Holding a checking account is a great way to keep your money safe yet easily accessible to you. Most checking accounts also come with a debit card, allow you to take cash out of an ATM, and can be managed online or from your smartphone.
If you’re just getting started with a checking account, the options can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created a list of the best checking accounts available and provided a guide for how to choose the right checking account for you.
- The best checking accounts of January 2021
- Best checking account for earning interest
- Best checking account for getting paid faster
- Best checking account for investing
- Best checking account for travel
- Best checking account with no fees
- Best checking account for low balance
- Best checking account for customer service
- Best checking account if you like to do banking in-person
- Best checking account for writing checks
- How to pick the best checking account for you
- Our methodology
- FAQs about checking accounts
The best checking accounts of January 2021
Best checking account for earning interest: Axos Rewards Checking
Axos Rewards Checking offers you the opportunity to earn rewards for using your account in a variety of ways. You can earn an interest rate of 0.4166% on your balance for each of the following three things: monthly direct deposits totaling $1,000 or more, using your Axos debit card for 10 transactions per month, and using your Axos debit card for a total of 15 transactions per month. Altogether that means you can earn up to 1.25% on your account balance (as of Oct. 27, 2020). Given that checking accounts rarely pay interest at all, this is a pretty substantial return.
In addition, this account is pretty fee free. It does not charge overdraft or insufficient fund fees. There are also no maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements. Plus, you only need $50 to open the account.
Best checking account for getting paid faster: Radius Bank Rewards Checking
Nobody wants to wait for their checks to clear. But with Radius Bank Rewards Checking, you can get your direct deposits up to two days faster. On top of that, you can earn up to .15% APY on your money (as of Oct. 27, 2020). And on top of that, you can earn 1% cash back every time you use your Radius cashback debit card. Between your interest rate, your early paycheck, and your cashback rewards, this checking account can be a real money maker.
Best checking account for investing: Stash Banking
If you’re thinking you’d like to get started investing in the stock market, the Stash Banking account would be the best fit for you. To open a Stash Banking account, you first need to open a Stash Invest account. The combination of these two accounts allows you to earn Stock-Back rewards® when you use your Stash debit card. That means you can grow your stock market investments just by going shopping.1
Best checking account for travel: Betterment Checking
For easy access to your money while you travel domestically or internationally, Betterment Checking could be the best fit for you. With Betterment Checking you get a debit card equipped to swipe or to use tap-to-pay. And your ATM and foreign transaction fees will all be reimbursed.
This account also has no minimum deposit to open and no minimum balance required, so if you’re expecting to travel in the future, this could be a good account for you to open now.
Best checking account with no fees: Varo Online Checking
The Varo Online Checking Account is a great fit if you’re looking to avoid as many banking fees as possible. It has no monthly maintenance fee, no minimum balance fee, no foreign transaction fee, no overdraft fee, and no ATM fee for in-network use.
And although a number of the accounts on this list feature little to no fees, only the Varo Online Checking Account also offers both mobile check deposit and the ability to issue checks from your account.
Best checking account for low balance: Chime Spending
If you tend to carry a low balance and cut it a little tight with spending (really, who doesn’t from time to time?), then the Chime Spending account could be a best fit for you. Like some of the other accounts on this list, Chime offers the ability for you to get your paycheck up to two days early. But on top of that, the Chime SpotMe feature covers any accidental overdrafts up to $100 so your purchases aren’t declined, and it won’t charge you an overdraft fee either.2,3
Best checking account for customer service: Current
For the ability to communicate with customer service at all times of the day and in a variety of ways, a Current checking account could be the right account for you. Current customer support is available 24/7 and 365 days per year.
With Current, you also have the ability to communicate with customer service via email, phone, and chat. Only one other checking account on our list offers those same three methods of communication, and that account has some fees as well as a minimum deposit to open. Current has neither of these.
Best checking account if you like to do banking in-person: BBVA Free Checking
BBVA offers banking solutions for people who like the idea of banking online, but also still prefer to visit a physical location on occasion. Sometimes you just can’t replace the ability to bank in-person. The BBVA Free Checking Account also offers cashback rewards when you shop with certain retail partners and use your BBVA card to make debit card purchases, on top of having no monthly service charge and no ATM fee in-network.
Best checking account for writing checks: Simple
Although there are a lot of online banking options, and you can get a lot done from a mobile phone app, sometimes you still need to write a paper check. That’s not a problem with a Simple bank account. You can order a book of paper checks for a very small fee. This account may also earn you a small bit of interest, which may not seem like much of a perk, but it’s more than the majority of checking accounts offer.
How to pick the best checking account for you
As you compare the best checking accounts available, you’ll still need to consider what’s important to you to pick the right one for your goals and lifestyle.
According to the Federal Reserve, customers spend an average of $250 annually on bank fees. The largest percentage of those fees come from overdraft or non-sufficient fund fees, which occur when a customer tries to complete a transaction without the actual money to do so. Meaning, you write a check for more than you have in the bank. But even some of the best banks also charge monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance fees on top of ATM and check fees.
When choosing the best checking account, consider what you’re willing to pay for the conveniences offered. There are many low fee options and also checking accounts without any maintenance or overdraft fees. So there’s really no reason to pay any fees at all for your checking account. If you currently have a checking account where you are forking over money to your bank every month, you’re probably getting a bad deal.
Some checking accounts charge ATM fees, while others have a large network of ATMs you can use for free. A checking account that doesn’t provide easy and free access to cash might be a huge hassle for you. Sometimes, it’s not about the number of ATMs in a bank’s network, but more about which bank has a free ATM near you. Then again, you might not care if you generally write checks or use other payment options besides cash.
If you regularly use ATMs, make sure you pick a bank that doesn't charge in-network ATM fees for making ATM withdrawals. Some banks will also provide ATM fee rebates, also called ATM fee reimbursements. This means if you use an out-of-network ATM, they may credit your account back for the extra fees you pay.
Different banks will require different minimum deposits to open a checking account, so you’ll need to consider how much cash you have on hand if you want to become an account holder at that particular financial institution. You should also make sure you can maintain the minimum balance needed to avoid any fees (if one is required).
If you receive income via direct deposit, it’s important to consider how much time these deposits will take before the money becomes accessible to you. Some banks get your funds to you earlier than others, which can be helpful if you’re living paycheck to paycheck or have an unpredictable schedule that causes cash flow issues. Or, getting your earnings a couple of days early might not matter to you at all. Consider your needs when choosing the best checking account for you.
APY stands for annual percentage yield. It is the money you earn in interest on your account balance. While most traditional banks offer little to no interest on a checking account, there are online banks that offer great potential for earning interest with their checking accounts. This might not be a huge selling point, since you can likely earn more if you deposit money into a high-yield savings account, but it’s something to consider if you want to keep your cash accessible while also earning some interest.
Online vs. in-person banking
If you find it annoying to wait in line at a traditional bank, you’ll probably be better served by an online bank. Online banks also typically have lower fees, as well as apps and websites that provide you with all the financial assistance you could need. But if it’s important for you to be able to speak to a banker in-person, you should consider a brick-and-mortar bank. More and more traditional banks are offering mobile banking, though, so you can change your mind on how you want to bank on any given day.
Availability of other products
Some people don't mind having a credit card with one bank and a checking account with another. But you might prefer to have more of your financial products with one institution. In that case, you may want to look for a bank or credit union that not only has checking accounts, but also offers other deposit accounts like money market accounts or savings accounts. Some banks even offer brokerage accounts.
The companies and financial institutions we chose for our best checking accounts list are all current partners with FinanceBuzz. We did not evaluate all companies in the market. Companies were evaluated according to a set of criteria, and then we used editorial judgment to determine what use or user each account would be best for.
FinanceBuzz evaluation criteria include:
- FDIC or NCUA insured: To make our list, a checking account must be FDIC insured, or NCUA insured in the case of credit unions.
- Account minimums: All listed accounts have no minimum balance requirement or average daily balance requirement to remain open without incurring fees. Some also have no minimum deposit required to open.
- Fees: A variety of fees were taken into account in our assessment. Fees evaluated include monthly maintenance, ATM, minimum balance, foreign transaction, and overdraft fees.
- Account features: Checking accounts were evaluated on the availability of certain features such as paper checks, mobile deposits, rewards on spending, and whether the account is interest bearing.
- Customer experience: Accounts were evaluated based on how the customer can access and manage the account (mobile app and/or web-based portal), as well as the methods by which the customer can communicate with support.
FAQs about checking accounts
What is required to open a checking account?
Requirements vary by bank, but you’ll typically need to be at least 18 years old and have a valid Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. You’ll also need to submit photo identification and provide proof of your current address.
How many checking accounts should I have?
There’s no magic number; it’s totally okay to have one or multiple checking accounts in your name. Sometimes, having more than one checking account can make it easier to organize your budget. For example, you might want a separate checking account for spending on your kids, or a business checking account for your business expenses.
How much should I keep in checking?
You should keep at least the minimum balance in your checking account and ensure you have enough to cover all your monthly bills. It’s a good idea to have a cushion to protect yourself from accidental overdrafts, but you shouldn’t keep too much money in your checking account if you could earn a better APY by moving some of that money into a savings account.
Is it better to have more money in checking or savings?
There’s no real need to choose between a checking vs savings account — it’s good to have both when it comes to handling your personal finances. Since it’s easier to access money in your checking account, you’ll want to ensure you keep enough in checking to cover your expenses. But any money you want to set aside for future financial goals may be best kept in a savings account.
Lindsay Frankel also contributed to this piece.