Will you benefit more with a major bank whose ATM and branch locations are all over the United States? Would you be needing more of an online bank that allows you to deposit and transfer funds electronically?
A good checking account is one with low or no fees, has access to an extensive ATM network, with a low opening balance requirement, and other features that work for you. Throw in an interest-earning feature, if you can find one.
If you’re after a good experience, you may want to check the bank’s customer service ratings and client reviews. These are important factors that can dictate the quality of your interaction with a bank.
Here are The Smart Investor Select’s picks for the top checking accounts:
There are five types of checking accounts available with Axos Bank. These are:
- Essential Checking: This account has no monthly fee or overdraft fees. There is no minimum balance requirement and you can enjoy unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements. Axos Bank can also allow you to receive direct deposit funds up to two days early.
- Rewards Checking: The Reward Checking account has a $50 minimum balance and it offers all the benefits of Essential Checking, but there is a higher APY of 1.25%. However, to receive the full rate, you need to use your Axos debit card for 10+ transactions a month and receive at least $1,000 a month by direct deposit.
- CashBack Checking: This account offers 1% cash back on all shopping purchases requiring a signature. It has no monthly fees and offers unlimited check writing privileges.
- First Checking: This is designed for children aged 13 to 17 to help them learn good money management skills. The account offers 0.10% APR with no monthly or overdraft fees. There are daily transaction limits and parents can also impose account restrictions.
- Golden Checking: This account is open to people aged 55 plus. There is a $50 minimum balance, but you’ll earn 0.10% APR on any balances.
All checking accounts provide access to the Axos Bank digital tools including online bill pay, and free mobile banking.
CIT Bank offers a solid checking account to fulfill all your needs. First of all, the barrier to entry is low with only a $100 minimum deposit required. And no matter what your account balance, you can earn competitive interest rates on the money in your checking account.
Each holder of a CIT account is issued a debit card with chip technology. And withdrawals are free at all CIT ATMs. If you need to use an ATM outside of the CIT branch, that’s okay too, as they reimburse up to $30 of ATM fees each month, which basically gives you easy access to your money for free.
The convenient CIT mobile app means you can check your balance, send Zelle payments, and deposit checks all from the convenience of your phone. And if you work weird hours, don’t worry as these features are available around the clock. The best part of all? A checking account with CIT has no monthly fees.
Aspiration's spend & save account is a cash management account that allows you to save money in a savings account and spend using a debit card. Customers can do their transactions online and via an app.
They offer one of the highest APYs for a savings account and customers can withdraw 5 times from an ATM without having to pay anything. Depositors can transfer funds from their Spend and Save accounts without limit.
Aspiration used to offer Summit account, their version of a checking account. But the bank has phased this product out and transitioned it to the Spend & Save account. This means that Spend & Save is a hybrid account that has both checking and savings account properties.
Here are the main key specs you should know about Aspiration's spend & save account;
- Up to 1.0% APY on the entire balance of your Save account
- No minimum balance fee (choose your own monthly fee)
- 0.25% cashback reward on your Spend account
- 5 free ATM withdrawals per month
- Unlimited transfers between your Spend account and Save account
The Ally Bank interest checking accounts is a singular checking account that offers a tiered interest rate structure. The yields vary depending on your minimum daily balance in your account. There are no monthly maintenance fees with your checking account.
You can access your checking account in more than 43,000 ATMs through the Allpoint network. You can also deposit your checks remotely through your phone and computer. This allows you to stay connected and update your finances regardless of your location. Your checking accounts also come with free checks and debit cards, which is an added bonus.
Some positive aspects of the Ally Bank checking account system are the ability to earn interest on your daily balance. You do not need a minimum deposit and there are zero monthly fees. Along with the lack of monthly fees, there are no added costs to having standard checks or debit cards.
Along with the positive benefits of having an Ally Bank checking account, there are also limited overdraft fees that are below the national average. You must be aware of your balance because you cannot incur more than one overdraft fee in a single day.
Capital One 360
The Capital One 360 checking accounts are mostly used and operated online for your optimal convenience. You can easily pay your bills, get your cash, making deposits, and transfer your money without the added stress of a monthly fee. This allows you to condense your banking work without extra trips to your local bank.
You can easily open your checking account online and manage your account securely by signing onto your phone or computer. You do not have to rely on waiting for your bank to open. The hours are entirely at your disposal, which offers increased flexibility and user-based tools.
Another added benefit of opening a Capital One 360 checking account is the zero fees when opening a checking account. There are no fees when opening, keeping, or using your Capital One 360 account domestically or for foreign transactions. This is extremely helpful and beneficial to a traveling and busy adult.
There are also many other additions to this service. You can receive overnight check delivery, overnight delivery of a replacement a card, and request to stop payments. All of these are great improvements to your banking experience that limit any unnecessary stress.
Discover Checking Accounts offer unique offerings for your banking needs. Discover checking accounts allow you to earn cashback rewards. You earn one percent cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases monthly.
This is a unique feature along with their lack of charging fees with their checking accounts. There are no fees for your account maintenance, ordering checks, In-network ATM use, online bill pay, or replacement debit cards. Discover checking accounts also have no minimum balance requirements or activity requirements. This largely benefits the customer by eliminating excessive fees, while incorporating incentives to open an account.
It is simple to deposit paper checks as well. Discover uses a mobile app where you can easily track your spending, move your money, and deposit paper checks. These are exclusive features through Discover that just a few amongst the many features offered to satisfy their customer.
If you prefer online banking, instead of traveling to a physical banking branch, then this is the right bank for you. Your mobile deposit is secure and you are never held responsible for any unauthorized transactions.
Chime Spending Account
The Chime checking account is known as a Spending Account. It is a great way to build your financial standing due to its lack of fees or minimum balance. There are no monthly account fees or minimum balance requirements.
Chime banking offers a program that accelerates your direct deposits by making them available to you two days early. Once you establish a direct deposit into your Spending Account you are eligible to receive your early payment as soon as your employer deposits it.
If you receive a direct deposit of at least $500.00 monthly then you are eligible to enroll in Chime’s SpotMe service. This optional service allows you to overdraw your account by up to $20 on your debit card purchases without any extra fees.
Chime also can increase your SpotMe allowance up to $100 based on your account history. You can constantly check your SpotMe limit on your mobile app. This offers a great way to promote reliability between you and Chime. You can build your credit and financial independence with this consistent program.
Another benefit of using the Chime checking account system is the option for using paper checks. You can create a paper check with the mobile app and then it can be sent in the mail to you. This a great option if you require physical proof of your financial standing or any other official or unofficial reasons.
Bank Account Basics
What is a Checking Account?
A checking account is a type of deposit account that allows both deposits and withdrawals. Checking accounts are quite flexible, as you can access your funds via check, electronic debit or automatic teller machines, among other methods.
While a savings account may have a limit for withdrawals and deposits, checking accounts typically allow unlimited deposits and numerous withdrawals.
Most financial institutions offer different types of checking accounts. Commercial checking accounts are used by businesses with officers and managers of the business granted signing authority on the account.
Student checking accounts are typically free or have perks for the account holder until graduation. Joint checking accounts allow two or more people, typically marital partners to both sign on the account.
In exchange for this liquidity, most checking accounts do not offer high interest, some don’t offer interest at all. However, when held with a chartered banking institution, the FDIC guarantees funds of up to $250,000 per depositor.
Some banks also offer “sweep” checking accounts. This is ideal for those who carry large balances, as the excess funds in the account are withdrcawn and invested overnight into interest bearing funds. At the start of the next business day, the funds are returned to the checking account, together with any interest earned overnight.
How Do Checking Accounts Work?
While they may have started out as an account that allows you to write checks, modern checking accounts offer much more than this. The ultimate purpose of checking accounts is to provide a place to securely hold your money in the short term. This makes it available when you need to cover expenses or pay bills.
Today, checking accounts include debit cards that allow you to swipe to make a direct purchase, make online purchases or withdraw cash at the ATM. However, some banks do still provide a free set of checks, but since the use of personal checks is on the decline, this option is not always available.
Checking accounts aim to help you simplify your day to day finances. You can automate payments and deposits. You can arrange for your employer to direct deposit your paycheck into the account, and you can use online billing to ensure you pay all your expenses on time.
Like a savings account, each checking account has a unique account number. You can provide this to your employer for direct deposit of your salary, and you can also give this number along with your authority for utility companies and other providers to take the funds for your bills from your account without any need for you to intervene.
If you are eligible, you may also qualify for an overdraft facility. This will allow you to borrow funds for purchases and expenses for a fee.
Pros and Cons of a Checking Account
Like any financial product, there are both positives and negatives associated with checking accounts. It is important to be aware of these before you make a decision about any product.
- Easy Access to Funds: With a debit card, ATM, online transfers and direct debits, there are multiple ways to access your funds from your account.
- FDIC Insured: Most checking accounts are covered by FDIC insurance. So, you can feel confident that your funds are safe.
- Tracking: With your checking account, you will have a record of deposits and your spending. This can be a great help for budgeting, as you can see where your money is going. Some checking accounts also allow you to set limits on your debit card to more easily manage your money.
- Little or No Interest: Any funds you have in your checking account will earn little to no interest. This can be a little frustrating if there is a period between your paycheck arriving in your account and your expenses being withdrawn.
- Fees May Apply: You will also need to consider that your checking account may attract fees. The most common are overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees and ATM fees.
- Account Minimums: Some accounts require that you receive a minimum amount into the account each month, or you may need to keep a minimum balance.
How to Choose the Right Checking Account For Your Needs
Since most banks offer multiple checking account options, choosing the right account for your needs can be a little tricky. However, there are some simple ways to identify the best accounts for you.
Decide the Type of Account
There are multiple types of checking accounts, so you first need to determine the type of account that is best for your requirements.
- Standard Checking: This is a basic checking account that typically offers features including a debit card, and direct deposits
- High Interest Checking: Unlike many checking accounts, this type allows you to earn interest on any balance.
- Cash Back Checking: These types of accounts help you to earn a little on your purchases. So, you may earn 1% cash back on spending up to a limit each month.
- Other Checking: These are designed specifically for certain types of customers. So, there are students, seniors, business checking accounts etc.
Once you know which type of account you’re looking for, you can start to narrow down your choices.
Online or In Person?
Next, you need to think about whether you want to open your checking account with an online institution or at a traditional bricks and mortar bank.
There are many online institutions offering all the benefits of a traditional bank, but often offering high interest, cash back or other incentives. However, if you like being able to visit a branch if you have any queries, you’re likely to prefer a high street bank.
You also need to consider the accessibility. Many banks allow free ATM withdrawals, but you must use their ATM network. So, you need to ensure that your chosen institution has branches and ATMs in your neighborhood.
Another aspect of accessibility is whether there is an app to manage your account or if you can access your account online.
What Else Should You Consider When Choosing a Checking Account?
Once you have narrowed down your options, you need to consider what fees apply. Many banks charge a monthly service fee, which is taken from your account each month. Some banks waive the fees if you maintain a minimum balance. However, online banks typically don’t charge a service fee.
There are also other types of fees that may apply. These include overdraft fees and out of network ATM fees. If you travel a lot, you should also check what foreign transaction fees are imposed if you use your debit card abroad.
How Much Money Should I Keep in My Checking Account?
Since checking accounts don’t typically pay much interest, but you may need to keep a minimum balance in the account, how much money you should keep in your checking account can be tricky.
Generally speaking, you should aim to keep one to two months of your living expenses in your checking account, with a 30% buffer for unexpected expenses.
It is a good idea to keep a spending log for two or three months to track how much you typically spend in a month. Don’t forget to include payments automatically deducted from your account and your card purchases. Once you have an idea of how much you spend in an average month, you can ensure that you keep sufficient funds in your account and avoid any costly overdraft fees.
Just remember to also consider if your account has a minimum balance and factor this into your calculations.
Savings are a crucial part of financial stability. Whether you have an emergency fund or investment funds, savings can provide security against unforeseen events or situations. As you can see in this chart using 2019 FED Survey of Consumer Finances data, Americans are saving more. In 2016, American savings had a value of $0.92 trillion. This has steadily increased over time to reach $1.29 trillion in 2019.
Is My Money Safe in an Online Checking Account?
Online banks are generally safe, but you do need to check that your online checking account is insured by the FDIC. This will ensure that your checking account has the same protections that would be enjoyed by holders of a traditional bricks and mortar checking account.
FDIC insurance provides coverage for up to $250,000. You can use the FDIC BankFind tool to ensure that specific banks are insured. You can do this by searching by bank name or website address.
In addition to FDIC protection, there are some safety precautions when banking online. You should:
- Never use a link received via email or txt. Always type the website address into your browser.
- Change your password regularly and ensure it isn’t used elsewhere.
- Set text message alerts to check for unauthorized transactions on the account.
- Use multi factor authentication. A two step process adds a little work, but it does add another layer of security.
Best Uses For a Checking Account
A checking account is not the solution for all financial goals, however, there are some best uses for such an account including:
- Keep Cash Reserves Safe: While it may still be possible to cash your paycheck and pay all your bills in cash, keeping lots of money at home or on your person is a risk. Keeping your money in a checking account allows you easy access to your funds, while keeping them secure. Additionally, some companies will offer an incentive, such as a discount if you opt to pay them through ACH debit.
- Enjoying More Payment Options: A checking account provides greater flexibility to access your funds. You can initiate digital transfers, use a debit card, withdraw cash at an ATM and more.
- Eliminate Check Cashing Fees: Most employers don’t pay by cash, they pay via direct deposit or check. So, if you don’t have a checking account, you’re likely to need to pay a fee to cash your paycheck.
- Easier Bill Payment: Modern checking accounts often have intuitive online features including a bill payment dashboard. This allows you to pay your bills directly out of your account, or you can set up automatic bill pay for even easier payment.
- Tracking Your Finances: If you’re trying to manage your money, it is important to understand how you spend it. A checking account provides a statement of when your money comes in and out of your account, making it easier to track your finances.
- Access Member Benefits: Many banks offer checking account customers specific benefits or perks. For example, you may access insurance offers or retail discounts by opening up a checking account.
How Do ATM Networks Like MoneyPass and Allpoint Work?
Companies like MoneyPass and Allpoint operate a network of ATM machines. Businesses and locations such as grocery stores and gas stations essentially rent an ATM on the network, and receive a share of the fees charged by those using it to withdraw cash. MoneyPass or Allpoint maintain the machine, performing repairs and filling it with cash, while the business provides an accessible location, where customers can use the machine.
From a consumer point of view, the ATM networks partner with banks and financial institutions, allowing you access to the ATMs with no fees. The choice of network will depend on the bank that you choose.
If your bank participates with a network, you will find that when you use your card to withdraw cash or perform another transaction, there is no surcharge. However, you need to be careful, as if your bank is not connected to a specific network, there will be a fee for each transaction.
You also need to check whether there are other fees associated with the network. For example, Allpoint machines are available in different areas of the world, but you may incur a foreign transaction fee if you use a machine outside the US.
Can I Make Payments From a Checking Account?
We’ve touched on this, but it is worth reiterating. One of the benefits of a checking account is that it offers flexibility in the ways you can access your funds. With a checking account and its associated debit card, you can withdraw cash and make payments in a number of different ways. These include:
- Swiping Your Card: If you’re in a store, you can pay for your purchases by swiping your debit card and the funds will be taken out of your checking account.
- Making an Online Payment: You can also use your card details online if you make a purchase. However, there may be a verification process where you need to confirm the transaction with an SMS code.
- ACH Debits: You can also make payments for your regular bills by setting up an automated debit.
- Initiating Transfers: Finally, you can make payments to businesses, individuals or even to your other bank accounts by initiating a transfer. You can usually do this online, by speaking to the customer support team or by speaking to a teller.
Checking Account: Should I Be Concerned About Inflation?
Inflation is a concern when considering your long term finances. If the rate of inflation is 2% and your savings account pays 1.5%, in the long term, you’ll be losing some of the buying power of your money.
This means that you need to seriously consider how the rate of interest compares to inflation, if you’re planning on leaving your money in an account.
However, a checking account is designed for short term, day to day transactions. Since most checking accounts pay little to no interest, it is not the right account to leave large sums. The best way to use a checking account is to have sufficient funds, along with a contingency to cover all your typical monthly expenses.
If your checking account requires a monthly balance, you will need to look at what benefits it offers to offset tying up your funds and potentially having an issue with inflation. Most accounts that require a minimum balance offer some great benefits, which more than compensate for having an interest rate below the rate of inflation.
Online Bank or Credit Union Checking Account?
Another area worthy of consideration is whether you should open up a checking account with an online bank or credit union. These days, there is far more choice than relying on your high street bank for checking facilities. Credit unions and online banks have created far more competition in the marketplace, allowing consumers to reap some interesting benefits.
In terms of convenience, online banks and credit unions have few differences, particularly if your local credit union offers good online services and access to a nationwide ATM network. Both types of institutions offer equal safety in terms of federal government backed insurance.
The main differences are that credit unions tend to offer lower fees and better interest for savings accounts and borrowing services. However, online banks tend to have more advanced technology, so you can access your account via app or online with more functionality.
Another potential difference is that large online banks tend to have less flexibility in regards to decision making, and you may experience better customer service with a credit union. However, credit unions tend to operate independently, so they may not all offer the same products and services.
So, it may be worthwhile checking what is on offer at your local credit union and comparing it with the latest online bank offerings.
What Are the Fees Associated With Checking Accounts? How Can I Avoid Them?
The fees associated with checking accounts can vary depending on the financial institution and specific account terms. Typically, you will need to consider monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and ATM surcharges.
Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid or minimize the charges on your checking account.
Maintain the Minimum Balance:
Many of the major banks will waive monthly maintenance fees if you keep a minimum balance in the account. This may take the form of an average daily balance or the balance on the last billing cycle day.
Use Direct Deposit
Another effective way to avoid checking account fees is to have your paycheck or other forms of income automatically deposited into your account via direct deposit. This is a great option if you would struggle to maintain the minimum balance. However, you need to be aware that many banks require a minimum direct deposit amount to qualify.Discounts
Some groups such as seniors citizens, students or veterans can qualify for discounted or waived service fees.
Open Other Accounts
You may also be able to avoid paying checking account fees by opening up other accounts with the same bank. Some banks will waive the fee if you open a savings account. This can also help you to more efficiently manage your money, as you can quickly and easily transfer surplus cash into an interest bearing account.
Choose a Fee Free Bank
Finally, look for banks or financial institutions that offer a free checking account. These are often loss leaders for the financial institution and you may be encouraged to open a savings account, loan or credit card account.
Typically, fee free accounts are offered by online banks and credit unions, but traditional bricks and mortar banks may offer similar products to compete.
Checking Vs Savings Account
Checking accounts don’t usually have restrictions about the number of transactions that you can do each month, while a savings account would have a limit to the number of withdrawals you can make in person or from an ATM. There could also be a limit on the number of transfers you can make from savings to checking accounts.
Generally, you can’t make direct payments from your savings account because of a federal law that limits some withdrawals. Experts call this provision of the law Regulation D.
It’s definitely easy to use the money in your checking account via an ATM withdrawal, writing a check, using your debit card, or paying electronically. So, if what you need is an account to disburse funds, a checking account is most appropriate.
Where Can You Open a Checking Account?
You will find that checking accounts are still a staple product of banks. If you need wide accessibility, you should go to the big banks like Chase, Citi, and Bank of America. These banks have the necessary facilities such that you can open your checking account in person or online. On the other hand, there are banks like Ally and Charles Schwab that have few or zero physical branches – you’ll have to access their website to open an account.
If you’re planning to open an account in a credit union, it may not be as easy as signing on with a bank.
Although some of the larger credit unions will let you join them if you donate to a designated association, the majority of credit unions limit their membership by region or trade. You need to investigate the options available for you depending on where you live or what you do professionally.
How to Open a Checking Account
The first step in opening an account – whether in a traditional branch or an online bank – is to fill out an application form. When opening in person, just tell the bank representative that you want to open a checking account. For an online account, simply click the “Apply Now” or “Open an Account” button on the bank’s website. The application form will help the bank evaluate whether it can allow you to open an account or not.
When you apply for a checking account, the bank will ask you to provide a government-issued ID such as your driver’s license or passport, plus your Social Security Number. You should be ready to show proof of residence, like a bill from the utility company or your lease contract.
Expect the bank to run a credit check on you because they would want to get an idea of your banking history. For example, if they see that you’ve failed to pay maintenance fees on former bank accounts, they may decline your application for an account.
If they approve your application, they would likely ask you to make an initial deposit although that would depend on the bank. Not all banks will do this and if they do, you will notice that the initial amount will differ from bank to bank. The point is to know how much the bank will ask so you can be ready with the amount before you open your account. You can bring the corresponding cash or at least be prepared to transfer funds from your other account.
In most cases, when you personally open an account, the bank will give you a temporary debit card and ask you to nominate a secure PIN.
They will send your permanent debit card and account paperwork through the mail to your reported address within a few days after opening. If you open an account online, you won’t have your debit card immediately – the bank will send it through the mail to your address.