Find the Best Checking Account
Finding the best checking account is a critical financial task. Compare free and low-fee checking accounts.
Checking accounts are built for everyday use, more so than any other type of bank account. They can accommodate frequent transactions in many forms - checks, direct deposits, ATM transactions, debit card charges, automatic bill payments and more. This versatility can come at a price, however. Checking accounts may charge a variety of fees, and if you don't choose your account carefully these fees can add up.
If your checking account needs have changed - or your bank has changed its fees - now may be a good time to compare checking accounts and reassess your banking relationship. MoneyRates.com regularly monitors more than 200 checking account products, featuring some for easy comparison. Here's our methodology.
Understanding checking accounts and fees
Some checking accounts have fees that can amount to hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. The three most prominent forms of checking account fees are:
- Maintenance. These are charged monthly, no matter how you use your account. The most recent MoneyRates.com checking account fee survey found the average monthly maintenance fee to be $13.24, or $158.88 per year. A minority of accounts offer checking with no monthly maintenance fee, while many waive the fee if you meet certain conditions.
- Overdraft. These occur when you transfer more money out of the account than your available balance. The most recent MoneyRates.com checking account fee survey found that the average overdraft fee was $32.84 per occurrence, and if you have multiple transactions while your account is overdrafted, you may pay have to pay several of these fees because of one mistake.
- ATM. Banks generally won't charge you for ATM transactions if you use a machine that belongs to your bank or a network to which it belongs. Otherwise, expect to pay twice - one fee to the owner of the machine, and a surcharge from your own bank. While these fees may seem relatively minor, they can add up quickly for frequent ATM users.
Given the way that checking account fees work, choosing the right bank can save you a great deal of money over time.
7 tips for finding the best checking account
What is the best place to open a checking account? That depends largely on your needs and banking habits. Here are some tips for finding the best checking account for your situation:
- Check the monthly fee. While overdraft and ATM fees depend on how you use the account, maintenance fees are charged month after month no matter what. Therefore, minimizing or avoiding this kind of fee should be a primary consideration in choosing a checking account.
- Find out if a fee-waiver applies. Many banks that charge maintenance fees waive them if you meet certain conditions, such as maintaining a specified minimum balance or setting up direct deposits. If you are considering an account with a maintenance fee, see if you are likely to qualify for a fee waiver.
- Decide on overdraft protection. Because overdraft fees are so expensive, MoneyRates.com recommends that you do not opt into overdraft protection. However, if you plan to opt in, look for an account with relatively low overdraft fees.
- Consider your ATM habits. If you plan to be a frequent ATM user, consider the locations of the bank's ATMs or ATM network. Make sure they are convenient to your regular travels, so you can avoid fees for using out-of-network machines.
- Consider customer service. If you like dealing with bank representatives in person, make sure you choose a bank with convenient locations and hours. If you prefer to bank online, check which web sites have features you are likely to find useful.
- Protect your account. This starts by making sure the institution is protected by insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration. Also, keep the balance of this account plus any other deposit accounts at the same institution below the applicable insurance limit - typically $250,000.
- Weigh additional benefits as tie-breakers. From cash bonuses or other gifts for signing up to interest on account balances, checking accounts may offer a variety of other enticements to attract customers. In the long run, the value of these typically pales in comparison to fee considerations. That means these additional benefits should not be your primary reasons for choosing a bank, but could be useful for deciding between two banks that are very similar on other criteria.
The table below shows several checking account options that you can compare to see which best meets your needs.
Best Checking Accounts found by users like you
Best Checking Accounts found by users like you
Have you been able to find even better checking account rates than the ones displayed above? If yes, please share them with us and other MoneyRates users!
Please include the details: the name of the bank, APY, when you opened the account, and whether the account can be opened online or only in the branch (if the latter, please include the location of the branch). Thank you!