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March 19, 2008

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Oy vey, that is complicated. There's no way my family would chip in to anything at $5 a pop. I wouldn't either. I'd just give the person the money. I'll stick with my ING Direct, which makes it very easy ... or my envelopes of cash, even easier.

Sounds like a legitimate scam.

I may be stating my age but this reminds me of the Christmas Clubs banks used to do in the 70's. You would open up an account in December, get a free gift, and you would deposit a set amount each week and by next October, voila they would mail you a check for Christmas. Back then these accounts were earning 5% interest so it was a good deal for the customer.

We don't need SmartyPig. Any one can start a savings account and add to it regularly. The only down side would be the minimum balance requirement.

Also it seems a bit tacky to be soliciting friends and family to reach your financial goals.

This is off-topic, but I just read an article at cnn money about a single mom who was living with her folks until she had a better job, opportunities were there, she moved her and her two sons out, and a week later she was laid off...she gets unemployment but feels that any job she takes will result in a pay cut (and she's been looking for quite some time now, I'm sure we've all heard the news stories about unemployment and it being really hard to find a decent job right now)...

anyway, so she can't find a decent job and is turning to family/friends/church to stock the fridge and help pay debts, INCLUDING THE CABLE BILL. ...a cable bill? And you can't hardly make ends meet? Why haven't you canceled cable?

The two kids attend after-school programs that cost $300/month for each child. The fact of the matter is, she doesn't have the money for it. It is not a necessity. Why not have the kids do something creative at home with the family?

http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/12/news/economy/mcgreevy/index.htm?postversion=2008031816

Has anybody else read this? Am I wrong for losing sympathy the moment I read she still indulged in luxuries yet couldn't make ends meet?

Doesn't sound like a scam but it doesn't appear to be a very effective product. I'm not going to repeat all of the points made in the post by the author but it clear that you can acheieve goals in a much easier way for less fees and more flexibilty to withdrawal.

I would consider it a "scam" if you lost the money you put in or if you weren't paid back the money you invested.

In conclusion, use a different method to save up for large purchases and skip Smartypig until it delivers better options to the consumer.

Thanks for the post. I wanted to clear up a few things for your readers, as well as let them know about a few changes we have coming out in the next few weeks regarding fees:

Opening an account on SmartyPig is absolutely FREE. In fact, you can open your account, create a goal, reach your goal, and redeem your goal, and SmartyPig won’t charge you a thing. This includes receiving a gift card from one of our retail partners. You do not pay for shipping when you choose that option. Nor are there any costs associated when a customer chooses the debit card. There is also no breakage on our debit card, as it is tied to a deposit account and can be reloaded.

We have minimal transfer options because we want to help people keep their savings in savings. SmartyPig was created to help people sensibly save for certain goals, which is why we tried to come up with unique options for redeeming your funds – yes, kind of like the old Christmas Club accounts. We’ve had great feedback so far from our customers who like the idea of setting a goal and sticking to it… and having their friends and family be able to follow them as they do. You are correct that ING does what it does well. I have an ING account myself. But we want to be different than ING. Mainly we want to help people reverse the mentality of “buy now, pay later” that had Americans charging $2.2 trillion in purchases and cash advances on credit cards with $18.1 billion in late fees in 2007 alone. We also think it’s possible to get some of those people who “charge” to pick up the better habits of people who “save.” They have to really, as we can no longer afford to live on credit. That said, we are nimble enough to react to suggestions from our consumers that will make the SmartyPig experience more user-friendly, including ideas of redemption.

In the next few weeks we will be updating our public contribution and gift card fees. SmartyPig customers will be able to make contributions to other SmartyPig users’ goals and buy gift cards at NO cost if they use their existing SmartyPig funding source, i.e. their checking or savings account. Our fee to make a contribution or buy a gift card using a credit card will be set at a flat 2.9%, and we are also planning on releasing a few other payment options in the future, as well, so that using SmartyPig will be economical for all users.

Lastly, it is important your readers understand that SmartyPig is not a “scam.” I welcome them to visit our security page here http://www.smartypig.com/security and see who are strategic partners are here http://www.smartypig.com/about/strategic-partners. I also encourage anyone who has a question or wants more information to contact me directly at [email protected] Much appreciation.

Jon Gaskell, Co-Founder SmartyPig

I've done a lot of reading about SmartyPig - the only real benefit of going with SmartyPig vs. a direct bank is the "social networking" aspect. I'm sticking with my ING account.

The people that I've talked to that were a part of the pilot all had positive things to say about it - but these were individuals that didn't save regularly to begin with.

Hmm, I think you're missing the point on SmartyPig. To say those that want to save will already find ways, is like saying those that want portable music did it without the iPod. The iPod didn't solve the problem of getting music on an MP3 player - that was already available. But it in combination with iTunes and downloadable music it put the idea of easy, simple, fun into the common vernacular.

I look at SmartyPig in much the same way. They are taking a proven idea, and making it simple, easy and fun to set goals for purchasing. What's wrong with that?

I have been fortunate to be a SmartyPig beta user and I can say that it is not complicated. I've told many friends and family about it and they are excited and have themselves signed up for the service.

SmartyPig has changed the way I look at purchases and use of credit. That in and of itself is personally revolutionary.

If I were a SmartyPig Executive (I love the fact that the co-founder read this thread)I would not focus my business model on the people that read finance blogs.

MOST people reading these blogs understand that one can save their money, in a separate, labeled account using ING, then transfer that amount to and ING Orange Checking Account, and use their debit card. ALL WITH ZERO FEES and NO "WASTE" (i.e. SMARTYPIG'S PROFIT).

With that being said, I do not think there could be a debate on the fact that it is a great business model with a very good mission statement - just not right for THIS particular market.

I got slammed with CC bills after Christmas and I can't afford to let it happen again. Call it "smoke and mirrors" if you want, or say I am forced to save until I reach my goal, but I won't have any high-interest balances for the stuff I want from here on out because I'm using SmartyPig. I don't want easy access or the ability to shift cash around. I already have that with my regular bank account. I want ZERO debt when I buy something. I think that's what SmartyPig is all about.

Personally the only problem I see with it is the $5 fee for friends/family to contribute to an an account. That part seems really unnecessary to me. Otherwise from the consumer perspective its just a different way to structure your saving towards a goal.

Jim

I think we’re all missing the point. This is something new for people who already are savers and want more for being responsible, like me, or for people who want to get on the right track. If those fees go away like the executive guy says, I don’t see how you could shoot holes in an idea that concentrates specifically on something you’d need three other entities to replicate like the writer suggests. I signed up. It was easy. I’m going to get more money for my money when I’ve reached my goal. Is that a bad thing?

Just for the record, all the comments here defending SmartyPig are from first-time commenters and non-bloggers (at least they don't link to their blog), a rare combination. It seems odd to me that these people all love SP and yet don't have any previous ties to FMF. Now I'm not accusing anyone of trying to sway public opinion, but it does seem awful suspicious. Similar to this:

http://www.freemoneyfinance.com/2007/11/the-saladmaster.html

I LOVE free discussion/debate on a topic, but I HATE it when companies try to influence the conversation and do it in a clandestine manner. If someone is doing this, stop it. Or else I'm sure someone would love to hear about these tactics. Maybe someone like http://consumerist.com/

I'm the guest author for this post. First, thank you FMF for posting it. Next, I never said it was a scam. If SmartyPig makes two changes, then I'm all for it.

(1) Remove the $5 fee for funding someone else's goal using bank transfer. It sounds like they are already going to do this. That's great.

(2) When the savings goal is reached (or closed), allow the saved up balance to be transferred back to the checking account where the money originated. This is much more efficient than crediting to a debit card or a gift card. I don't see this change coming though.

FMF,

lol... yea, gotta love the PR hitguys that come on (with no prev history at FMF) to drum up support.

Fees aside, I think what the SP people are trying to do is a great idea.

Sure you can send a check or cash to someone to be deposited into an ING or Emigrant account, but I would say more often than not that check gets spent on something other than your savings goal. This service all but guarantees that the money goes to the goal. I was reading Trent's post and the Simple Dollar and most commentors were brushing off the service as too "consumeristic". Well, yeah, Americans consume. Why not consume in a smart way? Not one reader here can honestly say that there isn't something they are saving for. Why not save for it with 4.3% APY (highest I've seen anywhere) and an added bonus of up to 5% if through one of the retailers?

Also, be creative with the service. Use it to teach your kids about setting savings goals... most kids are using the internet, and this site is kid friendly and easy to use. Use it as a community fundraiser or a wedding registry (this is where the fees become an issue).

FMF, I agree that some of the posts supporting seem like the Saladmaster, but rest assured, I've been reading this blog and other PF blogs for years now, although I don't comment frequently. Telling this audience the benefits of having savings goals and making regular contributions is preaching to the choir, but the rest of the nation can benefit from a service like this.

We don't need SmartyPig. Any one can start a savings account and add to it regularly. The only down side would be the minimum balance requirement.

And if you play your cards right you can get one with a low minimum balance. I have a credit union share account. If I had just opened it by itself the minimum balance was five dollars. Now, that's five dollars you can't take back out unless you close the account and your membership with the credit union, but it's also five dollars that earns interest.

(Granted, not a fantastic amount of interest, but savings accounts aren't investment vehicles.)

I think you guys are all missing the point. If smartypig is legit (which is why I'm currently doing research on it, and what brought me to this page), then its a very sound idea.

I saw them pitch at Finnovate, and they really have a good message. James commented above comparing it to the ipod, which I thought was spot on. Make saving cool, easy, and visible.

Yes, you can do this for free using some existing tools. But comparing the free option to smartypig really undervalues the social benefits of a public goal, and the mental focus provided by having a separate account for each goal.

I'm looking for that feature set right now, and I want to find the best tool. Im particularly interested in the public component. Is it smartypig? or is there a better tool out there?

From the SmartyPig FAQ http://smartypig.com/about/faq

"10. How is interest paid?

Interest is configured using a daily accrual method with quarterly postings to a customer’s account."


This is the deal breaker for me, "quarterly posting" is pretty bad if I understand that, doesn't that mean your interest is only dumped into the account each 3 months?

I have had a Smarty Pig account since Sep 08. This is Jun 09.

I have NEVER gotten my money placed on a credit or debit card when I reached my "goal". I just pressed a button and TRANSFERed my money from SmartyPIg back to whatever bank I had built into my SmartyPig account and there was not "fee".

www.ebates.com tried to stick me with putting my rebate on a debit/credit card and I pitched a fit and told them to mail me a check as usual and they DO IT.

This fee thing article had me closely review my Smartypig account and I was never charged any fees. Note: I do not let others put money into my account so if there is a charge for that I could care less. I would have them put transfer money to my other banks and then transfer it myself to Smarty PIg. There is always a way around things.

My daughter told me about SmartyPig. So I'm trying to figure out if it is a scam or not. I guess I got my answer. Anything that maked the younger generations save money is a good idea.

Just another soul in passing doing research on high yield savings, but I wanted to note an observation.

Even if SmartyPig only allows you to recover your funds in the form of a pre-paid debit card (but it sounds like there are some other reasonable options) at no cost to you, is it so bad to have to go to your bank and have the cards balance transferred there? You already got the 2.15+ interest rate, which is one of the best I've seen so far in my search. It doesn't have the liquidity of a standard savings account (though not as stringent as a CD)but that's not what your looking for, your looking for higher interest.

I'm not finished with my research, but this honestly sounds pretty good to me as a simple low/no risk investment.

According to their website, "Q: If I close my goal before interest is paid, will I still get the interest that I have accrued? A. Yes. You will be paid for all accrued interest up until the day you close your goal." So why would the quarterly posting of interest be worth complaining about, let alone a deal-breaker?

To me the biggest positive is that the interest rate (1.35%) is higher than anything else I can find with FDIC insurance that doesn't require a 3+ year commitment.

However, when I read the fine-print, the interest rate situation is a murky:

SmartyPig Savings Account
Daily Collected Balance* Interest Rate Annual Percentage Yield
$50,000 or less 1.343% 1.35%
$50,000.01 or more 0.499% 0.50%

Why would the interest rate go down at all as the balance increases?
Why would it go down by so much?

The comment above "Just for the record, all the comments here defending SmartyPig are from first-time commenters and non-bloggers (at least they don't link to their blog), a rare combination. It seems odd to me that these people all love SP and yet don't have any previous ties to FMF. Now I'm not accusing anyone of trying to sway public opinion, but it does seem awful suspicious." seems silly to me. Since when a non-bloggers second class citizens?

SmartyPig is indeed quite a scam - stay away!! I am told that it will take me 15 business days to get my money from them!! What are they doing over there - taking pictures of it? They pretty much hide their phone number on their website and I can see why - when I called to have them explain why it takes so long to get my money from them - they were not able to provide a reasonable answer and then got hostile. Really classy. Run, don't walk away from this $ trap.

COOL

I have smartypig Accra. I earn interest like a savings acct- and when I want to close a goal, I can. And You now have the options of doing either a check, visa debit card, or electronic funds transfer straight to ur bank. It helps me save money a little at a time that way we don't notice it and it builds up quickly. Outta sight outta mind. Id recommend it to anyone.

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