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Best free checking accounts for May 2024

Best available rates across different account types for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Bankrate’s picks for the top free checking accounts

Note: Annual percentage yields (APYs) shown are as of March 27, 2024. Bankrate's editorial team validates this information regularly, typically biweekly. APYs may have changed since they were last updated and may vary by region for some products. Bankrate includes only FDIC banks or NCUA credit unions in its listings.

Discover Bank, Cashback Debit account: Earns 1% cash back on eligible debit card purchases, $0 minimum opening deposit

The Cashback Debit account from Discover Bank earns 1 percent cash back on eligible debit card purchases up to $3,000 each month. The account doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee and doesn’t require any minimum deposit amount.

With this account, customers with direct deposit can receive their paychecks up to two days early. Fee-free access is available at 60,000 ATMs in the U.S. through the MoneyPass and Allpoint networks.

  • Best for: Cash back rewards and no fees
  • Branches: One
  • Mobile app offered: Yes
  • ATM access: More than 60,000 MoneyPass and Allpoint ATMs
  • Offers and incentives: Direct deposit up to two days early, no-fee check reordering

NBKC Bank, Everything Account: 1.75% 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 no minimum opening deposit.

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 32,000 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

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.

Capital One does not charge overdraft fees.

  • Best for: Branches and online combination
  • Branches: around 280
  • 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 1% cash back on eligible debit card purchases, $100 minimum opening deposit

This checking account doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees and offers a cash-back option. Quontic Bank pays 1 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 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.

How to open 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.

Can I open a checking account online?

At an online bank, you’re almost always able to open an account online. Many brick-and-mortar banks also let you open up accounts online.

An online bank may also allow you to apply for an account over the phone.

What do I need to open a new checking account?

Requirements for opening an account vary from bank to bank. Here is a list of items you might need to provide or be aware of when opening a new checking account:

  • Your legal name
  • Social Security number or tax identification number
  • Date of birth
  • Occupation
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Scan of your government-issued photo ID
  • Initial deposit (If you’re making it electronically from an existing account, you may need the routing number and account number for the account.)

Checking account fees

Many free accounts can end up costing you checking account fees if you don’t meet the bank’s requirements. Make sure you know what these rules are before opening an account.

Some fees to watch for:

  • Maintenance fee: You’ll usually get charged this fee if you go below a certain balance in a monthly statement period.
  • Overdraft fee: Transactions that cause a negative balance (i.e., withdrawing more than is deposited in the account) can trigger this fee.
  • Sustained overdraft fee: A fee charged after a certain period of time if your account remains negative.
  • ATM fees: Know what it will cost you to withdraw your money from an out-of-network ATM (and confirm what counts as in and out of network). Some banks will reimburse some or all of these fees. According to Bankrate’s 2023 checking account and ATM fee study, using an out-of-network ATM costs an average of $4.73. A customer’s bank charges an average of $1.58 and surcharges from the ATM cost customers an (additional) average of $3.15.
  • Paper statement fees: Many banks charge a fee to receive a paper statement in the mail.

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 online 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

  • Checkmark

    There are many options that have low minimum balance requirements. Some accounts might not require any minimum balance to open or maintain the account.

  • Checkmark

    With some accounts, you may be able to use any ATM convenient to you for free.

  • Checkmark

    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.

  • Checkmark

    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

Research methodology

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 credit unions that are members of the 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.