Opening an interest-bearing checking account is an easy way to boost your savings without completely rearranging your budget. Nowadays, your checking account doesn’t have to be the basic, low-yield account you might be accustomed to. A checking account can earn interest at pretty competitive rates, especially if you’re willing to ditch the traditional big bank in lieu of digital-only competitors.
Brick-and-mortar rates often pale in comparison to online rates. You’ll typically find checking account rates around 0.01% APY if you head to your local big bank branch. Let’s say you have $10,000 to deposit into your new checking account. Choosing an account with that low 0.01% APY will earn you $1 at the end of a year. On the other hand, opening a high-yield checking account at a 2.00% APY, for example, will earn just over $200 in a year.
Your best bet is to open an online checking account, as those tend to have the highest rates. You’ll also find hardly any monthly service fees and little to no fees for ATM usage. Plus, with some of the best mobile apps, online banks making banking on-the-go easier than ever.
There are several great options out there, which give you a great opportunity to find an account that’s just right for you. But we understand that it can also be overwhelming to search through all your options and commit to switching banks. We’ve made it a little easier for you by searching through 12,000 banks and credit unions.
To find the best online checking accounts, we looked for accounts that offer:
- Competitive interest rates
- No monthly account fee
- No ATM fees and reimbursement of other bank ATM fees
- Interest income on the deposited funds
- Strong mobile banking app and user interface
It’s important to figure out which aspects of a checking account are the most crucial for your own banking success, whether that’s easy ATM access or earning at the highest rate. There isn’t always going to be one account that’s the “best” across every dimension: for example, the account with the highest interest rate may not have unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. You might have to make a trade-off when choosing an account.
Here are our favorite checking accounts available in May 2019:
The Best Checking Accounts in May 2019
Minimum Balance Amount
None, but offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 each month
Up to 1.25%
Consumers Credit Union
Up to 5.09%
$10,000 - $20,000
1. No fees & high APY – Simple – Checking Account + Protected Goals Account – 2.02% APY ($2,000 minimum)
Simple was created out of frustration over the banking industry. The founders were confounded by the complexities of certain bank accounts. So instead of just letting the problem be, they came up with a solution – a no fee bank account that earns interest and helps you budget your money “in one simple app”. What makes this bank account stand apart from other online checking accounts? Well, for starters, it’s a Checking Account + Protected Goals Account that doesn’t have any fees, not even if you use an international ATM (however, a fee may be charged by the ATM owner). Another standout feature is that you have the opportunity to earn 2.02% APY. To earn the APY, you’ll have to have a minimum of $2,000 in the Protected Goals Account. This account is meant to be used to help you save money towards a goal. It’s like a savings account without transfer limitations. You can make as many transfers between this account and the checking account as you’d like without running into excess transfer fees. There are a ton of other features that make this account worth considering.
2. No ATM fees: Aspiration – The Aspiration Account – Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + 2.00% APY
Aspiration is a unique company that is trying to change the face of banking services. This account is a great way to avoid fees. There is no monthly fee and no minimum deposit. Even better, there are no ATM fees and unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees charged by others. You can use your ATM card anywhere in the world and never pay a dime. You decide how much you want to pay for the account – and that can be $0. Aspiration is making the bet that you will appreciate the value and decide to pay them something. But you are not obligated to make any payment.You can also earn interest on this account. You’ll earn up to 2.00% APY on your entire balance. And the best part: you don’t have to “do things” (like use your debit card) to get the rate. So long as you have the account, you get the interest rate.
Aspiration has recently launched a mobile banking app, making it even easier to get everything you need done. You can read our full review of Aspiration here. If you want an easy way to use any ATM, free BillPay and earn a good (by checking account standards) interest rate, the Aspiration Account is a great choice.
3. No fees: nbkc bank – No monthly fees + 1.01% APY
nbkc bank, formally known as National Bank of Kansas City, is a small institution in the Midwest that caters customers nationwide through their online and mobile banking platforms. They are a privately owned company with more than $630 million in assets.nbkc is all about making banking simple and they’ve done just that with their checking account that virtually has no fees. All it takes is $5 to open the account and you can start earning 1.01% APY on all funds held in the account.There are no monthly fees, no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees, no fees to stop payments, no fees to get a box of checks, no fees for incoming domestic wires, no minimum balance to earn the APY once the account is opened, and no ATM fees as long as the ATM is part of the Moneypass® network. Even if the ATM is not part of the Moneypass® network, nbkc will reimburse up to $12 in ATM fees per month. And just to prove how transparent they are, they openly disclose that the only two fees that may apply are $5 to send a domestic wire and $45 to send or receive international wires.
Banking can be done online or through their mobile banking app, which allows you to deposit checks at no charge. If you want a checking account that charges hardly any fees and allows you earn a little interest, this account is a great option.
4. Discover Bank – No monthly fees + 1% Cash Back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases per month
Discover’s Cashback Debit is a unique checking account because it offers 1% cash back each time you swipe your debit card to purchase something up to $3,000 each month. This means that you can earn up to $360 back in cash each year. Keep in mind that there are certain exceptions (like ATM transactions) to receiving the 1% cash back. Other perks of this account include no monthly fees, access to over 60,000 ATMs for free, and First Fee Forgiveness. Discover’s First Fee Forgiveness will waive the first eligible fee charged to the checking account during each calendar year. Eligible fees include insufficient funds and stop payment fees. Discover doesn’t require a minimum amount to open or a minimum daily balance to earn the cash back.
5. Ally – Interest Checking Account: $10 of ATM fees reimbursed monthly, and up to 0.60% APY
The checking account pays 0.10% APY on balances less than $15,000, and 0.60% APY on balances of over $15,000.
Banking with Ally also gives you 24/7 access to customer service, which is just a phone call or chat session away. They also use 21st century technology like remote deposit through their mobile banking app and Zelle®, which allows you to securely send and receive money from friends and family.
6. Highest APY: MemoryBank – 1.60% APY (for the first year) on balances up to $250,000
7. No domestic ATM fees & high APY – Axos Bank – Rewards Checking – up to 1.25% APY
Axos Bank offers a nice combination of a good interest rate and ATM fee reimbursement. You can receive up to 1.25% APY based upon your activity in the account. There are three requirements, and each requirement gives you 0.4166%. If you receive a monthly direct deposit totaling $1,000 or more, you can earn 0.4166%. If you use your debit card at least 10 times per month, you can get another 0.4166%. And if you use your debit card 15 times a month, you get another 0.4166%. So – if you get your direct deposit and use your card 15 times a month – you will get the 1.25% APY. You can also get unlimited domestic ATM reimbursement. If you are a heavy debit card user and do not travel overseas very often, Axos Bank can be a better option than Aspiration.
8. TIAA Bank – High Yield Checking: 1.21% APY (for the first year) with $5,000 minimum to open
9. Consumers Credit Union – Free Checking: Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + up to 5.09% APY possible
This account can offer incredible value, but you need to meet certain conditions. In order to get unlimited ATM fee reimbursement, you need to:
- Make at least 12 debit card purchases per month. The purchases cannot use the 4-digit pin code – it has to be treated as a credit transaction (so that the credit union earns the maximum interchange possible)
- Each month there must be at least one direct deposit OR one ACH debit OR one online bill payment.
- Login to online banking at least once per month, and
- Receive eDocuments / eStatements (no paper statements).
If you meet those requirement, you will earn a 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000. You have the opportunity to earn an even higher rate of return if you open a Visa credit card from the credit union. If you spend at least $500 a month on the credit card, your interest rate increases to 4.09% APY on balances up to $15,000. If you spend at least $1,000 a month, you can earn 5.09% APY on balance up to $20,000.
This is a valuable proposition – but it is complicated. We have included it because 5.09% APY and unlimited ATM fee reimbursement is an amazing deal. However, if you don’t meet the requirements you will not get ATM reimbursement and will only earn 0.10%.
10. Charles Schwab – High Yield Checking: Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + 0.40% APY
This account pays 0.40% APY, and there are no minimums or monthly service fees.
There are no fees to cover overdrafts when funds are available from a linked Schwab brokerage or savings account.
Runner Up: Fidelity Cash Management Account: Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursement
Similar to Charles Schwab, there are no ATM fees to worry about – they’ll reimburse you the same day if you’re charged. There are also no monthly or overdraft fees to worry about. There is one big difference to Schwab: if you get charged for using your ATM outside of the country, that fee will not be reimbursed.
Fidelity currently offers 0.13% APY, but it is a brokerage account rather than a “regular” checking account. They offer cash management tools so you can set up custom alerts when you reach a certain balance that will remind you it’s time to invest.
Unfortunately, there’s no option to open a line of credit – you have to link a savings or brokerage account to your Fidelity account in case you overdraft and want items to clear.
Checking account best practices
Consider hybrid savings/checking accounts
In today’s competitive savings rate atmosphere, some banks are offering the best of both a checking and savings account in the same product, like the Simple Checking Account + Protected Goals Account, our top pick above. These hybrid accounts offer the flexibility of a checking account by including a debit card and avoiding the six-transaction limit of savings accounts. Some accounts might also offer the ability to write checks through the account (however, Simple does not).
Even better, these hybrid accounts also offer the high-yield competitive rates of a savings account (think above 2%!). Opening this kind of account can prove to be a great addition to your savings profile, especially since most checking accounts tend to offer unremarkable rates. Simple goes even further by helping you save towards a specific Savings Goal instead of just earning a high interest rate — although saving at least $2,000 towards that goal enables that high rate.
Of course, money market accounts are already known as hybrid-like accounts with high interest rates. But without limiting your transfers and transactions to six per cycle, these new checking/savings hybrid accounts (or cash management accounts, as they might be called) are able to set themselves apart from money market accounts. Money market accounts also tend to require much higher balance limits and charge monthly service fees, unlike these new accounts we’re starting to see.
Pair your checking account with a high-yield savings account
So if not in a checking account, where should you keep the rest of your money? Like we say above, you have a number of options including savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs. Online savings accounts generally earn at much higher interest rates than checking accounts, so they’ll grow your money more efficiently.
In turn, money market accounts can earn even higher rates, although they usually require high deposits and balances. Both MMAs and savings accounts limit you to six transfers or withdrawals per month so you can leave your savings alone to grow. Money market accounts are like a mix between checking and savings accounts, as many of them include check-writing abilities and/or a debit/ATM card for more convenient access than a typical savings account.
For a longer-term savings commitment, you can turn to certificates of deposit or CDs. They earn at high interest rates and lock in your opening rate for the duration of an account’s term. You can’t withdraw your growing funds until the term ends.
Find an account with little to no fees
Another way to make better use of your checking account is to avoid the fees that are often associated with brick-and-mortar bank accounts. According to a MagnifyMoney analysis of FDIC data, in 2017 Americans paid over $36 billion in fees to banks (see graph below), some of which include overdraft fees, ATM fees and monthly maintenance fees. This number is down since 2009’s $41 billion in total fees, but has seen a steady increase since 2013.
Among the fees, overdraft fees are the biggest single burden on Americans, representing over one third of fees paid over the last five years. Account maintenance fees come in second, at over 10%, while ATM fees represent over 5%.
Moving your banking online can help you avoid monthly service fees. The same is also true for ATM fees. Even without physical locations, online banks can still provide access to tens of thousands of ATMs through various ATM networks. Plus, many online banks will refund any ATM surcharges you do face, sometimes up to a certain dollar amount.
Resist the urge to hoard cash in a checking account
It can be easy to just dump all your income into your checking account and leave it there. After all, that’s the account you use to pay for expenses. But even if your checking account earns interest, you can do better by your money.
There are two main reasons your money would be better off not sitting in checking:
#1 You could miss out on higher interest rates
Interest rates on checking accounts are generally pretty pitiful. Even when they seem high (perhaps 0.60% or even 1.00%), there can be a lot of hoops to jump through in order to secure that interest rate. Instead, consider putting your money into one of the nation’s best savings accounts,best money market accounts or CDs. Your money can easily earn 1.00% or more with those accounts.
#2 You don’t want to give fraudsters access to your life savings
Fraud is another reason you may want to keep a minimal amount in checking. Bank fraud is so prevalent you’ll likely get smacked by it at some point. For credit card users, it isn’t as worrisome because the money charged to a credit card isn’t coming directly out of your bank account and credit issuers commonly offer zero fraud liability protection. On the other hand, debit card fraud means a crook gains direct access to your account and can be draining your actual funds in real time. By not keeping a ton of money in checking, you can reduce the damage a thief can do.
If your card is stolen and you report it to your bank within two days, you can be responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized charges. Waiting longer than two days can make you responsible for up to $500 in unauthorized charges. Additionally, if you notice any unauthorized charges on your account statement, you have 60 days to tell your bank to avoid liability for following transfers. Even if your bank reimburses you for the funds, it’s still a hassle to spend days — even weeks — without having access to that money.
The bottom line: It’s probably time to move your banking online
In all, the best way to make the most of your checking account is to ditch your brick-and-mortar bank in favor of fewer fees, less hassle, more convenience and higher interest rates. All of these banks listed above offer mobile apps with several convenient features, including the ability to deposit checks by taking a photo, so you don’t have to worry about running out to a local branch. These apps also make it easier to transfer money between your accounts, pay bills online or send money to family and friends in a pinch.
If you want your money to do more for you with less maintenance, online checking is the way to go.