NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts and Debit Cards, Spring 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 checking account bonus: Chase Total Checking ($150 bonus)

A little extra spending money can go a long way, especially when it’s this easy to earn. Chase is now offering a $150 bonus to new customers who open a Chase Total Checking account and set up direct deposit. Use it for movie tickets, a romantic dinner date, a gift for a friend, or (Nerd’s recommendation) to start an emergency fund! Since it’s Chase, the Total Checking account also comes with tons of easy ways to access your money, from thousands of branches and ATMs, to online and mobile services like Chase QuickDeposit and QuickPay. Avoid the monthly fee by simply keeping a $1,500 minimum balance or having $500+ direct deposited each month.

Best High Interest Checking Account: MyCBB Free Checking

MyCBB packs a ton of great features into its free account, from an interest rate you won't find with most savings accounts (0.79% APY), to nationwide free ATM access (24,000+!). The account requires just $100 to open. Throw in online and mobile tools to get your banking done quickly - where and how you want - and you've got a superior option for your new checking account.

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 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.

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  • 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!

    • sDot

      Join a credit union

  • Bama Jankfruit

    Consumer Credit Union in Illinois is open to everyone across the county and offers tiered 3%, 4%, and 5% interest rates on a checking account.

    • gen3benz


      To earn the 3.09% APY* on balances up to $10,000 and ATM refunds complete the following requirements:

      Complete at least 12 Debit/Check Card point-of-sale purchases (transactions must be made without using your personal identification number (PIN) to count toward the minimum of 12 and must post and clear your account on or before the last day of the calendar month)

      Each calendar month, one direct deposit OR one ACH debit OR pay one bill when using Consumers Credit Union’s free online bill payment system must post and clear your account on or before the last day of the calendar month

      Access Online Banking at least once each calendar month

      Receive eDocuments (enroll and accept the disclosure)

      To earn 4.09% APY* on balances up to $20,000 and ATM refunds perform the following each qualifying cycle:

      Simply meet the requirements to earn 3.09% APY . . . then add:

      Complete 12 CCU VISA Credit Card purchase transactions, NO MINIMUM purchase requirement.

      To earn 5.09% APY* on balances on $20,000 and ATM refunds perform the following each qualifying cycle:

      Simply meet the requirements to earn 3.09% APY . . . and

      Spend $1000 or more in CCU VISA credit card purchase transactions, regardless of the number of purchases

  • Malissa Flynt

    Any banks in SC with the higher interest rates?

  • Tara White Robinett

    Why do you not recommend prepaid debit cards?

  • Kelvin Mccarthy

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  • Maria Mayer

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