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Best free checking accounts — October 2022

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Monthly checking account fees can add up to a big expense, which is why it pays to find a free checking account for everyday banking needs.

The best free checking accounts offer perks, such as a high annual percentage yield (APY) that pays interest on your balance, out-of-network ATM reimbursement and/or free bank checks.

What is a free checking account?

Free checking accounts offer the promise of avoiding the monthly maintenance fees that many banks charge on checking accounts, though some fees — even on free accounts — are unavoidable. Be sure to understand the rules governing your account.

Some banks will waive (or reimburse) ATM fees, so it’s important to know which networks your bank participates in. In compiling our list of best free checking we used total ATM figures directly from each bank’s website.

Bankrate’s picks for the top free checking accounts

Note: Annual percentage yields (APYs) shown are as of Sept. 29, 2022, and may vary by region for some products. Bankrate includes only Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) banks or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) credit unions in its listings.

A closer look at the top free checking accounts

NBKC Bank, Everything Account: 1.01% APY, $0 minimum opening deposit

NBKC Bank is an online bank that also operates four branches in Kansas and Missouri. The NBKC Everything Account offers a competitive APY among free checking accounts and requires only $5 to open.

Other benefits include reimbursement of up to $12 in ATM fees charged by ATMs outside the NBKC or MoneyPass networks.

  • Best for: High yield
  • Branches: Four
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: More than 37,000 MoneyPass ATMs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • Offers and incentives: Free starter checkbook and reimbursement of up to $12 a month for out-of-network ATM fees

Ally Bank, Interest Checking Account: 0.10%-0.25% APY, $15,000 daily minimum balance required for top APY

Ally Bank offers a checking account that doesn’t have a monthly maintenance fee or a minimum opening deposit. It also pays 0.1 percent APY on balances less than $15,000 and 0.25 percent APY with a minimum daily balance of $15,000.

Ally’s interest checking account also offers freebies, such as free standard checks and access to free Allpoint ATMs. Ally eliminated overdraft fees in June 2021.

  • Best for: 24/7 service
  • Branches: None
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: More than 43,000 Allpoint ATMs
  • Offers and incentives: Free standard and cashier’s checks and incoming wire transfers

FNBO Direct, Online Checking Account:  0.15% APY, $1 minimum deposit

The FNBO Direct Online Checking Account only requires $1 to open the account and helps you earn some interest. The account has free incoming wires and no monthly maintenance fees. With this account, you’ll be able to access surcharge-free ATMs via Allpoint’s network.

  • Best for: Annual overdraft refund
  • Branches: None
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: 55,000 Allpoint ATMs
  • Offers and incentives: FNBO Direct automatically refunds one overdraft fee or returned item fee every 12 months from the date you last received a refund. (A returned item fee occurs when a transaction is returned unpaid because there’s insufficient money in the account.)

Capital One, 360 Checking Account: 0.10% APY, $0 minimum opening deposit

This checking account earns a little bit of interest on all balances and doesn’t require money to open or maintain the account. It also gives you fee-free access to more than 70,000 Capital One, MoneyPass and Allpoint ATMs.

You can open a 360 checking account either online or at a Capital One location.

As of Jan. 13, Capital One no longer charges overdraft fees.

  • Best for: Branches and online combination
  • Branches: 306
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: More than 70,000 Capital One, MoneyPass and Allpoint ATMs
  • Offers and incentives: First order of checks is free

Quontic Bank, Cash Rewards Checking: Earns no APY, $100 minimum opening deposit

This checking account doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees and offers a cash-back option. Quontic Bank pays 1.5 percent cash back on qualifying debit purchases with this checking account. This account provides surcharge-free access to more than 90,000 ATMs nationwide.

  • Best for: Earning cash back
  • Branches: None
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: More than 90,000 ATMs in the U.S.
  • Offers and incentives: 1 percent cash back on eligible debit card purchases, with your reward deposited into your checking account at the start of each statement cycle.

What to expect when opening a checking account

Generally, it should take under half an hour to open an account. There are some circumstances where it might take longer.

The account opening process may take longer if you have a credit freeze on your credit file and the bank’s policy is to contact at least one credit bureau during the account-opening process. If there is a freeze on your credit in place, check with the bank before applying to see whether you need to lift the credit freeze at only one credit bureau or whether you need to do this at multiple bureaus.

Getting a competitive yield

There are free checking accounts that offer you a competitive APY and charge no fees. But you’ll likely need to set up a direct deposit or make a certain number of debit card purchases to qualify for the higher APY. At some banks, both direct deposit and a minimum number of debit card purchases may be required.

Unlike most savings accounts and money market accounts at online banks, this high APY might be capped if your balance goes beyond a certain amount. Any balance amount that surpasses a certain threshold earns less than the top-yielding savings accounts and money market accounts. Therefore, transferring any excess balances to higher-earning accounts (like savings accounts or money market accounts) is a good way to optimize your earning power.

Pros and cons of free checking

Before opening a free checking account, weigh the pros and cons to see if it’s the right product for you.

Pros

  • There are many options that have low minimum balance requirements. Some accounts might not require any minimum balance to open or maintain the account.
  • With some accounts, you may be able to use any ATM convenient to you for free.
  • Paying maintenance fees on a checking account should be avoidable. Save this money, and instead of paying these fees to a bank, use it to pay bills or build an emergency fund.
  • Some free checking accounts may offer you more perks and benefits, such as free checks, cash back on debit card purchases or a high APY.

Cons

  • If you need to make a certain number of debit card purchases to meet the account requirements to get a higher APY, you might be better off with a cash back or rewards credit card. Compare these options to see which is better for you.
  • Many checking accounts are free, as long as you maintain a certain balance. But some accounts might have high minimum balances. Having a lot of money in a checking account that isn’t earning a high APY, just to avoid a maintenance fee and earn some perks, might not be worth as much as having your money in a high-yield savings account.

Free checking account FAQs

Methodology for Bankrate’s Best Checking Accounts

Bankrate’s editorial team receives no direct compensation from advertisers, and our content is fact-checked to ensure accuracy. Our editorial and research teams analyzed more than 100 widely available financial institutions, made up of the biggest banks and credit unions, as well as a number of popular online banks.

To find the best checking accounts, Bankrate’s editorial team analyzed various factors, such as fees, minimum balance requirements and annual percentage yield (APY) offered. All of the checking accounts listed are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) at banks or by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) at National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) credit unions.

Account minimums, monthly service fees and ATM charges are some important things to consider when choosing a checking account. It’s easy to find a checking account that doesn’t charge fees and has minimal balance requirements. Many online banks offer them, and they are a good fit for many consumers.

Choosing a bank or credit union that’s backed by the federal government will ensure your money is safe. Be sure to follow FDIC and NCUA limits and guidelines.

Bankrate’s editorial team chose the criteria, developed a scoring system to determine the best checking accounts, and used its knowledge of financial services and banking experience to choose the best ways to rate them.

Banks we monitor

These financial institutions are featured in our CD rate research: Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, Amerant Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express National Bank, Axos Bank, Bank 5 Connect, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Barclays, Bask Bank, BB&T, BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union), Bethpage Federal Credit Union, BMO Harris Bank, Bread Savings (formerly Comenity Direct), BrioDirect, Capital One Bank, Chase Bank, CIBC USA, CIT Bank, Citibank, Citizens Access, Citizens Bank (Rhode Island), Comerica Bank, Customers Bank, Delta Community Credit Union, Discover Bank, E-Trade Bank, Emigrant Direct, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First Internet Bank, First Technology Federal Credit Union, FNBO Direct, Golden 1 Credit Union, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Huntington National Bank, Investors Bank, Investors eAccess, KeyBank, LegacyTexas Bank, Limelight Bank, Live Oak Bank, M&T Bank, MySavingsDirect, Navy Federal Credit Union, NBKC Bank, PenFed Credit Union, PNC Bank, Popular Direct, Purepoint Financial, Quontic Bank, Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, Regions Bank, Salem Five Direct, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union, Suntrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, UFB Direct, Union Bank (California), U.S. Bank, USAA Bank, Vio Bank, VyStar Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Zions Bank.

Written by
Matthew Goldberg
Consumer banking reporter
Matthew Goldberg is a consumer banking reporter at Bankrate. Matthew has been in financial services for more than a decade, in banking and insurance.
Edited by
Managing editor
Reviewed by
Head of investor relations, Gateway Partners