Free checking accounts - options for everyone

TransferWise
06.30.20
13 minute read

Feel like it’s hard to get anything for free, these days? It’s certainly true that many accounts on offer come with monthly fixed charges, or require significant deposits to avoid service fees. But the good news is that you can still find accounts - both at traditional banks and online alternatives - which are free from fixed charges, or where the monthly costs can be easily avoided.

Don’t pay more than you have to, to access and manage your own money. Read on for more about the best free checking accounts available.

Free checking accounts

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the best free checking accounts from major US banks. Please note, that the fees and features of accounts can vary by location, and not all accounts can be opened in all states. The details given here are a guide - please check the full terms and conditions for the account based on your location before you commit to any account product.

Capital One 360 Checking Account

Interest bearing account with smart online and mobile banking options and overdraft facilities

The Capital One 360 Checking Account can be opened online or in a branch, with no minimum opening deposit and no monthly fee to pay¹. You’ll be able to manage your money online or with the Capital One award winning banking app, including mobile deposits and bill pay facilities. There are several different overdraft options, including an auto-decline if you want to avoid getting into an overdraft situation. You can also link alternative accounts to cover any shortfall in your checking account if you prefer.²

It’s worth noting that you can’t make international wire payments from this account, and the fee for outgoing domestic wires can be up to $40 - worth considering if these are transactions you may need to make frequently.³

  • Minimum deposit requirement: None - and no opening deposit to worry about, either
  • Features and benefits: Get a linked card to use 39,000 fee free ATMs, no foreign transaction fees, earn interest, and manage your money easily with this account which is optimized for online banking
  • Mobile and online options: Manage your money online and on the go with mobile banking, mobile deposit and online bill pay
  • Overdraft facility: Link an account to cover a shortfall, for free, or opt in for a day’s grace to repay any overspend - this comes with a $35 fee
  • Interest: 0.2%
  • Possible charges: Up to $40 for domestic outgoing wire payments - international wires not available, $7 for check books, although the first book is free, may be charged by other ATM networks for withdrawals, although Capital One will not charge for making withdrawals outside of their network

BBVA Online Checking Account

Smart checking account with tailored cashback options, optimized for online and mobile banking, and with access to an impressive free ATM network

The BBVA Online Checking Account is a good choice if you’re not sure about choosing an online only bank, but do want a top class online and mobile banking service.⁴ You’ll be able to manage your money online, and on the go, and make purchases and withdrawals using your linked Visa card. 64,000 ATMs in the US are free to use, although there is a fee for international withdrawals and purchases.

There’s a $25 opening deposit, but then no monthly fees to worry about. As a standard this account does not offer an overdraft, but you can choose to link to another account to cover any shortfall in funds, or depending on the situation, you may be able to set up an overdraft - in both cases, there’s a fee to pay. You’ll also earn cashback which is tailored to your regular purchases.

  • Minimum deposit requirement: $25 minimum opening deposit
  • Features and benefits: No monthly service charge to worry about, free Visa debit card, 64,000 free ATMs in the US, online and mobile banking, earn cash back on purchases⁵
  • Mobile and online options: Account is optimized for online banking, offering a full range of services conveniently, with no need to visit a branch - including mobile deposit and bill pay
  • Overdraft facility: Default is to provide no overdraft, however you can arrange some levels of overdraft or linked account service, for a fee
  • Interest: This account does not earn interest
  • Possible charges: There are a range of transaction charges - including $3 to use a non BBVA ATM, 1% - 3% international service fee, $15 incoming wire, $25 - $45 outgoing wire. Get the full details online.⁶

Chase Total Checking

Full checking account with access to Chase ATMs and branches. Monthly fees apply, but can be avoided relatively easily

Chase serves half of American households - so although the Chase Total Checking Account is not a truly free checking account, it’s worthy of a mention as a good example of a checking account where the fixed monthly fees can be easily avoided⁷. Chase will waive the monthly service charge if you hold a minimum balance of $1,500 every day in the month, if you have $5,000 in total across eligible Chase accounts, or if you have $500 of direct deposits put into the account per month. These direct deposits could be your payroll, pension or government benefits, for example.⁸

Once you have your account open, you can operate it online or using an app, and access all of Chase’s branch and ATM network. Although you can access most normal checking account services without limitations, some fees are relatively high - including some wire payments, for example. Make sure the charges for the services you regularly pay are acceptable to you.

  • Minimum deposit requirement: To avoid the monthly service fee, you must hold $1,500, or have $500 of direct deposits a month into the account - or hold $5000 across a combination of eligible Chase accounts
  • Features and benefits: Use your card at 16,000 ATMs for free, and visit any of Chase’s 4,900 branches nationwide, set up account alerts and direct deposits, get paperless statements and use Zelle QuickPay for ease
  • Mobile and online options: Mobile and online optimized with access to online bill payments for convenience
  • Overdraft facility: Overdrafts are available, with a fee of $34 per item, but the standard for this account is to auto-decline transactions which would overdraw the account
  • Interest: Not available
  • Possible charges: $12 monthly fee if you don’t meet the minimum requirements, $2.50 for non networked ATM withdrawals in the US, $5 for international withdrawals, incoming wires from non Chase accounts $15, outgoing domestic wires $25 - 45, outgoing international wires up to $50, plus possible exchange rate markups

TD Bank Convenience Checking

Full service checking account, with no monthly fee for customers under the age of 24, or who hold $100 minimum balance

The TD Bank Convenience Checking account isn’t technically fee free if you’re 24 or over, but as the minimum balance is relatively low, it’s worth a look if you want an account with a traditional bank.⁹ You’ll get a free linked card and checks, and can use TD Bank ATMs in both the US and Canada for free - useful if you travel regularly. It’s worth noting though, that there may be an international transaction fee if you use your card overseas.¹⁰

You’ll be able to manage your money online easily, and this account comes with waived monthly fees and overdraft protection charges for students aged under 24.

  • Minimum deposit requirement: None - but if you’re over 24, you’ll need $100 minimum balance to avoid the $15 monthly service fee
  • Features and benefits: Everyday banking option, ideal for students as key fees are waived for under 24 year olds. Use TD Bank ATMs in the US and Canada for free, send money with Zelle and get a discount on loan products.
  • Mobile and online options: Mobile and online banking available
  • Overdraft facility: Overdraft is available, $35 per transaction, to a maximum of 5 per day
  • Interest: Not available
  • Possible charges: Monthly service charge $15 if you don’t hit the minimum balance requirement, $3 for non TD Bank network ATM withdrawals, 3% international transaction card fee, $15 incoming wire fee, $30 outgoing domestic wire fee, outgoing international wires are $50 + exchange rate markup, tax and correspondent fees as required

Free online checking accounts

Although you can get free checking accounts from traditional banks, if you usually use online banking anyway, you may benefit from choosing an online only account instead. Without the overheads of regular banks, online only institutions can often offer lower fees, and may have specialist services available, such as currency conversion, at a price traditional banks can’t match. Here are a few online accounts to consider:

Alliant High-Yield Checking

Online credit union account with solid 0.25% interest rates and access to 80,000 fee free ATMs

Alliant is a digital credit union - and as a credit union, there are eligibility criteria you’ll need to meet to join.¹¹ ¹² ¹³ But this account is well worth a look thanks to the interest rates available, as well as a range of other perks. You can join Alliant if you live in some Chicago districts, if you’re a current or retired employee of any of their partner businesses, live with someone who is, or if you join their partner charity - Foster Care to Success. Check the full details online if you’re not sure whether or not you’re eligible.

ATM usage with this account is free within the 80,000 strong eligible ATM network, and you’ll be reimbursed some of your fees for withdrawals outside the network. It’s worth noting that you may need to pay - and won’t necessarily be reimbursed - a fee for overseas withdrawals.¹⁴

  • Minimum deposit requirement: None
  • Features and benefits: No monthly fee, and access to 80,000 surcharge free ATMs. Rebate of up to $20/month for out of network fees. Free linked Visa card and checks, free incoming wire payments
  • Mobile and online options: Mobile and online banking available
  • Overdraft facility: Courtesy pay service available which will honor payments made beyond your account balance - $28 fee per item
  • Interest: 0.25%
  • Possible charges: Account dormant fee $10, $25 domestic outgoing wire fee, $50 for international outgoing wires

TransferWise multi-currency account

Hold dozens of currencies in one account, switch between them using the mid-market exchange rate, and spend easily with your linked debit Mastercard.

The multi-currency account from TransferWise is a good option if you travel regularly, send or receive international payments, or love to shop online with retailers based abroad. As a true multi-currency account, you can hold 40+ currencies, and receive fee free payments from major regions including the US, UK, euro area, New Zealand and Australia. ¹⁵

Switch between currencies using the mid-market exchange rate and just a low fee - and you’ll never be charged to spend currencies you hold using your linked debit card. That means no foreign transaction fees when abroad or shopping with international retailers online.

  • Minimum deposit requirement: None, and no credit check to worry about, either
  • Features and benefits: Hold multiple currencies - and send, spend and receive money from all over the world. Currency conversion uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. Linked debit card you can use anywhere Mastercard is accepted, with fee free ATM withdrawals up to $250/month.
  • Mobile and online options: Manage your money online - or on the go with the TransferWise app
  • Overdraft facility: Not available
  • Interest: This account does not earn interest
  • Possible charges: Currency conversion fee 0.35% - 3%, ATM withdrawals over $250/month attract a 2% charge

Chime free account

Everyday online account which allows direct deposit payments to arrive 2 days early, and comes with optional saving tools

The Chime free account has no minimum deposit or monthly fee, and handy perks like early direct deposits, and a savings tool which rounds up purchases and adds them to a savings pot. You can manage your money online using the highly rated app. ¹⁶

Fees are low,¹⁷ but it’s worth noting that this account does not have all the same functionality you might get from an account offered by a traditional bank. At the moment, for example, you can’t make or receive wire transfers through this account, which may limit you if you choose this product.¹⁸

  • Minimum deposit requirement: None
  • Features and benefits: Chime is an online only bank which keeps overheads low, and allows this cheap to use account. Access over 60,000 ATMs fee free in the US, pay no monthly fees, and no foreign transaction fees. You can also get paid up to 2 days early with direct deposit
  • Mobile and online options: Full mobile and digital services available - Chime is proud that it’s banking app was built by tech experts rather than bankers, for intuitive, customer friendly usage¹⁹
  • Overdraft facility: Available
  • Interest: Not available
  • Possible charges: $2.50 out of network ATM charge

Axos Rewards checking account

Free to use account which offers the opportunity to earn an impressive 1.25% interest, and no domestic ATM charges

The Axos Rewards checking account is one of the most popular available from this digital bank[20]. One key strength is the opportunity to earn up to 1.25% interest, subject to meeting eligibility criteria. To get the full amount you’ll need to receive monthly direct deposits of at least $1,000 into the account, and use your debit card at least 15 times over the month. ²¹

The other big perk is unlimited reimbursements on domestic ATM withdrawals, meaning you’ll never pay to use your card to get money here in the US.

  • Minimum deposit requirement: $50 opening deposit, no minimum after that
  • Features and benefits: Unlimited free domestic ATM withdrawals, potential to earn a high interest depending on meeting eligibility criteria, easy to switch from your old bank, free incoming wire payments
  • Mobile and online options: Full online and mobile banking service
  • Overdraft facility: Link an account for no NSF fees
  • Interest: Up to 1.25%
  • Possible charges: Outgoing wires $35 - $45

Honorable mentions - more free checking accounts to check out

Hopefully the accounts above have given you a lot to think about. But if you don’t see quite what you need, here are another few to take a look at.

Independent Bank One Account

No monthly fee if you sign up for electronic statements, for an account which comes with a range of perks including a debit card, Zelle Pay and the opportunity to earn interest up to an impressive 3% subject to meeting certain conditions.²² ²³

Simple Checking

This account comes with no monthly fees or minimum balances, and a neat range of tools to review and manage your money, and make sure you’re growing your savings. There are pretty much no fees to worry about at all, making this account simple, but smart.²⁴ ²⁵

Ally Bank High Interest Checking Account

Earn interest on your balance, with no monthly fees or minimum balances to worry about. Allpoint ATMs are free to use, and you’ll also get up to $10 a month reimbursed against out of network charges.²⁶

Varo Checking Account

Get your pay 2 days early, and access a $50 overdraft fee free if you qualify - all with no monthly fees or minimum balance.²⁷

Frequently asked questions

Still wondering which account may work best for you? Here are a few answers to common questions about free checking accounts.

Are there actual free checking accounts?

The good news is that it’s still possible to find checking accounts which do not have fixed monthly costs - or at least, where it is easy to have the monthly costs waived. You will still pay some fees, depending on how you use your account - but there should not be any ongoing charges to eat away at your balance over time.

Before you choose an account, think about the services you’ll actually use, and check the fees for these transactions. That will help you find the best value account for your specific needs.

What’s the difference between a fee and service charge?

Different banks use different phrasing to describe the costs and charges associated with their accounts. Usually you’ll find that a service charge is a fixed price, payable monthly or annually to keep your account open, regardless of the way you use it.

Fees, on the other hand, are typically levied according to the services you actually use. You’ll find fees listed in your account terms and conditions, for transactions such as wire transfers, international payments and ATM withdrawals.

Do I earn interest on checking accounts?

You’ll find some checking accounts do offer interest, while others do not. It’s worth comparing a good range of accounts, and looking carefully at the interest rates on offer, compared with the fees and other possible perks such as cashback.

For example, depending on how much you intend to keep in your account at any one time, a product which offers interest - but charges a monthly service fee - may not be better value than a fee-free account, which may offer no interest but have other great features such as cash back on spending.

How much money can I hold in a checking account?

Banks do not usually put limits on the amount you can hold in a checking account. However, it is important to note that your money is only insured up to the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)

The FDIC insures each account holder for up to $250,000 per bank.²⁸ That means that if your bank fails, the FDIC will repay your deposit up to this amount, plus any interest earned. However, any money held above the insurance limits for the account type will not be insured, which effectively means splitting your savings is a smart move, once you start to accumulate wealth. Check if your bank is FDIC insured, online.²⁹

Getting the right free checking account can make day to day life easier, and also save you money.

It’s worth researching before choosing an account, to make sure you get the account product which is best for your needs. Make sure you look at the features and fees of each account carefully to balance the convenience, cost and benefits of each - and don’t forget to consider modern alternatives to traditional banks, such as the multi-currency account from TransferWise, to see if you can save.


Sources:

  1. Capital One - 360 Checking account
  2. Capital One - 360 Checking - Explanation of various key services and charges
  3. Capital One - Wire Info | Support Center
  4. BBVA - Online checking account
  5. BBVA - Simple Cash Back Rewards Program
  6. BBVA - Allpoint ATM Withdrawal Limit
  7. Chase - Chase Total Checking® Account
  8. Chase - Chase Total Checking - A Guide To Your Account (PDF)
  9. TD Bank - Convenience Checking
  10. TD Bank - Convenience CheckingSM Account Guide
  11. Alliant Credit Union - High-yield checking account
  12. Alliant Credit Union - Help Center - Who is eligible for an account
  13. Foster Care to Success - Alliant and F2CS partnership
  14. Alliant Credit Union - Fees
  15. TransferWise - Multi-currency account pricing
  16. Chime
  17. Chime - Banking with no fees and no overdraft
  18. Chime - How do I deposit money into my account?
  19. Chime - Mobile banking
  20. Axos Bank
  21. Axos Bank - Personal checking rewards
  22. Independent Bank - Personal Checking
  23. Independent Bank - Deposit Account Fees for Consumer Checking/Savings Accounts
  24. Simple
  25. Simple - Checking account
  26. Ally - Online high-interest checking account
  27. Varo Banking - Online banking
  28. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - FDIC - BankFind
  29. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - FDIC - Deposit Insurance

Sources last checked 14 May 2020

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