Checking accounts allow you to quickly deposit, transfer, and withdraw money, pay bills, and check balances. Explore our list of the 8 best checking accounts in the industry, see benefits, and learn more about opening a checking account today.
Our Top Picks for Best Checking Accounts of 2021
- PenFed Credit Union - Best Credit Union
- HSBC - Best for Students
- Wealthfront - Best for High Yields
- PNC Bank - Best for Managing Finances
- Betterment - Best for ATM Fee Reimbursement
- SoFi - Best Hybrid Account
- Chase - Best Sign-up Bonuses
- Discover - Best for Cash Back
Best Checking Account Reviews
PenFed Credit Union: Best Credit Union
- Open a checking account with just $25
- 0.15% APYs for balances under $20K
- Over 85,000 fee-free ATMs across the US
- Federally insured by NCUA
As of February 2021, 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) for up to $250,000.
The checking account has a $10 monthly service fee, but you can avoid paying it by maintaining a daily balance of $500 or setting up a $500 monthly direct deposit.
There’s a $1.50 fee for every ATM withdrawal outside their network, plus any other fees put forth by the owner of the teller machine.
HSBC: Best for Students
- $100 welcome deposit for students
- No required minimum balance
- Sign up for overdraft protection and save $35
- Resources for budgeting, saving, and credit score monitoring
HSBC offers a $100 welcome deposit to student accounts if they meet certain requisites, including debit card purchases of $100 for three consecutive months.
To qualify, account holders must list “student” as their occupation in their application form, be at least 18 years of age, and a U.S. or international student enrolled stateside.
The Choice Checking account requires a monthly maintenance fee of $15 that can be waived by setting a direct deposit or maintaining a balance of $1,500.
Wealthfront: Best for High Yields
- Cash account with an 0.10% APY
- Automate your savings plan according to your financial goals with Self-Driving Money
- Add a debit card and have access to 19,000 fee-free ATMs
- Open an investment account and transfer funds in minutes
- Mobile check deposits and ATM locator
Wealthfront’s Cash Account is not a traditional checking account. Instead, it is a cash account held at a brokerage firm that offers 0.10% APY — higher than the national average for a savings account, which is currently at 0.6%.
Wealthfront recently launched Self-Driving Money, an "automated" savings and investment tool that fully automates your savings plan according to your financial goal by routing the right amount of money to the right investment accounts based on pre-set savings goals. Customers can organize their money into different savings buckets like a vacation fund, home down payment, or emergency fund. To access Self-Driving Money, anyone can open a Wealthfront Cash Account with $1.
PNC Bank: Best for Managing Finances
- Money management features
- Mobile banking app available
- Debit card rewards program
- Includes a Visa debit card
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 functions like your typical checking account, Reserve, is an interest-bearing checking account, and Growth is a savings account.
If you use an ATM outside of the network, you’ll be charged a $3 fee or $5 if you withdraw overseas.
Betterment: Best for ATM Fee Reimbursement
- Mobile-first checking account
- Features cashback rewards
- Reimburses ATM and foreign transaction fees
Betterment’s checking account stands out for its ATM fee reimbursement on stateside or foreign transaction fees, making it an excellent option for travelers.
Opening a checking account is easy, and it doesn’t require a deposit or a minimum balance to maintain. There are also no overdraft fees, and it comes with a cashback rewards benefit.
Unfortunately, this rewards checking account does not pay interest.
SoFi: Best Hybrid Account
- Deposit $500 per month to qualify for a higher APY
- No monthly or overdraft fees
- Reimburses many third-party ATM fees
SoFi Money is an online cash management account that merges checking and savings under one account. By maintaining monthly deposits of $500 or more, your balance will earn interest with a 0.25% APY (as of February 2021), comparable to traditional banks and their high-yield savings accounts.
Also, SoFi Money has no account fees or minimum balance requirements, and there are over 55,000 fee-free teller machines available within Allpoint’s network.
Chase: Best Sign-Up Bonus
- Comes with a Chase debit card that features chip technology for maximum protection
- Get $200 when you open an account and set up direct deposit
Open a Chase Bank Total Checking account and receive a $300 bonus when you make a direct deposit within 90 days of opening the account.
There is a $12 monthly fee, which you can waive by making direct deposits of $500 or more every month, keeping a $1,500 beginning-day balance, or keeping at least $5,000 across your Chase Bank accounts.
Finally, 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.
Discover: Best for Cash Back
- 1% cashback on your purchases, up to $3,000 per month
- No monthly fees
- Mobile app available
The Discover Cashback Debit Checking account offers 1% cashback on up to $3,000 per month, meaning that you can earn at least $30 monthly, or $360 a year.
Unfortunately, not all debit card transactions qualify. ATM transactions, peer-to-peer payments, and money order purchases don’t count for cash back, so you have to plan to get the best out of this feature.
Discover has over 60,000 surcharge-free ATMs in the United States.
Other Checking Accounts We Considered
To determine our list of best checking accounts, we paid special attention to companies that provide convenience, ATM accessibility, and other perks such as a low minimum opening balance and surcharge rebates.
Although this eliminated many companies from making our limited cut — Axos, Chime, Radius, Alliant, Capital One, and Bank of America — there are still plenty that offer the best checking account to fit your needs.
Checking Accounts: What You Need to Know
Here is the information we’d encourage you to keep in mind before signing up for your new checking account.
APYs and Interest Rates for Checking Accounts
The annual percentage yield (APY) is how much money an account earns in one year, considering the interest rate.
Many financial institutions require customers to pay a fee to have an interest checking account. However, if the amount of money you’ll maintain as your balance isn’t high enough, the chances of making a return on your investment are slim at best.
If you’re looking to make your money grow or become a high-yield investor, a high-yield savings account or brokerage account may be a better option.
Using a Checking Account to Pay Your Bills
Nowadays, you can pay most bills online or electronically. Still, some vendors prefer to be paid by check or cash for a variety of reasons. In this case, a checking account should be able to provide you with paper checks, paper statements, and a network of ATMs. If the provider has a small ATM network, consider the network ATM fees you’ll be charged should you use an out-of-network teller machine.
“A lot of people want a local bank because they have a large ATM presence. Frankly, that’s great, but these days most transactions are happening through either a debit card or a credit card, or electronically through Venmo or PayPal,” said Howard Dvorkin, author, and personal finance expert.
Overdraft fee protection is important if you want to eliminate the risk of a payment being declined. If you’re not planning to keep a large sum in your checking account, you may want to consider a free account or one with waivable fees.
Consider also whether you should add another bill to your list of monthly expenses. “You may not think that $15 adds up, but unfortunately, it’s about 200 bucks a year. If you can avoid it, do it. There’s no sense in paying a fee if you don’t have to,” said Dvorkin.
Online Banking vs Traditional Banking
With online banks, it’s become less of a necessity to set foot inside a physical branch. Gone are the days of standing in line just to deposit a paycheck or of face-to-face meetings with bank managers. And yet, there are those who’d prefer to visit brick-and-mortar banks, either because they’ve grown accustomed to them, or because they prefer a personal touch.
Also, due to the ongoing pandemic in 2021, mobile banking can present itself as the better option. “I would say, certainly right now with the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to bank online is very appealing,” said Kate Dore, a freelance finance writer that’s written for various websites, including Lifehacker and Credit Karma. “If you’re nervous to go indoors or you’re nervous to just go through a drive-thru to make a deposit, you may prefer banking online and be able to make deposits through a mobile app versus having to go in person.
However, note that most banks are offering these reliefs on a case-by-case basis, so you have to contact them directly to check if you qualify.
How We Found the Best Checking Accounts
To offer you the best checking accounts in the US, we conducted over 200 hours of research, interviewed four experts, and vetted a total of 20 companies. The process included analyzing the number of complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau between 2017 and 2021. Additionally, all of the companies on our list are FDIC insured.
We discarded companies with complaint amounts above the average of 1,018, or with APYs that fell below the average of 0.16. We also looked at annual percentage yields and minimum balance requirements.