The Step checking account and mobile app for kids and teens received a lot of buzz when it launched in September of 2020, and it’s amassed quite an impressive following since. With over 1.5 million users, this company must be doing something right.
This fee-free checking account, complete with a Visa credit card issued by Evolve Bank and Trust, is a safe and reliable product accompanied by a feature-packed and highly-rated mobile app. Step stands out from its competition because it helps teens build credit safely. If you’re a parent, consider opening this account for your teen if you like what you read in this review.
[Related: See where the Step debit card ranks amongst the best debit cards for kids and teens in 2021.]
Who is It For
Average age: Teens between the ages of 13 and 18.
Good candidate: Teens that want to start building credit before they are old enough to take out a loan or get a traditional credit card.
Users must be at least 13 years old to qualify for a Step account and up to 18. A child just needs to have a sponsor to open an account, and this can be anyone over the age of 18—it doesn’t have to be a parent or guardian. A sponsor is like an account manager who has privileges including seeing account activity and transferring money.
Features and Benefits
Step is unique because it works like something in between a credit and debit card but is actually a credit card for teens. Although this is technically a secured credit card, there is no credit check required when signing up. Teens do not have to have an existing credit history to qualify, making this a great starter card.
Earn: All users can earn a little extra money for their account by referring their friends. For every person successfully referred and sponsored, a Step account holder receives $3. If they are part of the Step Squad, they get $10 per referral.
Teens can join the Step Squad by making three successful referrals (when a person sets up an account with a sponsor), making one peer-to-peer Step payment, using their Step card at least once, and following Step on social media. Members of the Step Squad also get early access to new features.
Unless a teen is already earning money from a job, the money in their account will primarily come from their sponsor, who will fund their account by transferring money on an as-needed basis or scheduling automatic deposits.
💸 Spend: The Visa Step Card is a lot different from other kids’ debit cards we’ve reviewed.
Most young adults don’t start building credit until they are around 18, when they might need to take out student loans or decide to get credit cards. But Step is built around the fact that going straight from a debit card to a credit card can be risky for some, but that a good credit score is necessary in the modern world.
The Step card is used like a regular credit or debit card—swiped in a store or used online, almost anywhere VISA is accepted. But because it’s not a debit card, Step doesn’t require a PIN for transactions.
This non-traditional credit card allows users to carry a balance up to whatever amount they already have in their account, and this balance is completely paid off each month by Step using the money in their account. This way, users essentially borrow money temporarily and pay it off without the risk of accruing interest or late payment fees. They do not have to worry about minimum required payments or late fees.
If this sounds like the advice you often hear from personal finance experts—only spend what you know you have when using a credit card—that’s because it is.
Unlike a debit card, it is not possible for users to overdraft their Step account. They can spend only what they have loaded to their card and are not responsible for paying their balance themselves. Users cannot hurt their credit using this card.
A Step card can be used to make ATM withdrawals, but users cannot fund their account via ATM deposits.
Teens can transfer money to other Step users through the mobile app by selecting “Send Money.” They can also link their card with Google Pay or Apple Pay to make instant transfers to just about anyone.
There is a daily spending limit of $1,000 for total transactions and a daily limit of $500 for combined Google Pay and Apple Pay transactions. Users can transfer up to $3,000 out of their account per month.
💰 Save: At this time, there are no features built into a Step account to incentivize saving. Users can save by not adding all of their money to their card, but there is no option to create savings goals to work toward, enroll in automatic roundups, earn interest on savings, or some of the other savings features you see with some teen checking accounts.
Parents can award bonuses for saving if they want to but will not be prompted to do so.
As an account sponsor, a parent can add money to their child’s account via one-time transfers or recurring payments. Parents can change the frequency, amount, and dates for recurring payments from the Step app at any time.
An account can be funded via debit card transaction, ACH bank transfer, or direct deposit (from a parent or teen). Unfortunately, cash and mobile check deposits are not available.
There is a daily transfer limit of $500 and a total one-time deposit limit of $10,000. Direct deposits are uncapped.
There can be only one sponsor per account. If a second parent, guardian, or other adult wants to send money to a child, they can do so by creating their own Step account and transferring money. One person can sponsor more than one teen account, so this product is family-friendly.
Sponsors can see how their sponsee spends their money via real-time push notifications or by viewing their account from the app. They can add money to their teen’s account at any time via a funding source linked to their account. They can leave notes on transfers and see their complete transfer history.
Sponsors also have the ability to freeze and unfreeze their teen’s card as they see fit.
How Much Does the Step Bank Account Cost
Fees: The Step account is as fee-free as they come. It has zero monthly maintenance fees, no overdraft fees, no fee for ATM transactions, no low balance fees, no fee for late payments, no fee for returned payments, and no fee on foreign transactions.
There is no subscription fee charged for using a Step account or monthly account fee to worry about. This is truly a fee-free banking product.
Any fees a user might incur for ATM use, transfers, etc. are reimbursed in full by Step.
Also there is no penalty APR on carried balances as you’d see with most credit cards since Step only allows you to spend what you have.
Step VS Competitors
One of the things we love most about the Step card is that it helps users build credit. Step is as safe as any debit card because it doesn’t allow users to go into debt or spend more money than they have, but it does let them ease into building credit and learning good habits. This isn’t something you see with most checking accounts for kids, but the benefits of creating a positive credit history while young cannot be overstated.
Another benefit of Step over competitors is that it is completely free to use. There are none of the typical checking account fees you might be used to seeing and no charges for using this product and its services. It’s not often that an account like this is completely free.
We also like that Step allows users to link with Google Pay and Apple Pay, making it easier for them to send money to non-Step users.
Step is somewhat limited in terms of what a teen can do with the money in their account. For example, there are no savings incentives like interest on money saved or the ability to create goals and buckets. Many teens would benefit from learning not just to spend safely but also to save their money. If the ability to save money is a priority, you might be disappointed by Step.
Another thing we don’t like about this account is that funding options are a bit limited. You can’t transfer money into an account from an ATM, for example, or fund via mobile check deposit.
Finally, Step customer service is a bit inconvenient to reach. There is no direct phone line to the customer service department or chat feature on the site or mobile app.
Most reviews for the Step card and account can be found in the user comments for the mobile app. Many reviewers that give this product five stars like that Step allows for peer-to-peer transfers, appreciate the option to make referrals, and feel that there is a good balance of control between teen users and their sponsors.
On the negative side, Step has been criticized for having slow wait times for new users waiting to get their cards in the mail and accounts set up and for account closures without apparent cause.
Timely customer service used to be an issue for some people, but it seems that Step has made a lot of progress in this department over the past year. Now, customer service is a strong point and getting stronger.
The app seems to be another place where this product shines. It has a clean design that’s easy to navigate and looks great. It has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the App Store and 4.2 out of 5 stars on Google Play.
There is no phone number listed on the Step website that can be used to contact customer service. To get in touch with support, you will have to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and wait for a response.
Or, you could engage with Step on social media. They are highly active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Instagram (in fact, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio has used her platform to promote Step banking to other teens).
Is It Safe
Step checking accounts are FDIC insured up to the federally allowed limit of $250,000. Accounts are monitored 24/7 for suspicious activity.
This card also comes with Visa Zero Liability Protection, absolving users of responsibility in the event of unauthorized transactions and fraudulent activity.
Users can protect themselves further by enabling two-step verification in the form of Face ID, Touch ID, or their device PIN whenever getting into the app.
How to Sign Up
To get Step, both a teen and their sponsor must install the Step app and sign up for an account. Each will need to provide a phone number. After successfully setting up an account, teen users will immediately receive virtual Step cards they can use while they wait for their physical cards—which come in a variety of colors and designs—in the mail.
Teens cannot create an account without a sponsor if they want to be able to take advantage of all account features available and receive a Step card.
The Step card is a unique product that we feel good about for a lot of reasons, especially for its credit features. However, Step doesn’t offer as many usage options as some of its competitors, so teens will need to invest and donate outside of Step, if they want to use their money in these ways.
Overall, Step is a great option because it’s free and allows users to build credit safely, but it is missing a few things that could make it even better. If Step implements more savings features and adds a few more funding options, it’s going to shoot right to the top of the competition.