slightly disappointed that we have to adjust where we spend our money to make 2% cash back, but those adjustments are only very slight.
Note: For more information on the new PerkStreet rewards program – and my complete research on how it will affect us – read my latest article on the PerkStreet Changes of 2012.
Limited Pending Non-PIN Transactions?
I’ve heard from a friend who also has a PerkStreet checking account that their debit card purchases were once denied for the following reason: they had over $1,500 of pending non-PIN transactions at one time. This is concerning if you are, say, going on vacation and have to purchase flights, hotels, etc.
I emailed a PerkStreet representative who explained that the pending non-PIN transaction limit can be raised if requested by phone.
Most people will not be affected by this. It’s not a deal breaker, just somewhat of an inconvenience. Besides, pending transactions only take a few days to complete, so it shouldn’t be a big deal for most folks.
The Most Free ATMs Nationwide
As mentioned, we used cash for certain discretionary expenses that we felt we might overspend on otherwise. We were pleased to see that PerkStreet offers unlimited access to 42,000 ATMs nationwide. This is definitely more than the majority of banks out there!
I recommend using PerkStreet’s ATM finder tool (on PerkStreet’s website) to find surcharge-free ATMs. Sometimes the labels on the ATMs themselves can be deceiving, so only use the finder tool to find ones that will work with your account free of charge.
Note: The graphic below only depicts over 35,000 ATMs, so you can see PerkStreet is adding locations!
However, we found out there is a catch. We tried two ATMs in our area and found that there was a $200 cap on how much cash we could withdraw per day. We choose to spend over $500 in cash every month to support our envelope budgeting system. By using cash, you can get great deals through negotiation with small businesses, feel the pain when you’re spending so you don’t spend as much, and make certain merchants happy by allowing them to skip paying debit card fees.
Because of this cap, we have decided to keep our credit union checking account open so that we can have access to fast cash when we need it. This does add to the complexity of our banking methods, but it is well worth it so we don’t have to make several trips to ATMs.
Free Online Banking and Bill Pay
A very attractive part of PerkStreet Financial is their online banking capabilities. You can pay your bills, check your balance, find an ATM, see your transaction history, transfer money in and out (with some caveats listed below), and set up mobile alerts.
The online bill pay system is very intuitive. You can simply type in the name of the company or organization you want to pay, and set up the system to pay them at certain times. It’s what you’d expect from online bill pay.
The mobile alerts feature comes in handy for us, as we want to know if our checking account ever dips below $5,000 (which moves us from 2% to 1% cash back [at certain retailers]). So we set up an alert to tell us if the balance goes under $5,500, so that we have some time to fund the account before it goes under $5,000.
The Ability To Move Money
You might be wondering how you can withdraw money from your PerkStreet account. There are two ways:
- ATMs (see The Most Free ATMs Nationwide section above).
- By using your PerkStreet Financial Debit MasterCard when you use your PIN at select locations and request cash back (keep in mind that these transactions DO NOT generate perks).
- Online transfers. See the Online Transfers section below!
How do you deposit a check? Excellent question. This will take a little explanation.
- Free standard mail. You can request postage-paid envelopes anytime and simply drop your checks in the mailbox. They send several at a time so that you don’t have to request envelopes every time you have to send a check.
- Free overnight delivery. You can use UPS Stores® or Mailboxes Etc.® locations to get your check to PerkStreet faster.
How do you deposit electronic funds?
- Direct deposit. Very easy to set up, and highly recommended.
- Online transfers. See the Online Transfers section below!
How do you deposit cash? Yes, you can deposit cash! Here’s how:
- MoneyGram® ExpressPayment℠ where you can deposit cash free of charge at 18,000 locations. I haven’t tried this method yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes if I ever do.
- Outside accounts. Remember, if you have an outside account you can deposit cash there at your local branch, and then move money via ACH.
- Direct Deposit. Have your paycheck direct deposited into your PerkStreet account!
The most common type of online transfer is through the ACH system. Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are initial limits to how much money you are able to transfer through ACH. For me thus far, they are the following:
- From PerkStreet to outside account:
$500$1,500 per month. Note: They increased my transfer amount with time! I’ve heard from another PerkStreet customer that they are able to transfer $2,500 from PerkStreet to an outside account. Thanks Bethany!
- From outside account to PerkStreet:
$1,500$2,500 per month. Note: They increased my transfer amount with time!
This can make it difficult when you are, say, signed up with PerkStreet for direct deposit and need to transfer funds to an outside account to pay your mortgage. Keep a healthy amount of money in your outside account, and you’ll be fine. Once you’ve set up auto-pay with your mortgage company through PerkStreet, this becomes a non-issue.
I’ve heard that these transfer limits are raised after PerkStreet has had some experience with you as a customer. This is to protect against people using the PerkStreet account in fraudulent ways. I’ll be sure to update this review if those limits are raised. One way I’ve gotten around this is to use outside accounts to “push” or “pull” money from the PerkStreet account. In other words, if you don’t use the PerkStreet transfer system, you’re only limited to what your outside account capabilities are. Another work-around is to simply send a check to PerkStreet or send a check from PerkStreet! Yes, you can write a check from yourself to yourself!
24/7 Customer Service
I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent customer service PerkStreet had to offer. I’ve called in four times. Three of the four times they picked up the phone (after the concise automated system) in under 30 seconds. However, one of those four times they took over two minutes – still pretty fast!
For every question I asked I received a throughly explained answer. They were friendly and knowledgable, and easy to communicate with.
Low, Straight-Forward Fees
I’m impressed by PerkStreet’s low fees. Most of these won’t affect the responsible customer. For example, who would ever pay the inactivity fee? Any normal person would make at least one transaction per month! Please check PerkStreet’s website for any updated fee information. Here are the current fees as of the publishing of this review:
Note: The overdraft and non-suffient fund fee has been raised to $32. Keep in mind that customers have the ability to opt-out of overdraft protection.
Standard Stuff You’d Expect
PerkStreet’s rewards checking account also comes with features you’d expect from any bank, such as:
- FDIC insurance up to $250,000 (Banking services provided by The Bancorp Bank, member FDIC).
- Two books of free checks to start you out.
- Free PerkStreet Financial Debit MasterCard.
Coming Soon: A Rewards Savings Account?
PerkStreet has announced that they are releasing a rewards savings account soon that includes:
- A competitive interest rate.
- Unique opportunities to earn extra perks based on your saving behavior.
- Alternate options for debit card overdraft protection.
When the rewards savings account launches, you can be sure that I’ll do a review of it right here.
Note: It has been quite some time since PerkStreet announced they will have a savings account. I’ve been told they want to make sure they launch an outstanding savings product, not a mediocre run-of-the-mill account. Launching anything less would disappoint PerkStreet customers. I’ll let you know once they do.
Signing Up For A PerkStreet Checking Account
I first heard about PerkStreet Financial from Peter over at BibleMoneyMatters.com, later from Bob at ChristianPF.com, and finally from Dave Ramsey on his hit radio show. Since PerkStreet received such a tremendous backing from knowledgable and reputable people, my wife and I decided to get a joint checking account with them and try it out.
It has been said of PerkStreet that it only takes 5 minutes to sign up for an account. While this might be true, it certainly took longer to have the account approved. But in the end, I think it was worth it! Check out the timeline below.
Timeline of Opening Our PerkStreet Account
Here is the timeline of my experience associated with the opening of my PerkStreet Joint Checking account (in calendar days):
- Day 1: Signed up for a PerkStreet account and received email notification that the application had been received.
- Day 4: Received email notification that more information was required to activate my account (see Additional Required Information below).
- Day 7: Additional Required Information sent via fax.
- Day 8: Temporary password for login received via email and account approved.
- Day 9: Received email notification that debit cards were manufactured.
- Day 11: Initial deposit deducted from former bank account.
- Day 12: User ID received via mail enabling login.
- Day 19: Debit cards were received by this day – perhaps a few days earlier (honestly can’t remember the exact date, but evidence puts day 19 as a great estimate).
- Day 23: We activated debit cards on this day (because we then had enough money in account).
- Day 26: Received PerkStreet checks via mail.
Overall, the entire process took a little less than a month. This was about what I expected, although PerkStreet could have been a little clearer in the arrival dates of the checks. The checkbooks took a long time to arrive, certainly longer than the about-a-week after account funding estimate PerkStreet quotes on their website. However, the process ultimately lived up to my expectations!
What You’ll Need to Open an Account
You’ll need several things in order to get your PerkStreet account up and running:
- First and Last Name.
- Social Security Number (plus the willingness to send a copy of your Social Security Card via fax; see Additional Required Information below).
- Date of Birth.
- Mailing Address.
- Driver’s License or Government Photo ID.
- The above information for any joint account holders.
- At least $25 for an initial deposit via debit card, credit card, or checking account.
Additional Required Information
There was some additional information required before PerkStreet would activate our account. This was unexpected, and I thought you might want to know about it.
PerkStreet required that we send our Social Security cards via fax to prove our identities. I was concerned about this because their website said nothing about it. However, they promised something in return (a few extra perks). Here is the email:
We’re very happy that you applied for a PerkStreet account; now there’s just one more step. We need a little more information to start you on your way to earning great perks. We’ll even give you [a few extra perks] for your help! Please call a member of our new accounts team at xxx.xxx.xxxx. Someone’s manning the phone between M-F 8:30am – 9pm and Saturday 10am – 2pm ET. We’d like to give you a special bonus to thank you for your time. Get us the required information within one week of the date of this email and we’ll give you [a few extra perks] on all of your non-PIN debit card purchases for the first month your account is open! . . . We’re very excited to have you as a customer. Have a great day. – Dan O’Malley CEO
Now, who knows if this happens with every customer. I was concerned about this and wondered if it was standard protocol, so I called customer service and they said that it “sometimes” happens especially if there was a name change, marriage, or other significant event in the recent past. We did get married within the last two years, so this might have caused them to want to verify identity.
PerkStreet has at several points offered me a few extra perks. I have no doubt they will offer you the same – whether it be in customer service or a few extra bucks cash back.
What It’s Like To Be A PerkStreet Member
Considering all the benefits, my wife and I love our PerkStreet account. You get a general sense throughout the signup process and day to day transactions that you are taking part in a revolution in banking.
Personally, I love not having to step foot into my credit union and be offered yet another credit card. If you’re the same way and loathe credit cards, you’ll love PerkStreet. The only reason we keep our account open at our credit union is to take advantage of their ATM which doesn’t have a cap on the amount of cash we withdraw (see The Most Free ATMs Nationwide section for more on this above).
The PerkStreet card design is sleek and attractive. My wife and I have both noticed how people do a double take and ask about the financial institution. Then we get to tell them how we receive 2% cash back on select debit card purchases . . . better than the credit card they just tried to sell me at the clothing store.
We’re happy customers, and believe you would be too. PerkStreet is innovative, revolutionary, and just plain awesome! You won’t be disappointed!
Tell your friends about this review of PerkStreet and leave a comment below! Maybe you’ve been a customer and have an experience you’d like to share! We’re waiting to hear from YOU!