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NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts and Debit Cards, Winter 2015

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: Capital One 360 - 360 Checking

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.

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.

  • JC

    Stay FAR AWAY from Scottrade. Their “free” checking out is horrible. You pay for all ATM fees, paper checks need to be mailed in and take up to 10 days to show up, transfers take up to 5 business days. And make sure you NEVER bounce a check. They whack you with $25 fees.I had non-sufficient funds once and a single incident cost me $75 in fees. I was told, “We offer a free account so we need to make our money somehow.” Goodbye.

  • Rob Rex

    I’ve been on the waitlist for about 8 months… still waiting

    • brazen521

      I finally got an invite in July 2014, but the link just brought me to a page that said they weren’t accepting new customers. Every time I’ve contacted them it’s taken 6-8 weeks to get a reply. They have a ways to go before I will be comfortable trusting them with my money, which is unfortunate because of how much I like their business model.

  • Rosalie

    If you live in Nueces County TX or one of several neighboring counties, you are eligible to join Navy Army Community Credit Union. Their Liberty Checking pays 3.5% on up to $25,000 and .5% on any remaining balance above $25,000. Requirements to earn the high interest are the same as Lake Michigan CU except there is no online banking requirement. No monthly fee, no minimum balance, ATM fees reimbursed.

  • disqus_vhj5iVi8E8

    With my business accounts I have a lot of payments swept from my account and make several deposits a month. I am looking for a card for good rewards/points for travel. Prefer one where the points don’t expire. Recently used my credit card and bank points for hotel rooms and found not a lot of value (compared to a friend who uses security credit union and used the same amount of points for an all inclusive trip to Hawaii for 2 people)! Any suggestions? Security credit union is too far to make regular deposits and we take cash in the office!