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Updated on Wednesday, January 13, 2021
The best checking accounts can provide a competitive interest rate, ATM fee reimbursements and even cashback rewards. If your current account doesn’t offer any of these features, it may be time to switch.
Why Trust Us?
At MagnifyMoney, it is our mission to inform our readers about the best financial opportunities out there. Our insights have been cited by top financial publications including Marketwatch, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal.
Our dedicated team of financial experts spent dozens of hours grading each checking account on its features, including fees, minimum balance requirements, ATM and branch network availability, APYs and customer satisfaction. We distilled our picks from a list that included hundreds of banks, credit unions and online institutions nationwide.
We ensure our list is updated every month as new banks are added to our database, and we update information as banks change their terms. Check out our best checking account picks for October 2020 and click on the links in the table below to read about why we picked each bank.
Please note: While this list is up-to-date as of this writing, many banks have cut back on or even halted their hours temporarily in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to protect their customers and employees. Many banks continue to offer standard services online and over the phone as well as through automated ATMs.
Best Checking Accounts of January 2021
Summary of the Best Checking Accounts for January 2021
Best Overall Checking Account
Ally Bank Interest Checking
Best High-Yield Checking Account
Consumer Credit Union Rewards Checking
Best Free Checking Account
Axos Bank Rewards Checking
Best No-Fee Checking Account
Discover Cashback Debit
Best Checking Account Bonus
HSBC Premier Checking
Best Rewards Checking Account
Radius Bank Rewards Checking
Best No-ATM Fee Checking Account
TD Bank Beyond Checking
Best Business Checking Account
Axos Bank Business Interest Checking
Best Checking Account for Students
Chase College Checking
Best Joint Checking Account
PNC Virtual Wallet Checking Account
Best Overall Checking Account – Ally Interest Checking
|Why we picked it: Ally Bank’s Interest Checking account features minimal fees, variable interest and added perks like up to $10 in ATM fee reimbursements every month. The bank itself has a solid history of consistently offering top-tier rates, even in a plunging rate environment.|
All of Ally Bank’s banking products support joint ownership, and you are allowed up to four owners on the account without any additional fees.
What to watch out for: There’s not much to watch out for with this account, just be aware of the $25 overdraft fee.
Best High Yield Checking Account – Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking
|Why we picked it: The Consumers Credit Union has routinely offered sky-high rates, even in a plummeting rate environment, earning this account the title of Best High-Yield Checking account.|
While this is a tiered rate account, the lower tiers — which can be earned with fewer requirements — still offer attractive rates that are well above those offered by other banks and credit unions.
What to watch out for: While balances between $10,000 and $25,000 — regardless of your tier — earn an APY of 0.20%, it’s worth noting that balances over $25,000 earn an APY of just 0.10%.
Additionally, if you don’t meet the monthly activity requirements, you’ll earn an APY of just 0.01% and won’t receive ATM refunds. The account also has an overdraft fee of $30.
Best Free Checking Account – Axos Bank Rewards Checking
|Why we picked it: We have crowned the Axos Bank Rewards Checking account as the Best Free Checking account not only for its attractive features, but for its consistency, too.|
The Axos Bank Rewards Checking account has consistently offered competitive APYs — even as earning rates drop at other banks. This account also offers all of the bells and whistles that the best standard checking accounts have been known to include, like ATM fee reimbursements and no overdraft fees.
What to watch out for: The Axos Bank Rewards Checking account is a tiered, interest-earning variable rate account. So, in order to earn the 1.25% APY, you must meet the following requirements:
If you don’t meet those requirements, you will receive a reduced APY from what is advertised. There is also a $50 minimum balance required to open this account.
Best No-Fee Checking Account – Discover Cashback Debit
|Why we picked it: The Discover Cashback Debit checking account is a truly no-fee checking account, with no fees, no insufficient funds fees and access to over 60,000 ATMs.|
As the icing on the cake, this account offers 1% cash back on all debit card purchases, up to $3,000 per month. This is a unique perk among checking accounts, and if you prefer cash back to earning interest, this could be the account for you.
What to watch out for: There aren’t too many surprises with this account, just be aware that fees for non-Discover ATMs may apply.
Best Checking Account Bonus – HSBC Premier Checking
|Why we picked it: HSBC is currently offering up to a $450 welcome bonus for those who open and fund a new Premier Checking account by March 31, 2021. To earn the bonus, you must make recurring monthly qualifying direct deposits totaling at least $5,000 from a third party to your HSBC Premier checking account for three consecutive calendar months, beginning the second full calendar month after account opening. You also must be a new HSBC customer to take advantage of this offer, and fund your new account with new money.|
What to watch out for: The Premier Checking account earns a dismal 0.01% APY on balances of $5 or more. It also charges a hefty $50 monthly fee.
Best Rewards Checking Account – Radius Bank Rewards Checking
|Why we picked it: Radius Bank’s Rewards Checking account features a robust rewards program, offering up to 1.00% cash back on debit card purchases as well as a decent APY on the funds in your account. There is a minimum $100 opening deposit required for this account.|
This account also stands out for offering unlimited ATM fee rebates, an early direct deposit feature and no fees.
What to watch out for: To earn the cash back, you must maintain a minimum balance of at least $2,500.
Best No-ATM Fee Checking Account – TD Bank Beyond Checking
|Why we picked it: TD Bank’s Beyond Checking account is a great option for those who prioritize fee-free access to ATMs.|
With this account, not only do you receive fee-free ATM access to TD Bank’s network of ATMS, but if you maintain a minimum daily balance of at least $2,500, TD Bank will reimburse you for any fees incurred at out-of-network ATMs.
What to watch out for: Be aware of the dismal APY offered, and note that there is also a $35 overdraft fee associated with this account.
Best Business Checking Account – Axos Bank Business Interest Checking
|Why we picked it: Axos Bank’s Business Interest Checking account stands out among other business checking account products for a myriad of reasons, most notably its surprisingly low fees.|
Additionally, Axos Bank throws in a number of freebies with its Business Interest Checking account, from ATM fee reimbursements to free checks, making it our pick for the Best Business Checking Account.
What to watch out for:Transactions are $0.50 each after the first 50, and there is a $100 minimum opening deposit required for this account.
Best Checking Account for Students – Chase College Checking
|Why we picked it: The Chase College Checking account is a great option for students, as it waives its monthly service fee for those between the ages of 17 and 24 who have proof of a student status, for up to five years while in college.|
With widespread ATM access, the ability to pay friends with QuickPay or Zelle and a robust mobile app, this account checks all the boxes for college students.
What to watch out for: For this account, you’ll need to show proof of student status. Also, there’s a $2.50 non-Chase ATM fee and $34 overdraft fee associated with this account.
Best Joint Checking Account – PNC Virtual Wallet
|Why we picked it: The PNC Virtual Wallet is a standout checking account that supports joint ownership. This account comes with a plethora of budgeting tools that can help couples manage their money more effectively, such as the ability to create budgets for different spending categories and set up alerts for certain account activities. This account also waives its $7 monthly maintenance fee if you have a minimum of $500 in monthly direct deposits or if you maintain a monthly balance of $500 in the Spend + Reserve account — both of which are easier to achieve with two people owning the account, as opposed to one.|
What to watch out for: If you can’t meet the monthly qualifications to waive the monthly service fee, you’ll have to pay $7 per month. Additionally, your balance does not earn interest.
Other Honorable Mentions
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking: This account from investment firm Charles Schwab offers a few attractive perks like unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide, no monthly fees or minimums and no foreign transaction fees. However, the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account falls flat with its paltry 0.03% APY, which can’t quite compete with the Best High Yield Checking Account, the Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking account, which earns up to 4.09% APY.
Aspiration Spend and Save: The Aspiration Spend and Save cash management account is one of the most fee-friendly accounts out there, even allowing you to pay a monthly fee in an amount that you think is fair. Aspiration comes with the added bonus of access to over 55,000 ATMs, cash back rewards — especially at conscience-minded businesses. However, to reap the real benefits (including up to 0.00% APY on balances in your Save portion), you will have to pay $15 per month for Spend and Save Plus.
Betterment Checking and Cash Reserve: Another cash management account, Betterment Checking and Cash Reserve maximizes your FDIC insurance up to $1 million and provides unlimited transfers in and out of your account. It also earns interest at 0.40% APY.
Chase Premier Plus Checking: A step up from Chase’s basic checking account, the Chase Premier Plus Checking account earns interest (although at a paltry 0.01% APY) and waives select fees, including on the first four non-Chase ATM transactions per month. However, its features don’t quite justify the $25 monthly service fee, which you can only waive by meeting certain requirements.
Chime: The mobile-first Chime account is great for individuals who have trouble with traditional checking accounts. It allows you to receive direct deposit up to a couple days early, grow savings automatically and even overdraw your account for free if you meet certain eligibility requirements. Chime also provides free access to over 38,000 ATMs, which you can access with the account’s linked debit card. Despite all these perks, Chime doesn’t earn any interest on account balances. However, Chime does stand out for having a robust, no-overdrafting policy.
TIAA Bank Yield Pledge Checking: Despite TIAA Bank’s Yield Pledge promise, which ensures their rate will always remain among the top 5% of competitive accounts, the Yield Pledge Checking account earns a pretty low APY of 0.12%. Luckily, there is no monthly service fee, nor fees for out-of-network ATM usage. Plus, you can get reimbursed for ATM surcharges. This made it a strong contender for our Best Overall Checking Account.
Varo Money: Pioneering fintech company Varo offers a pretty much fee-free, checking-like cash management account, where customers who meet certain requirements can overdraft up to $50 at no cost. Varo also can get you your paycheck up to two days early with direct deposit, offers fee-free access at over 55,000 Allpoint® ATMs and provides a free Varo Visa® Debit Card, which you can lock in the app at any time. Though all of these perks are nice, the checking account doesn’t earn interest; you’ll have to open the Varo Savings Account for that.
Capital One 360 Checking: The Capital One 360 Checking account is easily accessible via its debit card, mobile and online. There’s no fee or minimum balance to worry about. You also get access to over 39,000 Capital One or Allpoint ATMs for free. However, it can’t quite keep up with its competitors with its low 0.10% APY.
Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking: Bank5 Connect’s High-Interest Checking account isn’t always so high-yield, as it earns 0.20% APY. Still, the account is relatively customer friendly as it doesn’t charge any monthly maintenance fees and offers free access to thousands of ATMs nationwide in addition to up to $15 in surcharge reimbursements.
How we chose the best checking accounts
We took a look at hundreds of financial institutions and reviews. We considered the following factors:
- Checking account rates: We heavily weighted the APYs offered by each institution on their checking accounts, paying attention to both high interest rates and consistent rates. Higher and more consistently competitive interest rates were prioritized over others, respectively.
- Minimum deposit and balance requirements: We also controlled for accessibility by looking at minimum deposit and balance requirements, prioritizing banks and accounts that have low requirements or none at all.
- Bank account fees: The best bank accounts are the ones that don’t cut into your hard-earned money. We favored checking accounts that don’t charge monthly service fees or ATM fees, as well as those that offer ATM-fee reimbursements.
- Special offers: As an added bonus to their checking accounts, some institutions offer cash bonus offers for new customers or even cash-back rewards for debit card usage. We made sure to include these special accounts and offers so you can get more from your account.
- Specialized accounts: Checking accounts aren’t one-size-fits-all — nor should they be. We looked for specialized accounts that have specific features made for certain groups, like students to joint account holders.
What are the best banks for checking accounts?
In summary, these are our picks for the best checking accounts:
- Best Overall Checking Account: Ally Bank Interest Checking
- Best High-Yield Checking Account: Consumer Credit Union Rewards Checking
- Best Free Checking Account: Axos Bank Rewards Checking
- Best No-Fee Checking Account: Discover Cashback Debit
- Best Checking Account Bonus: HSBC Premier Checking
- Best Rewards Checking Account: Radius Bank Rewards Checking
- Best No-ATM Fee Checking Account: TD Bank Beyond Checking
- Best Business Checking Account: Axos Bank Business Interest Checking
- Best Checking Account for Students: Chase College Checking
- Best Joint Checking Account: PNC Virtual Wallet
What should I look for in a checking account?
When shopping for a checking account, keep in mind that their main purpose is to provide a convenient and safe place to stash the cash you use for your daily spending. With that in mind, factors such as safety, ease of use and minimal costs should be top-of-mind. When looking for checking accounts, that means finding accounts with zero fees, a wide ATM network, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance and overdraft protection. Accounts with these features, alongside earned interest or rewards, are your best bet.
Understand what you want from a checking account
A great first step to finding the right checking account is first understanding what you want from a checking account. Of course, you’ll want an account that’s easily accessible. But only you can decide whether that means prioritizing brick-and-mortar branches, mobile app access or worldwide ATMs. As debit cards are a big part of accessibility, also make sure you’re getting a debit card that’s protected.
Figure out what kind of fees — if any — you want to pay for your checking account. No fee checking accounts exist, and they’re some of the best checking accounts on the market.
If you’re a senior citizen, a student or perhaps a couple looking for joint account ownership, these are things to consider when making your checking account wishlist. There are several specialized accounts out there that offer special deals and features for members of these groups.
Then determine whether you want your checking account to earn interest or other rewards. Often these rewards only add to the checking account experience, rewarding you for owning the account rather than you paying to own it. Rewards on some accounts may also offset any fees you face.
If you don’t know where to start, it helps to check out high-yield checking accounts first. These accounts are most often free, easily accessible, provided by reputable institutions and, as an added bonus, can earn you money.
Also consider that perhaps it’s not a checking account you need at all, but rather a prepaid debit card account. You deposit money into prepaid cards as you would with a checking account, but you cannot use more than what’s in the account. This allows you to avoid overdrafting your account and paying the exorbitant fees that often come with that. Just watch out: prepaid debit cards are also known for their multiple fees for reloading the card, monthly service, ATM usage and more.
Find an account with few or zero fees
There are many checking accounts that charge little to no fees. Online banks, in particular, offer checking accounts with zero fees, as they are able to save on the operational costs that burden brick-and-mortar banks. Some checking accounts even offer unlimited ATM-reimbursements or a monthly allowance for reimbursable ATM surcharges.
Since many checking accounts offer little to no interest, it’s even more critical to opt for an account with minimal fees. Common checking account fees include:
- Maintenance fees
- Minimum balance fees
- ATM fees
- Overdraft fees
Even if you’re using a high-yield checking account, why pay your bank fees for access to your own cash? It’s a good idea to check for bank fees when shopping for a checking account. If your checking account has any monthly balance or spending requirements, make sure you stay within those limits to avoid any unnecessary fees.
Check for widespread ATM access
There’s nothing worse than needing cash in a pinch and not having any way to get some. Then even when you find an ATM, it’s out of your bank’s network so to add insult to injury, you’re charged a fee (or two) for using the ATM.
Avoid this situation by finding a checking account that offers widespread ATM access. Often, this isn’t even brick-and-mortar banks which may offer free access to a few thousand branded ATMs across the country. Online banks tend to go above and beyond, offering free access to tens of thousands of ATMs, often worldwide, through ATM networks like AllPoint and MoneyPass.
Look for FDIC Insurance
You want to make sure your money is protected no matter what. FDIC insurance — and National Credit Union Administration insurance for credit unions — insures your money up to legal limits, which for an individual’s checking account would amount to $250,000. This means that up to $250,000 in your checking account will be recovered if your bank or credit union fails.
In the event of institution failure, you’ll either get a check for the amount that was in your checking account, or set up with a new account for the same amount at another insured institution.
Look for Overdraft Protection
Overdraft protection is a crucial feature, especially if you’re often at risk of overextending your funds. This feature works in a few different ways, depending on the institution and the account. Often, a bank’s overdraft protection will link your checking and savings accounts, drawing on your savings account when you overdraft from your checking account. Other iterations may simply not allow you to overdraft the account at all.
Typically, you have to enroll in overdraft protection. Some accounts charge an extra fee for overdraft protection, but many of the best no-fee checking accounts offer this feature for free.
Look for a checking account that pairs with a high-yield savings account
You might want to pair your checking account with a high-yield savings account if you’d like to maintain your day-to-day spending but stash away a portion of your cash to earn a higher rate of return in longer-term savings.
This is also a great option for those who don’t want to be tempted with the ability to easily spend their savings on everyday needs.
If this is what you’re looking for, start by finding a checking account that fits your daily spending needs, is easily accessible and FDIC-insured. You can then track your spending and set up regular deposits into a separate, high-yield savings account for any excess cash you don’t spend. Keep in mind that not all savings accounts are created the same, and it’s worth shopping around for the best rates when it comes to your savings account.
If you want your money to do more for you with less maintenance, online checking is the way to go.
Where do households have the most checking accounts in 2020?
More than 90% of households in the nation’s 100 largest metros have a checking account in 2020, according to data from Standard & Poor’s. But some metros have higher percentages of households with checking accounts than others, according to MagnifyMoney’s research. And almost 6 in 10 of the metros have a lower percentage of households with checking accounts in 2020 than they did in 2015.
- If you’re looking for places where checking accounts are more prevalent, look to the Pacific Northwest. Seattle tops the list with 95.4% of households having a checking account. Portland, Ore. (94%), and Boise, Idaho (93.5%), are the metros with the next highest percentage of households with checking accounts.
- Only 88% of households in Detroit have a checking account. Detroit is tied with two California metros — Bakersfield and Fresno — at the bottom of our list of the 100 largest metros.
- New York state appears to have more cities with a lower percentage of households with checking accounts than the rest of the nation. Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse all are in the bottom 10 metros with checking accounts in 2020.
- Of the 100 largest metros, 39 had a higher percentage of households with checking accounts than they did in 2015. However, 58 metros saw the percentage of households with checking accounts fall in the past five years. Three metros — New Haven, Conn; Boston; and Lansing, Mich. — saw no changes from 2015 to 2020.
In June 2020, MagnifyMoney used Standard & Poor’s data to examine the percentage of households with checking accounts in 2020 in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S. Using further S&P data, we then compared them to the percentage that had a checking account in 2015.
FAQs: What should I know about checking accounts?
A checking account is a bank account for your day-to-day spending needs. They typically come with a debit card, which allows you to make purchases and provides quick and easy access to cash, making it a safer option than carrying cash. Many checking accounts are also offered with paper checks.
Unlike savings accounts, checking accounts typically have no transaction limits, making them the most liquid option for your money aside from holding large amounts of cash. Checking accounts are also FDIC-insured which adds peace of mind.
Checking accounts are used for your everyday spending needs and generally don’t carry interest (however high-interest checking accounts do exist); by contrast, savings accounts usually carry higher interest rates and are meant for you to save money over the long-run.
Keep in mind that savings accounts will typically restrict access to your cash to around six withdrawals per month while checking accounts allow you almost unrestricted access to any cash you hold in the account.
It’s a good idea to maintain a free or no-fee checking account for day-to-day use. Generally speaking, the best checking accounts allow unfettered access to cash and carry no monthly fees, ATM-fees, or other account surcharges.
It’s generally better to keep just enough in your checking account to cover your daily needs, meet any minimum balance requirements and avoid any possible overdraft charges.
Despite their everyday usefulness, checking accounts aren’t the best places to stash your cash long-term. Savings accounts usually offer higher interest rates, making them a better place to store cash.
There are many free checking account options out there. Some options — especially those offered by online banks — are free accounts that even offer extra features like interest and rewards. Keep in mind that many banks will still feature things like inactivity fees, minimum balance requirements or paper statement charges for their “free checking” accounts.
If you’re paying monthly maintenance fees, minimum balances fees or even third-party ATM fees, it’s worth it to do some research, as there are other accounts out there that will give you more bang for your buck and won’t nickel and dime you for it either. Shop around to find the best free checking account for you.
Yes, many checking accounts earn interest, although the amount offered is typically far less than rates offered by savings accounts or money market accounts.
If you’re looking for the best high-yield checking account, many smaller banks and credit unions offer Kasasa checking accounts, which are essentially free checking accounts that offer higher interest rates, so long as you meet a few monthly requirements.
Checking account interest is taxed if you earned $10 or more in interest in a year. For all your interest-earning deposit accounts, your bank should send you a copy of Form 1099-INT, which they will also send to the IRS. This form will help you report the interest income on your tax return. If you don’t receive this form from your institution, but still earned $10 or more in interest, you will still have to report the interest on your taxes.
If you were lucky enough to earn $1,500 or more in interest, you will have to detail the sources of that income on Schedule B of Form 1040.
Almost every checking account offered by major banking institutions is insured by the FDIC, which provides an account holder with up to $250,000 in federal deposit insurance in the event the underlying bank runs into trouble.
As with any other deposit account, it’s easy to find out whether your checking account has FDIC coverage. You can check to see if your financial institution has FDIC insurance by looking for the “Member FDIC” tag that often appears at the bottom of the bank’s marketing materials.
FDIC insurance covers deposits in checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs and money market accounts, up to $250,000 per ownership category per person within a single financial institution. Credit unions receive deposit insurance from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), up to $250,000 per owner, per insured credit union, per account category.
One checking account should suffice for most shoppers. However, there may be instances where you’d want to open multiple checking accounts to help keep your finances organized or separated for different purposes.
For example, many small business owners have their own business checking account to segregate their professional finances from their personal finances.
Some parents may even want to open separate student checking accounts to help teach their kids or budding college students financial responsibility and keep track of their finances.
Keep in mind that you can also open joint checking accounts, which make it easier for couples and those who share their lives to also share finances and track spending. With a joint account, two or more people share ownership, and can deposit and withdraw funds from the same checking account.
Every checking account will feature a routing number and an account number. These two numbers are associated with your bank account and serve as unique identifiers for your account.
The routing number associated with your checking account is a nine-digit string of numbers that identifies the institution that manages your checking account.
Your bank account number identifies your personal account and is the unique identifier that your bank uses to direct cash or wire transfers, track your balance, and rout payments as needed.
If you were rejected after trying to open a checking account, it’s probably because you have a rocky past with previous accounts. When you apply for new bank accounts, most institutions run your information through ChexSystems, which keeps a record of your banking history when institutions report it. This means any history of overdrafts, negative account balances, account closures and the like will be available for ChexSystems users to see.
If you were rejected from opening a new checking account, take a look at your ChexSystems report. It may help to figure out what bad marks on there you may be able to change. There may even be errors on the report that you can dispute and have removed.
A second-chance checking account is a type of checking account available to those who might not otherwise qualify for a traditional checking account due to their credit or ChexSystems history.
It may be worth exploring a second-chance checking account if your banking history might have been blemished by closing an account with a negative balance or outstanding fees.
Typically, second-chance checking accounts have lower spending limits, fewer features and may charge monthly maintenance fees. However they exist mainly to assist people who are determined to get their financial lives back on track. Once you’ve had the chance to rebuild your credit history, you may be able to trade back up for a standard checking account.
Deposit accounts, including checking and savings accounts, are not included in your credit report, since you’re not borrowing money from these kinds of accounts. So the way you use your checking account or even when you close a checking account doesn’t affect your credit.
If you overdraft your checking account and don’t pay back what you owe to your institution, however, that can land in your credit report if the institution sends it to collections. That’s because it’s become more about your debt, which is reported in credit reports, than simply your checking account.
Overdraft protection works a lot like it sounds: it protects you when you overdraft your account. Often, overdraft protection links your checking account to a savings account. Any time you overdraft your checking account, funds are automatically pulled from the savings account to cover the purchase.
Other institutions may offer overdraft protection that simply doesn’t allow you to overdraft the account. This prevents the transaction from going through, but also prevents you from facing an overdraft fee and recovering the extra cost.
Depending on the type of overdraft protection and the institution, overdraft protection can come at an extra fee, or it could be free.