Skip to Main Content

7 questions to ask before choosing a checking account

Apples and oranges
Syibli Fakih/Shutterstock
Apples and oranges
Syibli Fakih/Shutterstock
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for .

ON THIS PAGE Jump to Open page navigation

If you are looking for a checking account, you will find a veritable supermarket of choices. There are accounts for students, seniors, businesses, high-yield accounts and more.

Because there are many types of checking accounts, it’s smart to shop around until you find the right fit. Ideally, you want an account that charges no monthly maintenance fee or offers ways to avoid account fees.

Here are seven questions to ask that will help you choose the right type of checking account.

1. Is this your first checking account?

If you’re a college student or a teenager, consider a student checking account. Many banks and credit unions offer checking accounts for students in specific age ranges.

Banks usually offer ways to avoid monthly fees on student accounts, such as making a certain number of debit transactions per month or setting up online bill pay.

Once the checking account is open, students need to closely monitor their balances to avoid costly overdraft fees.

2. Do you prefer branch banking or online banking?

Whether you decide to open a checking account at a traditional brick-and-mortar bank or an online bank depends on your needs and preferences.

If you have a smartphone or computer and are comfortable doing your banking online, there are lots of excellent online banks to consider. Online banks tend to have lower account fees and pay higher yields because they don’t have branches to maintain. Some of them are tied into large ATM networks. For example, fintech company and mobile bank Chime gives customers fee-free access to over 60,000 ATMs.

Online banks are time-savers, too, because you can take care of all your banking without having to visit a branch. As long as you have a secure internet connection, you can bank from anywhere.

But if you handle a lot of cash, prefer doing business in person or want a bank that offers a full suite of products, such as mortgages and other loans, savings accounts, credit cards and wealth management services, a checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank is a better choice. Many big, traditional banks also have sophisticated tools for online and mobile banking, offering customers the advantages of both digital and brick-and-mortar banking.

Check-writing is another consideration when shopping for a checking account. If you write a lot of checks, a traditional bank might be a better fit. But don’t rule out online banks. Capital One and Ally Bank are just a couple of online banks that provide paper checks.

3. Do you keep a lot of money in your checking account?

If you keep a couple thousand dollars or more in your checking account, you should consider a high-yield checking account. Credit unions, community banks and online banks are more likely to offer interest checking accounts than traditional banks.

In order to qualify for the highest APY, you may have to:

  • Maintain a minimum balance.
  • Use your debit card at least 10 to 15 times a month.
  • Set up a recurring direct deposit.

You could also transfer funds to a high-yield savings account and use that money to build up an emergency fund.

4. Do you use overdraft protection or out-of-network ATMs?

If you tend to overdraw your checking account or use ATMs that are not in your bank’s network, it’s important to look for a free checking account or one with low fees. Overdraft fees and out-of-network ATM fees can add up quickly.

Bankrate’s 2022 checking survey found that 99 percent of non-interest checking accounts are either free or offer ways to avoid fees.

Digital banks and fintechs often have lower fees or no fees, which can help you stay on budget. Like traditional banks, online banks that are FDIC members are federally insured.  Fintechs such as Chime and Current partner with FDIC banks to protect your deposits.

5. Do you want a smartphone app to manage your account and monitor spending?

If you need to control your spending or manage your child’s college spending, select a checking account at a bank that has a highly rated mobile app. Numerous mobile banking apps can help you set up a budget and track your spending, transfer money to savings, get account alerts and more.

Visit the app store for your particular smartphone and look at apps offered by brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions, as well as fintechs such as Chime or Current. Reading customer reviews of apps can be helpful.

Some people like to limit their spending by using a prepaid card, but many prepaid cards come with costly fees. A standard checking account that’s free or has a low or waivable monthly fee is a better bet. Some apps also let you set card controls to limit your spending.

6. Has a bank ever closed your checking account?

If a bank has closed your checking account because of mismanagement (repeated overdrafts, bounced checks, unpaid fees, fraud or ID theft, etc.), second-chance checking accounts can help you regain your financial footing.

Many banks and credit unions bump you up to a regular checking account after one year of responsible account management. Still, second-chance accounts can sock you with high monthly fees and strict requirements, such as direct deposit or high minimum balances.

7. Do you want a rewards checking account?

Do you use your debit card a lot? A checking account that rewards certain banking behaviors might be the best fit for you.

Some banks offer an interest-rate bonus for maintaining a higher balance, using a debit card frequently, setting up direct deposit or other services. For example, at fintech Current, using your debit card at select merchants earns you points that can be redeemed for cash. Axos Bank, an online bank, has a CashBack Checking account that earns you 1 percent cash back if you maintain a minimum $1,500 balance and sign for purchases using your debit card.

If you don’t use services that will earn rewards, steer clear of rewards accounts and look for a standard checking account that’s free or has a low monthly maintenance fee. If you don’t earn interest with your checking, consider opening a CD account to grow your cash.

Bottom line

It’s smart to shop around and compare checking accounts from different banks and credit unions before you choose one.

Think about your banking needs, habits and preferences and your comfort level with digital banking versus branch banking.

There are many checking account options. Bankrate’s bank reviews can help you make a good choice for your needs.

Written by
Libby Wells
Contributing writer
Libby Wells covers banking and deposit products. She has more than 30 years’ experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and online publications.
Edited by
Consumer banking reporter
Reviewed by
Head of investor relations, Gateway Partners