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A Closer Look at Premium Checking

Banking, Checking Accounts
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A basic checking account can be an essential part of your financial life. But if you have the assets to qualify for the Cadillac version of checking, why not upgrade?

It usually takes a combined balance of at least $10,000 to qualify for a premier checking account, and if you do qualify, you can expect a range of perks that can include earning interest, free financial advice, waived fees and discounts on other financial products. (Note that some banks offer interest with no minimum balance; you can check those out with our best online checking roundup.)

Based on an evaluation of the premier checking accounts offered at the nation’s five largest banks, here’s what you can expect if you qualify for one of these accounts.

Bank Checking account Monthly fee Requirements to waive fee
Chase Premier Plus Checking $25 $15,000 in linked Chase accounts
Chase Premier Platinum Checking $25 ($35 in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York) $75,000 in linked Chase accounts
Bank of America Interest Checking $25 $10,000 in linked Bank of America or Merrill Lynch accounts
Bank of America Preferred Rewards $0, but account holders must have at least $20,000 in Bank of America or Merrill Lynch accounts to qualify N/A
Citibank Citigold $30 $50,000 in combined bank deposits and retirement funds or $100,000 in combined bank deposits, retirement funds and other investment products
Wells Fargo PMA Premier Checking, part of Wells Fargo’s PMA Package $30 $25,000 in combined bank deposits or $50,000 in banking, brokerage, and loan accounts (up to 10% of mortgage balance can be counted)
U.S. Bank Platinum Checking Package $17.95 $25,000 in deposits, investments, and credit balances

Highlights

  • Least restrictive: Bank of America Interest Checking, which requires a balance of only $10,000 to avoid a monthly fee.
  • Most waived fees: Citibank’s Citigold Account, which offers unlimited use of non-Citi ATMs with no Citibank fees, plus a range of other freebies.
  • Most generous interest rate: Wells Fargo PMA Premier Checking, which has a reasonable $5,000 minimum to qualify for an annual percentage yield, or APY, of 0.05%. Although you can beat that rate with a high yield online savings account, it’s a good return for a big bank checking account.

Overview of premium checking

Premier checking accounts reward what’s called relationship banking, in which a single financial services provider meets a range of customer needs — checking and savings; credit cards; investments; and home, auto and personal loans. These relationships benefit providers because they can hold a greater portion of their customers’ wealth — that’s why they waive fees and offer other incentives if your combined balances reach a certain level. If one of these five biggest banks can meet all of your needs, you might be rewarded with lower fees, higher interest rates on savings and the convenience of being able to manage most of your financial needs on one website or with one mobile banking app.

Here are some perks to look for when shopping for one of these accounts:

  • Waived fees for using out-of-network ATMs
  • Discounted mortgage rates and reduced closing costs — but make sure to find out what the rate will be. You might be able to find a lower rate from another lender
  • Special customer services
  • Low fees for international travelers, including free or low-cost wire transfers, no currency exchange charges and free international ATM use
  • A solid interest rate. Check out our checking account comparison tool to see what might be considered a good interest rate on a checking account

Are premier checking accounts worth it?

Normally, we don’t recommend keeping a lot of money in a checking account when it could be earning higher interest elsewhere. But the nice thing about these accounts is that they don’t require you to keep a high balance in your checking account at all — it can be growing for the future in a retirement account, providing security in a savings account or even providing a roof over your head in the form of a mortgage.

If you like banking with a large, well-resourced financial institution, then it can make sense to consolidate your accounts in one place. Even if you don’t have enough wealth to qualify for a premier account now, with careful management you may get there in the near future. And if you do have a significant nest egg, why not use it to reduce your overall bank fees, improve your banking experience and generally make your life a little easier?

For many people, premier checking accounts can be a smart choice.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.

This post was updated. It was originally published on March 12, 2012.