Checking accounts are a household money management staple, allowing you to pay bills and make purchases through electronic transfers, paper checks and debit cards.
The best checking accounts either don’t have monthly fees or allow you to easily avoid these fees by meeting certain requirements. Many of the best checking accounts also have ways to avoid out-of-network ATM fees, or even to get free checks.
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
These normally offer checks, a debit or ATM card and online bill pay options. Often you can waive a monthly maintenance fee by maintaining a minimum balance, while some traditional checking accounts don’t charge such a fee at all.
Who it’s best for: Anyone seeking an account to use for paying bills and making debit card transactions
Common key features: Checks, a debit card, online bill payment
Premium checking account
This account typically offers perks that you’d otherwise have to pay for. These may include a free safe deposit box, free personal checks, free official checks, free money orders and fees waived on some or all out-of-network ATMs. You’ll usually need to maintain a higher minimum balance on a premium account.
Who it’s best for: Customers with a high account balance
Common key features: Free checks, money orders and safe deposit box, waived out-of-network ATM use
Student checking account
These accounts are usually for students ages 18-23. Student checking accounts might not have maintenance fees for those who qualify. They may also offer overdraft forgiveness, ATM fee reimbursement, free checks or other perks. These accounts can be a useful way for students to begin managing their money, using their own debit card for purchases or cash withdrawals.
It’s important to note that while a student checking account might be a great fit for some people, if it doesn’t reimburse ATM fees, there may be a better option for you. A bank that allows you 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.
Who it’s best for: Students between the ages of 18 and 23
Common key features: Overdraft forgiveness, ATM fee reimbursement, free checks
Senior checking account
These accounts are typically available to people ages 55 or 60 and older. They may offer free checks, waived monthly maintenance fees and other perks beneficial to those who are retired or living on a fixed income.
However, don’t just look at the account name and assume it’s the right account for you without shopping around. You may find a better deal with an account that isn’t marketed to seniors.
Who it’s best for: Those around 55 years of age and older
Common key features: Free checks, waived monthly maintenance fees
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. While some interest checking accounts offer higher APYs than savings or money market accounts, interest-checking accounts are more likely to only pay a higher APY on funds up to a certain balance threshold, with additional funds earning a lower rate.
Other interest-checking accounts will only give you a fraction of the yield you can get on a top-yielding savings account. For instance, a checking account may pay a 0.1 percent APY, whereas the top savings accounts currently pay a 2 percent APY or higher.
Who it’s best for: Those who maintain a large checking account balance
Common key features: Pays interest on the balance
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 makes regular cash deposits, consider these charges carefully when comparing business checking accounts.
Who it’s best for: Those who run a business
Common key features: Business checks, ability to accept credit and debit card payments
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. Some checkless checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee that cannot be waived.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who doesn’t need to write paper checks
Common key features: Debit card, online bill pay
Earning points or cash back is possible with a rewards checking account when you make purchases with your debit card. Make sure you look at the fine print to see if you need to meet certain requirements to earn cash back. Other factors to consider include required minimum balance, maintenance fees and whether there’s a cap on the amount of cash back or number of points that can be earned.
Who it’s best for: Those who make frequent debit card purchases
Common key features: Cash back or points on debit purchases
Private bank checking
You’ll usually need to have a certain amount of money deposited at a bank to be eligible for a private bank checking account. Investments and lending relationships may be considered to meet this threshold.
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.
Who it’s best for: Those who can meet high minimum balance requirements
Common key features: Access to a private banker, higher rates on deposit products, lower rates on loans, free checks, free safe deposit box
Those denied a standard checking account due to a history of excessive overdrafts or unpaid negative balances should consider second-chance checking. These accounts help you start over and maintain good standing with a bank.
Second-chance checking accounts typically do not offer all of the services as standard accounts. Monthly service fees might be mandatory, and overdraft protection might not be an option. The bank may eventually allow you to convert to a regular checking account if you’ve kept this one in good standing for a certain period of time.
Who it’s best for: Consumers who have been denied standard checking
Common key features: Mandatory service fees, no overdraft protection
How to choose the right checking account
Whatever your situation, chances are there’s a checking account that aligns well with your needs. When choosing a checking account, determine which factors are important to you. For some people, fees (and how to avoid them) are a top priority. Other things to be considered are the availability of branches and ATMs and whether a minimum balance is required.