Best Checking Accounts – Our 10 Recommendations for December 2021
Best for Cash Back
- No hidden fees
- Early paycheck access
Axos Bank Essential Checking Account
Best for Unlimited ATM Access
- ATM-fee reimbursement
- Min. balance of $1
Up to 1.25%
Best for Digital Features
- Free in-network ATMs
- No monthly fees
Ally Interest Checking
Best for No Fee Perks
- All Allpoint ATMs free
- No overdraft fees
Up to 0.25%
Do you remember why you chose your current checking account?
If you got started early, your parents might have helped you open a kids’ checking or savings account at their bank’s branch. Or maybe you went with the credit union down the street from your work after getting your first W2 job.
Whatever the reason, location likely played a big part. Thankfully, you’re no longer confined to a financial institution for a checking account because of its proximity to you — or a brick-and-mortar site altogether, for that matter.
From higher interest rates to better benefits, it pays to expand your search beyond your local bank or credit union these days. Here’s how to choose the right checking account for you.
10 Best Checking Accounts for December 2021
|Chime Spending Accounts||0.50%||37,000+ MoneyPass ATMs||None||GET DETAILS|
|Varo Bank Account||Up to 3%||55,000+ Allpoint ATMs||Out-of-network ATM||GET DETAILS|
|Chase Total Checking||0.01%||16,000 ATMs||Yes, but may be waived||GET DETAILS|
|TD Bank Convenience Checking||0.01%||1,900 ATMs||Yes, but may be waived||GET DETAILS|
|Axos Bank Essential Checking||None||Fee reimbursements||None||GET DETAILS|
|Ally Interest Checking||Up to 0.25%||55,000+ Allpoint ATMs||None||GET DETAILS|
|Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards||2.09%||Over 30,000 ATMs||Overdraft fees||GET DETAILS|
|Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking||0.03%||Fee reimbursements||None||GET DETAILS|
|Chase College checking||None||16,000 ATMs||None||GET DETAILS|
|Montgomery Bank New Start Checking||None||Low fee reimbursement||None||GET DETAILS|
Chime Spending Account
- No monthly maintenance fees
- Free access to in-network ATMs
- A “Pay Friends” feature to give money to friends
Chime doesn’t charge overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees. You can also open an easy-to-access connected savings account — it allows you to automate your savings with features like the round-up tool, which will round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and dump the change into savings. Bonus: Chime has a “Pay Friends” feature, so you don’t have to mess with cash, math or other apps to split the bill.
Varo Bank Account
- No hidden fees
- Early access to your paycheck
- Tool to project your cash flow
With Varo, you’ll pay no monthly service fees, no minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash replacement fees. You’ll just pay out-of-network ATM fees and cash deposit fees if you deposit cash in-store through Green Dot. Varo keeps tabs on how much you spend across all your accounts, too, so you can better analyze and project your cash flow. It also allows you to set spending caps so you have a better handle on your money.
Chase Total Checking Account
- A hefty sign-on bonus for new customers
- Offers online, mobile and text banking
- Lots of branch locations in the U.S.
This Chase account has other fees. For example, you can use a Chase ATM for free, but you’ll pay a $2.50 fee for non-Chase ATMs in the U.S. and $5 for international withdrawals — so, this account isn’t the best for frequent international travelers. Thankfully, the bank has branches and ATMs in 33 states around the U.S., so you can avoid the fees if you’ve got one nearby.
Bonus (literally): You can get $225 when you open a new checking account. Getting it is pretty simple, too, compared with similar offers — open a new Chase Total Checking® account* with $0, and set up direct deposit within 90 days of opening. Keep your account open for at least six months, or you’ll lose the bonus at closing.
TD Bank Convenience Checking Account
- Free online and mobile banking
- A sizeable bonus for new customers
- Monthly fee that can be waived easily
Anyone can open an account online, but the brick-and-mortar banks (and ATMs) are mostly located along the East Coast. With a $3 fee for using an out-of-network ATM, you might want to have a physical location nearby.
The best thing about this financial institution is it’ll pay you — just for opening an account. For a $300 bonus and an interest-yielding account, consider TD Bank’s higher-tier Beyond Checking account. You must meet certain criteria (and be a new customer) to earn this bonus.
Axos Bank Essential Checking Account
- Up to 1.00% APY on certain accounts
- Requires balance of only $1
- Unlimited ATM-fee reimbursement in the U.S.
Axos offers a lot if you’re in the market for an online-only account. On top of no fees, Axos will also reimburse you by the end of the next business day for unlimited ATM fees within the U.S.
Regarding spending abroad — per a rep via live chat, you’ll pay a 1% service transaction charge on purchases made in other countries. So, even though this online bank account is flexible, it isn’t ideal for international travelers.
Ally Interest Checking Account
- Any Allpoint ATM in U.S. free of charge
- No overdraft fees
- Up to 0.25% APY
With a daily balance of $15,000 or more, this Ally checking account yields 0.25% interest. Below $15,000, it’s 0.10%. That tops a lot of bank accounts, but it’s not as impressive as we’d expect for an account with “interest” in the name — and that balance requirement is a beast.
You can access this account online or through the Ally app, so it’s an accessible choice for anyone within the U.S.
Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards
- Earn 2.09% interest
- All ATM fees in the U.S. are reimbursed
- Branches in IL; anyone in U.S. can bank online
With this Consumers Credit Union account, you’ll earn 2.09% interest on your balance up to $10,000. You’ll also have all ATM fees reimbursed, as long as you:
- Make 12 debit card purchases each month without using the PIN (as a credit transaction).
- Have at least one direct deposit or ACH credit of $500 or more each month.
- Enroll in e-documents.
In addition to that, you can earn 3.09% or 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you meet CCU Visa credit card spending requirements: $500 and $1,000, respectively.
All CCU branches are in Illinois, but anyone can open and manage an account online and through the mobile app.
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking
- Easy-to-use app
- ATM-fee reimbursements around the world
- No fees or minimum deposit required
The downside? Schwab’s online-only High Yield Investor Checking account must be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account. Luckily, there are no fees or minimum deposits to open either account, as long as you open them together.
Neither account comes with monthly fees or a minimum balance, but “other account fees, fund expenses and brokerage commissions may apply” to the brokerage account once you begin investing, according to the Schwab site.
The checking account offers a variable interest rate. If you want to grow your savings through Schwab, you’ll want to invest through the brokerage account.
Chase College Checking Account
- New applicants can qualify for a bonus
- Lots of branches and ATMs in the U.S.
- No monthly service fee
New Chase College Checking applicants can get a $100 bonus in their account just for signing up for paperless statements and making 10 qualifying transactions within the first 60 days. Debit card transactions count, so that should be easy.
No other rewards are a part of this account, but that’s typical with a student checking account. Beyond that, the account comes with the accessibility of one of the nation’s largest banks, so ATMs are plentiful and online and mobile banking is available.
Montgomery Bank New Start Checking
- Low minimum deposit to open an account
- No service fees or required monthly balance
- Free debit card
This Montgomery Bank account is loaded with freebies and other extras, such as free direct deposit, unlimited check writing and a free debit card. You can also open interest-bearing accounts with the bank if you’re interested in other options.
How to Choose a Checking Account
You probably already know that you need a checking account. It serves as the primary hub for your money. It’s where your paychecks land, and, from there, you use the money to pay bills, buy the stuff you need and hopefully slide some of it into a savings account.
Picking a bank account is a surprisingly personal choice. What makes an account “good” depends largely on your financial situation and goals. Checking accounts come in a lot of varieties these days, each with different features and benefits. It’s up to you to do the research and find the one that will benefit you and your lifestyle the most.
But we can tell you a few things that make any account good. Here are a few important features to keep in mind:
- Fees: How much will it cost you to manage your money with this account?
- Rewards: What do you earn in return for using the account?
- Accessibility: What are the requirements to open this account and earn the rewards?
- Mobility: Can this account travel and move with you?
Types of Checking Accounts
There are a few varieties of checking accounts out there that offer different benefits. You just need to figure out which kind will work best for you. Some of your options are:
- Student Checking: These accounts usually feature minimal fees and no minimum balance. They also don’t offer a lot of perks. They’re bare-bones accounts designed for cash-strapped students who just need the basics.
- Express Checking: This is the checking account for today’s digital person. If you don’t like going to the bank, this could be for you. These accounts are designed for use on computers, phone apps, ATMs or by telephone. You may actually get a fee for going to a live teller. The upside is fees are minimal as long as you keep banking digitally.
- Joint Checking: Need to share a checking account with a spouse or another person? A joint account lets you both put money in and take money out as needed.
- Fresh Start or Second Chance Checking: If you’ve run into financial trouble and have had your accounts closed, it can be tough to get a new account. These accounts are designed to minimize the bank’s risk, but they allow you to open a new account. If you maintain it well for an extended period of time, it may open opportunities for you to upgrade.
- Rewards Checking: Rewards checking offers the highest perks, such as annual percentage yield (APY) interest on the account balance. Debit card purchases could also receive cashback bonuses or earn points for things like airline travel or gift cards. Some, however, will come with an annual fee.
Check out our current list of bank promotions for a chance to gain a monetary bonus when signing up for a new bank account.
Choosing a Checking Account vs. a Savings Account
First off, don’t think of it as an either-or situation. Both a checking account and a savings account are essential components of a healthy financial setup. You want to have one location for more regular, everyday expenses (checking) and one for longer-term savings and goals (savings).
You can also mix and match. For instance, you might go for an online checking account and a savings account at a local credit union. You can also have multiple checking accounts; perhaps one offers a new-member bonus for an influx of free cash, while another offers free overdraft protection for regular spending. Alternatively, when it comes to savings accounts, one might offer a higher annual percentage yield, while another offers other saving products like a money market account.
Regardless of the checking account or savings account you choose, it’s a good idea to have at least one of each.
Choosing a Bank vs. a Credit Union vs. a FinTech Company for Your Checking Account
Similarly, opening a checking account, period, is generally a good move, regardless of where you do it.
Keep your own habits and preferences in mind, especially when it comes to choosing between a brick-and-mortar and online-only setup. Consider fees, from initial to ongoing, as well to make sure the account doesn’t end up costing you.
Don’t get hung up on too many details: When it comes to personal finance, it ultimately comes down to what works for you and your situation.
So How Do You Choose? Our Methodology
We decided to see how some of our favorite checking accounts stack up against this criteria.
We graded 10 bank and credit union accounts on the factors that we like to see in any checking account — no fees, free ATMs, good rewards, easy setup and accessibility.
If an account has a monthly fee or out-of-network ATM charges, we highlighted some more positive qualities (think: a low minimum balance requirement, interest checking account offering or a free debit card). With that said, we prioritized those checking accounts that nixed monthly maintenance fees, featured savings accounts and had no-charge or reimbursed network ATM fees.
Here are the best checking accounts we found across (online) banks, credit unions and other financial institutions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Checking Accounts
When it comes to choosing the best checking accounts, there’s a lot of information out there. Here, we’re answering some of the most popular questions about checking accounts.
What Is a Checking Account?
A checking account is a vehicle where you hold money at a bank, credit union or other financial institution. You typically use this account to pay for everyday expenses (think a cup of coffee or UberEats purchase) or bills (like that biweekly trip to the grocery store). Depending on where you have your account, you can access your cash in person, or via an ATM or debit card.
Unlike a savings account — which you typically use for an emergency fund or other financial goal — checking accounts should be fairly accessible for regular spending. For the most part, checking accounts do not accrue interest, like traditional or high-yield savings accounts do, but there are exceptions. For instance, high-yield investor checking accounts offer an APY.
How Can I Open a Checking Account?
Every checking account — whether it’s through a physical or online bank, credit union or other fintech setup — will have its own requirements. Generally, to open a checking account, you need to be at least 18 years old (though guardians can sometimes co-sign an account for a minor) and have a government ID (such as a passport or driver’s license). You’ll likely also need to supply contact information and possibly an opening deposit.
Which Is the Best Bank to Open an Account in?
The best bank to open an account will depend on your individual needs. If you prioritize banking at a physical institution with plenty of locations where you can interact with staff in person, you might choose to go with a big-name chain. If you prefer a bank where you might qualify for higher interest rates in lieu of having access to brick-and-mortar locations, an online setup might work best for you.
Of course, you want to consider fees — no or low is ideal — and the availability of banking products, too. For example, if you’re interested in personal loans or small-business resources, you’ll want to keep that in mind when you search for a bank. No matter your choice, it’s a good idea to evaluate it over time; if a bank ends up not being a fit, you can always move to a different one. And you should if it’ll mean higher rates, lower fees and access to better service.
What Is the Best Free Checking Account?
The best free checking account will vary based on your wants and needs in a banking account. You’ll want to look for an account that has no (or low) fees, a free debit card and easy access to your money — whether that means an ATM, a physical branch, an app or all of the above. Bonus: look for a free checking account that also offers a new-user bonus.
Right now, Chime, Varo and Axos are overall solid free checking account options. But again, it’s essential to shop around and look for a checking account that’s best for your individual situation.
Is Wells Fargo or Chase Better?
Wells Fargo and Chase are well-known financial entities and each offer checking accounts, among other banking products. However, both have monthly fees — which, in some cases, you can avoid if you follow certain stipulations — too.
Depending on your needs, one account might suit you better. For instance, each bank offers online and in-person banking; so, one could be a better fit depending on branch locations in your area. Another consideration: Chase tends to offer pretty significant new-user sign-on bonuses.
Evaluate Wells Fargo’s and Chase’s current offerings and see which one is a good fit for you.
What Bank Is Good for a Checking Account?
What makes a bank good for a checking account weighs largely on what you prioritize in both a bank and an account.
As a whole, you want to consider fees (how much does it cost you to keep your money there?), rewards (do you earn anything for banking with them?), accessibility (what are the requirements to open and keep your account open?) and mobility (are there foreign transaction fees?). Bonus points if they give out a… bonus, too, for being a new account holder.
It’s worth repeating: The best checking accounts will vary person-to-person based on their wants and needs.
How Is Interest Taxed on a Checking Account?
The interest you earn on a checking account is considered taxable income. So, your bank, credit union or financial institution will send you a 1099-INT form each year your account earns interest over $10.
You file this paperwork along with your yearly taxes. And don’t let this income being taxed deter you from saving money; a traditional or high-yield savings account is still a worthwhile tool for your money.
The Bottom Line When It Comes to Checking Accounts
We provided a lot of things to consider when opening a checking account.
To recap, the best checking account for you will depend on what you need and want. If there’s a monthly fee but no network ATM fees, that account may be worth considering. Similarly, an interest-bearing checking account may rank higher on your list than online bill pay capabilities.
Ideally, you’ll find an account with no or low fees that offers easy banking options, whether you prefer in-person or mobile banking, or something else. (And hey, a cash bonus and other perks don’t hurt, either.)
Remember, you don’t have to stick with the same checking (and savings) accounts, either. It quite literally can pay to shop around for better offers.
Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.
*Chase Fine print:
“Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $225 checking bonus: 1) Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval AND 2) Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. After you have completed all the above requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.
“Account Closing: If your checking account is closed within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.”
This content is not provided by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.