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 are four different ways to go about getting a free checking account:
- 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 relatively 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.
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.
USAA Bank Free Checking– A newcomer to our list, USAA Bank has been a consumer favorite 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.
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 promise 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 most unique deposit methods in the industry: check deposit by scanner.
Ally Interest Checking – One of the best 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 has eCheck Deposit, making them one of the only online banks to take digital deposits.
Simple – Welcome to the next generation of checking accounts. Aimed directly at the millennial audience, the bank account from Simple (now owned by BBVA) lives online with the exception of a debit card. The online interface includes native budgeting tools making it the most likely to be called “a bank + Mint.com”. There are no fees for monthly maintenance or overdrafts. Nor is there a minimum balance requirement. The only fees you’ll pay are an International ATM fee of $2 and a $1 fee to access up to $5,000 at another bank. Yes, you can withdraw your Simple funds from another bank for just one dollar. This is unprecedented access from an online bank. No checks.
GoBank – This mobile-centric bank from the Green Dot folks is unique in that they allow you to set your own monthly fee (from $0 to $9). Yes, you can actually pay what you want. The service comes with no minimum balance requirement, no overdraft fees, no ATM fees if you’re within their large network. Like many other online checking accounts, this bank has no physical branches or physical checks – just a debit card. Mobile deposit and online check writing make it on par with most other banks. GoBank doesn’t allow joint accounts yet. So if you’re young, mobile, and single, check out GoBank.
Bluebird by American Express – Here’s a bank that’s seen a ton of improvement since first rolling out. Bluebird is a bank alternative and a joint effort from American Express and Walmart. The account is free to use and mostly fee-free if you play by their simple rules: adding money to your Bluebird account from another debit card will incur a small fee, as will using an out of network ATM. But other than that, this is a great account since they have digital check deposit and a free book of physical checks. You can get started with Bluebird online or at your local Walmart.
BBVA Compass ClearConnect Checking – This one sort of flew under the radar for me – BVAA, a big bank with physical branches, does have a free, online checking account called ClearConnect. Their required opening deposit is $25. This account has no monthly fee. But they do charge you $1 for each check or in-bank withdrawal after the first three each month. They also charge $4 for every in-bank deposit beyond one a month. No charges for ATM usage within a large network. Unlike most of the other online competitors, this checking account does have a small overdraft fee. If you like your online checking account to come with a big bank attachment, this one may be right for you.
Nationwide E-Checking – When did this happen? Nationwide has checking accounts? They actually have three different versions, but this E-Checking option falls most in line with the other online checking accounts. I hesitated to put this account on here because it’s not truly free. Like the big banks below, this account is free only if you follow certain requirements (if you have one direct deposit and make 8 debit card transactions per statement period, or if you maintain a combined average daily balance of $10,000 or more with your Nationwide Bank checking, savings or money market accounts). Otherwise, it’s $8 a month. You need $50 to get started. Watch out for the limitations on ATM use.
Best Almost Free Checking Accounts (Major Banks)
While I would love to list out all of the small, regional banks and credit unions (many of which have free checking), it’s just not something I’m able to provide.
To my knowledge, there are no traditional, big bank checking accounts with truly free service. PNC Bank used to be the only one, and now they retired their free checking.
As you’ll see below, however, by jumping through a few hoops, you can avoid fees at big, traditional banks. 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, 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 MyAccess Checking – This account requires a $25 minimum opening deposit. Unless certain requirements are met (have at least one qualifying direct deposit of $250 or more, or maintain an average daily balance of $1,500 or more), you’ll need to pay an $12 monthly fee. Students under 23 are exempt. 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 $2.50 fee over and above the other bank’s ATM fees. Last but not least, overdraft fee is $35.
- 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 (one of these: direct deposits totaling $500 or more, $1,500 minimum daily balance, or average daily balance of $5,000 in linked deposits/investments) 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 $2.50 ($2 until 11/9/15) (In US), $5 (outside US), in addition to the ATM’s fees. Overdraft fee is $34.
- Wells Fargo Value Checking – This account has one of the biggest opening deposits required at $50. Once you have the account open, unless you meet certain requirements ($1,500 minimum daily balance, or qualifying direct deposits totaling $500 or more each statement cycle) you’ll pay a monthly fee of $7 (or $9 if using paper statements). The out of network ATM fee is $2.50. With this account there is no early closure fee. The overdraft fee is $35.
- 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 $10, unless you meet certain requirements (one of the following: one direct deposit and one bill payment per statement cycle, $1,500 in combined average monthly balances in checking or with linked day-to-day savings, or account holder is > 62 years of age). 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 $2.50 fee each time you use another bank’s ATM. Surprisingly, Citibank is not charging a debit card fee. Overdraft fee is 34.
- U.S. Bank Easy Checking – To open this account, you’ll need $25 to get started. The monthly fee on the account is $6.95, unless you meet requirements (have combined monthly direct deposits totaling $1,000 or maintain an average account balance of $1,500). 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. Overdraft fee is $36.
- PNC Virtual Wallet Checking – The account has $7 monthly fee unless you meet any one of the following: $500 or more average monthly balance, or $500 or more qualifying monthly direct deposits, or only use ATMs, online or mobile banking to make withdrawals and deposits. There is no debit card fee on this account. 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. Overdraft fee is $36.
- BBVA Compass ClearChoice Checking – This is arguably the closest thing to free on the big bank market. To open the account you’ll need at least $25. The monthly fee is only $4, but can be waived with one of the following: at least one direct deposit of $300 or more; or cumulative direct deposits totaling $600; or a minimum average daily collected balance of $1,500. The overdraft fee is $38, and the out of network ATM fee is $2. Close the account in less than 180 days and you’ll be charged $25.