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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, even many traditional banks have embraced the hallmarks of these institutions, including free ATM access, robust websites and mobile-friendly features such as remote check deposit.

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

» MORE: Switch banks in four steps

Here are some of our favorite online checking accounts.

Best interest rate for all balances

BANK5 CONNECT HIGH-INTEREST CHECKING, 0.76% APY

Along with its outstanding annual percentage yield (APY), Bank5 Connect gives members access to thousands of free ATMs and reimburses up to $15 per month for 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 when opening an account, and will be asked to maintain a balance of at least $100 to trigger the strong rate. Although you might find slightly better rates at other banks, they won’t be as easy to qualify for as Bank5 Connect’s 0.76% APY is.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best checking accounts and debit cards

Best customer service

ALLY INTEREST CHECKING

Along with strong rates and over 43,000 surcharge-free ATMs, Ally provides exceptional customer service. Among its features:

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

Notably, Ally was the only institution to get perfect scores on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest annual roundup of consumer-friendly banks.

Ally also offers a great digital experience, with all the essentials of online banking covered in an easy-to-use package. Customers can even conduct their banking 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 two ways to handle overdrafts. You can:

  • Apply for an overdraft line of credit, a short-term borrowing option with a reasonable interest rate of 11.50% and no transfer fees.
  • Allow the bank to decline to pay charges that you don’t have enough cash to cover.

In other words, you keep yourself out of trouble by having either no overdraft service or an affordable option that costs you a fraction of typical overdraft fees.

The 360 Checking account also offers an excellent lineup of online and mobile tools, along with fee-free access to over 38,000 Allpoint ATMs. And as with most debit cards, you can get cash back with no fee at many stores.

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

Best debit card alternatives to traditional checking

SIMPLE

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

Instead of focusing on your available balance, a figure that can be misleading, Simple offers you a “safe to spend” number, an estimate of how much you can afford right now based on your balance, upcoming bills and savings goals.

Withdrawals within the massive Allpoint ATM network are fee-free, though total withdrawals in any 24-hour period are limited to $500, lower than some other online banks.

MOVEN

A free mobile-only account, Moven comes with a debit card and access to 42,000 free ATMs. Its easy-to-understand graphics give users a real-time snapshot of their finances. Customer service is limited to email tickets and support via Twitter and Facebook — Moven doesn’t list a phone number on its website. Still, if you want to bank on your iPhone or Android device, Moven deserves a closer look.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best free checking accounts

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 getting hit with out-of-network penalties.

What’s more, the account charges no monthly maintenance or overdraft fees. Customers who receive monthly direct deposits of at least $1,000 and make at least 15 debit card transactions in the same timespan will qualify for an APY of 1.25%. Online bill pay and mobile check-deposit services are available, too.

SCHWAB HIGH YIELD INVESTOR CHECKING

Schwab High Yield Investor Checking also offers unlimited fee rebates on ATM withdrawals, only it does so for cash machines around the world. 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.

Although the account has a relatively low APY of 0.06%, 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.

This article was updated April 8, 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.