With so many banks raising their checking account fees (ahem, Citizens Bank and Wells Fargo), you might wonder if truly free checking is gone for good. Wonder no more: free checking is here to stay at your local credit union. In the ongoing battle of credit union vs. bank, credit unions almost always come out ahead. Big banks may be raising their fees, but credit unions are rolling out the welcome mat. Many credit unions have offered free checking for years, and an increasing number have started offering extra perks like debit rewards and interest to go along with it. Credit unions are member-owned, so you’ll get a share of the profits in the form of higher interest on your deposits, and better deals on loans and credit cards. If that sounds good to you, keep reading: the best is yet to come.
Free checking with good karma
Sure, free checking is nice, but supporting your friends and neighbors is even better. Credit unions are champions of consumer lending. When you open a checking account at a credit union, they can use that money to make auto, home and small-business loans to your fellow credit union members. There are literally thousands of great credit unions all over the country, but here are our top picks for free checking. Rest assured, these accounts are truly free, meaning no minimum monthly balance requirements and no monthly fees.
Alliant Credit Union (Chicago, IL) – Free Basic Checking with High Rate Option
Alliant Credit Union has 15 locations nationwide, including major cities like Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Houston and Newark, New Jersey. Alliant keeps it simple by offering one free checking account with no fees, no fuss and free access to more than 80,000 ATMs. However, if you can keep your account active, it gets even better. They’ll reward you with their Free High Rate option, and your account will earn 0.90% APY regardless of your balance. To qualify, you’ll need to sign up for eStatements and have a least one monthly direct deposit. Of course, an Alliant checking account comes with a host of other perks, too, like eDepositPlus, which lets you deposit checks from your home scanner, and mobile banking. Credit union members also have access to free financial counseling services. Anyone can join by making a $10 donation or greater to Foster Care for Success.
Members 1st Credit Union (Redding, CA) – Basic Checking
Members 1st Credit Union has three locations in Redding and Anderson. Their Basic Checking Account saves households an average of $150 per year and doesn’t require any minimum number of transactions to remain free (although it does require e-statements). Basic Checking comes with free Bill Pay and free access to MoneyDesktop, a personal financial management tool. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works or worships in Shasta or Tehama County. Government employees, school employees, students and their families may also join if they reside in the counties of Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou or Trinity.
3Rivers Federal Credit Union (Fort Wayne, IN) – Livin’ Free Spending
3Rivers Federal Credit Union has branches in Fort Wayne, Auburn, Bluffton, Columbia City, Kendallville and New Haven, as well as two branches in Ohio. The Livin’ Free Spending Account gives you free access to thousands of ATMs through two major networks and Credit Union Shared Branching, which allows you to use other credit union branches that participate in the program. The Oops Refunds program will refund your penalty charges up to three times a year, with a $30 limit per time. Credit union membership is open to people who live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school in Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wells or Whitley counties in Indiana. Membership is also open to people in Ohio who work for a select employee group, reside in Auglaize County, or live within the community development credit union area of Van Wert County.
San Diego County Credit Union (San Diego, CA) – Free Checking with eStatements
San Diego County Credit Union has 28 locations in San Diego County, Riverside County and Orange County. Their customer service is legendary: they were voted Best Credit Union in the San Diego Union-Tribune Readers Poll for 12 years running! In 2011, they were also voted Best Home Loan Provider and Best for Financial Planning. The Free Checking Account only requires $25 to open, plus it comes with online banking and bill pay, and SDCCU Mobile Deposit, which lets you deposit checks by phone. You need to sign up for eStatements to keep the account free. If you can maintain an average daily balance of $1,500 or more, we recommend signing up for the Classic Checking Account, which comes with all these features and pays a small amount of interest. Membership is open to anyone living or working in San Diego, Riverside or Orange counties.
Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union (Universal City, TX) – Really Free Checking
Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union has 37 locations in South Central Texas, including Austin and San Antonio. They have a great simple rewards program: 10 cents cash back on all debit card purchases (no “points” and no fuss), and that’s on top of the 0.15% APY on your balance. You get free standard checks whenever you order them online. This account has some neat digital features too. You can make e-deposits using your smartphone or home scanner, view your account balance on your mobile phone, and sign up for free e-alerts (text messages about your account activity). Randolph Brooks serves many cities and counties in South Central Texas. Visit their Communities We Serve page for more details.
First Abilene Federal Credit Union (Abilene, TX) – Vantage Free
First Abilene Federal Credit Union has two locations in Abilene. Their Vantage Free Account comes with two fee refunds per year, your choice, and a consumer loan discount, plus no restriction on checks or withdrawals. If you can afford a minimum balance of $500 or more, we recommend signing up for the Vantage Plus Account, which also pays a small amount of interest, and comes with free checks and three foreign ATM fee refunds per year. Membership is open to people who live, work, worship, attend school or do business in Taylor, Jones, Callahan, Nolan, Runnels and Eastland counties. Other people may join under certain circumstances: see their membership page for complete details.
Northern Federal Credit Union (Watertown, NY) – Choice Rewards Checking
Northern Federal Credit Union has five locations in Watertown, Gouverneur, Lowville, Adams and Carthage. Their Choice Rewards Checking Account isn’t just free: it offers an impressive 2.01% APY for balances up to $25,000 and ATM refunds. To qualify for interest, you need to have at least 10 debit card purchases post and clear each month, sign up for e-statements, access online banking at least once a month, and have one automatic payment or direct deposit post and clear each month. If you can’t qualify every month, it’s not a problem; your account’s still free. If you’d prefer to save yourself the hassle completely, the Free Checking Account doesn’t have any special requirements. Credit union membership is open to people who work, worship or attend school in Jefferson County, Lewis County, and select towns in St. Lawrence County. Select employee group members and family of eligible members may also join.
Bethpage Credit Union (Bethpage, NY) – Bonus Checking
Bethpage Credit Union has 24 locations in the Long Island area. Back in October 2011, they renounced checking account fees permanently. In fact, if you open a checking account at Bethpage, you can be assured of no fees for life! Well, you may have to pay a fee if you overdraw your account, but you won’t have to pay fees to maintain your account, use your debit card, or access online banking. Bethpage won’t even charge you a fee to use foreign ATMs (although you may incur charges from other banks where applicable). The Bonus Checking account gets even better when you set up a regular direct deposit, sign up for online statements, and make 15 point-of-sale debit card transactions each month. You’ll earn 1.00% APY on your balance. Membership is open to anyone who lives on Long Island.
Allegacy Federal Credit Union (Winston-Salem, NC)– SmartRate Checking
Allegacy Federal Credit Union is one of the largest credit unions in North Carolina, with 14 locations in the Triad area and 5 student credit unions in local public high schools. The SmartRate account is free, but it also earns interest and ATM rebates when you make 10 check card transactions each month, sign up for e-statements and set up one direct deposit or ACH auto debit per cycle. You’ll also get access to a free budgeting tool called FinanceWorks. This links all your accounts at Allegacy and 16,000+ other financial institutions, and allows you to set up a budget, analyze your spending habits and track your tax-deductible expenses. Credit union membership is open to anyone who joins the Center for Smart Financial Choices. There are a variety of other ways to qualify: please see their eligibility page for complete details.
Cincinnati Police Federal Credit Union (Cincinnati, OH) – Basic Checking
Cincinnati Police Federal Credit Union has two locations in Cincinnati. Their Basic Checking account has no per-check or transaction fees, and comes with 6 free withdrawals per month at PNC Bank ATMs for your added convenience. Credit union membership is open to police officers, firefighters, educators, and state and local government employees. Family of eligible members may also join. Please see their membership page for complete details.
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