Categories
Checking Accounts

Best Banks for Checking Accounts

Your checking account might be the most important financial account in your everyday life. You receive income, pay bills, and make purchases from that account, so it’s crucial to have everything working smoothly. Not only do you need an account that functions well, but a bank that minimizes fees so you can keep more of what you earn, too.

Best Bank for Checking Accounts

Bank or Credit UnionWhy We Picked It
Discover BankBest for Cash-Back Rewards
nbkc BankBest for Earning Interest
SimpleBest for Your Monthly Budget
Capital OneBest for Minors
Alliant Credit UnionBest Credit Union
Chase BankBest With Branches
Schwab BankBest for Global Travel

We partnered with the following banks to bring you the checking account offers in the table below. Under that, you’ll find additional details on our editors’ picks for the best banks for checking accounts as of August 7, 2020. These accounts all offer essential checking account features, and your deposits are insured up to federal limits by the FDIC or NCUA.

Best for Cash-Back Rewards: Discover Bank

Discover

Cash-back rewards may seem plentiful with credit cards, but debit cards are less generous. Discover Bank’s Cashback Debit account is a free online checking account with unique rewards. Earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 of qualifying debit card purchases each month, for total monthly rewards up to $30. There are no monthly fees, and there’s no minimum balance requirement. If you already use your debit card for everyday spending, the extra cash is a bonus.1 But credit cards also offer rewards, and they create a buffer between your checking account and potential problems. So if you’re all about the credit card rewards, this may not be the best fit.What We Like

  • Rare opportunity to earn rewards on debit card spending
  • Discover’s robust offering of accounts for one-stop shopping

What We Don’t Like

  • Potentially requires giving up advantages of spending with a credit card

Best for Earning Interest: nbkc Bank

nbkc Bank

If you hate the idea of funds sitting idle in your checking account, nbkc Bank should appeal to you. Earn 0.80% APY on funds in your personal account, with no monthly fees. Unlike some payment accounts that pay interest, nbkc Bank does not set significant restrictions. For example, you don’t need to use your debit card numerous times per month or limit certain withdrawals to six per month.2 The minimum to open an account is $5, and you can deposit checks with your mobile device.What We Like

  • Easy to qualify for the rate
  • Up to $12 per month in global ATM fee rebates

What We Don’t Like

  • Modern, informal vibe might not appeal to fans of traditional banking

Best for Your Monthly Budget: Simple

Simple

Simple helps you keep your checking account in good shape. The account tracks your spending automatically and allows you to add tags and notes for additional clarity on your finances.3 With that information, as well as any goals you specify, Simple predicts how much you can safely spend without causing problems later in the month.4 There are no monthly fees or account minimums, and there are also no overdraft charges.5What We Like

  • An extremely short list of fees
  • Robust budgeting tools to help you spend wisely

What We Don’t Like

  • A book of 25 checks still costs $5

Best for Minors: Capital One

Capital One

Capital One helps children and teenagers learn about money with a free checking account designed for kids. Teenagers get a debit card for spending, and there are no monthly fees or account minimums. Parents or guardians can monitor the account with online access and account activity alerts. The account pays 0.10% APY, which may help children learn about money and encourage saving.

Capital One’s 360 Checking also offers an APY of 0.10%.

The mobile app promotes intentional spending with the ability to set up budgeting categories and savings goals. You can also lock your card via the app if you ever lose it.6What We Like

  • Interest-bearing account for kids and teens ages 8 to 17
  • Provides a substantial level of autonomy (if parents want that)

What We Don’t Like

  • No paper checks, though teens may not need those often

Best Credit Union: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union

For fans of customer-owned institutions, Alliant Credit Union offers a free checking account that pays 0.25% APY on your balance. Credit unions require you to be eligible before joining, but that’s easy with Alliant. Anybody can become a member after joining Foster Care to Success, which helps teens in foster care throughout the U.S.7

To earn interest on your balance, you need to sign up for electronic statements and complete at least one electronic deposit into your account each month. If you don’t meet those requirements, you won’t earn anything, but there are still no monthly fees.What We Like

  • No account minimum or monthly fees
  • ATM rebates up to $20 per month

What We Don’t Like

  • Must have electronic statements and make one electronic deposit per month to earn interest

Best With Branches: Chase Bank

Chase

Big banks may not have a reputation for low-cost accounts, but Chase Bank’s Total Checking account comes pretty close. With over 5,000 branches available, you can bank in person if you so choose. You can also waive the monthly fee by direct depositing at least $500 per month or keeping a daily balance of at least $1,500 in the account. If you don’t qualify for a waiver, expect to pay $12 per month.8 Although big banks aren’t always as competitive as online banks, Chase ranked No. 1 overall in the J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study.9What We Like

  • Several ways to eliminate the monthly fee
  • A basic, adequate account with numerous physical locations

What We Don’t Like

  • Potential for steep ATM, overdraft, and other fees

Best for Global Travel: Schwab Bank

Charles Schwab

OPEN ACCOUNT

The Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account has the essential features you’d expect in a checking account, and it’s well-suited for travel. Schwab provides unlimited ATM fee rebates around the world, and there is no foreign transaction fee for purchases or withdrawals in foreign currency. There are no monthly fees or account minimums, and you earn 0.03% APY on your checking account balance. That’s not the highest rate in the world, but it’s more than many banks pay in interest for checking accounts, and those accounts might not be the best place for long-term savings anyway.What We Like

  • Unlimited ATM fee rebates in the U.S. and abroad
  • No monthly fees or minimums required

What We Don’t Like

  • Must open a linked brokerage account whether you want it or not

What Is a Checking Account?

A checking account is a bank account that allows for frequent transactions. You might deposit your pay (or have your employer do it automatically through direct deposit) and use the account as a holding area for funds you plan to use soon. Spending money from these accounts is easy. For example, you can:

  • Transfer money from the account to pay bills online
  • Make purchases with a debit card
  • Instruct billers to deduct funds automatically every month
  • Withdraw cash for spending at an ATM or the bank
  • Write checks
  • Link your account to payment apps like PayPal, Venmo, and more

It’s often wise to keep funds in a checking account and spend electronically instead of walking around with large sums of cash. When your bank or credit union is federally insured, your deposits are covered up to $250,000 if the bank goes under.10

What Makes a Good Checking Account?

A checking account should be inexpensive and easy to use. Monthly fees are particularly problematic because they’re easy to avoid, and they slowly drain your account. Overdraft charges and other fees can also add up to hundreds of dollars per year.11

Be sure to choose a checking account with the services you need. Several features you might find valuable include:

  • Online bill pay that allows you to schedule payments and make on-demand payments
  • Remote or mobile check deposit 
  • The ability to link external accounts
  • ATM fee reimbursements
  • The option to lock your debit card when you don’t plan to use it
  • Official payments like cashier’s checks and money orders
  • Customer service by chat, phone, or mobile app to help when you need a hand
  • ATMs that accept deposits
Categories
Checking Accounts

BMO Harris Bank

Founded in 1882, BMO Harris is the 8th largest bank in North America based on assets. There are now more than 500 branches in eight states and the bank serves individuals, families, and businesses. This in-depth review of BMO Harris Bank helps you learn more and decide if the bank is right for you.What We Like

  • Checking with easy requirements and no monthly fee
  • An impressive money market account for a brick-and-mortar bank
  • Fee-free access to more than 40,000 ATMs nationwide
  • Respectable CD rates for a big bank

What We Don’t Like

  • Branches limited to Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin
  • Unimpressive savings account rate

Who Is BMO Harris Best For?

BMO Harris may be a good option for anybody wanting to work with a large bank while keeping costs low. It may be especially appealing to those who:

  • Need checking at a brick-and-mortar bank and without a maintenance fee
  • Have at least $5,000 to qualify for the best money market rate
  • Use ATMs frequently and enjoy access to a nationwide network
  • Want a credit card with cash-back rewards or other perks

What Does BMO Harris Offer?

Given the size of the bank, it’s no surprise that BMO Harris offers a broad array of financial products and services.

Accounts

  • Savings account
  • Money market account
  • Checking accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Credit cards

Services

  • Banking experience
  • Customer service

Statement Savings

The Statement Savings account is a place to keep cash secure and earn a small amount of interest.

  • $25 minimum to open
  • Pays 0.05% APY
  • $5 monthly fee, waived with a balance of $100 or more
  • No monthly fee for those under age 25

This account makes a brick-and-mortar savings account relatively accessible. With a low minimum initial deposit and a fee waiver at $100, it’s competitive with other banks. For example, Chase Bank requires at least $300 in your account (among other fee waiver options) to avoid monthly fees.1

Federal regulations limit your savings account withdrawals to six per month. If you exceed that number, BMO Harris will assess a $15 fee per withdrawal.

Platinum Money Market

The Platinum Money Market account is competitive with online banks.

  • Minimum $5,000 to open
  • Pays up to 0.25% APY
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance requirement, although your rate drops to 0.05% when you fall below $25,000
  • Zero balance may result in account closure
  • Debit card for spending and cash withdrawals
  • Online bill pay
  • Checkwriting available2

Money market accounts pay interest on your cash. Accounts like this make it easy to use your funds with a debit card or check. But certain types of withdrawals, including payments, are limited to six per month due to federal regulations. At BMO Harris, you pay a $15 fee for each transaction over that limit.

Smart Money Account

The Smart Money checking account is a checking account that does not let you overdraw your account. 

  • $25 minimum to open
  • $5 monthly fee, waived for those under age 25
  • No overdraft or insufficient funds fees
  • Debit card for spending
  • Checkwriting available
  • Online bill pay
  • $2 paper statement fee, waived with online statements

This account might work well for those who are just beginning to manage their own finances. For example, students and young adults can write checks or use a debit card, and the bank will reject transactions that won’t clear at no charge. But once you’re 25 or older (or if you never overdraw your account), the Smart Advantage account might be a better option.3

BMO Harris has fee-free access to over 40,000 ATMs nationwide. Many of those are on the Allpoint network, located in various retail locations. For out-of-network ATM transactions in the U.S., you pay $3 to BMO, plus any fees that the ATM owner charges.

Smart Advantage Checking Account

The Smart Advantage Account, a basic checking account, is the bank’s most popular account. There’s no monthly fee if you use paperless statements, making it easy to qualify for free checking at a brick-and-mortar bank.

  • $25 minimum to open
  • No monthly charge
  • Debit card for spending
  • Checkwriting
  • Online bill pay
  • Paper statements for $2 per month
  • Optional overdraft protection, with costs at $36 per item and $7 for consecutive days of overdrafting

If you need a brick-and-mortar checking account and BMO Harris branches are convenient for you, this account could be an attractive option. You get access to instant in-branch services like cashier’s check purchases or cash deposits and withdrawals.4

Premier Checking Account

The Premier Checking account is designed for customers who keep substantial assets with BMO Harris. In return, you receive interest earnings as well as extra perks like rebates for using non-BMO Harris ATMs.

  • $25 minimum to open
  • $25 monthly fee with potential waivers
  • Earn between 0.01% to 0.10% APY on your balance, as of July 20, 2020
  • Debit card and checks for spending
  • Online bill pay 
  • No charge from BMO Harris to use other banks’ ATMs (ATM owners may charge fees)
  • ATM fee rebates, up to $25 per month 
  • Free paper statements with check images
  • Free standard checks
  • Optional overdraft protection, with charges as high as $36 per transaction5
Premier Checking Rates (as of July 20, 2020)
TermAPY
$0.01 to $4,999.990.01%
$5,000.00 to $24,999.990.05%
$25,000.00 or more0.10%

If you’re a fan of interest-earning checking and ATM fee rebates, take a look at Ally Bank’s Interest Checking account. Ally offers up to $10 per month in reimbursements for ATM fees and has an APY that’s five times higher than BMO’s best rate. The only catch is that Ally is an online-only bank, so there are no branches.

Standard CD

BMO Harris offers certificates of deposit (CDs) with terms ranging from three months to five years, including promotional CD specials. CDs require at least $1,000 to open, and earn interest on balances below $100,000 starting at three months. Rates and CD options may vary by your location.6

BMO Harris CD Rates (as of August 11, 2020)
TermAPY on $1,000Early Withdrawal Penalty
3 months0.05%90 days of interest
6 months0.05%90 days of interest
9 months0.10%90 days of interest
12 months0.15%180 days of interest
18 months0.25%180 days of interest
24 months0.30%270 days of interest
30 months0.35%270 days of interest
36 months0.40%365 days of interest 
48 months0.50%545 days of interest
60 months0.70%545 days of interest


You also have the option of Special CDs, which require at least $5,000 and are available for a limited time.

BMO Harris CD Specials (as of July 20, 2020)
TermAPYEarly Withdrawal Penalty
11 months0.60%90 days of interest
55 months0.80%545 days of interest

Add-On CD

The Add-On CD is a 1-year CD that allows you to build up savings while locking in a guaranteed rate. You can start with as little as $1,000 and add to the certificate when you have extra funds.

  • Pays 0.40% APY
  • Early withdrawal penalty: 180 days of interest

The Add-On CD might be a good option for you if you already have a BMO CD but don’t have $5,000 to open a new CD and earn interest. The Add-On option allows you to earn a higher rate than you can get from a standard CD. Over time, you can add to your balance and earn even more.6

BMO Harris has respectable rates for a brick-and-mortar bank. If you decide to open a checking account here, it could make sense to use the CDs and enjoy one-stop-shopping, assuming you have a relatively small balance and don’t benefit much from a higher rate. But if you really need to maximize your earnings, check out our list of the best CD rates available (updated weekly).

Credit Cards

BMO Harris offers four different Mastercard credit cards. They offer a variety of rewards, cardholder benefits, and promotional offers.

  • BMO Harris Bank Premium Rewards Mastercard
  • BMO Harris Bank Cash Back Mastercard
  • BMO Harris Bank Platinum Rewards Mastercard
  • BMO Harris Bank Platinum Mastercard

Other Financial Products From BMO Harris

BMO Harris also has a wide range of other offerings:

  • Home purchase mortgages
  • Home equity loans and lines of credit
  • Mortgage refinancing
  • Personal loans
  • Auto loans
  • Secured loans
  • IRAs
  • Investment management
  • Financial advisors
  • Business banking
  • Business loans and lines of credit
  • Business credit cards

BMO Harris Customer Service

BMO Harris gets decent ratings on customer service. The bank ranked “Better Than Most” in the 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study (Midwest category). In addition to using branch locations, you can get help through online chat or request a call from customer service.

Customer service by phone is available 24/7.

Categories
Checking Accounts

Best Online Checking Accounts

An online checking account is an excellent choice for convenient, low-cost banking. With the dizzying number of options available, we’ve highlighted some of the best accounts that can help you manage your day-to-day finances online. These offerings keep fees to a minimum, they offer essential (and sometimes unique) features, and they protect your money with federally backed deposit insurance.

We surveyed more than 150 banks and credit unions with online checking accounts, and we’ve highlighted the following categories:

  • Best Overall
  • Runner-Up
  • Best for Fees
  • Best for Annual Percentage Yield (APY)
  • Best for Rewards
  • Best for ATM Access
  • Best for Customer Service
  • Best Bonus Offer

Best Online Checking Accounts

Bank or Credit Union

 
Why We Picked ItMonthly FeeAPY
Discover BankBest Overall, Best for ATM AccessNone0%
Ally BankRunner-UpNone0.10% (under $15,000) to 0.50% (above $15,000)
nbkc BankBest for FeesNone0.80%
Consumers Credit UnionBest for APYNoneUp to 4.09% (Capped at $10,000)
Evansville Teachers Federal Credit UnionBest for RewardsNoneUp to 3.30% (Capped at $20,000)
Charles Schwab BankBest for Customer ServiceNone0.03%
Chase BankBest Bonus Offer$12, with waivers available 0%

We partnered with the following banks to bring you the checking account offers in the table below. Under that, you’ll find additional details on our editors’ picks for the best online checking accounts and rates as of August 7, 2020. All of the banks and credit unions listed are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

Discover Bank: Best Overall and Best for ATM Access

Discover Logo

It’s hard to go wrong with Discover Bank’s Cashback Debit account. There’s no minimum initial deposit or ongoing balance requirement, and Discover charges no monthly fees in this account.1 Discover Bank keeps fees low overall, charging nothing for things like standard checks, expedited delivery of a replacement card, insufficient funds, and official bank checks.

If you’re a fan of rewards, Discover’s online checking account pays 1% cash back on qualifying debit card purchases up to $3,000 per month. If you maximize that reward, you can collect up to $360 per year.

Discover Bank’s live customer service line is available 24/7, so you can get help when you need it. Plus, with both the Allpoint and MoneyPass networks on board, more than 60,000 fee-free ATMs are available to customers nationwide. Finally, you can use the app for things like freezing your debit card and depositing paper checks. Given all of that, Discover is among the top three banks in J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study.

The Cashback Debit account does not pay interest, but it’s a checking account designed for everyday spending. If you want to earn interest on unused cash, look at Discover Bank’s online savings account, or browse our list of the best banks for savings accounts.What We Like

  • No fees for items other banks typically charge for
  • Unique debit card reward

What We Don’t Like

  • No interest earnings

Ally Bank: Runner-Up

Ally Bank Logo

Ally Bank’s Interest Checking account is an easy-to-use account with no monthly maintenance charge. Ally Bank has been prominent in online banking for several years, giving the bank plenty of opportunity to enhance the offering. The checking account does not require any minimum deposit to open an account, you earn a small amount of interest on your balance, and standard checks are always free.

When you need help, Ally Bank has phone representatives available 24/7. Ally ranks well in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study, and the bank’s mobile app also earned the top spot in our review of banking apps.

When it comes to ATM access, customers can use over 43,000 Allpoint ATMs fee-free. Ally Bank also rebates up to $10 in ATM charges you pay to other banks.What We Like

  • Excellent technology for a smooth user experience
  • Earn a small amount of interest

What We Don’t Like

  • Basic account with no remarkable perks or rewards.

nbkc Bank: Best for Fees

nbkc bank Logo

It’s not hard to find an online checking account with no monthly fees, but you might still pay charges for activity in your accounts. nbkc Bank keeps fees at a minimum and pays a competitive rate on your checking account balance. 

At nbkc, you’ll find no monthly fee, no charge for returned (bounced) payments, no overdraft or insufficient funds fees, free stop payments, and free wire transfers. If you’re tired of getting nickel-and-dimed, this should get your attention. Plus, if you can’t find one of nbkc’s 32,000 free ATMs, the bank reimburses you for ATM fees that you pay to other banks (up to $12 per month). There’s no minimum deposit required, so this account is accessible to anybody.

If you prefer mobile banking, nbkc’s app allows you to deposit checks, set up alerts, and more.What We Like

  • Hard to pay fees in this account

What We Don’t Like

  • Limited hours for customer service

Consumers Credit Union: Best for APY

Consumers Credit Union Logo

Consumers Credit Union as of late July offered one of the highest rates currently available in a checking account. This is a “rewards” checking account, meaning you need to meet specific criteria to maximize your rate. But Consumers Credit Union has several reward tiers available, allowing you to earn a small amount of interest when you don’t meet all of the criteria—and earn the highest rate when you can check all the boxes. The rate applies to balances up to $10,000, and requirements include:

  • 12 debit card purchases each month
  • Electronic statements and communications
  • Deposits of at least $500 per month, including mobile check deposits
  • $1,000 or more of spending on your debit card

To open an account, you need to start with $5, but there’s no ongoing minimum balance requirement. There are no monthly fees, and anybody can join Consumers Credit Union. To become eligible, join the Consumers Cooperative Association with a $5 fee. As part of the CO-OP Shared Branch Networks, you have access to over 6,000 branches and 30,000 ATMs in the U.S.What We Like

  • Pays a remarkably high rate
  • Participates in CO-OP shared branching

What We Don’t Like

  • Meeting monthly requirements may be a challenge

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union: Best for Rewards

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Logo

The Vertical Checking account at Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union is a rewards checking account. What makes it unique is that it pays a competitive rate on a relatively high balance—earn the maximum rate on up to $20,000. Many banks have lower caps. To earn the highest rate, you’ll need to complete the following:

  • 15 monthly debit card purchases
  • At least one direct deposit each month
  • Enroll in electronic communications
  • Log in to your account at least once per month

There’s no monthly fee or ongoing balance requirement in the Vertical Checking account, but you need to start with at least $25. If you’re not already eligible to join ETFCU as an employee, retiree, or relative of someone tied to the organizations in its field of membership, one way to join, for example, is to become a member of the Mater Dei Friends Alumni Association with a $5 donation. ETFCU offers access to almost 5,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide.

The ETFCU mobile app offers essential banking features like mobile deposit, and you can verify if you meet the monthly criteria required to earn the highest rate.What We Like

  • Up to $15 of ATM rebates per month
  • In-app rewards progress tracking

What We Don’t Like

  • Relatively limited ATM network

Charles Schwab Bank: Best for Customer Service

Charles Schwab Bank Logo

Your checking account is the central hub of your day-to-day finances, so everything needs to work smoothly. When there are problems, they should be rare, and it must be easy to remedy whatever is wrong. With the top ranking in J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study, Charles Schwab Bank should be able to help you minimize service issues.


The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account has no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements. Also, there’s no ATM network to keep track of—Schwab provides unlimited ATM fee rebates. That applies to ATM fees inside the U.S. and worldwide, and Schwab does not charge a foreign transaction fee when you use your debit card abroad. Schwab’s app provides all of the features you’d expect, including mobile check deposit.What We Like

  • Generous ATM fee rebates
  • Excellent for global travel

What We Don’t Like

  • Must also open a Schwab One brokerage account

Chase Bank: Best Bonus Offer

Chase Bank Logo

While Chase Bank is a bricks-and-mortar bank, you can open and use the Total Checking account entirely online. Plus, you can get a $200 bonus if you meet certain criteria.2 While bigger bonuses might exist elsewhere, this offer is one of the most accessible offers nationwide.

The Total Checking account has a potential $12 monthly service fee. But you can get the fee waived by meeting one of the following criteria: direct deposit of at least $500 per month, $1,500 minimum daily balance, or at least $5,000 every day in qualifying Chase accounts. There is no minimum opening deposit required, but you’ll need to deposit funds to qualify for the bonus and avoid fees.2

Chase Bank customers have access to 16,000 ATMs and nearly 4,900 branches. With the resources of a big bank, you can expect an online experience that mirrors the best online-only banks. With the mobile app, you can pay bills, deposit checks, lock your card, and more.What We Like

  • Broad brick-and-mortar footprint of branches available

What We Don’t Like

  • Potential monthly fee

Benefits of Online Checking Accounts

Overall, choosing online banking, versus a bank with local or national branches, can deliver both positives and negatives:

  • Open online or with an app—no branch visit required
  • Many options with no monthly fees 
  • Select the features that matter most to you, regardless of your location
  • Potential interest earnings and rewards that often beat national bank chains
  • Extended customer service hours, at some banks

Drawbacks of Online Checking Accounts

  • Potential outages and technical glitches (typically temporary)
  • No in-person guidance or problem resolution
  • Need to wait for mail transit when ordering official checks and money orders
  • Cash deposits may be difficult or impossible
  • Need to verify that you’re working with a legitimate institution

How Should You Choose an Account?

Your checking account is one of the financial accounts you’ll use most often, so it’s crucial to get the features you need. Look at how you spend and save money, and evaluate your current checking account to identify the things you like best (and least).

Fees

It doesn’t make sense to pay monthly fees in an online checking account. There are too many options with no monthly maintenance charges or easy-to-reach fee waivers. Also, consider how you use your account: Do you order official checks or overdraw your account occasionally? If so, look for banks and credit unions that can help you minimize costs as you use your account.

Customer Service

Choose a bank that can make your life easy. Every bank can make mistakes, but it’s best to avoid banks when the bad customer reviews outweigh the good ones. Plus, life occasionally brings surprises that require help from bank personnel. Review your options for customer service, such as live chat, secure messaging, and phone support. How easy is it to contact somebody, and is customer service available at times that are convenient for you?

Features

Decide what’s most important in your next checking account, and verify that you can get what you need.

  • ATM access: If you get cash or use ATMs regularly, research the ATM network to see if you can bank fee-free. Alternatively, look for banks with an ATM rebate schedule that prevents you from losing money to ATM fees each month.
  • Interest earnings:Some online checking accounts pay interest on your balance. While that’s always nice, it probably shouldn’t be the primary factor in your decision. You can shift idle cash to a savings account to maximize your earnings, and doing so helps you avoid the temptation to spend all your cash.
  • Rewards:Some people get enthusiastic about rewards, and, all other things being equal, it might make sense to choose a bank with rewards. But some rewards won’t make a substantial difference in your financial health ($360 per year from Discover isn’t going to make or break you). Other rewards, such as high interest rates, may require you to meet substantial hurdles—like using your debit card a minimum number of times each month.
  • Other features: Most checking accounts allow you to deposit checks with a mobile device, but it’s critical to verify this if you ever receive checks. Likewise, you might decide that it’s important to have the ability to lock your debit card or use text messaging for quick account updates. Compare these details to find your ideal online bank after you narrow your list of candidates.

Additional Bank Offerings

As you compare checking accounts, take note of other offerings available at each bank. It might make life easy to have your checking account, savings account, and CDs at the same bank. That’s certainly not a requirement—it’s pretty easy to transfer funds from bank to bank online—but one-stop shopping helps minimize passwords and recordkeeping.

Categories
Checking Accounts

The Bottom Line

When shopping for a checking account, know that there are different types of checking accounts that cater to different customers. The ideal checking account is one that satisfies your banking needs and budget.

Don’t be tempted by sign-up bonuses and high interest rates alone—they won’t be worth much if you can’t use the account the way you need to. Compare the features among competing banks and pick the account type that offers what you need at prices you can afford in the long run.

Categories
Checking Accounts

Reward Account

As the name suggests, these types of checking accounts provide basic checking account features plus added benefits to incentivize customers to open and use them. They generally pay interest—often at an even higher APY than the bank’s interest checking accounts. Some banks also offer reward account holders the perks of preferred interest rates on new loans or discounts on fees such as overdraft protection.

You often have to “qualify” for the higher rate paid on reward accounts, and it may be difficult to do so. You may have to open a credit card or mortgage with the bank, hold investments with the firm, or jump through other hoops to qualify.

Categories
Checking Accounts

Interest Checking Account

Interest-bearing checking accounts, referred to as interest checking or high-yield checking accounts, are similar to basic accounts but pay interest on your deposits. This allows you to earn a small amount every month just for keeping your money at the bank.7

The specific amount you’ll earn depends on the annual percentage yield (APY), which reflects how much interest you will be paid based on the interest rate and the frequency of compounding. You may not earn much, but it’s something, especially considering that most basic checking accounts earn nothing at all.

Interest checking accounts are most often found at online banks, which have minimal overhead, but some brick-and-mortar institutions offer them as well. As you shop for these accounts, take note of the APY along with any restrictions for account usage (such as how often you’re allowed to write checks and the dollar amount restrictions for any checks you write). Likewise, review the account fee schedule. Some interest-bearing accounts impose monthly maintenance fees, while others (usually online interest checking accounts) don’t.

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Checking Accounts

Online-Only Account

While some brick-and-mortar banks also offer online-only accounts, online accounts are generally available at online banks, which don’t have physical branches you can visit. These types of checking accounts offer the features of basic bank accounts but require you to be comfortable with handling your finances over the internet and the phone since you can’t visit a bank representative in person.

If you need to make deposits, you can set up direct deposit with your employer. You may be able to deposit checks by taking a photo with your mobile device or mailing the check to the bank.

You can typically access the funds in your online account in a number of ways:

  • Use your debit card
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Pay bills online with Bill Pay
  • Send an electronic transfer or wire
  • Send a P2P payment

However, online checking accounts are usually missing some features of basic checking accounts (ATM deposits, for example).6 But because they also lack the overhead of brick-and-mortar locations, they can pass along the savings to customers in the form of no monthly maintenance fees and higher interest rates on their deposits.

Brick-and-mortar banks that offer online checking accounts may allow you to open the online account in person, although you’ll have to manage the account online going forward.

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Checking Accounts

Free Account

While it may be harder to find these types of checking accounts, free checking isn’t dead. Banks continue to offer free checking accounts to drum up business—particularly at smaller banks, credit unions, or online banks.3

Free accounts generally offer features similar to basic checking accounts but without a monthly maintenance fee. However, they may impose other checking account fees—for using the ATMs of other banks or receiving paper statements, for example.2

Free checking accounts may make up for a lack of maintenance fees with other fees, so don’t assume that a free account is entirely fee-free.4

In addition, you generally get what you pay for (or rather, don’t pay for) with these accounts. They may lack certain features of basic checking accounts: Some don’t come with checks, for example) and generally don’t pay interest on deposits.5 Still, if you just need an account for depositing paychecks and paying bills, a free checking account is a good option.

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Checking Accounts

Basic Checking Account

This “plain vanilla” account is the simplest type of checking account, and you can get it from most brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions. It provides a small set of features and is suitable for everyday banking.

Basic checking accounts generally allow you to:

  • Access and transfer money
  • Withdraw funds from an ATM
  • Use a debit card
  • Write and deposit checks
  • Pay bills
  • View and manage your account online (and in some cases, through a mobile app)

Expect to pay monthly maintenance fees with a basic checking account. You may also have to pay overdraft fees or returned-check fees if you spend more than what’s in your account.1 Other fees may apply, too, so read the fine print.

Some banks waive account maintenance fees if you sign up for direct deposit with your employer, maintain a certain monthly balance, or pay a bill online.2

Basic checking accounts usually don’t bear interest, so you won’t be earning money on your balance. Before you open a basic checking account, find out what you’ll have to pay and what you get in return—you might find a better deal with a different kind of account.