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Taking the time to compare checking accounts can help you avoid unnecessary fees—and possibly earn interest or checking account rewards. You can also find a bank that’s convenient for you, whether you prefer banking online or want branch access.
Here’s how to find the best checking account for your needs.
Compare Checking Accounts
With so many options to choose from, narrowing down the right checking account can be tricky. Our checking account comparison tool can help you find the right checking account for your needs.
Things To Look For in Checking Accounts
In general, the best checking accounts offer the following benefits:
- Low or no monthly fees
- Free ATM withdrawals
- High APYs
- Overdraft protection
- Convenience (whether that’s a highly-rated mobile app or a physical branch near you)
Consider what type of checking account suits you best as well. Along with traditional accounts, there are specialty accounts for seniors, students, business owners and military members. You can also find interest-bearing checking accounts, rewards checking accounts and premium accounts designed for customers with high balances.
Where To Get a Checking Account
Checking accounts are available at local banks, credit unions and online banks. Here’s a closer look at each option.
- National banks. National banks, like Chase and Bank of America, have an extensive network of branch locations and ATMs throughout the country and may offer extended business hours. However, they tend to charge higher fees, offer lower rates and may not score well on customer service.
- Local banks. Local banks are ideal for in-person service and often charge fewer fees and offer higher rates than national banks. That said, local banks don’t usually have a nationwide footprint and may have more limited business hours and a smaller ATM network.
- Credit unions. Credit unions are community-oriented nonprofits, so they often offer higher rates and reduced fees. But they typically have membership requirements and a smaller footprint.
- Online banks. With no brick-and-mortar locations, online banks tend to offer the lowest fees, the highest rates and the best mobile apps. But there’s no in-person service, and these banks don’t usually offer the wide range of financial services you’d find at a traditional bank or credit union.
Checking Account Fees
If you want to avoid bank fees, these are the most common types of checking account fees to look out for.
- Monthly service fees. Some checking accounts charge a monthly service or maintenance fee, which can range from a few dollars to over $20. In most cases, these fees can be waived by meeting certain requirements, like maintaining a minimum balance or completing a certain number of direct deposits each month. It’s best to opt for a free checking account unless you’re sure you can meet the fee waiver requirements.
- ATM fees. Most banks offer free in-network ATM transactions but may charge a fee for out-of-network ATM transactions. On top of that, there’s usually a surcharge from the ATM operator. Combined, the fees for using an out-of-network ATM average close to $5. Look for banks that offer ATM fee reimbursements to minimize these fees.
- Foreign ATM fees. Many banks charge a higher foreign ATM fee on transactions completed at international ATMs. A bank might charge a $3 domestic out-of-network ATM fee but a $5 foreign ATM fee. A few banks offer free ATMs worldwide.
- Overdraft fees. Overdraft fees are expensive, typically costing around $35 per overdraft. To avoid paying these fees, link your checking account to your savings account for overdraft protection or opt for an account that doesn’t charge overdraft fees.
- Foreign transaction fees. Most bank accounts charge a foreign transaction fee of 1% to 3% on debit card transactions completed internationally, although there are a few debit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
- Other service fees. Other common checking account fees include wire transfer fees, paper statement fees, cashier’s check, certified check and money order fees. Some premium accounts waive these fees.
The best no-fee checking accounts never charge monthly service fees, and many don’t charge out-of-network ATM or overdraft fees either. Some even offer ATM reimbursements and 0% foreign transaction fees.
How To Apply for Checking Accounts
While every financial institution is different, setting up a new checking account generally involves the following steps.
1. Compare your options.
Identify your needs and compare checking accounts based on fees, minimum deposit requirements, APYs and physical presence. The above tool is a good place to start.
2. Go into a branch or apply online.
Depending on the institution, you can either go into a local branch or fill out an application online. Bring any requested documents with you or be prepared to upload them.
3. Provide the requested documents.
You’ll need to provide documentation to prove your identity. This will typically include:
- Your Social Security number
- A current government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license, state or military ID, birth certificate or passport
- Proof of residency, such a lease agreement, an insurance or tax letter, credit card statement or a utility bill with your name and address on it
4. Make an opening deposit.
Check the bank’s minimum opening deposit requirements and complete an opening deposit with a debit card or ACH transfer. You can also fund your account with cash or a check if you’re at a branch.
5. Set up direct deposit.
While optional, setting up direct deposit for your new bank account can help avoid delays in getting paid. Some banks require you to set up direct deposit to avoid monthly fees.
How To Choose the Best Checking Accounts
When choosing a checking account, think about which benefits and services are important to you. Here are some factors to consider:
- Convenience. Do you want to be able to walk into your local branch, or are you happy to do everything online? Traditional banks offer more personalized service, while digital banking may appeal more to the tech-savvy who don’t need much assistance.
- Monthly fees. If your banking needs are simple, it makes sense to look for checking accounts with no monthly fees. If your eyes are set on an account that does charge monthly fees, make sure you can meet the requirements to get it waived.
- Transaction fees. How often do you use out-of-network ATMs or travel abroad? If you use them a lot, look for checking accounts with free ATMs worldwide, ATM reimbursements and no foreign transaction fees.
- APY. While most checking accounts don’t offer much interest if any, there are some high-yield checking accounts with APYs above 1.00%.
- Bonuses and rewards. If you’re the type to hunt for deals, look for a bank account with a welcome bonus or a cash-back debit card.
- Mobile app features. Do you prefer mobile banking? Look for banks with highly-rated apps that offer features like mobile check deposit, person-to-person transfers and budgeting tools.
- Overdraft protection. To avoid costly fees, find an account with overdraft protection or zero overdraft fees.
- Premium services. Premium accounts offer benefits like high APYs, free ATM withdrawals and free checks. Fees can run around $25 to $35 per month, but can often be waived by maintaining a high minimum balance.
Find the Best Checking Accounts of 2023