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NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts and Debit Cards

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Your checking account is the backbone of your financial life. Your income flows into the account, and you use it for everything from paying bills to going to the movies. It’s no wonder you’d want an account with low fees, good customer service and easy access to ATMs.

Below, we’ve rounded up our best-in-show checking accounts in several categories.

Best checking account bonus: Chase Total Checking

Chase
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We don’t recommend choosing your primary checking account based solely on a sign-up bonus. But if it’s a stellar account anyway, why not get a present for signing up?

Chase Total Checking is a good all-around checking account. New customers who set up direct deposit receive a welcome bonus of $150 and all the benefits of joining the Chase family. Customers have access to more than 18,000 ATMs and 5,400 branches. You can avoid the $12 monthly maintenance fee by signing up for direct deposit or keeping a minimum balance of $1,500.

Add in a highly rated mobile banking app, customer service via the website and Twitter, and a full suite of loan products, and Chase’s good reputation is easy to understand. Bonus aside, this account is a winner for people who prefer a big-bank experience and the option of having multiple types of accounts at one place.

Best online checking accounts: Ally Interest Checking and Capital One 360 Checking

The line between brick-and-mortar banks and online-only financial institutions is not as sharp as it once was. The best banks combine elements of both worlds. But if you’re unlikely to visit a bank branch, you may be happiest with a bank that focuses completely on the online experience.

Ally+Bank
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Ally Interest Checking: Ally Bank offers the best overall user experience, fee structures and customer service options. The company recently got perfect scores on Pew’s annual roundup of consumer-friendly banks. It provides a strong tech experience and standout customer service, including real-time chat support.

Ally has no minimum balance and no ATM fees, and it offers unlimited reimbursements on fees from other banks’ ATMs. There are no overdraft fees if you have sufficient funds in a linked Ally savings account.

Otherwise, overdraft fees max out at $9 per day. Unlike many online banks, Ally does offer the option of depositing checks by mail, but its mobile and online deposit feature works well. Ally is a good bet if low fees and a strong tech experience are important to you.

Capital+One+360
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Capital One 360 Checking: Capital One 360 has a slick, easy-to-use site. Checking account holders earn 0.20% interest, and the rate goes up if your balance is higher than $50,000. In addition to the standard online bill pay options, it’s free to have the bank cut and mail a paper check. ATMs in the Allpoint network are free.

For overdraft protection, Capital One offers a line of credit with no fees, just interest of 11.25% — an inexpensive option if you pay off the line of credit quickly.

Best high-interest checking account: MyCBB Free Checking

MyCBB
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Interest rates are low on all types of accounts at the moment, so the interest you’re likely to earn on your checking account, if any, is unlikely to make a big difference to your bottom line. But as rates rise, this will become more of a factor.

MyCBB boasts the highest interest rate in NerdWallet’s database of 1,000-plus checking accounts. At 0.79%, the APY is higher than that on most savings accounts. With a low minimum balance of $100 and few fees — you’ll pay no fees for overdrafts and ATM access, and no monthly fee — the account is great for savvy customers who want to keep their costs low.

Best debit card and checking alternatives: Bluebird by American Express and Chase Liquid

Traditional checking accounts aren’t for everyone. For one thing, some responsible people may not have enough of a financial track record to get approved for a bank account. It can be risky signing up for a prepaid debit card because of the high fees and punitive terms, but there are a few that are worth considering.

Bluebird
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Bluebird by American Express: In many ways, this prepaid debit card is similar to a bank account. Funds you deposit are insured by the FDIC, just like bank account balances. You’ll also have check-writing privileges, free access to your cash via the MoneyPass network’s 24,000-plus ATMs, and a mobile app. There are no monthly account fees, but you will pay $2.50 if you use an out-of-network ATM, plus whatever the ATM’s owner charges.

In addition to direct deposit, you can add money to the card in person at Walmart stores. Bluebird is great for people without bank accounts who are looking to minimize their fees.

Chase Liquid
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Chase Liquid: At $4.95 per month, this card is more expensive than the Bluebird, but it’s a good choice for people who need to deposit checks frequently and don’t have the option of using direct deposit. There is no charge to deposit cash or checks, either at a Chase ATM or via Chase’s QuickDeposit mobile app. Cash withdrawals are free as well at in-network ATMs.

Chase Liquid is good for people who don’t get paid electronically and don’t have a traditional bank account.

Have a favorite checking account we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire. Devan Goldstein of NerdWallet contributed to this report.

Updated June 15, 2015.


Image via iStock.

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