Unless you’re happy stuffing cash under your mattress, you’ll want a checking account. Like most things in life, though, these typically aren’t free. Many banks charge monthly maintenance fees to offset the steep cost of running branches.
But no-fee banking and free checking do exist. Some financial institutions — many of them online-only businesses — don’t charge monthly fees, don’t require minimum opening deposits and offer other free services. Here are some of our favorites.
Best interest rates: Ally Interest Checking
If you’re looking for an interest-bearing checking account with respectable rates and a stellar lineup of tools and widgets, Ally’s Interest Checking Account may be worth examining. The California Business Bank offers an online checking account with an APY of 0.79% but requires a relatively high minimum initial deposit of $100.
Best customer service: Capital One 360 Checking
If you don’t live near one of these physical locations, you can get in touch with the bank via phone, email, Facebook and Twitter. Its online help center is one of the best we’ve come across, providing in-depth answers to dozens of questions that customers may have.
The overdraft policy on 360 Checking accounts also deserves some props. Instead of a flat fee, Capital One charges interest at an 11.25% annual percentage rate, or APR, on the amount that has been overdrawn. So if you try to buy something that exceeds your balance by $100 and it takes you a week to replenish your account, you’ll have to cough up only 22 cents in penalties.
If you’re looking for a free and user-friendly banking experience, Capital One 360 Checking is worth a closer look.
Best credit union: Alliant Credit Union Free Checking
Alliant also lets members switch to its High Rate Checking option if they opt out of paper statements and have at least one electronic deposit made to their accounts each month, which includes direct, ATM and mobile deposits and transfers from other financial institutions. Do this and you’ll qualify for a return of 0.65% APY on balances of any amount.
Best mobile app: BankMobile Totally Free Checking
BankMobile’s customers have access to an impressive 55,000 free ATMs. Although this institution specifically designed its products to be mobile apps, customers can also do their banking on their desktop or laptop computers.
Because the Totally Free Checking Account is also totally online, this account is ideal for people who want to perform the majority of their banking tasks on their smartphones and who won’t need much hand-holding in the process.
Best budgeting tool: Simple
The same can be said about Simple as a whole. This online bank offers all the tools and gizmos that you’d want to see in a free bank account, including a feature to make check deposits remotely and a bill payment service.
If you’re looking to combine a mobile banking platform with a top-notch budgeting tool, you may like what Simple has to offer.
Although you’ll have to look beyond the major national banks, there are a number of excellent no-fee checking accounts out there. If none of the above caught your eye, NerdWallet’s best checking accounts tool can help you find one that works best for you.
To narrow down our list of the best free checking accounts, we took a close look at the banks and credit unions featured on NerdWallet’s best checking accounts tool as well as other large national financial institutions. Banks and credit unions that charge monthly fees – even if they have fee waiver options – or require high minimum opening deposits were immediately eliminated. We then compared the features of the remaining banks and credit unions to determine our final list.
Financial institutions surveyed included Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, Bank of America, BankMobile, BBVA Compass, Barclays, Bluebird, California Business Bank, Capital One 360, Chase, Citibank, Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union, GE Capital Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Moven, Salem Five Direct, Schwab Bank, Simple, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.
Published July 30, 2015.
Image via iStock.