NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts and Debit Cards, Spring 2013
Everyone’s talking about checking fees, but we’re totally over it. Contrary to what you may have heard, free checking isn’t a thing of the past. It’s alive and well at Internet banks, community banks and credit unions. In fact, many of these institutions offer better-than-free checking with interest or debit rewards. The only thing better than free checking is free money, right? If you’re new to the world of rewards checking, you’re in the perfect place. Check out NerdWallet’s newest picks for the best checking and debit rewards programs.
Best Debit Card Rewards Program: PerkStreet Financial
Debit cards with rewards may have gone the way of the dinosaur at big banks, but at PerkStreet, debit rewards are their specialty. While not as flashy as it used to be, the PerkStreet debit card still offers one of the best rewards programs in the business, with 1-5% back on all signature-based transactions. Here’s the full scoop:
|PerkStreet Financial | Online Checking|
|Monthly Fee||Minimum Balance||APY|
PerkStreet previously offered 2% back on all signature-based purchases if your account balance exceeded $5k, and 1% back otherwise. We had a feeling that was too good to last, but even so, the current program is comparable to many rewards credit cards. And, regardless of your balance, you’ll never have to deal with monthly maintenance or debit usage fees. That alone makes the PerkStreet debit card leaps and bounds ahead of any prepaid debit card. Plus, if you’re traveling abroad, the foreign transaction fee is only 1% of your total purchase. That’s considerably better than the standard 3%.
Best Online Checking Account: Capital One 360
Capital One 360 is an Internet-only bank, which allows them to offer some of the most competitive rates in the nation. In addition to earning interest, this account has no minimum balance requirement and no monthly maintenance fees. It doesn’t even require a minimum opening deposit, making it perfect for all income levels. The tiered interest rate starts at 0.20% APY, which is more than double that national average APY for savings accounts! Not bad. And, although we don’t recommend using it, Capital One 360 has one of the most progressive overdraft programs in the nation. Instead of charging you a flat $35 fee, they’ll open an overdraft line of credit for you with an APR lower than most credit cards.
|Capital One 360 | 360 Checking|
|Monthly Fee||Minimum Balance||APY|
The downside of a bank with no physical branches is you can’t speak to a customer service representative in person. However, if you’re comfortable speaking with people online or over the phone, we think you’ll find online banking extremely convenient. Capital One 360′s customer service reps are available from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET, seven days a week. Plus, you can use more than 38,000 ATMs in the U.S. for free through the Allpoint® network, and it’s pretty easy to deposit money via mail, electronic transfer, your mobile phone, or even your home scanner.
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.