Best Free Checking Accounts - NerdWallet
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NerdWallet’s Best Free Checking Accounts

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NerdWallet's Best Free Checking Accounts

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 keep your checking account fairly well-padded, Ally Bank‘s 0.6% annual percentage yield, or APY, on balances of at least $15,000 is pretty impressive when considering that the national average is 0.04%. And in keeping with our theme, this online bank doesn’t charge maintenance fees, nor does it have a minimum balance requirement. A member of the Allpoint ATM network, Ally provides its customers with surcharge-free use of over 40,000 cash machines.

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

In addition to offering an excellent mobile app, Capital One’s 360 Checking product comes with the added benefit of in-person customer service in certain metro areas. Users can visit Capital One 360 Cafés in seven cities around the country to speak with customer service representatives. The bank also has branches in eight states and Washington, D.C.

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

With 13 branches in six states from New Jersey to California, Alliant Credit Union has a wider reach than most credit unions. Add that to the lack of fees and the more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs that its customers have access to, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

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

True to its name, the Totally Free Checking Account comes with zero fees. And the bank means it: While other online banks rely on pay-per-use services like Popmoney to facilitate money transfers, BankMobile’s service is free, and it’s convenient and easy to use.

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

Simple, which is partnered with the Bancorp Bank, offers a checking account with a fully integrated budgeting tool called Safe-to-Spend. This service factors in customers’ upcoming bills and savings goals to show how much they can afford to spend on nonessential expenses without breaking the bank. Safe-to-Spend has a slick, intuitive user interface that makes it easy to keep an eye on your personal finances.

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.

The takeaway

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.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @tonystrongarm.

Published July 30, 2015.

Image via iStock.