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NerdWallet’s Best Online Checking Accounts of 2016

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Online-only banking has come a long way since the days of its earliest adopters. Now, many traditional banks have embraced some features of these institutions, including free ATM access, robust websites and mobile-friendly features, such as remote check deposit.

The best online banks still usually offer higher interest rates and friendlier fee structures than brick-and-mortar banks, because of the amount they save by not owning branches or ATMs. And they’re just as secure, backed by the FDIC.

» MORE: Switch banks in four steps

Here are some of our favorite online checking accounts.

Best interest rate for most balances

BANK5 CONNECT HIGH-INTEREST CHECKING, 0.76% APY

Along with its outstanding annual percentage yields, Bank5 Connect gives members access to thousands of free ATMs and reimburses up to $15 per month in fees racked up at other banks’ ATMs. It has strong online and mobile banking platforms and low fees: There’s no monthly service fee and the $15 overdraft penalty is well below the national median of $34.

You’ll have to put down $10 to open an account and maintain a balance of at least $100 to earn interest. You might find slightly better rates at other banks, but they’ll be harder to qualify for than Bank5 Connect’s 0.76% APY.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best checking accounts of 2016

Best customer service

ALLY INTEREST CHECKING

Ally provides strong rates, more than 43,000 surcharge-free ATMs and exceptional customer service. You can contact Ally via:

  • A call center staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Real-time chat.
  • Secure messaging in online banking.
  • Nonsecure messaging via a form on the main Ally website.
  • Twitter.

Ally also offers a great digital experience that includes all the online banking essentials in an easy-to-use package. Customers can even conduct their Ally business on Amazon Kindle, a rarity among online-only banks.

» MORE: How to deposit cash at an online-only bank

Best overdraft policy

360 CHECKING® BY CAPITAL ONE

This Capital One checking account gives you several ways to handle overdrafts. You can:

  • Apply for an overdraft line of credit, a short-term borrowing option with a reasonable 11.50% interest rate and no transfer fees.
  • Use a 360 Savings account to cover overdrafts for free.
  • Opt out of overdraft protection, allowing the bank to decline charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover.

In other words, you keep yourself out of trouble by declining overdraft protection. And if you do opt in, you’ll pay a fraction of typical overdraft fees — if you pay anything at all.

The 360 Checking account also offers excellent online and mobile tools and fee-free access to more than 43,000 Allpoint ATMs.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s top high-yield online savings accounts

Best debit card alternative to traditional checking

SIMPLE

Banking startup Simple had more than 100,000 checking customers when BBVA acquired it in early 2014. It built that user base by designing a top-notch set of digital tools.

Instead of making spending decisions based on your available balance, a figure that can be misleading, Simple users can check their “safe to spend” number. It’s an estimate of the amount you can afford to spend based on your balance, upcoming bills and savings goals.

Withdrawals within the massive Allpoint ATM network are fee-free, though you can withdraw only a total of $500 within any 24-hour period, a lower limit than some other online banks’.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best free checking accounts of 2016

Best ATM options

BANK OF INTERNET REWARDS CHECKING

Bank of Internet’s Rewards Checking account comes with unlimited ATM reimbursements nationwide, making it ideal for frequent travelers used to paying out-of-network penalties.

What’s more, the account doesn’t charge monthly maintenance or overdraft fees. Customers who receive direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 and make at least 15 debit card transactions per month qualify for an APY of 1.25%. It offers online bill pay and mobile check-deposit services, too.

SCHWAB HIGH-YIELD INVESTOR CHECKING

Schwab High-Yield Investor Checking provides unlimited fee rebates on ATM withdrawals at cash machines worldwide. The account is free and there is no minimum deposit requirement. Schwab offers all of the services one would expect from a digital bank, including online bill pay and mobile check deposit.

The account has a relatively low APY of 0.02%, but it also comes with a free brokerage account.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: tony@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm. John Gower of NerdWallet contributed to this report.

Updated Oct. 11, 2016.


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 USA, 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 BankNavy 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.