Checking accounts are a staple of any good banking relationship. They’re used to pay bills and to pay others. Whether you’re making payments online or writing a physical check, a checking account is a necessity for most people.
Checking accounts also usually let you make unlimited transactions or withdrawals, unlike savings accounts which are limited to six transactions per month (with some exceptions like ATM withdrawals) by Regulation D.
People usually keep their checking accounts for a long time. The average U.S. adult keeps their same primary checking account for around 16 years, according to a 2017 survey conducted for Bankrate and Money. Even though most rely on these accounts, not everyone has a bank account. According to an FDIC biennial survey released in 2017, 6.5 percent of U.S. households are unbanked.
The best checking accounts either don’t have monthly fees or have certain requirements that allow you to avoid these maintenance fees. For instance, a bank may waive a monthly maintenance fee on an account if you have a certain amount being direct deposited each month, or you stay above a preset average daily balance amount per month. Many of the best checking accounts also have ways to avoid out-of-network ATM fees, or even get free checks.
How to choose the right checking account
When choosing a checking account, fees (and how to avoid them) should be a top priority. The addition of interest is a nice added perk for a checking account. But make sure you compare this to savings accounts and money market accounts to make sure you’re getting a competitive offer. It’s important to note that some checking accounts may have a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), but it may only be on a certain amount. After that capped amount, the APY may not be quite as competitive. Knowing if these tiers exist and what they are can help you earn more interest.
Also, don’t judge products only by their name. For instance, a student checking account might be a great fit for some students. But if the student accounts don’t reimburse ATM fees, and that ends up costing you money, then there may be another option that suits you better. An online bank or another bank that gives you the freedom to use out-of-network ATMs without incurring a fee should be considered — even if the checking account doesn’t have “student” in its name.
Types of checking accounts
These are some of the most-widely available types of checking accounts offered at banks and credit unions.
- Traditional checking account
- Premium checking account
- Senior checking account
- Interest-bearing account
- Business checking account
- Checkless checking
- Rewards checking account
- Private bank checking
Traditional checking account
These normally offer checks, a debit or ATM card and online bill pay options. Often you’ll have a way to waive a monthly maintenance fee or there may be some accounts that don’t have this fee at all. Balances tend to determine whether you’ll pay a fee with the account.
These accounts may also have overdraft services to help a payment be approved even if you don’t have the money in your account. There will likely be a fee for this, so watch your account carefully before making a purchase or transaction.
Premium checking account
This account will normally earn you perks that others might have to pay for. A free safe deposit box, free personal checks, free official checks, free money orders and fees waived on some or all out-of-network ATM fees are some advantages to this type of account. You’ll usually need to maintain a higher minimum balance on a premium account.
Student checking account
These are usually for students age 18-23. Student checking accounts might not have a maintenance fees for those who qualify. They may also offer overdraft forgiveness, ATM fee reimbursement or other perks. These accounts can be a great way for students to manage their money using their own debit card. Debit cards can often be used for purchases or for ATM transactions.
Senior checking account
These accounts are usually for people age 55 or 60 and older. These may offer special perks for customers who qualify. One perk may be free check orders.
However, don’t just look at the account name and assume it’s the right account for you without shopping around. An account that doesn’t have “senior” in its name may offer the same or better features.
These checking accounts help you earn interest. Some of these may have specific requirements to earn a certain APY, such as having a minimum direct deposit or a minimum number of debit card transactions.
There may also be limitations on how much of your balance earns a certain APY. Some interest-checking accounts have higher APYs than savings accounts or money market accounts at online banks. However, online savings accounts and money market accounts are more likely to give you the same APY for balances above a certain level. Though they may have account maximums too.
Other interest-checking accounts will only give you a fraction of the yield you can get on a top-yielding savings account. These may be around the average savings account yield of 0.1 percent APY or even lower.
Business checking account
This type of checking account can help a business run. For instance, a business may have one checking account for payroll and another for operating expenses. It also could have other accounts for specific purposes.
Business checking accounts may charge customers extra for transactions surpassing a certain number. If your business has a lot of cash deposits, consider these charges carefully when comparing business checking accounts.
These accounts don’t offer checks. So you’ll need to rely on using a debit card to make transactions. This type of account might not have overdraft fees. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve written a check, this might be a desirable banking option for you.
Earning points or cashback is possible with this type of checking account. Make sure you look at the fine print to see if you need to meet certain requirements to earn cashback.
Private bank checking
You’ll usually need to have a certain amount of money deposited at a bank to be eligible for this type of checking account. Investments and lending relationships may be considered.
This type of account may give you higher debit card limits, free wire transfers, higher Zelle limits or the ability to withdraw more in a day from an ATM. You may also work with a dedicated representative who handles your account.