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Author: and
Originally Published: Feb 07, 2022
Originally Published: Feb 07, 2022 Last Updated: Mar 23, 2022 24 min read
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Best Credit Union
Best for High YieldsBest for Managing FinancesBest for ATM Fee ReimbursementBest for Cash Back
PenFedAxos BankPNC Virtual Wallet ProBettermentDiscover Bank
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Company Highlights

PenFed has an extensive ATM network, low fees and perks that rival traditional banks.

Unlike most checking accounts, Axos' APY is comparable to many high-yield savings accounts.

PNC offers robust money management features and fairly extensive ATM network.

Reimburses all ATM and foreign transaction fees

1% cashback on qualified purchases, up to $3,000 per month

Monthly Fees

$10, waived with a $500 balance

$0

$7, waived with a $500 minimum balance or direct deposit

$0

$0

Est. APR

0.15%-0.35% depending on balance

Up to 0.90%

Varies by market

0

0

Best Credit Union
PenFed
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Company Highlights

PenFed has an extensive ATM network, low fees and perks that rival traditional banks.

Monthly Fees

$10, waived with a $500 balance

Est. APR

0.15%-0.35% depending on balance

Best for High Yields
Axos Bank
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Company Highlights

Unlike most checking accounts, Axos' APY is comparable to many high-yield savings accounts.

Monthly Fees

$0

Est. APR

Up to 0.90%

Best for Managing Finances
PNC Virtual Wallet Pro
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Company Highlights

PNC offers robust money management features and fairly extensive ATM network.

Monthly Fees

$7, waived with a $500 minimum balance or direct deposit

Est. APR

Varies by market

Best for ATM Fee Reimbursement
Betterment
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Company Highlights

Reimburses all ATM and foreign transaction fees

Monthly Fees

$0

Est. APR

0

Best for Cash Back
Discover Bank
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Company Highlights

1% cashback on qualified purchases, up to $3,000 per month

Monthly Fees

$0

Est. APR

0

Checking accounts allow you to quickly deposit, transfer, and withdraw money, pay bills, and check balances. Explore our list of the 7 best checking accounts in the industry and learn more about opening a checking account.

Our Top Picks for Best Checking Accounts of 2022

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Best Checking Account Reviews

Pros
  • 0.15% APYs for balances under $20K
  • Over 85,000 fee-free ATMs across the US
  • Federally insured by NCUA
Cons
  • No refunds for out-of-network ATM fees
  • Minimum initial deposit required
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$10, waived with a $500 balance
Balance to Open
$25
ATM Network
85,000
APY
0.15% - 0.35%, depending on balance

Why we chose this company: An extensive ATM network and account features that are comparable to traditional banks make PenFed our pick for best credit union.

As of January 2022, PenFed’s Access America Checking account has a 0.15% APY for balances under $20k and a 0.35% APY for balances between $20k and $50k. The account is also insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) up to $250,000.

PenFed charges a $10 monthly service fee, but this is waived if you keep a daily balance of $500 or set up a $500 monthly direct deposit.

The account includes a Visa Debit card with an integrated EMF chip, which allows for contactless payment at participating locations. There’s a $1.50 fee for every ATM withdrawal outside their network, plus any other fees charged by the ATM bank itself.

While the checking account itself offers no cash-back rewards, it does provide an additional .5% cash back for PenFed’s Visa credit card holders, for a total of 2%.

Pros
  • High APY, comparable to many high-yield savings accounts
  • Extensive ATM network
  • No monthly fees
Cons
  • Required opening balance is higher than comparable checking accounts
  • Retailers may charge a fee for cash deposits
  • $500 limit on cash deposits (up to $1,500 at select retailers)
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$0
Balance to Open
$50
ATM Network
80,000
APY
Up to 0.90%

Why we chose this company: An APY that competes with many high-yield savings accounts makes Axos for Nationwide’s Advantage Checking account our best for high yields.

Axos Bank’s Advantage checking account stands out for its 0.90% APY — higher than what many high-yield savings accounts are currently offering (0.60% on average).

The advertised rate depends on meeting two requirements: recurring monthly direct deposits that equal $1,000 or more, and using your Visa debit card for at least ten transactions of $3 or more in a statement period.

Like other online-only banks, Axos charges no maintenance or overdraft fees. However, unlike the Direct Checking account, the Advantage Checking account does not reimburse out-of-network ATM fees.

Despite being an online bank, Axos for Nationwide does allow for cash deposits at participating retailers, namely 7-Eleven, ACE Cash Express, CVS, Dollar General, Kroger, Rite Aid Safeway, Walgreens and Walmart.

Bear in mind, however, that there is a $500 limit for cash deposits, with the exception of certain Walmart locations (up to $1,000) and ACE Cash Express locations (up to $1,500).

HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$7, waived with a $500 minimum balance or direct deposit
Balance to Open
$0 if opened online
ATM Network
18,000
APY
Varies by market

Why we chose this company: PNC’s mobile app includes comprehensive money management features making it our best pick for managing your finances.

The PNC Virtual Wallet account combines an online checking account with a savings account.

You may choose to have a Virtual Wallet with a Spend account only, or Spend, Reserve, and Growth accounts. Spend works much like your typical checking account. Reserve is an additional checking account that allows you to set aside money for specific bills and payments, while Growth is an interest-bearing savings account.

PNC’s money management tools allow you to be more proactive in tracking your finances. They include calendars that keep track of upcoming bill payments and a “Money Bar” that allows you to set your personal budgets for things such as gas and restaurants.

These tools are backed up by alerts that warn you when you’re about to overdraw your account or when a bill is coming due. The mobile app even allows you to cancel a transaction — including checks — if it will overdraw your account. If you choose to go ahead with the payment, PNC gives you 24 hours to deposit money into your account and avoid the overdraft fees.

If you use an out-of-network ATM, you’ll be charged a $3 fee or $5 if you withdraw overseas. However, PNC refunds up to $5 per statement period in ATM fees for Virtual Wallet account holders.

Pros
  • Features cash-back rewards
  • Reimburses ATM and foreign transaction fees
  • Mobile-first checking account
Cons
  • No interest on checking balance
  • Limited number of ATMs that accept cash deposits
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$0
Balance to Open
$0
ATM Network
All ATM fees are reimbursed
APY
N/A

Why we chose this company: Betterment’s reimbursement of all ATM fees, both domestic and international, makes it our pick for best bank for ATM fee reimbursements.

Betterment’s checking account stands out for its ATM fee reimbursement on stateside or international transaction fees, making it an excellent option for travelers.

Opening a checking account is easy, and it doesn’t require a deposit or a set minimum balance. Unlike similar mobile-focused checking accounts, Betterment also offers joint accounts. There are no overdraft fees, and it comes with a cash-back rewards benefit.

While Betterment’s cash-back rewards can go up to 5% — surpassing Discover’s 1% — the bank doesn’t specify the qualifying purchases and vendors and these might be subject to change at any moment.

Betterment’s also offers an additional security perk — while most banks require you call customer service, Betterment lets you change your card’s PIN or even lock your card from your mobile phone.

One drawback: this rewards checking account does not yield interest.

Pros
  • Deposit $500 per month to qualify for a higher APY
  • No monthly or overdraft fees
Cons
  • No third-party ATM fee reimbursement
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$0
Balance to Open
$0
ATM Network
55,000
APY
Up to 0.25%

Why we chose this company: SoFi’s offering of multiple cash deposit locations throughout the Green Dot network, despite being an online-only bank, makes it our pick for best hybrid account.

SoFi Money is an online cash management account that merges checking and savings in one account. By maintaining monthly deposits of $500 or more, your balance will earn interest at a 0.25% APY (as of February 2022), which is well over four times what standard checking accounts offer.

SoFi’s overdraft protection feature is notable for covering up to $50 of overdrawn funds. As long as you have recurring direct deposits of $1,000 or more, SoFi will not charge a fee for the overdrawn amounts and automatically applies funds from your next deposit to the negative balance.

Unlike some similar online checking accounts such as Ally Bank’s, SoFi lets you make cash deposits at participating retailers through the Green Dot network — a mobile banking institution that specializes in prepaid debit cards.

While cash deposits are handled by Green Dot, SoFi Money's ATM network is handled by Allpoint. Allpoint has over 55,000 free teller machines available for SoFi customers. The SoFi Money account also has no account fees or minimum balance requirements.

Pros
  • Access to Chase DepositFriendly ATMs
  • Chase debit card with chip technology for maximum protection
Cons
  • No interest offered
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$6
Balance to Open
$0
ATM Network
16,000 ATMs available in over 30 states
APY
0

Why we chose this company: Chase’s $100 sign-on bonus, no fees until graduation and access to college financial planning make it our best account for students.

Students can open a Chase Bank College Checking account and receive a $100 bonus when they make 10 qualifying transactions — which include debit card purchases and online bill payments — within 60 days of opening.

The account has no maintenance fees for 5 years or until after the student graduates, whichever comes sooner. A $6 maintenance fee applies after, which can be waived by having recurring direct deposits every pay period or maintaining a minimum $5000 daily balance.

Even if you don’t have your card in hand when visiting one of the 16,000 ATMs, you can still use Chase’s smartphone app to access your funds via their card-less ATM access feature.

Pros
  • 1% cashback on your purchases, up to $3,000 per month
  • No monthly fees
Cons
  • No interest on checking balances
  • No cash deposits
HIGHLIGHTS
Monthly Fee
$0
Balance to Open
$0
ATM Network
60,000
APY
0

Why we chose this company: Discover’s 1% cashback on all purchases makes it our pick for most consistent and best account for cash-back rewards.

The Discover Cashback Debit Checking account offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 per month, meaning that you can earn at least $30 monthly, or $360 a year.

However, not all debit card transactions qualify — for example, ATM transactions, peer-to-peer payments, and money order purchases aren’t taken into account.

Discover offers an overdraft protection feature which pulls available funds from any linked accounts you may have to cover the amount of the overdraft. If you don’t have a linked account or sufficient funds to cover it, Discover declines the transaction instead of charging you a fee.

Similar to Betterment, Discover does not charge any fees. This means that the account is free to open and maintain, making it a solid choice for anyone who’s opening their first checking account.

Discover has over 60,000 free ATMs in the United States.

Other Checking Accounts We Considered

To compile our list of best checking accounts, we looked for companies that provide convenience, ATM accessibility and other perks such as a low (or no) minimum opening balance and fee rebates.

Although this eliminated many companies from making our limited cut — Chime, Radius, Alliant, Capital One, and Bank of America — there are others that might fit your needs.

Ally Bank

Monthly Fee - $0

Balance to Open - $0

ATM Network - 43,000

Ally Bank is an online bank that offers many of the features common to its competitors. Its checking account has no maintenance fees or minimum account balance requirements and is FDIC-insured up to $250,000.

Unlike some of its competitors, Ally allows you to open an account in the name of a trust, which can be useful for managing family finances. While the account offers a decent variable APY of 0.10%-0.25%, the higher rate can only be achieved with a daily balance of over $15,000.

Ally’s checking account also comes with some convenient features thanks to its mobile app. You can control your debit card’s usage through the app, allowing you to lock the card or change the PIN if it gets lost. It also allows you to choose to round up your purchase amounts, storing the change into a savings account like a virtual piggy bank.

Charles Schwab

Monthly Fee - $0

Balance to Open - $0

ATM Network - All ATM fees are refunded

Schwab Bank’s High-Yield Investor Checking account is a solid option for frequent travelers due to its lack of foreign transaction fees. On top of that, it also offers unlimited ATM fee refunds, making it even more convenient to use your card abroad.

Like many competitors, Schwab has a mobile banking app that allows you to check your balances, move funds and do basic account maintenance. You can also lock your debit card or change your PIN if it gets lost.

Unfortunately, despite its name, this checking account’s APY is currently 0.03%, one of the lowest rates in the market.

Wealthfront

Monthly Fee - $0

Balance to Open - $1

ATM Network - 19,000

Wealthfront’s Cash Account is not a traditional checking account. Instead, it is a cash account held at a brokerage firm that offers 0.35% APY.

If you use out-of-network ATMs, you’ll have to pay a $2.50 fee, in addition to any other charges that apply.

Additionally, if you open a Wealthfront Cash Account along with an investment account, you can transfer funds between them within minutes.

Wells Fargo

Monthly Fee - $10

Balance to Open - $25

ATM Network - 12,000

Wells Fargo's Everyday Checking account offers fairly standard terms compared to competing checking accounts. It features physical checks and a low opening balance of $25. The account's maintenance fee is also easy to avoid, requiring only a $500 minimum account balance or $500 in recurring monthly deposits.

The account has optional overdraft protection, which is confusingly named, since signing up exposes you to overdraft fees on overdraft amounts above $5. Opting out, however, means that transactions with insufficient funds are automatically declined and no fees are charged. Third-party ATM fees are also not refunded and a 3% fee is charged on international transactions.

HSBC

Monthly Fee - $50

Balance to Open - $1 (online)

ATM Network - 43,000

HSBC is a U.K. bank with many branches around the world, including the U.S. Being an international bank, its services focus on customers who travel often, offering no foreign transaction fees on its checking account.

Despite being a well-known financial institution, HSBC's Premier checking account currently lacks any standout features. It offers no interest on existing balances, limits its third-party ATM refunds to five per month and requires a minimum balance of $75,000 to avoid account maintenance fees. The only other way to avoid these fees is by having recurring direct deposits of $5,000 or more per month, or taking out a loan with the bank.

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Checking Accounts: What You Need to Know

Whether you’re looking to find a better checking account or you're about to open one for the first time, here are some things to consider when making your choice.

How does a checking account work?

A checking account provides you with easy ways to deposit, withdraw money and pay your bills. Unlike savings accounts, accessing funds is relatively easier, whether it’s through ATMs, electronic debits, checks, and more. They also have few limitations on the amount of certain transactions such as deposits.

Checking account vs. savings account

Checking Account Savings Account
Mainly used for everyday spending Mainly used for saving
Generally unlimited amount of withdrawals Limited to six withdrawals per month (with some exceptions)
Offers little to no interest on current balances Offers moderate to significant interest rates on current balances
Practical for recurring bill payments Usually set aside for future or emergency use

If your goal is to find a place for your savings, check out our guides to the best savings accounts and high-yield savings accounts for more information. You can also take a look at the best money market accounts and best certificate of deposit rates for savings instruments with an even higher interest rate, but stricter rules.

Personal checking account vs. business checking account

Personal Checking Account Business Checking Account
Usually no minimum balance or deposit requirements Minimum balance or deposit requirements always apply
May be co-owned by another person, allowing for separate debit cards for the same account Allows for employee debit cards, with the ability to set predetermined spending and withdrawal limits
Some might not charge any fees or will offer ways to waive existing fees Always charges fees, which are much harder to waive
Rarely offers additional services Additional services such as bookkeeping and payroll may be offered
Unlimited free transactions Limited number of transactions before fees apply

If you’re planning on opening a checking account for your new or existing business, read through our guide to the best business checking accounts to find the one that addresses your needs.

How do you choose the best checking account for you?

A checking account provides you the means to make payments both online and in person, transfer funds to other accounts and much more. Here are some factors to consider to make sure you get the most out of your checking account:

  • Fees: Account fees are common across many banks and you'll rarely find a bank that doesn't charge for at least some of its account services. However, increased competition between banks has led many of them to drastically lower or eliminate some of these fees. Here are some of the most common fees associated with checking accounts:
  • Maintenance fees: Unsurprisingly, running a bank costs money and keeping an account open isn’t free. Checking accounts generally charge maintenance fees, typically in the $6 to $12 range. In many cases, however, you can get these fees waived by meeting certain requirements, such as keeping a specific minimum balance in your account at the end of each month.
  • Overdraft or insufficient funds fees: Fees for insufficient funds vary among banks, but can be as high as $30 or more. However, many banks — for example, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — are providing ways to waive these fees or opt out of them altogether.
  • ATM fees: If you withdraw money from an ATM that is not in your bank’s network, you will be charged ATM fees. Depending on the ATM machine and your bank, these fees can range anywhere from $1.50 to over $10.

Interest rates

Though more commonly associated with savings accounts, many checking accounts also yield interest on your current balances. However, the interest rates are much lower than what you would find on savings accounts — typically less than 0.5%.

Checking accounts with rates comparable to savings accounts are rare, and they often include fees and balance requirements in order to be eligible for the highest interest rates.

High minimum balance requirements and maintenance fees make these checking accounts impractical for many, given that the amount earned on interest rarely makes up for daily spending or even the maintenance fees themselves.

Accessibility

Being able to access your money wherever you are matters just as much as having an account with good perks. Depending on your preference and needs, an online-only bank can be just as good an alternative as one with multiple branches across the U.S. and abroad.

What truly matters more than online vs brick-and-mortar is the size of the bank’s ATM network. As previously mentioned, most banks charge ATM fees if you withdraw money outside of their network, and these fees can quickly add up. Choosing a bank with ATMs close to you is a good way to avoid paying unnecessary fees.

Lastly, you should consider how easy it is to contact your bank’s customer support. A bank that offers you multiple ways to contact them — phone, email, live chat, in person — should always rank high on your list. Bonus points if the bank’s customer service hours allow you to call at nearly any time of day, or even 24/7 in some cases.

To recap, here are some differences between traditional and online banks:

Traditional banks vs. online banks

Traditional Banks Online Banks
Access to physical branches, but may have limited customer service hours No physical branches, but typically 24/7 customer support
Online services always offered, mobile apps sometimes available Mobile apps always available
Fees are typically higher Lower or no fees
Interest rates are typically lower Higher interest rates usually offered

Security

Because checking accounts tend to be most people’s primary spending accounts, security is usually a paramount concern.

These are some of the more common security features offered by banks for their checking accounts:

  • EMV chips on debit and credit cards: Chip-enabled cards are more secure than cards with magnetic strips as that strip is more vulnerable to “skimmers” — devices that can capture your account information when processing a transaction. Chips, on the other hand, generate one-time information that is unique to each transaction, making it useless to potential scammers and data thieves.
  • One-time passwords for online transactions: One-time passwords can be sent to your email or your phone to confirm it’s really you making that online transaction. These passwords are only valid for a few minutes at a time, possibly deterring someone who might have access to your account, but not your email or phone.
  • Biometric logins (fingerprint, facial/voice recognition, etc.): These are currently the best security measures for your online information. Since your biometric information is unique to you, it is the best way to prevent unauthorized access to your money.

In addition to securing your account information, you should also make sure the bank that holds your account is insured by the FDIC — or the NCUA in the case of credit unions — which insures customers for up to $250,000 in the event of a bank failure (usually caused by insolvency).

Bear in mind that these agencies only insure $250,000 per customer, per financial institution. This means that if your total funds exceed this amount across all your accounts (checking, savings, etc.), you should consider opening a second account with a different bank to ensure all of your money is properly insured.

Bank bonuses and rewards

Some banks offer incentives for opening a new account with them, while others offer a rewards system with their accounts. For example, a bank may offer a $300 new account bonus, provided you’re not already banking with them.

Other banks may require you to deposit a specific amount within a certain number of days in order to qualify for the bonus, while some may have other requirements such as setting up direct deposit within a similar time frame.

There are also banks that offer special features for their checking accounts such as Discover, which offers 1% cash-back on your purchases, on up to $3,000 of qualified spending per month. Some other banks may offer a special interest rate up to a certain balance — $10,000 is a popular limit for these accounts.

How to open a checking account

Opening a checking account at a financial institution is a fairly straightforward process, no matter where you go. You can always expect to fill out a form and be asked to provide the following documents and information:

  • Social Security or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
  • Government-issued ID (State license, passport, etc.)
  • Date of birth
  • Contact information (address, phone number, email)
Best Checking Accounts FAQ
Which banks offer free checking accounts?
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Online-only banks have the most offerings when it comes to free, zero-balance checking accounts. Ally and Capital One are good examples. However, there are also some traditional banks — such as BBVA and Chase — that offer traditional checking accounts without any fees.
What is overdraft protection?
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Overdraft protection links your checking account balance to another source of funds, whether it's a separate account or a credit line. Its purpose is to protect your account should you make a payment that exceeds your balance.
Should I have more than one checking account?
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Whether or not you need more than one checking account will depend on your needs. For instance, some married couples have a joint checking account, in addition to their own accounts, to handle mortgage payments and shared expenses. A second checking account may also come in handy if you have more than $250,000 saved up. Since the FDIC only insures up to that amount per customer per bank, a second account at a different bank is a good way of keeping all of your money insured.
Do checking accounts earn interest?
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Not all checking accounts earn interest and the ones that do earn considerably low APY rates. If you're looking to grow your money over time without the potential risks of investing, a high-interest savings account is a better option.
Do I have to pay to have a checking account?
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Some institutions can charge setup or initial fees, as well as monthly maintenance fees. While most of these fees are explicitly stated, others are hidden in the fine print. That said, many of these fees can often be waived if you meet certain criteria. For instance, some checking accounts will require a particular monthly balance. If you fall short of this balance, you will have to pay the fee for that month. Having said that, there are now many banks — typically online banks such as Betterment and SoFi — that offer free checking accounts with no minimum balance requirements.
Do checking accounts have balance requirements?
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The short answer is: it depends. While some financial institutions do have minimum balance requirements, many don't. The ones that do might charge you a fee if your balance dips below that threshold at the end of the month, and that fee might be as high as $50 (HSBC). On the other hand, many banks, such as Schwab Bank and Discover, don't have a minimum balance requirement at all.

Summary of Money’s Best Checking Account Companies of 2022