Checkless Banking: Is it Right for You?

Checkless banking offers all the benefits of regular checking accounts minus paper checks. Learn who it’s best for and why.

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Updated May 10, 2024
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Many people struggle with checking accounts. Without one, it’s difficult to conduct financial affairs safely, yet millions of Americans aren’t able to get approved for one due to past issues in their banking history.

The good news is that checkless banking is becoming more widely available and can help solve these problems. Best of all, they’re real checking accounts with all of the features you’d get with a traditional one — minus the ability to overdraft your account or write paper checks. Learn more to see how checkless banking works and whether it could help you.

In this article

Key takeaways

  • Checkless banking works just like a traditional checking account but without the ability to write paper checks or overdraft your account.
  • Checkless banking is a second-chance checking account that may be easier for you to get if you can’t get approved for a regular checking account.
  • You can still deposit paper checks, use a debit card, and transfer money in all of the same ways as normal — you just can’t use paper checks.

What is a checkless checking account?

As the name implies, a “checkless checking account” is a type of checking account that doesn’t allow you to write paper checks. Instead, if you need to make a purchase, you use a debit card, get cash from an ATM or bank teller, use a cash transfer app such as Zelle, or submit a digital ACH or wire transfer request.

Most checkless bank accounts also don’t allow overdrafts. If you try to pay for something and you don’t have the cash in your account, the payment will be declined as “non-sufficient funds.” They may also be more pared down than other checking accounts offered at the best banks. For example, they may not offer interest or rewards on your spending.

In general, checkless banking offers a no-frills way to manage your financial transactions without the ability to overdraft your account or use paper checks. Those factors also make checkless banking better for some people. We’ll dive into below to show you how.

Checkless vs. traditional checking

Checkless checking Traditional checking
  • Doesn’t allow overdrafts
  • Bare-bones account with fewer features
  • May be able to open with a negative banking history
  • Can’t write paper checks, but can deposit them
  • Can opt-in to allow overdrafts
  • May offer interest or come with special features
  • May be denied an account if you have a negative banking history
  • Can write and deposit paper checks

Who is a checkless checking account right for?

Checkless banking is generally best for a few different groups of people.

  • Teenagers
  • Chronic overspenders
  • People who’ve been denied traditional bank accounts

The legal landscape is patchy depending on what state you live in, but in many states, teens as young as 15 may be able to open their own checking account separate from their parents or any other co-owners.

This can be a way for teens with controlling or abusive parents to save up money so they can get to a safer and healthier living situation. Even in financially-friendly states, it can be hard to get approved for an account on your own as a minor, but some banks will allow teens to sign up for an independent checkless banking account.

Among some adults, it’s possible to develop unhealthy spending habits by chronically writing checks for more than you have in your bank account, especially if you know you have overdraft coverage and the check won’t clear for a few days. In this case, a checkless checking account can help you avoid that temptation by not allowing you to write paper checks.

Finally, checkless checking accounts are especially popular with people who are declined for regular checking accounts. This often happens if you’ve had past problems with overdrafting your checking account, which may have added negative marks to your ChexSystems report that future banks can see. It’s very similar to being denied for a credit card based on the info in your credit report. 

Checkless banking is a less risky way for you and the bank to establish a working relationship.

Who is a checkless checking account wrong for?

If you have a positive banking history — meaning you won’t be denied a bank account based on your ChexSystems report alone — then you’ll generally be able to qualify for most checking accounts, whether they come with paper checks or not. Some checkless banking accounts do offer nice bonuses and perks, particularly those from online fintech companies, but in general, checkless checking accounts won’t yield quite as many benefits as a normal checking account.

In particular, if you want overdraft coverage on your account and the ability to write checks, and you can qualify for general-purpose checking accounts, then checkless checking might not work for you. Even if you’re not a regular check-writer, having the option open to you in case a merchant doesn’t accept your preferred payment type can be very handy.

Top checkless checking accounts

Here’s a brief comparison of some top checkless checking accounts.

Monthly fee Minimum opening deposit Overdraft coverage
Wells Fargo Clear Access Banking $5, unless you meet waiver requirements $25 None
U.S. Bank Safe Debit $4.95 $25 None
Bank of America SafeBalance Banking $4.95, unless you meet waiver requirements $25 None
Citibank Access Account $5, unless you meet waiver requirements $0 None

Accounts with no overdraft fees

And there are other banking options we recommend that, while not technically “checkless,” don’t charge overdraft fees.

SoFi

SoFi’s Checking and Savings accounts are a strong offering.1 Its Savings account offers an annual percentage yield (APY) of up to 4.60% if you meet its direct deposit requirements.23

SoFi also doesn’t have overdraft fees, and even better, SoFi doesn’t use ChexSystems to qualify customers.

SoFi is FDIC insured.

Visit SoFi | Read our SoFi review

Chime®

Chime is a fintech company that offers a Chime Checking account and a high-yield savings account.4 The Chime High-Yield Savings account is optional and can’t be opened without a checking account.5

Like SoFi, it doesn’t use ChexSystems to qualify members, and it has no monthly or annual fees.6 It has an especially strong mobile app and provides access to more than 60,000 fee-free ATMs.7

Chime is FDIC insured through its partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank.

Visit Chime | Read our Chime review

FAQ

What does checkless banking mean?

A checkless bank account is a special type of checking account that doesn’t allow you to write paper checks or overdraft the account. Instead, you’ll get a debit card to make purchases. You can do all of the other normal checking account things, such as receiving your paycheck or transferring money to friends. Checkless checking accounts may be easier to get approved for if you’ve had past money management problems and can’t get approved (yet) for a normal account.

Which banks do not use ChexSystems?

Many banks offer specific accounts that don’t use ChexSystems as the final deciding factor in whether you’re approved or not. Some online fintech banks, such as Chime, also state that they don’t use ChexSystems.

How do transactions using checkless checking accounts take place?

You can generally do all of the same transactions with a checkless checking account as a normal checking account minus the ability to write paper checks. You can still deposit paper checks that other people write to you, transfer money via ACH, swipe your debit card, etc. In order for a transaction to process, you’ll need to have all of the funds available in your account since checkless checking accounts may not allow overdrafts.

Checkless banking: bottom line

Checkless banking offers a pathway forward for millions of Americans who otherwise wouldn’t have access to safe banking. It’s picking up steam, too. The nonprofit Bank On was launched in 2006 as a coalition between communities, governments, and big banks to expand banking access to underserved Americans, and checkless banking is a big part of that.

If you’re having trouble opening a checking account and you haven’t heard of checkless banking before, it’s worth looking into further. Check with your local banks if you want in-person service, although many checkless checking accounts are available online as well. 

Check with your bank about upgrade policies. You may even be able to transition to the best checking account it offers after you’ve shown you can handle the account responsibly over a given period of time.

Offers early access to paychecks with qualified direct deposits
Offers an APY of up to 4.60% with qualified direct deposits
Has $0 monthly maintenance fees and a $0 account minimum

Author Details

Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren is a professional writer based in Suquamish, Washington. Originally a wildlife biologist, Lindsay became passionate about helping others learn smart financial moves after seeing how positive money habits made a big difference in her own life.