Your checking account is the backbone of your financial life. Your income flows there, and you use it for everything from paying bills to going to the movies. It’s no wonder you’d want an account with low fees, good customer service and an accessible ATM network. If your cash earns interest, even better.
Below, we’ve rounded up the best checking accounts in several categories.
Best interest rate for all balances
BANK5 CONNECT HIGH-INTEREST CHECKING, 0.76% APY
Fees are generally low: There are no monthly maintenance charges, and the $15 overdraft fee is well below the national median of $34. Customers must put down an initial deposit of $10, and a balance of at least $100 is required to trigger the high APY. You may find slightly better rates at other banks, but they won’t be as easy to qualify for as Bank5 Connect’s 0.76% APY.
Best online-only options
Ally Interest Checking
Bank of Internet Rewards Checking
360 Checking® by Capital One
This Capital One checking account comes with all the gizmos one would expect from an online bank, and its APY of 0.20% is nothing to sneer at. But where this account really separates itself from the pack is in its overdraft policy. Instead of hitting customers with a flat fee, Capital One charges interest at an 11.50% annual rate on the overdrawn amount. That means that if you try to make a purchase that exceeds your balance by $50 and it takes you a week to replenish your account, you’ll have to cough up only 11 cents in fees. That’s a remarkably forgiving policy, especially when compared with overdraft fees at other banks.
Your other option is simply to have the bank decline to pay charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover. If overdrawing your account has gotten you into trouble in the past, consider opening an account at Capital One.
Schwab High Yield Investor Checking
Best credit union accounts
ALLIANT CREDIT UNION HIGH-RATE CHECKING
Becoming a member is just as easy: All it takes is a one-time donation of $10 to an Alliant-affiliated nonprofit. And for that you also get access to more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs and a minimum of fees.
CONNEXUS XTRAORDINARY CHECKING
To qualify for this sky-high rate, customers must enroll in electronic statements and do the following each month: make 15 debit card transactions, receive at least one direct deposit, and schedule at least one online bill payment. If you don’t live within this credit union’s field of membership, a one-time donation of $5 to Connexus Association will get you in the door.
Best brick-and-mortar bank and best sign-up bonus
CHASE TOTAL CHECKING
Bonus aside, this account is a winner for people who prefer a big-bank experience (5,300 branches and 15,500 ATMs) and the option of having multiple types of accounts at one place. We don’t recommend choosing your primary checking account based solely on a sign-up bonus. But if you like the account and its features anyway, why not get a little something extra?
Best debit card alternative to traditional checking
Traditional checking accounts aren’t for everyone. If you don’t care about branches or checkbooks, and are comfortable with just a debit card, a website and your smartphone, here are a couple of alternatives.
Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm. Virginia C. McGuire and Devan Goldstein of NerdWallet contributed to this report.
This article was updated May 9, 2016. It was originally published in December 2012.
To determine the best accounts, we took a close look at more than 50 financial institutions: the largest U.S. banks based on assets, debit card volume and Internet search traffic; the nation’s largest credit unions with broad-based membership requirements; and other notable and/or emerging players in the industry.
Financial institutions surveyed: ableBanking, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, American Express, AmTrust Direct, Associated Bank, Bank5 Connect, Bank of America, Bank of Internet, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, CIT, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Discover Bank, EverBank, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First Convenience Bank, GoBank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, MetaBank, Moven, M&T Bank, MUFG Union Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Regions Bank, Santander, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Simple, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, SunTrust, Synchrony Bank, TD Bank, Union Bank, USAA, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.
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