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Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus review

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Our verdict

An online checking account with 2% cashback on everyday purchases and 1% back on everything else.

The Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus account has no monthly fees and comes with a Visa debit card that earns up to 2% on utilities, subscriptions and everyday expenses and 1% back on other purchases. To earn the highest 2% cash back rate, you must maintain $1,000 in monthly direct deposits. The 2% cash back is capped at $500 annually, and 1% cash back rewards are unlimited. Without meeting the direct deposit requirement, you can earn up 1% to 0.5% cash back on select purchases. And like most online banks, you can't deposit cash.

Best for: Light spenders who want to earn cash back on debit card purchases.

Pros

  • 0.5% to 2% cashback rewards
  • No monthly fees
  • Unlocks benefits with Upgrade's Performance Savings account

Cons

  • $500 annual limit on 2% cashback rewards
  • No cash deposits

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Who is Upgrade Rewards Checking best for?

If you’re looking to earn some extra cash on everyday purchases, this account might be for you. With no monthly fees and the ability to earn up to 2% on selected purchases and 1% on everything else, it’s one of the better cashback debit cards in the current market.

Just keep in mind you’ll have to deposit at least $1,000 to get the highest cashback rates, so prepare to make this your primary checking account if you want to make the most of the cashback program. Even if you don’t meet the direct deposit requirements, you can still earn 0.5% to 1% on select purchases.

But if you frequently deposit cash, look elsewhere. Like most other online banking options, Upgrade can’t accept cash deposits.

What we like about Upgrade Rewards Checking

Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus is pretty solid all the way around. The account doesn’t charge overdraft or monthly maintenance fees. You can also send free, unlimited domestic wire transfers. Like many other fintechs, Upgrade uses the Allpoint ATM network, featuring over 55,000 ATMs nationwide at retail locations like Walgreens and CVS, and no fees for cash withdrawals in that network.

In addition, if you link your Upgrade Checking account to the Performance Savings account, then you can earn up to 5.21% APY as an active account holder. Inactive account holders can earn up to 1.5% APY. Upgrade Checking account holders may also be eligible for loan discounts.

Good cashback for a debit card

The cashback rewards are particularly interesting as this is a feature more commonly found in credit cards. A 2% cash back rate is solid, though less than the 3% you’d find on category rewards credit cards. However, the places you can earn cash back are great, as they include bars, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores, convenience stores, food deliveries, utilities and monthly subscriptions. Everything else earns 1% back.

To earn the highest 2% cash back rate on select purchases 1% on everything else, you must be considered an “active” account holder, which requires $1,000 in monthly direct deposits. If you’re an “inactive” account holder, the cash back rates drop to 1% on select purchases and 0.5% on everything else.

Where it falls short

Unfortunately, the Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus account has a particular drawback that stymies its benefits: strict requirements and limits on rewards. While Upgrade earns up to 2% back on purchases, it can only earn this on up to $500 cash back total each year. This is rather limiting compared to most rewards credit cards on the market and harms the value of the account past a certain amount of spending. However, the 1% cash back rewards for active account holders is unlimited.

And as an online bank, you can’t write checks or make cash deposits. Instead, you’ll need to transfer your funds using the Upgrade mobile app. Unlike some other online-only accounts, Upgrade doesn’t offer chat support via the company’s website. However, live representatives are available over the phone on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.

Compare Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus with other checking accounts

See how other checking accounts stack up based on their monthly fees and minimum initial deposits. Use the table to compare to competing checking accounts to find the best fit for your budget and financial goals.

Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus logo

Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus

★★★★★

Finder rating 4.3 / 5

Go to site


Fee

$0


Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

N/A


Minimum deposit to open

$0

SoFi Checking and Savings logo

SoFi Checking and Savings

★★★★★

Finder rating 4.5 / 5

Go to site


Fee

$0


Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

4.60% on balances of $0+
0.50% on balances of $0+
1.20% on balances of $0+


Minimum deposit to open

$0

Primis Perks Checking logo

Primis Perks Checking

★★★★★

Finder rating 4.8 / 5

Go to site


Fee

$0


Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

N/A


Minimum deposit to open

$1

Upgrade’s fees and access

Type of feeFee details
Monthly service$0
Opening deposit$0
Debit card fees
  • Cash withdrawals: $0 at Allpoint ATMs, $2.50 out-of-network ATMs
  • Foreign transactions: 3%
  • Card replacement: $0
Overdraft or nonsufficient funds$0
Wire transfers
  • Incoming
    • Domestic: $0
    • International: N/A
  • Outgoing
    • Domestic: First free, then $20 per transfer
    • International: N/A
Other fees
  • ACH transfers: 5% of transaction amount

How do I deposit or withdraw my money?

There are a few different ways to move money into and out of your Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus account.

Deposit

  • Direct deposit. Your employer can deposit funds directly into your account.
  • ACH transfers. Move money between bank accounts.
  • Incoming wire transfers. You can receive free, unlimited domestic wire transfers.

Withdraw

  • Debit card cash withdrawals. Make cash withdrawals from your account at certain brick-and-mortar retailers when making purchases, which may be subject to third-party retailer fees.
  • ACH transfers. Use the Upgrade app or website to transfer money to another bank account.
  • Outgoing wire transfers. One free wire transfer per month.

Customer experience

Surprisingly, Upgrade is accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) with a stellar A+ rating. Not many fintechs are, so that’s nice to see. There are over 1,000 complaints in the last few years, and while that seems like a lot, many other banks and fintechs have thousands more.

Among the complaints, the most common are reports of high APRs on credit cards and loans, locked accounts, and missing or late bill payments. But these are pretty typical for banks and fintechs with banking products. It’s also worth noting that we normally see hundreds of complaints of poor customer service – but those were largely missing on Upgrade’s BBB profile.

Upgrade does very well on Trustpilot, holding an excellent rating of 4.5 stars out of nearly 40,000 reviews. This is practically unheard of among banks and fintechs. Most reviews are glowing, with happy customers reporting ease of account setup, simple loan processes and great customer service.

How can I contact Upgrade?

There are three ways to reach Upgrade:

  • Call 844-319-3909 to speak with a support specialist on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.
  • Email contact@upgrade.com for support at any time.
  • Send a tweet to support@upgrade.com.

Checking account ratings

★★★★★ — Excellent

★★★★★ — Good

★★★★★ — Average

★★★★★ — Subpar

★★★★★ — Poor

We analyze top checking accounts and rate them one to five stars based on factors that are most important to you. These factors include: monthly fees, the ease at which monthly fees can be waived, the breadth of ATM access, ATM and overdraft fees, and customer service.

Read the full methodology of how we rate checking accounts.

Upgrade is a financial technology company, not a bank. Rewards Checking services provided by Cross River Bank, Member FDIC.  Upgrade VISA ® Debit Cards issued by Cross River Bank, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc.

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Steven Finder

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