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NerdWallet’s Top Online Checking Accounts

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Online checking has come a long way since the days of its earliest adopters. Now, even many traditional banks have embraced the hallmarks of online-only institutions, including free ATM access, robust websites and mobile-friendly features such as remote check deposit.

The best online banks usually offer higher interest rates and friendlier fee structures than brick-and-mortar banks, because of the costs they save from not owning branches or ATMs. Some of our favorite online checking accounts appear below.

Best digital tools: Mobile banking from Simple

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Banking startup Simple had over 100,000 checking customers by the time of its acquisition in early 2014. It built that user base by designing a top-notch set of digital tools and aiming for best-in-class customer service.

One of Simple’s most noteworthy digital innovations: Instead of focusing on your available balance, an often-misunderstood figure, Simple offers you a “safe to spend” number, an estimate of how much you can afford right now based on your balance, upcoming bills and savings goals.

Withdrawals within the massive Star ATM network are all fee-free, though total withdrawals in any 24-hour period are limited to $500, lower than some other online banks.

Simple is a good choice for people who want to combine some elements of a budgeting tool with their banking experience.

Best ATM options: Ally Interest Checking

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For online fans who rely heavily on ATMs, Ally can’t be beat. The bank doesn’t charge fees for any U.S. ATMs, and it offers unlimited refunds for withdrawals from any bank’s ATM nationwide.

Ally also offers a great digital experience, with all the basics of online banking covered in an easy-to-use package. Customers can even conduct their banking business on Amazon Kindle, a rarity among online-only banks.

Ally caters to people who want strong tech tools and fee-free ATMs.

Best for heavy overdrafters: Capital One 360 Checking

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Capital One 360’s checking offering gives you two ways to handle overdrafts:

  • You can apply for an overdraft line of credit, a short-term borrowing option with a reasonable interest rate and no transfer fees.
  • Without a line of credit, the bank will decline to pay charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover.

In other words, you keep yourself out of trouble by having either no overdraft services or an exceptionally affordable option that costs you a fraction of typical overdraft fees.

Capital One 360 also offers fee-free access to Allpoint ATMs, billed as one out of every 12 ATMs in the U.S. And as with most debit cards, you can also get cash back with no fee at many stores.

If you want to avoid overdraft fees and, Capital One 360 offers a stellar checking account.

Best customer service options: Ally Interest Checking

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Not only is Ally’s ATM access top-notch, it has also made customer service a priority. Among its offerings:

  • A call center staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Real-time chat support.
  • Secure messaging in online banking.
  • Nonsecure messaging via a form on the main Ally website.
  • The option to reach out to Ally on Twitter.

Notably, Ally was the only institution to get perfect scores on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest annual roundup of consumer-friendly banks.

If you like being able to reach a customer service agent at any time, you’ll probably love Ally.

Concerns about security? Not to worry: Online banks are insured through the FDIC, meaning online checking deposits at an insured bank are backed by the U.S. government.

Devan Goldstein is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @devan. John Gower of NerdWallet contributed to this report.

Updated June 15, 2015.

Image via iStock.

  • Daniel Mina

    Why is Ally Bank not on the list?

    • Elizabeth Slough-Mills

      Because they changed many of their policies and now they suck.

    • christopherjacques

      I see 3 banks in 4 categories… and Ally is there twice.

  • Elizabeth Slough-Mills

    I’m an Ally customer who signed up in January of this year because they allow both deposits by echeck and direct deposit.

    HOWEVER, it must be noted that they changed their policy regarding echeck amount availability within the last month. Previously $200 of the funds from an echeck over that amount were available 24 hours after the echeck was approved. Now, they hold 100% of the funds for five days. They notify customers–but the way they “notify” is by sending out a copy of their entire policies document, with no notation as to which areas changed. You have to do a page by page comparison with the old policy document to find any changes that might relate to your account.

    In addition, the interval between depositing an echeck and their processing department approving the image has tripled. For my first six deposits, I had a response within hours–telling me that it was approved and would clear the next day or that the check image was illegible and needed resubmission. The last one I submitted to three days to be approved for deposit.

    Finally, their response times to emails or contact request has also increased considerably, from within a few hours in the first few months after I opened the account to a day or so now.

    I could have overlooked everything but the bait and switch with funds availability.

    Needless to say, I’m looking for a new bank that allows echeck deposits. I don’t actually care if they hold 100% of the funds for five days–just don’t state that a portion will be available the next day to reel customers in, and then change the policy after the fact.

  • Elizabeth Slough-Mills

    Ally has changed their policies as of around July 2015. They no longer refund all ATM fees if you use a non-affiliated ATM; they only refund $10 per month. They also do a bait and switch on funds availability: Initially a portion is available within 24 hours with the balance available in five days. If you’re with them long enough, they make you wait for the full five days for every penny.

  • christopherjacques

    It seems like Discover beats Ally in all of these points, plus they give you 10¢ for each card and online transaction. I’m deciding between the two and leaning towards Discover.