What Is a Checking Account?

A checking account is a bank account for everyday expenses. You can use it to pay bills, make purchases and more.
Jul 14, 2021

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Checking accounts are financial accounts that are used for day-to-day cash deposits and withdrawals. You can access your money with a debit card, through online transfers or by writing checks.

Here’s a closer look at checking accounts, plus some tips on how to select the right account for you.

What is a checking account used for?

Checking accounts are handy, all-purpose places to keep money in the short- to medium-term. Your employer can directly deposit your paychecks in the account, you can link it to payment apps like Venmo and PayPal, you can pay bills from it and more. Checking accounts are a building block to manage your money and make all kinds of financial tasks easier.

» More from NerdWallet: Compare peer-to-peer payment apps

Level up your checking
Looking for some options? Discover and compare accounts with NerdWallet's best checking accounts.

What’s the difference between a checking account and a savings account?

Checking accounts typically come with personal checks and a debit or ATM card. You'll probably use a debit or ATM card to access the money in your account more often than checks.

Checking accounts tend to have lower interest rates than savings accounts. Savings or money market accounts typically have higher interest rates. Certain providers, typically online-only financial institutions, offer checking accounts with higher interest rates.

Common fees associated with checking accounts

Fees can put an unnecessary dent in your pocket. Here are some to be aware of:

  • Monthly maintenance fees. Checking accounts, especially at large national banks, can have maintenance fees as high as $15 a month. Some providers will waive the fee if you meet certain criteria, such as keeping a minimum balance or setting up direct deposit. Read the fine print before opening an account.

» Want to avoid monthly fees altogether? Take a look at the Best Free Checking Accounts

Here's a sampling of accounts with a range of features.

Discover Bank logo
Learn More

Member FDIC

Discover Bank Cashback Debit

Discover Bank logo
APY

N/A

Monthly fee

$0

Alliant Credit Union logo
Learn More

Federally insured by the NCUA

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Alliant Credit Union logo
APY

0.25%

Monthly fee

$0

Current logo
Learn More

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Current Account

Current logo
APY

N/A

Monthly fee

$0

Chime logo
Learn More

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Chime Checking Account

Chime logo
APY

N/A

Monthly fee

$0

Citibank, N.A. logo
Learn More

Member FDIC

Citi Priority Checking

Citibank, N.A. logo
APY

0.01%

Monthly fee

$30

How to choose a checking account

Here are some features to consider before opening a new checking account.

  • Look for low or no fees and a low or no minimum balance. The best checking accounts don’t charge fees or require high minimum balances.

  • Check for a broad ATM network. If you anticipate that you’ll need to deposit and withdraw cash, you’ll want to look for an account at an institution that has a network of ATMs that you can access.

  • See if the account has an interest rate. Most checking accounts have low or no interest, but you may find an account that offers a decent rate.

  • Keep an eye out for sign-up bonuses. Some providers will give you money for opening an account with them — here are the best bonuses this month. You shouldn’t pick an account based solely on a promotion, but it could help you decide between two otherwise comparable options.

  • Consider credit unions, online banks and nonbank financial service providers as well. These institutions can have certain advantages that traditional brick-and-mortar banks might not. Online providers tend to have low or no fees, high interest rates and user-friendly mobile banking capabilities. Credit unions often have strong customer service and higher interest rates than traditional banks.

Types of checking accounts

  • Online checking. These accounts are best if you want low or no fees and you don't need branch access.

  • Rewards checking or high-interest checkingYou'll want to check out these accounts if you're looking to make some money back on your account and are willing to jump through some hoops.

  • Student checking or teen checking. These accounts are good for young adults who are under the age of 18 and/or are enrolled in high school, college or a vocational school.

How to open and set up a checking account

Once you've selected a new account, opening it is mainly a matter of following the right steps and having a few important documents on hand.

» For more details, here's how to open a bank account

Now, you're ready to start taking full advantage of the account. That may include signing up for direct deposit and online payments, and scheduling automatic transfers to your savings account to bolster your nest egg. These features and more will make you happy you found a place to park — and make use of — your cash.

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