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Simple.com Offers Free High-Tech Checking

Here’s another free banking option for smartphone addicts: Simple.com.

It’s sort of like a mash-up of online budgeting sites and a good community bank.

To join, you open a checking account that charges no overdraft or maintenance fees.

(Simple does charge $5 if the account is inactive for six months, $5 for a paper statement, $2 for an international cash withdrawal — that kind of thing.)

Account holders receive a Visa debit card that’s free to use at any of the 43,000 Allpoint ATMs in the United States.

Simple won’t charge you a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM, but you will be on the hook for any fees the ATM’s operator charges.

Checks are deposited by taking pictures of them with your phone.

Simple also lets you pay bills online or transfer money to a friend at no charge.

One interesting twist is that you won’t get any paper checks. If you absolutely must have one, Simple will create and mail it for you.

The website partners with Bancorp Bank, so your deposits are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.

Although Simple says you’ll earn interest on your account, the rate is set by Bancorp. Although the site doesn’t say how much that currently is, it hints that you’ll earn no more than the crummy rates other banks are paying. So this isn’t a play for higher yields.

Simple also helps you track your spending, just like financial management sites Mint.com and Check.me. Through its app, which is available for iPhone and Android, Simple also lets you write notes next to transactions and take pictures of them, too.

So how does the website turn a profit?

Bancorp makes loans with depositor’s money and shares the income with Simple. It also benefits from swipe fees paid by merchants when customers buy stuff with their debit cards.

Right now, you can’t just go online and open an account at Simple.com.

As the site is being rolled out, you must request an invitation to open an account and wait for your chance to try this new kind of free checking.

Simple.com won’t tell me how long you’ll have to cool your heels.

If you try it, let me know. I’m curious to know whether it’s a day … or a month … or longer.

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