ADVERTISER DISCLOSURE

NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts and Debit Cards, Winter 2014

When it comes to your checking account or debit card, you shouldn’t settle for anything but the best. But with thousands of options to choose from, the decision can be overwhelming. To help simplify things, we’ve selected a few of our favorites. These meet our Nerdy standards with few (if any) fees, tons of ways to access your account, and sometimes even interest or rewards as a bonus! Still want to do your own research? Try our checking accounts comparison tool.

Best Online Checking Account: Mobile Banking from Simple

Simple has earned it’s way into this top spot, and the hearts of the Nerds, by creating something different from your typical bank. Their focus has truly been on the customer experience, and we think they’ve hit the jackpot. No monthly fees, no overdrafts, and tons of surcharge-free ATMs mean you won’t be paying extra just to use your own money. What’s more, Simple makes accessing your account super easy and intuitive with their mobile app and online banking. Finally, they’re also a great partner to have if you’re working to keep your personal finances in order. Features like Goal setting make it easier to save, and Safe-to-Spend makes those impulsive decisions a bit easier.

Best Debit Card & Checking Alternative: American Express Bluebird

Although NerdWallet doesn't make a habit of encouraging prepaid debit card use, we are willing to budge a bit with Bluebird by American Express, which bills itself as an alternative to a traditional checking account. Bluebird brings a whole lot of features to the table that make it very similar in function to a regular bank or credit union checking account. For example, customers will get FDIC insurance, check-writing, access to mobile banking and fee-free use of MoneyPass network ATMs (over 22,000 nationwide).

There are also very few fees to worry about, since American Express charges no monthly service fees, activation fees or even overdraft fees! Pretty much the only exception is a $2 reload fee if you choose to top up online with another debit card. All other forms of adding money to your account, such as direct deposit, transfer from a bank account or in person at a Walmart location are all free. So, if you have already decided that a prepaid card is the better option for you, then look no further than this one.

Best Community Bank Checking Account: Legacy Bank & Trust

Community banks are locally-operated banks that do a majority of their business within their community. Legacy Bank & Trust, a community bank located in Rogersville, MO, has the best community bank checking account, if not the best checking account around. The i-Profit Checking account earns an incredible 4.00% yield on balances up to $10,000 and refunds all ATM fees monthly. That's right, you can use any ATM nationwide and Legacy will refund the fee. i-Profit Checking is free of monthly fees and balance requirements, and also offers free online and mobile banking services, a free debit card, free fraud monitoring and free e-statements. To qualify for all the excellent perks associated with this account, just do the following:

  • Have a $100 minimum opening balance
  • Have one automatic payment or direct deposit each month
  • Make a minimum of 10 debit card transactions each month
  • Use online banking and receive e-statements
And don't fret if you can't meet the qualifications one month: your account remains free and you'll still earn a 0.05% yield on your balance. Legacy Bank & Trust has branches in Rogersville, Plato, Sparta and Mountain Grove, Missouri.

Best Credit Union Checking Account: Lake Michigan Credit Union

Why join a credit union? Do it for yourself and your community. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions owned by their members (you!), so you and your neighbors get a share of the profits in the form of reduced rates on loans and higher dividends. How much higher? How about 30 times higher than the national bank average for interest checking? Lake Michigan Credit Union blows away the competition with their Max Checking account. It pays out an incredible 3.00% yield on the first $15,000 of your balance and refunds up to $15 in out-of-network ATM surcharge fees. Like most credit unions, Lake Michigan does not charge monthly maintenance or debit fees.

Is there a catch? Sort of. To earn the high interest rate, you’ll need to use your account pretty frequently. Here’s what you’ll need to do each month:

  • Use direct deposit
  • Log into online banking at least 4 times
  • Make at least 10 debit card purchases
  • Sign up for e-statements and e-notices
Can’t meet all the requirements in any given month? Don’t worry. Your account's still free; you just won't earn interest for that particular month. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain by signing up. Lake Michigan Credit Union is open to anyone in the United States willing to donate to their partner charity, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association of Michigan. Visit their website for more details.

  • Richard Berry

    This type of account offers winning combo of top interest rates and convenient services.This account not allow minumum balance requirement. This account is perfect for all income levels.

  • Johncito

    With the closing of Perkstreet, are there any online checking accounts that offer cash back and/or rewards for debit card use?

    • NWjohn

      Bank of Internet offers a rewards checking account where you can earn a higher interest rate for using your debit card each month (https://www.bankofinternet.com/personal-banking/checking/rewards-checking).

      Also, you may want to keep an eye out for Discover to open their new online checking account to the general public (https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2013/discover-bank-online-checking-account/). It will reportedly pay cash back for debit card use as well.

      • Johncito

        Neither one of those links work, my friend.

        • NWjohn

          Sorry about that! Try these:
          Bank of Internet: http://ow.ly/o67EH
          Article on Discover checking account: http://ow.ly/o67Pp

          • Johncito

            Right on! That Discover one seems like a good option. Are there any more details for the launch for the general public besides the vague “2014” indication?

          • NWjohn

            No word yet but we’ll be keeping an eye out for more details!

          • Aaron Owen

            Sept 1 2014 and it still doesn’t appear to be an option… :|

  • jessrabbit38

    I use Capital one 360. Great customer service! Only fees i’ve incurred are for ATM’s that aren’t part of their system. Downside is you can only desposit checks via your phone up to 3k. Anything larger needs to be mailed in. You also have no way of depositing cash if you wanted to. Other than that I have been very happy with them. Hope this helps!

  • Earl K.

    So, I guess the alllpoint network atm’s don’t allow deposits?

  • the_natis

    No love for Charles Schwab? ATM fees reimbursed, interest checking and no other fees that I can think of. They’ve been very pro-active in issuing new cards to me whenever a security breach is in the news.

    • xXxExquisitexXx

      I think it’s because Charles Schwab does a credit check and he was trying to list no hassle banking accounts that probably don’t require one.

      • dane

        Yea, they opened one for me and before I could fund it they said uh, no thanks.
        T.D Ameritrade is awesome except for the ridiculous holds on deposits.

        • xXxExquisitexXx

          Likewise. What a letdown! But I opened an account with Simple. I love their features. It’s definitely worth it.

  • BD

    Couldn’t quite make the switch to Simple, nice app – nice philosophy and Safe-to-Spend is awesome but the ease offered comes at the cost of snail paced transfers and deposits. Only really an option if you are going to be a direct deposit type user and don’t have accounts elsewhere.

  • Lesley Hudson

    what about Ally Bank, no fees, super easy to set up and no deposit required.

  • DollarDaze

    The interest is compounded how often?

  • Megan Goughan Perna

    Does Ally bank charge for ATM use that is not Ally bank? I have TD and I get charged $3 whenever I use an ATM outside of the bank.

    • Trisha Renee

      According to their website, Ally bank does not charge for out-of-network ATMs. You still get the fee at the ATM when you withdraw, but ALLY reimburses those fees. You can go to their site (without having an account) and pull up a list of ATMs by area code and it will tell you if it is in network or if fees are reimbursed.