Free Online Checking Accounts [It’s 2019! Stop Paying Bank Fees]

free online checking accounts

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. a certain number of transactions).
  4. 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 have less overhead. Lower operating costs allow them to 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.

TIAA Bank Yield Pledge Checking

If you are a rate chaser and have a lot of cash to put into your checking account, TIAA Bank (formerly EverBank) will reward you with consistently one of the best online checking account interest rates. Their introductory rate is an astounding 1.21%, which you can enjoy for a full year.

After that point, TIAA Bank promises that your rate will always be in the top 5% of leading banks, although you must maintain a minimum account balance of $100,000 to to get their top rate after the introductory period ends. There are no ATM fees, and if you maintain a balance of $5,000, TIAA Bank will reimburse you for all ATM fees charged by other banks. (If you keep less than $5,000 in your account, TIAA Bank will reimburse you for up to $15 per month worth of ATM fees from other banks.)

Signing on also gets you a debit card with extended warranty, price, and return protection. 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, unlimited check writing, and mobile check deposit.

TIAA Bank Yield Pledge Checking

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, online bill pay, online and mobile banking, ability to send and receive money securely with Zelle, Apple, Google, or Samsung Pay on your mobile phone, mobile deposits from your phone, 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.

BBVA LogoBBVA 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 you can upgrade the account for a small fee. For instance, for $5 per month, you can upgrade to a no-ATM fee account, for $2/month, you'll get an unlimited supply of standard checks, for $2/month you'll get unlimited cashier's checks, and for $3/month, you can get a 3×5 safe deposit box.

Unlike most of the other online competitors, this checking account does have a charge an overdraft fee, but you can customize account alerts to help you avoid having overdrafts in the first place. If you like your online checking account to come with a big bank attachment, this one may be right for you.

FNBO Free Checking BillPay AccountFNBO 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 360Capital 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 39,000 ATM network, send checks online for free, and they now offer physical checkbooks as well, all with no minimums and no monthly fees.

Capital One 360 offers an industry-leading iPhone and Android app, as well. This is hands down the best banking app available. Mobile deposit makes banking a literal snap. Pays a small interest on your balance as well. Higher balances can tap into bigger rates.

Check out our full Capital One 360 Checking Account review.

Ally Bank Logo

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 enjoy in a checking account: a bill pay feature which is free to use, free debit card, completely free ATM use (they refund up to $10 worth of other bank fees per statement cycle), and free overdraft protection if you have an online savings account or money market with Ally.

There are no minimums balance requirements and no monthly fees associated with this account. Open an account with as little as $1 today. Ally also has eCheck Deposit so you can deposit money remotely at any time.

Simple LogoSimple

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 debit transaction fee of up to 1% of the transaction value–and any fees from another bank if you use an ATM outside of the network of 40,000 Allpoint ATMs that Simple uses. You can set up direct deposit and link external accounts, and the mobile app allows you to do Photo Check Deposits on your smartphone. You can instantly transfer money to other Simple customers and can link to third-party payment services like Square, Venmo, and Paypal.

Nationwide Direct Checking and Interest Checking

When did this happen? Nationwide has checking accounts? They actually have two different options: Direct Checking and Interest Checking.Nationwide Checking Logo

In both cases, the accounts are free only if you meet the minimum daily balance requirement of $300. Otherwise, it's $3 a month. For the Direct Checking account, there is also a monthly maintenance fee of $5, which will be waived if you set up a Direct Deposit.

You can open either type of account with $0, and each one offer to reimburse you for up to six ATM fees from other banks per month. The Direct Checking account has some relatively low limits on ATM withdrawals and purchases: $310 and $500 respectively. The Interest Checking account offers you a free starter kit of checks and a variable interest rate.

Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account

Charles Schwab may be known for investments, but this bank and brokerage firm offers an excellent free online checking account, as well. To qualify, you simply have to link your High Yield Investor Checking Account to a Schwab One Brokerage account–but neither your checking account nor your brokerage account has any kind of minimum balance requirement.

In addition, this account offers a 0.35% APY on your account balance and zero fees. There is no service fee for your checking account, no matter what your account balance is, and you are allowed unlimited ATM fee rebates at any ATM worldwide. You can also pay your bills for free with Schwab Bank Bill Pay, and receive standard checks for free.

GoBank LogoGoBank

This mobile-centric bank charges an $8.95 monthly fee, but this fee is waived if you sign up for Direct Deposit and have a monthly payroll or monthly government benefits deposit of at least $500. 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. While you can order paper checks, they are somewhat expensive: $4.95 for a pack of 12. Instead, you are encouraged to use their online check writing program, and the bank will send out a paper check in about five business days. Your debit card and mobile deposit round out your banking needs. GoBank doesn't allow joint accounts yet. So if you're young, mobile, and single, check out GoBank.

Check out our full review of GoBank here.

Bluebird by American ExpressBluebird Logo

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 you can add funds to your Bluebird account with cash or debit for free at virtually any Walmart checkout register.

You can get started with Bluebird online, by downloading their mobile app on the iTunes store or on Google Play, or by purchasing a $5 Bluebird kit at your local Walmart.

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 meet some other requirement.

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.

Bank of America Advantage Plus Checking

There is a $12 monthly fee unless one of the following requirements are met:

  • have at least one monthly qualifying direct deposit of $250 or more
  • maintain an average daily balance of $1,500 or more
  • be a student under the age of 24

The excellent mobile app allows you to use your debit card, a digital wallet, or pay friends securely with Zelle. In addition, the bank will not authorize ATM withdrawals or debit card purchases that will overdraw your account. 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, the overdraft fee is $35.

Chase Total Checking

Chase charges $12 a month for this account unless you meet one of these requirements.

  • direct deposits totaling $500 or more
  • $1,500 minimum daily balance
  • average daily balance of $5,000 in linked deposits/investments

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 (In US), $5 (outside US), in addition to the ATM's fees. The overdraft fee is $34.

Wells Fargo Everyday Checking

Wells Fargo Everyday Checking costs $10 a month unless one of the following requirements are met.

  • qualifying direct deposits totaling $500 or more each statement cycle
  • $1,500 minimum daily balance
  • you have 10 or more posted debit card transactions from this account each month
  • you are under the age of 25

Like many others on this list, you can open this account with a $25 minimum deposit. 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 few accounts with no opening deposit minimum requirement. You can open the account without depositing anything. The monthly fee on this account is $12 unless you meet certain requirements. These are 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 over 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. The overdraft fee is $34.

U.S. Bank Easy Checking

The monthly fee on the account is $6.95 unless you meet one of these requirements

  • have combined monthly direct deposits totaling $1,000
  • maintain an average account balance of $1,500

To open this account, you'll need $25 to get started. 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. The overdraft fee is $36 for overdrafts of $5.01 or more, and $0 for overdrafts of $5 or less.

PNC Virtual Wallet Checking

The account has $7 monthly fee unless you meet any one of the following:

  • $500 or more qualifying monthly direct deposits
  • $500 or more average monthly balance
  • account holders over age 62
  • account holders currently enrolled as a student

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 $3.00. The overdraft fee is $36 per item for any overdrafts larger than $5.

There is no reason to be paying monthly fees on your checking account these days. So hopefully one of these options will be a good fit for you.

Do you have experience with one of these banks or know of one we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Free Online Checking Accounts

 

Comments

  1. Hmm, no love for Schwab, eh?  🙂  I’ve been using Schwab’s Investor Checking for many years and LOVE it. Everything is free — checks, ATM usage (any fees are reimbursed), bill-pay, deposit slips, envelopes, etc.  They have a great mobile app that supports check deposits. Not to mention everything else Schwab offers.  Everything you need under one roof.

  2. venktesh56 says:

    Great post! very useful info on all sort of checking accounts Philip! Love this great post. Thanks

  3. Momat3isplenty says:

    I’ve used PNC for almost 15 years, and I’ve never paid them a fee.  We have their performance select checking (highest level of service available), and still pay no fees – in fact, they pay *us* back for any ATM fees from other banks.  We just have to have either a $5000 balance or $5000 direct deposited every month.  Their Performance checking has lower requirements at $2500/mth.  I don’t think there’s any reason to pay bank fees – you just have to know/find out what the “rules” are, and follow them – just put part of your emergency fund in there as the “base” to meet the monthly minimum

  4. brokeandbeau says:

    i’ve been using Charles Schwab checking the last few years and it’s been great.  I love no ATM fees, especially when I’m traveling interenationally!

  5. LInda Hanchard says:

    Excellent article! Exciting observe on Friend, it used to be aspect of GMAC. Thanks for sharing all this information!

  6. TheRenegade says:

    I found this post very informative, and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for any online virtual mailbox services that would be good choices. Thanks in advance.

  7. MoBigMusicJames says:

    For the past few years I’ve seen the “totally free checking” ads EVERYWHERE with the major banks. Just got a letter in the mail regarding Wells Fargo Checking accounts, which I have. The only ‘hoop’ I had to jump through (to keep everything FREE) was to have Direct Deposit into my  WF checking, and have $75 of that transferred to my  WF savings. But, NOW: Unless you have at least 3 WF accounts linked (checking/savings and something like home mortgage or CD) your checking account will no longer be free. There will now be a monthly fee of $15 (WOW!!!!!!!) for checking, effective 08/07/2012. You can get $2 knocked off this fee if you sign up for paperless billing and notifications, still making it $13 monthly fee per month.
     
    Needless to say, I’m definitely switching THIS WEEK! Seriously considering online-type banks like  ING DIRECT’s Electric Orange account, or Ally Interest Checking account. 
     
    But, I’m still kinda old-school, so I’ll probably chicken-out and go with PNC Bank Free Checking.

  8. It’s also possible to find free checking accounts that pay interest. Reward checking accounts pay more than most savings accounts, but you have to jump through some hoops. Another service you might miss is the ability to view your checks after they’ve been paid. Some people like to see a copy of the actual check and the payee’s signature. Free checking usually doesn’t offer this, although a few free checking accounts put images online. My opinion is that you don’t need it, especially for personal accounts.
    There are plenty of ways to track payments – and you can always order a copy from a free checking account if there’s a particular check you want to track. Finally, you’re giving up perks like free Stop Payments and Cancelled Check Return when you use free checking. Because I rarely use these services, I do not think you are missing much. However, if your situation is different you may want to shop around. If you keep a relatively small balance in your checking account, the free checking accounts will probably cost less than an account with premium services. If you ever need to use those services, just pay the small fee in the free checking account

  9. ummsmiley says:

    Perk street charges a monthly inactivity fee if you don’t use the account for 30 days. Just a heads up for those figuring out who to go with.

  10. Thank you for such an informative and timely post.  I’m looking for a great online bank and have found some of the articles out dated and with the volatility in banking, it’s hard to know what is still in affect.   

  11. Great list! I’ve had ING for years. You can’t beat their simplicity for savvy PF folks.

    I have thought about testing out FNBO Direct and Perk Street for reviews.

    I, like Jo, use USAA too. If you are a service member or veteran it is hard to beat their checking accounts. Dealing with military folks all over the world and frequently relocating they have mastered no-branch convenience and service.

    • Philip Taylor says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Bill. I have a review of USAA coming up and it’s good to get your perspective.

  12. Vince Thorne says:

    I like to have the option of doing business face to face. Call me old fashioned 🙂 But the online banks are a great place to keep a savings or a second checking account. their interest rates are comparitively higher and they are FDIC insured (or the one you choose should be).

  13. I’ve been very happy with Bank of the Ozarks. Regional bank and highly rated. They just sent me a birthday card, they have free checking and haven’t threatened to charge for debit cards. They know my name at the drive through (that used to not matter to me… I guess I’m 100 years old now!)

  14. Couple of add ons for Ally bank. They are currently offering e-check deposits. You can scan your check and email it. Goes in the bank same day. Also, not sure how you rated ING as best bill pay. Not sure how you would be better than ally as all the bills I have requested have been paid on time. Maybe you were referring to the interface. Ally also sends paper checks online for free. Nothing but a great experience with them so far.

    • Philip Taylor says:

      Good point about the digital deposits. I’ll add that in. That definitely gives them an edge over other online banks. Yeah, I was referring to the interface for bill pay. Thanks for the feedback.

  15. I bank with USAA; they, too, have a debit card reward feature if you shop using their portal. You get back a certain amount of points per dollar purchased as well as bonus points. My first cash back reward amounting to $25 occurred really quickly without needing to spend a fortune.

  16. Wow really great roundup. I use ING and have for years. I love them, so easy to use, so user friendly! My future house is in my ING account:)

  17. Good article! Interesting note on Ally, it used to be part of GMAC.

  18. Wow! Thanks for sharing all this information!