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Best Free Checking Accounts 2017

Banking, Banks & Credit Unions, Checking Accounts
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Checking accounts are rarely free. Many banks charge fees that add up, even for no-frills accounts. But some financial institutions — many of them online-only businesses with no branches to maintain — don’t charge monthly fees and even offer other free services or pay interest.

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

Find the right checking account for you

What matters more to you?

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

Best interest rates
Bank+of+Internet
Learn more
at Bank of Internet
Bank of Internet USA’s Rewards Checking

Overall bank rating:
Aspiration
Learn more
at Aspiration
Aspiration Summit Account

Overall bank rating:
Bank5+Connect
Learn more
at Bank5 Connect
Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best budgeting tool
Simple
Learn more
at Simple
Simple

Overall bank rating:
Best for people who want to save
Xoom
Learn more
at Chime
Chime Spending Account

Overall bank rating:
Best rewards program
Discover
Learn more
at Discover
Discover’s CashBack Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best digital experience
Ally+Bank
Learn more
at Ally
Ally Interest Checking

Overall bank rating:
Best overdraft policy
Capital+One
Read full review
on NerdWallet
360 Checking® by Capital One

Overall bank rating:
Best credit unions
Alliant+Credit+Union
Learn more
at Alliant
Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Overall bank rating:
Connexus+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Connexus Xtraordinary Checking

Overall bank rating:
Consumers+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Consumers Free Rewards Checking

Overall bank rating:

Best interest rates

Bank of internet rewards checking, up to 1.25% APY

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Bank+of+Internet
Learn more
at Bank of Internet
In addition to unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements, Bank of Internet has an exceptional rate on its Rewards Checking, but you have to jump through a few hoops. To get the highest possible annual percentage yield, 1.25%, you need 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. Rewards Checking has no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements, including opening deposits. (For more about Bank of Internet, check out our review.)

» Use our tool to find other high-yield checking accounts

Aspiration Summit Account, 1% APY on balances of $2,500 or more

NerdWallet has rated this bank:
Aspiration
Learn more
at Aspiration
The Summit Account offers excellent rates for a checking account: Balances over $2,500 earn 1% APY, higher even than the rates for the vast majority of savings accounts. (The average national savings account rate is 0.06%.) Smaller balances earn 0.25%. Aspiration provides unlimited ATM reimbursements worldwide. There is no monthly maintenance fee or minimum balance requirement. Another plus: The account has a spending tool that shows what stores have sustainable business practices, such as workforce diversity and renewable-energy use.

Aspiration is an investment firm, 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. (See more on our Aspiration review.)

» Want more options? See our full list of best checking accounts

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

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Bank5+Connect
Learn more
at Bank5 Connect
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.

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

Best budgeting tool

Simple

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Simple
Learn more
at Simple
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.

The same can be said about Simple as a whole. 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. The trade-off is Simple’s lack of branches for cash deposits or in-person customer service. (More details on our Simple review.)

Best for people who want to save

Chime Spending Account

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

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

Chime’s savings feature helps push you to save, but you won’t earn much interest from the savings account’s 0.01% APY. 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 rewards program

Discover Cashback Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Discover
Learn more
at Discover
Discover has rolled out a new rewards program: 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. What’s more, you’ll have access to 60,000 free ATMs.

You can fund a Cashback Checking account via mobile check deposit, direct deposit, transfers from other banks or mailing Discover a check. Depositing cash will be tough, though: The only place to do that is at Discover’s one branch location in Delaware. (See other high-rated products on our Discover review.)

Best digital experience

Ally Interest Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Ally+Bank
Learn more
at Ally
In addition to offering a competitive interest rate on its checking account and over 43,000 free ATMs in the U.S., 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
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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.

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 too? See our top high-yield online savings accounts

Best credit unions

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Alliant+Credit+Union
Learn more
at Alliant
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. 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. 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 and have up to $20 reimbursed in out-of-network ATM fees a month. (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
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Connexus makes it easy for anyone to join with a $5 donation to an affiliated association. What the Wisconsin-based credit union lacks by having a small branch network it makes up for with a robust online presence, free nationwide ATM network and a high-interest checking account. Its Xtraordinary Checking has a couple of hoops to jump through to earn monthly rewards, such as enrolling in e-statements and making one direct deposit, one online bill payment and 15 debit card transactions each month. Fulfilling those four requirements earns you 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000, and 0.25% APY above that. Otherwise, the rate is 0.20% APY. The account has no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement, but 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.)

Consumers free rewards checking

NerdWallet has rated this bank:

Consumers+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Joining this Illinois-based credit union only requires a $5 donation to a sponsoring association and a minimum of $5 in a savings account. The checking has no monthly fees or minimum balances and provides check writing. Although its branches are only in Illinois, you can take advantage of thousands of branches and free ATMs nationwide thanks to the credit union’s participation in the Co-op network.

Unlike the account’s other perks, you have to work for its high interest rates. There are four basic requirements to earn any of the rewards 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 and access online banking once monthly.

Without doing anything more, you earn 3.09% APY on up to $10,000 — a rate that’s head and shoulders over what most other financial institutions offer — and get any out-of-network ATM fees reimbursed. If you fulfill the four requirements plus spend $500 on a Consumers credit card monthly, your rate bumps up to 3.59% APY on up to $15,000. And making $1,000 in credit card purchases instead of $500 moves your rate up to 4.59% APY. Money above any of those maximum balances receives the much lower rate of 0.10% or 0.20%. 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.)

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

Updated December 15, 2017.


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 include: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express, 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, Chime, CIT, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, EverBank, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First National Bank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, GoBank, Golden 1 Credit Union, GS Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, M&T Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, PurePoint Financial, Qapital, 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, Varo, Wells Fargo, Woodforest National Bank, and Zions Bank.

How we rate banks and credit unions