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Free Checking at Community Banks: NerdWallet’s Picks

by on October 9, 2012

We keep reading about “the end of free checking”. Are you as confused as we are? Free checking may be gone for good at big banks, but at your local community bank, free checking (meaning no minimum balance requirement or monthly maintenance fees) is alive and thriving. It’s normal, frankly. Business as usual. Of course, that doesn’t make it undeserving of a standing ovation. Free community bank checking accounts come with all the perks you’d expect and then some. How would you like free access to nationwide ATM networks, free checks, or a little bit of interest on your balance? Yeah, we thought so. By the way, if your wallet isn’t reason enough to move your money, consider the positive impact that small banks have on your community.

Community banks: small business lending leaders

Depositing money in a community bank is one of the best ways to support economic growth. Community banks lend out roughly 66% of their assets to small businesses, while big banks typically lend 22-27%. At the end of the day, the battle between big banks and small banks is classic David and Goliath. Watch out for the little guy; he packs the real punch! Below, you’ll find NerdWallet’s picks for free checking at local banks across the country. The perks may vary from bank to bank, but one thing’s for sure: you’re bound to find a better deal than anything a big bank can offer you.

Free Checking with e-Statements – Centennial Bank (Conway, AR)

Centennial Bank has branches in the Alabama Gulf Coast, Southwest and Central Florida, the Florida Keys, Central Arkansas, Panama City and the Pandhandle. Their Free Checking account comes with free online banking and bill pay, a debit card and ATM refunds when you save the receipts. Note: you’ll need to sign up for e-statements to keep this account free. You’ll also have the option of receiving traditional paper statements for a small fee. Looking to earn interest? Centennial Bank’s Star Rate Checking account earns interest and is free with a minimum balance of $500 or more.

Simply Free Checking – Points West Community Bank (Julesburg, CO)

Points West Community Bank has branches in Julesburg, Windsor, Wellington, Haxtun and Greely. Their Simply Free Checking account comes with unlimited check writing, a free first order of checks, and free return of check images in your monthly statements. Customers 55 or better qualify for free checking with interest. If you can set up a regular direct deposit, consider signing up for the VIP Free Interest Checking account, which earns interest and also has no minimum monthly balance requirement.

Consumer Free Checking – First Community Bank (Lexington, SC)

First Community Bank has branches in Lexington, Columbia, Irmo, West Columbia, Gilbert, Chapin, Prosperity, Newberry and Camden. Their Free Checking account has all the basic features you’d expect from any personal checking account, including unlimited check writing and a free debit card, but their Interest Checking accounts have more bells and whistles for 2 minimum balance tiers – $500 and $2500. For added flexibility, you can link your checking account to a savings account and meet your minimum balance requirement that way.

Absolutely Free Checking – 1st Mariner Bank (Baltimore, MD)

1st Mariner Bank has branches in Annapolis, Baltimore, Westminster, Columbia and surrounding cities. Their Absolutely Free Checking account comes with free access to MoneyPass ATMs, plus free online banking and bill pay. If you’re able to set up 1 regular direct despot every 90 days, check out their Classic Direct Deposit account, which includes checks and pays interest.

Free Checking – Horizon Bank (Michigan City, IN)

Horizon Bank has locations in Indiana and Michigan. Their basic free account comes with online banking and bill pay, and unlimited check writing. Students up to age 24 qualify for the Student Checking account, which is also free and includes other perks like 5 free non-Horizon Bank ATM transactions per statement cycle and email alerts to help you keep track of your balance. Seniors 55 or better qualify for free checking with interest.

Free Rewards Checking – Washington Savings Bank (Lowell, MA)

Washington Savings Bank has branches in Lowell, Dracut and Tyngsboro. They have 3 free checking accounts that earn rewards. The Cash Rewards account lets you earn cash back on your debit purchases and requires no special transactions to earn rewards. The Tune Rewards account earns $15 in music downloads at opening and $5 per monthly statement cycle after that. The Interest Rewards account offers 3.01% APY on your balance. Both accounts also refund all out-of-network ATM fees up to $25 per month and offer free checks for life. To earn these extra rewards, you’ll need to have 12 debit card purchases post and clear each month, sign up for e-statements and have 1 monthly direct deposit. Your account is still free even if you don’t meet the minimum requirements, and you can always try again.

My Green Checking – Standard Bank (Hickory Hills, IL)

Standard Bank has branches in the Great Chicago Area in Illinois and Northwestern Indiana. Their My Green Checking account comes with free mobile banking and bill pay, plus it pays 2.25% interest on your balance up to $25,000 and refunds out-of-network ATM fees. Each month, you’ll need to make a minimum of 12 purchases with your debit card, use direct deposit and log into online banking to qualify for rewards. Be sure to speak with an account representative for complete details.

Option Checking – Heartland Bank (Gahanna, OH)

Heartland Bank has locations in Columbus, Croton, Dublin, Gahanna, Grove City, Johnstown, Newark, Reynoldsburg and Westerville. Their Option Checking account comes with free online banking and bill pay. Their Personal Money Market Checking account pays interest when you maintain a minimum balance of $1,000 or more. The account’s free when you maintain a minimum balance of $600 or more.

Totally Free Checking – Fidelity Bank (Atlanta, GA)

Fidelity Bank has branches in the Greater Atlanta Area, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. Their Totally Free Checking account comes with free online banking and bill pay, e-statements, unlimited check writing, up to $25 for your old checks, a free gift, and, best of all, up to $10 in refunds for out-of-network ATM fees. Seniors 50 or better qualify for free checking with interest. You can also qualify for free interest checking by setting up direct deposit.

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