As a tech nerd, I get way too excited when I see something new or unusual in consumer technology. That excitement is compounded for me when familiar companies explore new, unfamiliar sectors of technology. The latter is definitely the case with T-Mobile and the recent soft launch of T-Mobile Money.
T-Mobile — currently the third-largest cellular provider in the US (though that may be changing) when it comes to market share, allegedly offering the fastest data speeds and having just received government approval to acquire Sprint—quietly launched T-Mobile Money just a few weeks ago. If you're not familiar with the service, T-Mobile Money (or T-Money as I'll be referring to it) is marketed as a "digital bank," designed to push personal finance further into the Digital Age.
The great disruptor
But before you get too excited, this actually isn't the first time T-Mobile has offered a service like this. In 2014, T-Mobile launched Mobile Money; though obviously the T-Money precursor, Mobile Money was basically just a T-Mobile-branded prepaid Visa card that you could load money onto in a way that's similar to, but definitively different than, an actual bank account. With minimal marketing and very little incentive (beyond the service being largely fee-free), Mobile Money languished in obscurity before Magenta finally pulled the plug in July 2016.
When The Verge broke the news regarding T-Mobile Money, I was intrigued. T-Mobile has gotten a lot of mileage out of being the self-proclaimed "#Uncarrier," which is basically a publicity term the company uses to emphasize how they undercut their competitors every chance they get.
In arguably its most Uncarrier-esque move, T-Mobile shocked the world in early 2017 when the company announced that it would no longer offer plans with data caps and, instead, offer unlimited data exclusively. The move has since been credited with bringing unlimited data plans back at a time when wireless providers had been moving subscribers away from unrestricted data usage.
Not only did T-Mobile usher us out of the dreaded Data Bucket Era in late 2016/early 2017, but it was at a cost that was unprecedented; a single line on the new T-Mobile One plan (so named because it's the "One" and only plan) would get unlimited talk, text, and LTE data with 10GB of LTE hotspot, backed by unlimited 3G hotspot, for just $70 per month. Since then, even after a couple changes and restrictions were put into place, T-Mobile has continued to charge less for unlimited data than nearly any other carrier besides maybe Sprint. Again, this put serious pressure on Verizon and AT&T who ultimately had no choice but to resurrect their unlimited data offerings.
But these days, service through the Uncarrier are no longer exclusively wireless. If you've ventured into your local T-Mobile store, you probably know I'm referring to T-Mobile's new television service.
Hoping to upset the cable/satellite industry as a major cord-cutting exoduscontinues, T-Mobile set its sights on Layer3 TV in 2017 with the purchase coming to fruition in early 2018. (Was T-Mobile inspired by AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV? Your guess is as good as mine.) Now "Layer3 TV by T-Mobile," as the marketing materials refer to it, is officially offered at T-Mobile stores. Simply pop into a store to go hands-on with the Layer3 set-top box on display, showcasing the 164+ HD and 4K channels that are served via your existing home network.
What is T-Mobile Money?
T-Mobile Money is banking in its simplest, most fee-free and surcharge-free form. That's right; there are no monthly account fees and no charges for not maintaining a minimum balance. There are no annual service fees and no overdraft fees.
In addition to banking that's actually, legitimately free, you get access to over 55,000 free ATMs nationwide. So on paper, it already sounds like a compelling deal.
Let's not forget that you get a 4.00 percent annual percentage yield (APY) on balances of up to $3,000 as long as you deposit $200 or more per month. However, if you don't meet the $200-deposit-per-month criteria, you still get 1.00 percent APY, which is higher than what most traditional banks offer. In fact, the national average APY is just 0.04 percent, so you're getting between 25x and 100x the national average APY.
But wait, I can hear you asking… did T-Mobile just become a bank?
Basically, T-Money is the magenta-colored wrapper on an online banking service that's actually provided by BankMobile, which is, itself, part of Customers Bank. It's similar to how mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, sell another (re: a larger) company's services as their own, which is the case with Google's Project Fi — now called Google Fi — essentially repackaging a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular coverage as their own wireless service. In that way, T-Mobile is essentially packaging BankMobile's online banking as their own service. (If you happen to be familiar with BankMobile, T-Money is nearly identical to the company's BankMobile Vibe Up and student-oriented BankMobile Vibe services but with some better perks.)
However, don't be concerned about the safety of this service as it seems to be legit. According to the website, T-Money does offer FDIC insurance on balances of up to $250,000 just like a real bank, so your funds are protected while you're using this service. And, yes, T-Money is natively compatible with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay, but you can't setup these mobile payment services until you receive the physical debit card in the mail.
Since it definitely piqued my curiosity, I decided to sign-up for T-Money, and I'm going to review it once I've spent a little time using the service. Of course, I only just signed up, but I can say this much: It's very easy to get the service going.