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NerdWallet’s Best Checking Accounts of 2016

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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

Bank5 Connect offers a stellar annual percentage yield (APY), but that’s not all. As a member of the SUM ATM network, this online bank provides customers with access to thousands of surcharge-free cash machines. It will also pay up to $15 per month for fees racked up at other banks’ ATMs.

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

Along with a competitive interest rate and access to over 43,000 free ATMs, users of Ally‘s Interest Checking account enjoy excellent customer service. The online-only bank keeps its call center staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offers a live chat service with wait times rarely exceeding a couple minutes. Customers can reach out on Facebook and Twitter for additional support. If you’re looking to bank online but would like your questions answered by an actual person every so often, Ally might be for you.

Bank of Internet Rewards Checking

To qualify for Bank of Internet’s 1.25% APY, customers must receive monthly direct deposits of at least $1,000 and use their debit card no fewer than 15 times every four weeks. This free checking account comes with unlimited ATM reimbursements nationwide, as well as online bill pay and mobile check deposit.

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

Schwab High Yield Investor Checking offers unlimited fee rebates on ATMs around the world, making it ideal for frequent jetsetters who don’t want to worry about withdrawing cash while abroad. The account is free and doesn’t require an initial deposit. Schwab offers all the services one would expect from a digital bank, including online bill pay and mobile check deposit. The 0.06% APY is low, but this account does come with a free brokerage account.

Best credit union accounts

ALLIANT CREDIT UNION HIGH-RATE CHECKING

Alliant‘s digital tools are a step ahead of those offered by other credit unions. Its mobile check-deposit feature, for instance, lets members make daily deposits of up to $20,000. What’s more, account holders can qualify for an APY of 0.65% by opting out of paper statements and having at least one electronic deposit made to their accounts each month, which includes direct, ATM and mobile deposits, as well as transfers from other financial institutions.

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

Along with a solid lineup of online tools and over 50,000 free ATMs, the Connexus Xtraordinary Checking account offers customers an APY of 1.75% on balances under $25,000.

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.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best free checking accounts

Best brick-and-mortar bank and best sign-up bonus

CHASE TOTAL CHECKING

Chase offers new customers who set up direct deposit a welcome bonus of $150 (expires 10/15/16). You can avoid a $12 monthly maintenance fee by signing up for direct deposit or keeping a minimum balance of $1,500.

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?

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best rewards checking accounts

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.

SIMPLE

Like checking accounts at most banks and credit unions, Simple lets customers sign up for direct deposit, pay their bills online and more. But what makes this account stand out is its handy budgeting tool, called Safe-to-Spend. It factors in your monthly bills and savings goals to show how much you can actually afford to spend on nonessential expenses without getting into a hole. Simple also gives customers access to 55,000 free ATMs.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best prepaid debit cards of 2016

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


METHODOLOGY

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.

» MORE OPTIONS: See our checking account tool