Checking should be free. Don’t you agree? I say don’t pay a monthly fee for a checking account unless you absolutely have to. After all, you’re loaning them your money. All they’re giving you is a debit card, some checks, and a few monthly transactions with a teller.
There’s four different ways to go about getting a free checking account now-a-days.
- First, you could go to one of the major U.S. banks. They typically will have a free checking option as long as certain requirements are met (e.g. direct deposit). With a big bank you can be assured that branches and ATMs are located in your area.
- Then there are the local banks and credit unions. Similar to the major banks, they usually have free checking, but are typically limited geographically or by association.
- Next you have the local and regional reward checking accounts. These accounts typically pay a higher interest rate on your balance if you jump through a few hoops each month (e.g. certain number of transactions).
- Finally, and new to the banking scene, are online-only checking accounts. They offer certain perks and features that the major banks and credit unions can’t compete with.
Best Free Online Checking Account
If you can do without a physical branch, then check out these online checking accounts. Because they’re online only, they offer some of the nicest features and perks, plus they’re free of fees or hoops to jump through. And unlike the credit unions or local banks, most online banks come with great ATM access programs to keep you in the money. All of these online banks are FDIC Insured and offer top-notch bank security features.
FNBO Direct Online BillPay Account – I’ve had some experience using FNBO Direct in the past and have enjoyed their service. If you want the best online checking interest rate for a low balance, then you should be using this account from FNBO Direct. They have a great web interface, bill pay feature, and free debit card. Free ATM use is limited. FNBO Direct is a product of the largest privately owned banking company in the United States, First National Bank of Omaha. In addition to checking, FNBO Direct offers an excellent savings account, reward credit card, and CDs which you can tap into as a BillPay member. The account has no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees.
Capital One 360 Checking Account – This is the online bank that I have trusted and used the longest. I currently do most of my online checking with Capital One’s 360 checking account. They offer great service, have the best online bill pay service, offer a free debit card, free ATM use within their huge network, send checks online for free (they now offer physical checkbooks as well), no minimums and no monthly fees. Capital One 360 just released their industry leading iPhone app as well. Hands down the best online app available. Deposits options are getting stronger (they are introducing digital deposits soon). Pays a small interest on your balance as well. Higher balances can tap into bigger rates. Only online bank with an account opening bonus ($50).
USAA Bank Free Checking- A newcomer to our list, USAA Bank has been a consumer favourite for as long as I can remember. While other banks offer base checking for free, USAA offers their full lot of services free of charge. Those services include (and are not limited to) use of ATM’s, on-line bill pay, on-line and mobile banking and free checks. For anyone thinking that this bank is restricted to just members of the military, think again. We have a full article on who can and cannot join USAA, so check it out of you have any questions.
PerkStreet Financial – The creators of PerkStreet have a nice offer: cash back reward checking. You can earn as much as 5% cash back in some spending categories. And you can earn a baseline of 1% cash back everywhere else cash for all non-PIN debit card purchases as well as an extensive 2% cash back on online purchases at: Amazon.com®, iTunes®, Target.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com and Bestbuy.com, in-store purchases at: Walmart, Target®, Best Buy® & Apple® (as long as you have a current account balance of $5,000), and when you and a friend use your cards together at the same restaurant, bar or coffee shop. PerkStreet is the perfect no-debt alternative to a cash back credit card. People who want to avoid debt, but still want rewards are turning to PerkStreet to cash in. I’ve used this account for over 3 months now and have been pleased with the experience. I’ve already cashed in over $175 in rewards.
PerkStreet has a huge network of free ATMs. They also have free checks, free debit card, and a free bill pay feature. They offer great alternatives for depositing your money too. Only takes $25 to open an account, and there are no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees. I can attest to their excellent customer as well.
Everbank Yield Pledge Checking – If you are a rate chaser and put a lot of cash to put into your checking account, EverBank will reward you with consistently one of the best online checking account interest rates. They promises that EverBank will always be in the top 5% of leading banks when it comes to rate. To have no fees with this account, you need to maintain a balance of $5,000. Since they take on only a limited set of customers, they strive to treat them like kings. They have award-winning online banking, live customer service 24/7, and unlimited check writing. They also have had one of the best deposit methods in the industry: check deposit by scanner.
Ally Interest Checking – One of the newest free online checking accounts available today is the Ally Interest Checking account. It is what it sounds like: a checking account that pays interest on your balance. Beyond being an interest-bearing account, it has several features that most consumers seem to enjoy in a checking account: a bill pay feature which is free to use, free debit card, completely free ATM use (they refund all other bank fees), a free set of checks (unlimited), plus they give you unlimited check writing. There are no minimums balance requirements and no monthly fees associated with this account. Open an account with as little as $1 today. Ally just introduced eCheck Deposit, making them one of the only online banks to take digital deposits.
Best Free Checking Accounts (Major Banks)
If you like the convenience of the branches and don’t mind the lack of additional perks, then consider this free checking account.
PNC Bank Free Checking – Here’s a truly free checking account. The account has no monthly fee. There is no debit card fee on this account either. Nice. To open an account you’ll need to get started with at least $25. Close the account within 180 days and you’ll face an early closure fee of $25. Out of network ATM fees are $2.50.
Best Almost Free Checking Accounts (Major Banks)
The rest of these checking accounts are free, but you’ll need to either maintain a certain balance in the account, set up a direct deposit, or jump through some other hoop. For some people this isn’t a hassle. Keep in mind though, with the new banking overdraft protection laws going into effect, many of these major banks are adding various monthly fees and / or ratcheting up the requirements. So this page could get out of date very quickly. But I’ll try my best to keep it updated.
- Bank of America eBanking – This account requires a $25 minimum opening deposit. Unless certain requirements are met, you’ll need to pay an $8.95 monthly fee. On a positive note, the account doesn’t have any early closure fees. If you use an ATM outside of the Bank of America network of ATMs, you’ll be charged a $2 fee over and above the other bank’s ATM fees. Last but not least, if you use your debit card just once during the month, you’ll be charged $5.
- Chase Total Checking – Chase doesn’t have a monthly debit card fee with this account, but they make it up in regular monthly fees. Unless you meet certain requirements, you’ll pay a whopping $12 each month just to have the account. The minimum deposit required to open the account is $25. If you close the account within 90 days you’ll face a $25 fee. Finally, to use an ATM outside of the Chase network, you’ll need to pay a $2 fee, in addition to the ATM’s fees.
- Wells Fargo Value Checking – This account has one of the biggest opening deposits required at $100. Once you have the account open, unless you meet certain requirements you’ll pay a monthly fee of $5. The out of network ATM fee is $2.50. With this account there is no early closure fee. However, they are currently testing a $3 debit card fee in certain states: Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
- Citi Basic Checking – Citi has one of the only accounts with no opening deposit minimum requirement. You can open the account without depositing anything. The monthly fee on this account is $8, unless you meet certain requirements. If you close the account in the first 90 days you’ll have to pay a $25 closure fee. You’ll need to pay a $2 fee each time you use another bank’s ATM. Surprisingly, Citibank is not charging a debit card fee.
- U.S. Bank Easy Checking – To open this account, you’ll need $50 to get started. The monthly fee on the account is $6.95, unless you meet requirements. They are looking for long-term customers – close the account in the first 180 days and you’ll pay $25. Out of network ATM fee is $2.50. This account has no monthly debit card fee.
- Capital One Rewards Checking – This account may be rewarding, but unless you meet certain requirements you’ll need to pay a monthly fee of $8.95. To open the account you will need to make a $50 deposit. There are no early closure fees and also no debit card fees with this account. Out of network ATM transactions will cost you $2.
- BBVA Compass Build-to-Order Free Checking® – Choose from many features to give you the checking account you want. Includes: free CompassPoints Rewards, free online bill pay, $2,500 in identity theft insurance. Premium features can be added for $2 a month. Premium features include: no-fees on other ATMs, interest on your balance, $25 cash bonus, and more. Account has a monthly fee of $10.95 unless certain requirements are met. $25 is needed to open the account. Out of network ATM fee is $2. $25 is the fee for early account closure. No debit card fees at this point.
Smaller Banks and Credit Unions
It would be impossible for me to try to appeal to the masses with a list of regional and local banks or credit unions. However, I will add that if you have access to USAA or PenFed then you should consider their free checking accounts. Other than those guys, you’ll have to do some searching in your local newspaper.