Checking accounts are the cornerstone of your financial toolkit. A checking account is generally the first stop for money coming in — and it’s where you’ll direct how it goes out. They help you easily manage deposits and withdrawals on a daily basis, and let you redirect extra money to savings accounts, stock brokerages or other higher-interest investments.
While a checking account isn’t a great long-term investment vehicle, the best accounts will offer you some compound interest on your balance, helping you protect yourself against growing inflation.
While APYs, or annual percentage yields, haven’t responded much to recent interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, some of the best checking accounts now provide higher rates than some high-yield savings accounts. Keep in mind, though, that accounts with the highest interest rates may include restrictions like minimum balances or a required number of debit card purchases per month.
Axos’ Rewards Checking offers relatively high interest rates with reasonable requirements. If you receive $1,500 a month in direct deposit payments, you automatically earn 0.40% interest on your checking balance.
Use your debit card 10 times a month ($3 minimum purchase) and you’ll add another 0.30% interest on top, for an easy 0.70% return on your money. A minimum $2,500 balance in an investment and/or trading account will each add another 0.20% interest onto your checking balance, and paying off an Axos loan adds 0.15%, bringing your maximum APY up to 1.25% — more than most “high-yield” savings accounts.
One of the features that separates Axos from Ally, my other top digital banking choice, is the ability to deposit cash. Axos uses the Green Dot Network, which lets you deposit cash or even pay bills with cash using stores like CVS, Kroger, Safeway and Walmart, though fees may apply.
Axos has no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirement. Rewards checking requires a $50 minimum deposit to open an account. Also, Axos provides unlimited reimbursements on non-network ATM fees, whereas Ally is limited to $10 per month. Unfortunately, unlike Ally, Axos does not yet support Zelle, the free person-to-person electronic payment system.
Formerly the National Bank of Kansas City (and before that Horizon National Bank), nbkc provides its users with a variety of banking services, primarily online checking accounts with competitive interest rates. It has four local branches in (you guessed it) Kansas City — but not much in-person help for the rest of us.
The Everything checking account from nbkc currently offers a 0.15% APY with no balance or spending requirements. It’s a good rate for the times with no strings attached. This account also boasts no overdraft or insufficient funds fees, no monthly maintenance fees, no non-network ATM fees and no foreign transaction fees. And nbkc offers access to about 37,000 ATMs nationwide via MoneyPass.
Along with online checking accounts, nbkc also offers CDs and money market accounts, but no standard savings account, so there are no integrated features like round-up savings built in to nbkc Everything.
The Everything account does give users early paychecks and reimburses non-network ATM fees up to $12 a month. If losing your money to bank fees bums you out, give nkbc Everything a good look.
Quontic is a fully digital bank with three checking account options — Bitcoin Rewards, Cash Rewards and High Interest. I selected High Interest for the best checking accounts collection because it offers an easy 1% back on balances up to $150,000, when you complete 10 debit card transactions over $10 each during a monthly billing cycle. While the interest requirements are more restrictive than Axos sets, they’re still reasonable for most checking account users.
Quontic uses a reverse rate on its checking balances. You’ll get 1.0% back on your first $150,000. The rate on your balance between $150,000 and $1,000,000 gets you 0.45%. Over $1 million, you’re storing money interest-free (If only we all had that problem). It also has virtually no fees — no monthly maintenance, minimum balance, overdraft or non-network ATM fees.
This checking account supports Zelle for personal payments and provides cash from 90,000 ATMs using the AllPoint network, though it limits users to $500 in withdrawals daily. It does offer mobile deposits via iOS or Android; I couldn’t find any listed mobile deposit limits.
Consumers Credit Union, which offers up to 4.09% on checking account balances, stands as the big competitor to Quontic in this category. Consider, however: Consumers Credit Union’s highest rates require associated credit card purchases. Without minimum credit card purchases, the initial rate is 2.09%. After the first $10,000 in balance, Consumers Credit Union’s interest rate drops to 0.20% or less — meaning a $100,000 balance at CCU would earn you $389 a year, whereas Quontic would earn you $1,000.
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking is a fully online checking account that compares well with almost all competitors. The APY is 0.03% for all accounts, with no monthly balance or debit card spending requirements. While Schwab does have physical brokerage locations, it does not offer in-person banking.
There are no monthly maintenance or non-network ATM fees, and Schwab will reimburse unlimited amounts of other ATM provider fees. Schwab accounts work with the Visa and Visa Plus Alliance network, which includes over 1 million ATMs in more than 200 countries. The Plus Alliance network in the US also includes retail outlets like CVS, Target, CostCo and Walgreens.
You can’t deposit cash with Schwab, but it supports Zelle for personal payments and doesn’t charge anything for foreign transactions — a great bonus for travelers using international ATMs.
A Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account requires a linked Schwab One brokerage account, which also costs $0 and has no balance requirements. Schwab’s checking account allows scheduling automatic transfers to your brokerage account, a simple way for new investors to put extra money to work.
Schwab doesn’t charge traditional overdraft fees, and it will automatically cover any such transactions with money from other Schwab accounts. However, if you don’t have enough money in your accounts to cover a transaction, Schwab will reject it and charge a $25 insufficient funds fee. It also offers standard mobile apps for iOS and Android, no restrictions are listed for mobile deposits and it has a maximum daily ATM cash withdrawal limit of $1,000.
Selecting the best checking account for those who want the option of banking services at a physical branch is a balancing act of weighing the best account terms against the number and location of brick-and-mortar bank offices.
While my runner-up choice, Capital One 360 Checking, provides better terms than Chase Total Checking, it doesn’t have nearly the number of branches or geographical coverage. Chase has more than 4,700 offices in 48 states (sorry, North Dakota and West Virginia), whereas Capital One has about 770, mostly on the East Coast, Texas and Louisiana, according to Branchspot.
Chase doesn’t provide any real interest on your checking — 0.01% — but it is offering a $225 sign-up bonus until April 20, 2022. If you’re a student age 17 to 24, you can get an additional $100 on top of that, for a $325 total reward. Even though Capital One offers a more respectable 0.10% on your money, you’d need to have $325,000 in your account for a year to earn $325 in interest.
Chase has no minimum balance requirement nor any minimum initial deposit, though it does charge $2.50 for non-network ATM transactions. It accepts mobile deposits via its iOS and Android apps, with a daily limit of $10,000 and monthly limit of $25,000.
Not always, but it can be difficult to pay bills or get approved for credit accounts without one. It may be helpful to think of a checking account as one part of a multifaceted personal financial system. Though it may require some management on your end, there are benefits to using an array of tools, with each serving a primary function: a checking account for receiving money and paying bills, a credit card for spending (and earning rewards or cash-back incentives) and a savings account for storing short-term savings or an emergency fund — with investment and brokerage accounts driving long-term savings goals such as college and retirement.
No. Some banks may pass off fees as the normal costs of doing business, but with all of the free checking options available, you should avoid fee-heavy accounts. There are plenty of free checking options that will give you the tools you need to receive income and make payments, in addition to other benefits including mobile banking, without incurring any regular charges in the form of a monthly service fee.
For most people, the answer is one. Even if you can earn a little extra money by combining rewards or interest, it’s usually not worth the time and hassle. Your personal checking account should be simple and easy to manage, and should offer overdraft protection and mobile banking. If you run a business, you should look into opening a separate business checking account, which is different from a standard checking account.
An increasing number of financial institutions are online-only (like some of the banks profiled above), without their own branches or ATM networks. Given this, an online bank will partner with established networks like MoneyPass or Allpoint, which place ATM locations in popular retail establishments such as pharmacies, grocery stores and convenience stores. People with an online checking account can use a “Find a nearby ATM” feature on their bank’s website or mobile app before making an ATM withdrawal to insure they won’t incur an ATM fee if their financial institution does not offer ATM fee rebates.
For checking accounts, banks and credit unions may or may not charge “overdraft fees.” Overdraft fees are penalties levied when withdrawals or payments — cash from an ATM, automatic bill pay or paper check, for example — are bigger than the amount of your checking account balance.
In the case of a true overdraft, banks will process your payment or withdrawal and give you a negative balance. That’s when they may charge an overdraft fee, typically in the range of $30 to $40. Many banks now provide free overdraft protection, meaning that if you have another account with them, they’ll transfer money to cover your negative checking balance.
“Nonsufficient funds” fees, often abbreviated NSF, are related to overdraft fees but slightly different. The most common example of NSF is the “bounced check.” In this case, your withdrawal is rejected, your checking account does not go into a negative balance and you’re charged a fee, usually around $25.
More and more banks are eliminating overdraft and nonsufficient funds fees entirely. Banks that don’t have any overdraft or NSF fees will generally reject payments and withdrawals that are more than your checking balance and not charge you anything.
While many accounts use an APY as a selling point, it’s important to note that a checking account’s interest rate will rarely net you much. A balance of $2,500 at a 0.10% APY earns you roughly $2.50 annually. In contrast, savings accounts generally deliver between 0.60% and 1%, which would net you between $15 and $25 per year. So if you’re looking for an interest-bearing checking account, you’re not going to find a great or even good one. Go for a savings account instead.
More than two dozen options were examined across a broad range of categories in both traditional and online-only banks in order to determine these picks for the best checking account. As with any financial account, a handful of key features rise above the rest: ATM and branch availability, overdraft protection, fees, bank bonus enticements and reimbursements, minimum deposit requirements and just how simple it is to move money in and out of an account — whether by direct deposit, mobile deposit or old-school cash deposit. Interest rate isn’t really a factor with a standard checking account (more on that below).
Each financial institution’s online banking capabilities were taken into consideration. We also looked at some new, trendy features, such as banks making funds available a few days early to customers who’ve signed up to receive their paycheck via direct deposit.
We paid close attention to bank account fees. Even if a bank touts a “free checking account,” that might not be the whole truth. If you’re considering a new checking account, scrutinize the fee schedule, which will reveal how much a bank charges for a “monthly maintenance fee,” using an out-of-network ATM, falling below a minimum balance requirement or spending more than you have in the account (resulting in an overdraft fee). You don’t want to get hit with a $4 fee just for making an ATM withdrawal at the wrong machine for your bank account.
Though some fees may apply only in certain conditions — you haven’t set up direct deposit or you want to receive monthly paper statements, for example — such waivers should be carefully scrutinized. You won’t want to be in a position where missing your minimum deposit by a couple of bucks or keeping an account balance that’s slightly too low racks up a “monthly maintenance fee.”
We’re also a bit dubious about checking accounts that feature cash-back and rewards incentives. Though a 1% cash-back account could be moderately lucrative, this type of account may obligate you to hit a monthly spending threshold or maintain a certain minimum balance. If earning cash back or rewards is your priority, you’re better off using a cash-back credit card, the best of which offer significantly higher rates. And if you tend to maintain a high account balance in your checking account, consider putting some of that cash into a savings account, CD or money market with a higher annual percentage yield.
The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.