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Best Free Checking Accounts of 2018

May 18, 2018
Banking, Banks & Credit Unions, Checking Accounts
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Checking accounts are rarely free. But some financial institutions don’t charge monthly fees and even offer other free services or pay interest.

We picked our favorites. First, you might want to take a short quiz to get account recommendations based on your preferences and location.

Following are our choices for top free checking accounts, based on research into dozens of banks. We scoped out accounts based on interest rate, ATM network, rewards and other factors. See how they compare:

Best for people who want to save
Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

Chime Spending Account

Overall bank rating:
Best budgeting tool
Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

Simple

Overall bank rating:
Best bank interest rates
Bank of Internet USA

at Bank of Internet USA,

Member, FDIC

Bank of Internet USA’s Rewards Checking

Overall bank rating:

Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best rewards program
Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Discover’s Cashback Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best digital experience

Ally Interest Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best overdraft policy

360 Checking® by Capital One

Overall bank rating:
Best credit unions
Consumers Credit Union

at Consumers Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Consumers Free Rewards Checking

Overall bank rating:

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Overall bank rating:
Connexus Credit Union

at Connexus Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Connexus Xtraordinary Checking

Overall bank rating:

Best for people who want to save

Chime Spending Account

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

With no monthly service fees, overdraft charges or foreign transaction fees, Chime’s Spending Account is free and straightforward.

Other pros: Chime’s primary draw is a savings program that automatically rounds up every purchase on your Chime debit card to the nearest dollar and plunks the difference into a separate savings account. You can also opt for 10% of every paycheck to go into that savings account. Other bells and whistles include cash-back rewards on categories such as groceries or utility bills, free nationwide ATM network, real-time transaction alerts, daily balance notifications and receiving your direct deposit up to two days early.

What you should know: Chime’s savings feature helps push you to save, but you won’t earn much interest from the savings account’s 0.01% APY. And like Simple, Chime is a mobile-focused bank, so you won’t find any branches or receive in-person service.

For more information, check out our Chime review.

Best budgeting tool

Simple

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

Mobile-focused Simple 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.

Other pros: This online bank offers all the tools and gizmos you’d want in a free bank account, including a free nationwide ATM network, a bill payment service and a feature to deposit checks with your smartphone.

What you should know: Simple doesn’t have branches to accept cash deposits or provide in-person customer service.

More details in our Simple review.

Best interest rates

Bank of Internet Rewards Checking, up to 1.25% APY

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Bank of Internet USA

at Bank of Internet USA,

Member, FDIC

Bank of Internet has an exceptional rate on its Rewards Checking.

Other pros: Rewards Checking has no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements, including opening deposits, and the bank offers unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements.

What you should know: To earn Rewards Checking’s highest rate (1.25%), you’ll have to do two things monthly: receive at least $1,000 in direct deposits and make 15 debit card transactions. Otherwise, you can earn one-third or two-thirds of that rate, roughly 0.42% or 0.83%, for fulfilling one of those requirements.

For more about Bank of Internet, check out our review.

BANK5 CONNECT HIGH-INTEREST CHECKING, 0.76% APY on balances Over $100

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Along with its excellent APY, Bank5 Connect provides customers with access to thousands of free ATMs and reimburses up to $15 per month for fees racked up at other banks’ cash machines.

Other pros: The online bank’s $15 overdraft penalty is significantly lower than the national median of $34.

What you should know: 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.

Read our Bank5 Connect review for more on checking and other accounts.

Best rewards program

Discover Cashback Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Discover

at Discover,

Member, FDIC

Discover has rolled out a new rewards program: With Cashback Checking 1, you can get 1% back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases monthly. The maximum you can get will be $360 a year, compared with the previous rewards program’s maximum of $120 a year.

Other pros: Customers have access to 60,000 free ATMs.

What you should know: The only place to deposit cash is at Discover’s one branch in Delaware.

See other high-rated products on our Discover review.

Best digital experience

Ally Interest Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

In addition to offering a competitive interest rate on its checking account, Ally customers can use more 43,000 U.S. ATMs for free.

Other pros: Ally makes its digital experience a top priority. The online-only bank has a mobile app available on Apple, Android and Windows devices with solid ratings. For any issues, Ally has a real-time chat service and actively responds to customer inquiries on Twitter and Facebook. If you prefer the traditional method of calling your bank, Ally’s call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Read our Ally review.

» View our top picks for best online checking accounts

Best overdraft policy

360 Checking® by Capital One

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Capital One account’s overdraft policy deserves some props. The bank offers an overdraft line of credit with an annual percentage rate below 15%. You also could use a Capital One 360 savings account to cover overdrafts for free. Or, if you decide not to opt into either the line of credit or transfers, you can simply have the bank decline to pay charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover.

Other pros: The 360 Checking account is fee-free and earns some interest. Plus, Capital One is part of the Allpoint ATM network, giving its customers access to nearly 40,000 free cash machines. You can also visit Capital One 360 Cafés in several cities around the country to speak with customer-service representatives.

See a map showing states with branches and cafés, plus more details on our Capital One review.

» Looking for highly rated savings accounts? See our top high-yield online savings accounts

Best credit unions

Consumers Free Rewards checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Consumers Credit Union

at Consumers Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Joining this Illinois-based credit union only requires a $5 donation to a sponsoring association and a minimum of $5 in a savings account.

Other pros: The checking account has no monthly fees or minimum balances. You can take advantage of thousands of branches and free ATMs nationwide thanks to the credit union’s participation in the Co-op network — and you can earn up to 4.59% APY on up to $15,000.

What you should know: Consumers only has branches in Illinois, and you have to work to earn the highest interest rates: Make at least 12 signature-based debit card purchases, have one monthly electronic transaction such as direct deposit or online bill payment, receive e-statements, access online banking once monthly and meet a monthly spending minimum on a Consumers credit card. Opting out of the basic requirements leaves you at 0.01% APY and you don’t receive ATM refunds.

Read our Consumers review to check out its other accounts.

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

With branches in five states and a strong online presence, Alliant has a wider reach than most credit unions, and a $10 donation to an Alliant-affiliated nonprofit is all it takes to join if you don’t fulfill other membership requirements.

Other pros: High-Rate Checking customers qualify for a return of 0.65% APY on balances of any amount. And Alliant members can access more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs and have up to $20 reimbursed in out-of-network ATM fees a month.

What you should know: To qualify for the High-Rate Checking Account, members have to opt out of paper statements and have at least one electronic deposit each month, which includes direct, ATM and mobile deposits, plus transfers from other financial institutions.

Read our Alliant review.

» To compare how other institutions stack up, see our list of top credit unions

Connexus Xtraordinary Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Connexus Credit Union

at Connexus Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Connexus makes it easy for anyone to join with a $5 donation to an affiliated association.

Other pros: The credit union has a robust online presence, free nationwide ATM network and a high-interest checking account (Xtraordinary Checking). You can earn 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000, and 0.25% APY above that, and there’s no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement.

What you should know: The Wisconsin-based credit union has a small branch network, and Xtraordinary Checking has a couple of hoops to jump through to earn the highest rate, such as enrolling in e-statements and making one direct deposit, one online bill payment and 15 debit card transactions each month. If you don’t, the rate is 0.20% APY.  And if your balance stays below $100 and you don’t use the account for 90 days, there’s a $5 inactivity fee.

For more details about Connexus, see our review.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: tony@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm.


METHODOLOGY

To determine the best accounts, we took a close look at 70 financial institutions, including 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. We rated them on criteria including annual percentage rates, minimum balances, fees, digital experience and more.

Financial institutions surveyed are: Alaska USA Federal Credit UnionAlliant Credit UnionAlly BankAmerica First Credit Union, American Express, AspirationAssociated BankBank5 Connect, BankDirect, Bank of AmericaBank of InternetBank of the WestBarclays, BB&T, BBVA CompassBoeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One 360Charles Schwab BankChaseChimeCITCitibankCitizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce BankConnexus Credit UnionConsumers Credit UnionDiscover BankTIAA BankFidelityFifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First National Bank, First Tech Federal Credit UnionGoBankGolden 1 Credit Union, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington BankKeyBankM&T BankMarcus by Goldman Sachs, MetaBank, Navy Federal Credit UnionPentagon Federal Credit UnionPNC, PurePoint Financial, Qapital, Radius BankRegions BankSantander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Simple, Star One Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union of North CarolinaState Farm BankSuncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony BankTCF BankTD BankUnion Bank, UFB Direct, USAAU.S. Bank, Varo, Wells Fargo, Woodforest National Bank and Zions Bank.

How we rate banks and credit unions