Do your checking and savings account help you manage your money as efficiently as you’d like? If you had to think for even a moment about how to answer, you might be ready for a change. Spruce, a mobile banking platform built by H&R Block, provides comprehensive capabilities supported by its banking partner, Pathward, N.A. (member FDIC). Among the dozens of newish fintech platforms I’ve examined and reviewed over the past year or two, Spruce stands out for its simplicity, usefulness, and transparent fee structure. If you haven’t looked around in a while, I’m willing to bet it’s an improvement on your current money management solution.
What Is Spruce?
Spruce is a mobile banking platform built and backed by H&R Block. Though H&R Block isn’t a bank, Spruce has an array of mobile banking capabilities supported by Pathward, N.A. (member FDIC). It’s a convenient, flexible, and — yep — fun home base for your day-to-day funds and longer-term savings too.
Spruce has no sign-up fees, no monthly maintenance fees, and no minimum balance requirements. As a Spruce member, you’ll pay no fees to withdraw funds from Allpoint ATMs, of which there are thousands around the United States.
Spruce has some other key benefits. You can get your federal tax refund up to 5 days early with Spruce, set personalized savings goals and round up your purchases to reach them faster, and get automatic cash back from more than 10,000 participating retailers.
What Sets Spruce Apart?
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the features and capabilities that set Spruce apart:
- You Can Get Your Federal Tax Refund Up to 5 Days Early. While Spruce has no power over IRS processing times, you can get your federal tax refund up to 5 days early when you opt for direct deposit into your Spruce account. The exact timing depends on when the actual payment instruction is received and the timing of the IRS’s payment file.
- No Monthly Fees and No Minimum Balance Requirement. Spruce has no monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements. In other words, even if you don’t use Spruce regularly, you won’t pay anything to keep your account open.
- Set Flexible, Personalized Savings Goals and Round Up Your Purchases to Reach Them Faster. Spruce makes it easy to set flexible, personalized savings goals, each with its own picture to remind you what you’re saving for. If you turn on the Round Up feature in your account, Spruce automatically rounds up debit card purchases and ATM transactions to the nearest dollar and deposits the extra in your Extra Savings account. It’s an easy way to reach your savings goals faster.
- Get Automatic Cash-Back Rewards at Select Retailers. Through its partnership with Dosh, Spruce automatically delivers cash-back rewards to your savings account when you make eligible purchases at participating retailers. There’s no activation required, so it’s totally seamless.
Is Spruce Legit?
Yes, Spruce is legitimate.
Spruce is built and backed by H&R Block. If that name rings a bell, it’s because H&R Block is one of the biggest players in tax preparation, with thousands of locations around the country and robust online tax prep software to match. Millions of people use H&R Block to prepare and file their tax returns every year.
You don’t have to take our word for it (or H&R Block’s). Spruce has dozens of 5-star reviews in the App Store and numerous 4- and 5-star reviews from banking experts who review apps like Spruce for a living.
Key Features of Spruce
If you’re intrigued by what you’ve learned about Spruce so far, keep reading for more details about its core features and capabilities.
Bonus Offer for New Account Holders
Courtesy of Spruce and for a limited time only, you can earn a $50 bonus when you open a new Spruce account and receive qualifying direct deposits during the offer period.
To qualify, you must do the following:
- Open eligible new Spruce accounts between 1/1/23 and 6/30/23
- Receive $200 in qualifying direct deposits within 45 days of opening
- Qualifying direct deposits are ACH credits, including direct deposits but excluding tax refunds
- Nonqualifying deposits include internal transfers, external account transfers into Spruce, cash transfers, and mobile check deposits (including paycheck deposits)
After completing these qualifying activities, you should receive your $50 bonus within 14 business days.
Early Direct Deposit and Tax Refund
With Spruce, you can receive your federal tax refund up to 5 days early. This isn’t guaranteed because Spruce has no control over the IRS, but Spruce does make funds available as soon as it receives payment instructions for your refund — which can happen as early as 5 days before the deposit would normally appear in your account.
At the moment, Spruce doesn’t offer early deposit for state tax refunds.
But Spruce does offer early direct deposit for your paycheck if your payer qualifies. Again, Spruce generally makes funds available when it receives payment instructions, which can come up to 2 days ahead of your scheduled payday. So if you usually get your paycheck on Friday, you could receive the funds in your Spruce account as early as Wednesday.
To qualify for early direct deposit, you must receive at least $200 in cumulative direct deposits from a benefits provider or employer (not your tax refund) within a 35-day qualifying period. You’ll then automatically qualify for early direct deposit if your payer (employer or benefits provider) supports it.
Cash-Back Rewards With Select Merchants
When you use your Spruce debit card to make online or in-person purchases with select merchants, you can earn cash-back rewards. Through Dosh, its rewards partner, Spruce teams with over 10,000 retail locations, including many merchants — grocery stores, restaurants, hotels — you may already spend with.
Cash-back amounts and terms can vary by merchant location, offer period, and user, so check the app for up-to-date information. You don’t have to activate your offers though. If you make an eligible purchase, you’ll receive the reward in your Spruce Savings account with no further action required.
Courtesy Coverage (Overdraft Protection)
Courtesy Coverage is optional negative balance coverage on your Spruce Spending account. It allows you to overdraw your Spending account up to $20 at Spruce’s sole discretion for debit card purchase transactions, over-the-counter cash withdrawals, and ATM withdrawals.
You must opt in and meet ongoing requirements to qualify:
- Receive $200 in cumulative qualifying direct deposits in your Spending account from an employer, payroll, or government benefits provider during a 35-day period and have a positive Spending account balance before you can opt in
- After opting in, you must continue to receive $200 or more in cumulative qualifying direct deposits every month
- You must pay back any Courtesy Coverage overdraft within 30 days
Setting and Tracking Savings Goals
Spruce makes it easy to set and track savings goals right in the app. Your goals can be anything you want them to be, from big ones like a down payment on a car or 6-month emergency fund to smaller ones like a new nonstick pan or work outfit. Once you’ve chosen one, you can then:
- Name the goal (the better to track it in the app)
- Upload a photo to make your goal easier to remember
- Specify a target amount to save
- Set up optional automatic transfers so you don’t have to manually transfer funds from your Spending account to your Savings account
- Track your progress in the app, which shows the amount left to save
Repeat as needed until all your goals are accounted for, and add new goals as they arise.
Savings Round Up
Spruce’s optional Round Up feature can help you reach your savings goals even faster. When you turn on the Round Up feature in your account, Spruce rounds up the value of every purchase and ATM transaction to the next dollar.
Once the transaction settles, you’ll receive the difference in your Savings account. If you use your debit card often, these deposits can really add up over time.
Free Credit Score
Spruce makes it easy to keep tabs on your credit with a free FICO credit score and details on the factors that influence it. You can use these tools to build (or rebuild) your credit on your own terms.
Spruce has few fees. There’s no sign-up fee, monthly maintenance fee, or transaction fee at any of the thousands of ATMs in the Allpoint network. Spruce also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Spruce isn’t totally fee-free, however. Per Spruce’s fee schedule, you may incur fees for certain actions:
- Paper check orders
- Out-of-network ATM withdrawals
- Expedited debit card shipping
- Over-the-counter cash withdrawals
- Third-party money transfer fees
Advantages of Spruce
Spruce has a lot of benefits, from its total lack of sign-up and maintenance fees to early tax refund and early payday for qualifying users and payers. These are the most notable:
- No Sign-up or Maintenance Fees. Spruce has no sign-up fees or maintenance fees (monthly or annual). Some mobile banking apps do have these fees, which can be burdensome for frugal users.
- Very Few Fees Overall. Spruce isn’t “fee-free,” exactly, but it has very few fees overall. Most users can probably avoid the fees Spruce does have, like fees for ordering paper checks and over-the-counter cash withdrawals.
- No Minimum Balance Requirement. Spruce has no minimum balance requirements, so you never have to worry about incurring a hidden fee because your still-positive balance drops below an arbitrary threshold.
- Fee-Free Access to Thousands of ATMs. Spruce is part of the Allpoint ATM network, which has thousands of fee-free ATMs around the United States. Look for the Allpoint logo on the machine and say goodbye to cash withdrawal charges.
- Cash-Back Rewards on Purchases With Select Merchants. Through Dosh, its rewards partner, Spruce offers cash-back rewards on eligible debit card purchases with more than 10,000 participating merchants. Including, in all likelihood, some merchants you already shop with.
- Get Your Direct Deposit Up to 2 Days Early. Spruce makes funds available from qualifying paychecks when it receives payment instructions, which is a fancy way of saying you can get your direct deposit up to 2 days early. Most traditional banks don’t offer this benefit.
- Get Your Federal Tax Refund Up to 5 Days Early. With Spruce, you could get your federal tax refund even earlier — up to 5 days, depending on the timing of the IRS’s payment file (which Spruce can’t control). This is even rarer than 2-day-early direct deposit.
- Accelerate Progress Toward Savings Goals With Purchase Round Ups. Spruce’s Round Up feature can speed your progress toward savings goals. When you turn it on in the app, every debit card purchase and ATM transaction automatically rounds up to the next dollar and deposits the difference in your Savings account, where it adds to your balance little by little.
Disadvantages of Spruce
No fintech app is perfect. Spruce does have a couple downsides worth noting:
- No Interest on Savings Balances. Though its powerful cash-back rewards program makes up some of the difference, Spruce Savings balances don’t earn interest. And with rates on many online savings accounts higher than they’ve been in years, this is a downside worth noting.
- Not All Purchases Earn Cash-Back Rewards. Through Dosh, its rewards partner, Spruce offers cash-back rewards with more than 10,000 retailers, probably including some you buy from already. But it doesn’t offer across-the-board cash back, which is a drawback relative to general-purpose cash-back credit cards.
- No Investment Accounts. Through its banking partner, Spruce offers spending (checking) and savings accounts. This is great for day-to-day and longer-term money management, but it’s not ideal for people who want to invest in stocks, bonds, ETFs, and other market-traded securities.
Spruce is one of the most exciting mobile banking apps I’ve come across recently.
With no sign-up fees or maintenance fees, no minimum balance requirements, and a generous cash-back program, it’s fantastic for day-to-day money management. Meanwhile, its super-simple savings goals and automatic Round Up features make it easy to save for the future.
Spruce isn’t perfect; no fintech app is. But if you’re in the market for a new way to spend and save, it’s definitely worth a close look.