The 22 checking accounts we surveyed at 18 online institutions show that they can be somewhat pricey, especially if you're intent on earning interest, but at least they pay decent interest. Again, you may find that abiding by a couple of minor stipulations will eliminate fees.
Interestingly, online banks have higher average minimums when opening either an interest or noninterest account. The average minimum required to open an interest checking account at an online bank is $650.81, versus $376.75 at a traditional bank. The minimum for a noninterest account is $133.33 online and $82.71 at the brick-and-mortar.
Average minimum requirement to open
The situation flips when it comes to the minimum balance you're required to maintain in an interest checking account to avoid service fees. At online banks the average is $843.75, while at traditional banks it's $3,461.84.
Average balance requirement (interest)
The average monthly service fee for an interest account at online banks is $4.38, versus $11.97 at a traditional institution. But, perhaps, the most glaring difference is the interest paid. Online banks average 2.06 percent, while their counterparts average a mere 0.24 percent.
Comparison of average yield
When it comes to nonsufficient fund -- or NSF -- fees, you're going to get socked anywhere you bank. The average of $28.95 charged by traditional banks is pretty much matched by the average of $28.71 at online banks.
If a free online checking account that pays considerable interest appeals to you, consider so-called reward checking accounts that are offered by some community banks. Other institutions have come up with their own version of the product but, generally, you'll probably need to make 10 to 15 monthly debit card transactions, have a direct deposit check, and accept your statements online. But if that works for you, then you could be getting quite a deal.
Methodology: Bankrate.com surveyed one interest checking account and one noninterest checking account at the largest banks and thrifts in each of 25 large markets to find the latest trends on checking account and ATM fees. There were 247 interest accounts and 226 noninterest accounts surveyed at 249 banks and thrifts in the top 25 metropolitan areas.
Bankrate.com also looked at 22 checking accounts at 18 institutions offering online accounts and compared them to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.