Best checking accounts of November 2023
Editor’s Note: This article contains updated information from a previously published story.
Americans don’t keep cash under the mattress; in fact, 95% of households have a bank account. The trick is picking one that charges little in the way of fees, whether for monthly maintenance or trips to the ATM, while providing good customer service and an easy digital experience. Not all checking accounts are created equal, which is why we scoured more than 300 accounts offered by almost 120 financial institutions to pick the best ones for you.
Annual percentage yields (APYs) and account details are accurate as of November 3, 2023.
Why trust our banking experts
Our team of experts evaluates hundreds of banking products and analyzes thousands of data points to help you find the best product for your situation. We use a data-driven methodology to determine each rating. Advertisers do not influence our editorial content. You can read more about our methodology below.
300+ accounts from 120 financial institutions reviewed. 4 levels of fact checking. Nearly 60 data points analyzed. Compare the banks with the best checking accounts Axos Bank Essential Checking PSECU Checking Account Chime® Checking Account SoFi Checking and Savings Account Aspiration Spend and Save Account KeyBank Key Smart Checking® nbkc Bank Everything Account Compare the best checking accounts
We looked at more than 300 checking accounts offered by 119 financial institutions, including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citibank, Discover, TD Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs and USAA.
We evaluated them to create a star rating for each. A perfect score of 100 would get five stars; a score of 80 would get four stars and so on. Here are the categories we analyzed and how we weighted each.
Fees: 55% Access: 25% Customer experience: 5% Digital experience: 5%
Each of those categories is made up of subcategories. For instance, “Access” is determined by the available ATM locations (17%) and branch locations (8%). “Fees” incorporates monthly service fees (23%), the ability to waive those fees (13%) and so on.
Overall, we compiled more than 60 data points for each account.
A quick word about how we balanced our criteria to come up with our picks.
Fees, we believe, are the most important consideration when selecting a checking account.
“Banks want to make money”, said Jennifer Belmont Jennings, a senior wealth advisor at HighTowers Wealth Advisors in St. Louis. “And they’ll figure out a way they can make money off your checking account”.
A checking account full of fees will eviscerate your checking account. Therefore, we wanted to select accounts that would pose the least threat.
After fees, we think you should be concerned about how easy it is to access your cash. To that end, we rated accounts highly that were part of a wide-ranging ATM network, while also giving some points to available bank branches.
Lastly, we rewarded accounts that performed well on customer experience metrics (such as its Better Business Bureau grade) and digital experience (such as its app rating).
You’ll notice that we didn’t include interest. That’s because we believe that savers would be better off putting whatever money they don’t need in their checking account to pay their bills into an actual savings account, or certificate of deposit. Those products offer higher rates, while the point of your checking is to manage inflows and outflows as painlessly as possible.
Why some banks didn’t make the cut
Every checking account varies and only the best made this list. Many of the largest, most well-known banks didn’t make the cut because they charge fees — maintenance fees, non-sufficient fund fees, overdraft fees, etc. Online banks are typically more competitive in this area, as consumers actively research fees and benefits when looking for a bank online.
National average for interest-bearing checking accounts
The national average for interest-bearing checking accounts sits at an abysmal 0.07% APY as of October 16, 2023, according to the FDIC. You’ll find higher rates among our picks that do offer interest.
In general, you’re not using your checking account to earn interest: it’s a way station for income coming in, and expenses coming out. The most important aspect of a checking account is to what extent it charges fees. That being said, some interest is better than nothing.
What is a checking account?
A checking account functions as a safe place to temporarily pool your money. Think of it as a financial home base; You put money in and then divy it up to pay bills, build up savings or fund investments. You can make as many deposits and withdrawals as you want every month.
The name “checking account” comes from the fact that, besides using cash, writing and cashing checks used to be the main way to complete transactions. Now, however, checking accounts are mainly accessed with debit cards and typically replenished with direct deposits.
“A lot of transactions in our economy take place digitally”, said Sarah Behr, registered investment advisor (RIA) and founder of Simplify Financial Planning in San Francisco. “And while there are a lot of ways to store money — Venmo, Apple Pay and more — in order to open those accounts, you [practically] need a checking account”.
How does a checking account work?
A checking account is a transaction account that allows you to deposit, and withdraw, funds at your discretion.
The deposit bit is critical, though, because without money coming in, you can’t send anything out. In order to fund your account, you can:
Set up direct deposit. Have your employer funnel your income directly into your checking account. This way you don’t have to deal with a physical check. Deposit checks. If you do get a check from your employer (or anyone else), many banks allow you to deposit it straight into your checking account via your banking app. Or you can deposit it in person at your nearest bank location. Connect to a mobile wallet. Platforms like Google Pay, Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and more can connect to your checking account. Use an ATM. You can use an ATM to deposit cash as well as withdraw. Get a wire. Send a wire yourself from a different bank, though these are typically used for large amounts.
You can use many of the same methods to withdraw money from your checking account. But, perhaps the most popular method to draw on checking account funds is to use a debit card, which is a plastic card that is attached to your checking account. Swipe the card, and the funds flow from your account to the vendor.
Why get a checking account
A checking account is an essential tool of modern finances for most households. And it’s an essential tool because it solves a basic problem: Where do you put your income upon receiving it?
You can’t simply stick all of it in a savings account because, well, you need to pay for things like food and shelter. Similarly, you can’t invest all of it either. Sorry stock brokers!
Therefore, you should get a checking account, if for no other reason than you need a way to manage the money you have coming in. Some of that cash will go toward the mortgage, some will go toward groceries and some will make its way into the savings account.
But you need a place for the income to first reside.
Along with that purpose, there are other benefits to consider.
Protection from physical loss. If you drop your wallet in the ocean or someone literally grabs it and sprints away, you’re not likely to see any of that cash ever again. (We don’t recommend diving in or chasing a thief for safety reasons). However, if your wallet has a debit card rather than cash, you can cancel your card immediately and protect your funds. Even if it takes you two days to notice that there has been unauthorized activity on your account and a thief took thousands, you’re only liable for $50 by federal regulation.
Limited liability from identity theft. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), also known as Regulation E, protects consumers in all cases of fraudulent electronic transactions. If someone steals your identity and accesses your bank account, you’re only liable for $50 if you report it within 2 days and $500 if within 60 days. Here are the best identity theft protection services.
Federal insurance. In the unlikely case that the business(es) holding your checking accounts completely fails, your deposits are guaranteed up to $250,000 per institution by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Money market accounts (MMAs) offered by brokerage firms that don’t partner with banks can’t offer this protection.
Debit card acceptance. Debiting your checking account can also be the best alternative to digital wallets and credit cards. “There are a lot of places that don’t take Venmo, for instance, my child’s preschool”, said Behr. “They don’t take Venmo or even credit cards”.
Spending control. It’s much harder to spend money you don’t have when you use a debit card compared to a credit card. Monthly statements also help you to easily see where and when you spent how much money. You can track and potentially adjust your spending habits. If you have a joint account or an account with your child, you can monitor spending together to ensure money is being used in ways you both agreed on.
Rewards. While debit card rewards aren’t as attractive as those offered by credit cards, you can still get some compared to the no rewards typically offered via cash transactions.
How to choose the best checking account
Checking accounts have many features that vary depending on the institution that offers them and the subtype of account. It’s smart to decide which features are important to you before you start searching and potentially get lost in the small print.
Here are elements to consider. It’s likely that not all of them will be important to you, which is great — you can narrow down what you’re looking for.
Fees. Do you want to avoid most fees or are you OK with paying in exchange for more services from a large, brand-name institution? ATMs. Do you travel and use ATMs often? If so, a bank with a big in-network ATM service or unlimited ATM fee reimbursement may be the ticket. Branches. It can be hard to replace a face-to-face connection. If you value in-person banking, seek an institution with physical branches near you. Reputation. Does the bank or credit union have a positive image among its customers? Do people actually enjoy using its products? APY. You may just be starting out, and want a high-yield checking account to earn as much as possible as you build up savings. Or you could use a competitive APY as a tie-breaker. Other financial services. It can be convenient to use one financial institution for different financial services. Credit cards, car loans, mortgages, retirement accounts and more are available at some banks, giving you a one-stop shop. Rewards. Debit cards can offer cashback rewards that either provide a low percentage reward for most purchases or a higher percentage for spending at select places. Checking account fees
If you’re wondering what sort of fees to watch out for when you’re looking at checking account options, here are the most common ones.
Maintenance fees. Also called service fees, this is a monthly fee for keeping your account open. It’s kind of like rent. Overdraft fees. If you spend more than what your account has and the bank covers it, you typically have to make up the difference and pay an overdraft fee. Non-sufficient fund (NSF) fees. If you send more than what’s in your account and the bank refuses to cover it, you still have to pay a fee in some cases. ATM fees. If you use an ATM that isn’t in network, you may have to pay a fee to the ATM operator and to your bank. Wire transfer fees. Incoming domestic wires may be free, but incoming international wires and all outgoing wire transfers tend to come with a fee. Debit card replacement. If you lose your card, you may need to pay a small fee (usually around $5) to have it replaced. If you need the replacement card quickly, the expedited mail fee may be much more expensive (such as $35). How to open a checking account
You can open a checking account online or in-person at a branch. You’ll need to fill out an application with your personal information and agree to terms and conditions. Some institutions may require you to show a photo ID and set up an initial deposit. The whole process is typically quick and easy, taking roughly 15 minutes.
There are two cases in which things can take longer. The first is in getting your debit card. If you don’t go in person, it may take a few days for your card to be made and sent to you via mail.
The second case is if you opt to manually connect your new account to one at another bank. One bank will make two micro deposits, each less than $1, and then withdraw them. You’ll go into both accounts and confirm the amounts and the dates they were made. This may take a week and until things are verified, you can’t transfer funds between the two accounts.
What do you need to open a checking account? Government-issued photo ID: You may need to show a driver’s license, passport or similar ID if you go in person. Personal details: Whether you apply online or at a branch, you’ll need to give your date of birth, Social Security Number (SSN) and address. Opening deposit: Cash or check (if you’re in person) or a way to make an electronic transfer. To transfer from another account, you’ll need the account number and routing number. Pros and cons of checking accounts
Nothing is sunshine and rainbows all the time. Take a look at the pros and cons of checking accounts.
Pros Convenience. A checking account gives you several methods to receive and withdraw funds. Debit cards, ACH transfers, ATMs and more allow you to access your funds when you want and keep your funds safe until you need them. Interest and rewards. You can potentially earn extra money both when your cash is in the account and when you withdraw it. Some checking accounts offer interest and, every time you swipe your debit card for a purchase, you could bag a cash-back reward. Liability protection. If your account suffers fraudulent activity, you’re protected by federal Regulation E, which limits your liability to only $50 if you report the fraud within two days of it occurring and to only $500 if you report it within 60 days. Plus, your deposits are also insured by the FDIC or NCUA. Cons Possible fees. Some checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee on top of service charges for things like wire transfers. Potential balance requirements. You may be required to keep a set amount of cash in your account at all times, which can tie up your funds. Withdrawal limits. Most institutions automatically set withdrawal limits on your checking account. You may be able to withdraw only $1,000 per debit transaction and $3,000 total per day today. While you can ask to have a limit increased, it may be annoying. Checking account vs. savings account: what’s the difference?
A checking account is designed to be a temporary holding pen for your income. Your funds enter your checking account and, for what’s ideally a short term, stay there until you break up and sort the money, deciding what needs to go where. You may keep a cash cushion in your checking account so that if an automatic bill is higher than expected, you have the funds to pay it. But it’s not meant to be a permanent holding space for your funds.
A savings account is meant to hold your funds for a longer term. It’s an ideal place for funds you are amassing for a specific purpose, such as a family vacation or a new car down payment. Financial experts recommend that you have three-to-six months’ worth of expenses in a savings account as an emergency fund in case you lose a job, can’t work or have another type of unpleasant surprise. Having such a rainy-day fund will allow you to use your savings rather than go into debt.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Will my checking account earn interest?
It depends on the account and the provider. Some financial institutions offer a competitive APY on one of the checking accounts it offers and then no APY but cash back on another.
Which banks don’t charge monthly account fees?
All of the banks on our list have at least one account that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee — including Axos Bank, SoFi, Aspiration, PSECU, Key Bank, nbkc Bank and TIAA Bank.
Which bank is the best for opening a checking account?
We think the best one in general is at the top of our list, Axos Bank Essential Checking. The exact best one for you will suit your needs, whether you hate fees, love earning interest or something in between.
Are checking accounts free?
Nothing is completely free. “No-fee” checking refers to accounts that don’t charge a monthly maintenance fee. Even checking accounts that don’t charge a monthly maintenance fee, could charge you for using the ATM or a wire transfer. Pick accounts that offer the lowest fees overall.
How many checking accounts can I have?
You can have as many checking accounts as you can manage. There is no law or rule limiting the number of checking accounts one person can have.
How can I earn a checking account bonus?
To earn a checking account bonus, you’ll need to meet whatever criteria the bank sets. This could be opening a new account with a big deposit, maintaining a large average balance or meeting a minimum debit card transaction requirement.
When does it make sense to open a checking account?
It makes sense to open a checking account whenever you start to have income and expenses. It can make sense to open a new one or an additional one if you want fewer fees or better perks.
*Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC.
¹Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply except at MoneyPass ATMs in a 7-Eleven, or any Allpoint or Visa Plus Alliance ATM.
²Chime SpotMe is an optional, no fee service that requires a single deposit of $200 or more in qualifying direct deposits to the Chime Checking Account each at least once every 34 days. All qualifying members will be allowed to overdraw their account up to $20 on debit card purchases and cash withdrawals initially, but may be later eligible for a higher limit of up to $200 or more based on member’s Chime Account history, direct deposit frequency and amount, spending activity and other risk-based factors. Your limit will be displayed to you within the Chime mobile app. You will receive notice of any changes to your limit. Your limit may change at any time, at Chime’s discretion. Although there are no overdraft fees, there may be out-of-network or third party fees associated with ATM transactions. SpotMe won’t cover non-debit card transactions, including ACH transfers, Pay Anyone transfers, or Chime Checkbook transactions. See Terms and Conditions.