Unless you’re happy stuffing cash under your mattress, you’ll want a checking account. Like most things in life, though, these typically aren’t free. Many banks charge monthly maintenance fees on these accounts to offset the cost of running their brick-and-mortar branches.
But no-fee banking and free checking do exist. Some financial institutions — many of them online-only businesses without branches to maintain — don’t charge monthly fees and may offer other free services.
Some of our favorites excel in other ways besides offering free checking, such as having low overdraft fees. If you’d like a bank with doors and tellers, use our checking account tool to find an institution near you with low or no fees.
Best interest rate
Aspiration Summit Account, 1% APY on balances of $2,500 or more
Aspiration is an investment firm, not a bank, but deposits are still insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The firm’s overdraft policies aren’t quite as consumer friendly as its other services, so be sure to monitor your balance using its online and mobile tools.
BANK5 CONNECT HIGH-INTEREST CHECKING, 0.76% APY
What’s more, the online bank’s $15 overdraft penalty is significantly lower than the national median of $34. You’ll have to put down an initial deposit of $10 when opening the account, and you’ll need a balance of at least $100 to qualify for the 0.76% APY. Still, those are fairly easy requirements to meet, and certainly more straightforward than those at other banks that offer similarly high APYs.
Best customer service
Ally Interest CheckingAlly makes customer service a top priority. The online-only bank has a call center that’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as a real-time chat service that shows estimated wait times rarely exceeding a few minutes. As a customer, you’ll have access to secure messaging using Ally’s online banking platform. You can also get assistance via Facebook and Twitter.
Best overdraft policy
360 Checking® by Capital OneCapital One account’s overdraft policy deserves some major props. Instead of a flat fee, Capital One has an option in which you’re charged interest, an 11.75% annual percentage rate, on the amount you’ve overdrawn.
That’s exceptionally affordable, especially compared with overdraft fees at other banks. You also could use a Capital One 360 savings account to cover overdrafts for free. Or you can simply have the bank decline to pay charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover.
Capital One is part of the Allpoint ATM network, giving its customers access to over 40,000 free cash machines. Users can also visit Capital One 360 Cafés in more than 10 cities around the country to speak with customer-service representatives. If you don’t live near one of these physical locations, you can get in touch with the bank via phone, email, Facebook or Twitter.
Best credit union
Alliant Credit Union High-Rate CheckingAlliant has a wider reach than most credit unions, and a $10 donation to an Alliant-affiliated nonprofit is all it takes to gain membership. To qualify for the High-Rate Checking Account, members have to opt out of paper statements and have at least one electronic deposit made to their accounts each month, which includes direct, ATM and mobile deposits, plus transfers from other financial institutions. Do this and you’ll qualify for a return of
0.65% APY on balances of any amount.
Alliant members can access more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs.
» MORE: NerdWallet’s best credit unions
Best rewards program
Discover Cashback Checking
Discover Bank product, like a credit card or savings account. But it could pay off: As a Discover customer, you can earn up to $120 per year in cash back on debit card purchases, online bill payments and cleared checks. What’s more, you’ll have access to 60,000 free ATMs.
Depositing cash will be tough, though: The only place to do that is at Discover’s one branch location in Delaware.
Best budgeting tool
SimpleSimple offers a checking account with a fully integrated budgeting tool called Safe-to-Spend. This service factors in your upcoming bills and savings goals to show how much you can afford to spend on nonessential expenses. Safe-to-Spend has an intuitive user interface that makes it easy to keep an eye on your finances.
The same can be said about Simple as a whole. This online bank offers all the tools and gizmos you’d want to see in a free bank account, including a feature to make check deposits remotely and a bill payment service.
Verified Feb. 2, 2017.
To determine the best accounts, we took a close look at over 60 financial institutions: the largest U.S. banks based on assets, debit card volume, Internet search traffic and other factors; the nation’s largest credit unions, based on deposits as well as broad-based membership requirements; and other notable and/or emerging players in the industry.
Financial institutions surveyed include: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, Andrews Federal Credit Union, Aspiration, Associated Bank, Bank5 Connect, BankDirect, Bank of America, Bank of Internet, Bank of the West, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One 360, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, EverBank, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, Golden 1 Credit Union, GS Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, MemoryBank, MetaBank, M&T Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, People’s United Bank, PNC, Radius Bank, Regions Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Simple, Star One Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, State Farm Bank, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TCF Bank, TD Bank, Union Bank, UFB Direct, USAA, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Woodforest National Bank, Zero Financial and Zions Bank.