Best free checking accounts — March 2023
Monthly checking account fees can add up to a big expense, which is why it pays to find a free checking account for everyday banking needs.
The best free checking accounts offer perks, such as a high annual percentage yield (APY) that pays interest on your balance, out-of-network ATM reimbursement and/or free bank checks.
What is a free checking account?
Free checking accounts offer the promise of avoiding the monthly maintenance fees that many banks charge on checking accounts, though some fees — even on free accounts — are unavoidable. Be sure to understand the rules governing your account.
Some banks will waive (or reimburse) ATM fees, so it’s important to know which networks your bank participates in. In compiling our list of best free checking we used total ATM figures directly from each bank’s website.
Bankrate’s picks for the top free checking accounts
NBKC Bank, Everything Account: 1.50% APY; $0 minimum opening deposit
Quontic Bank, High Interest Checking: 1.10% APY; $100 minimum opening deposit
Ally Bank, Interest Checking Account: 0.10%-0.25% APY; $0 minimum opening deposit
FNBO Direct, Online Checking Account: 0.15% APY; $1 minimum opening deposit
Capital One, 360 Checking Account: 0.10% APY; $0 minimum opening deposit
Note: Annual percentage yields (APYs) shown are as of Feb. 28, 2023, and may vary by region for some products. Bankrate includes only Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) banks or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) credit unions in its listings.
A closer look at the top free checking accounts
NBKC Bank, Everything Account: 1.50% APY, $0 minimum opening deposit
NBKC Bank is an online bank that also operates four branches in Kansas and Missouri. The NBKC Everything Account offers a competitive APY among free checking accounts and requires only $5 to open.
Other benefits include reimbursement of up to $12 in ATM fees charged by ATMs outside the NBKC or MoneyPass networks.
Best for: High yield
Mobile app offered: Yes
ATM access: More than 37,000 MoneyPass ATMs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
Offers and incentives: Free starter checkbook and reimbursement of up to $12 a month for out-of-network ATM fees
Quontic Bank, High Interest Checking: 1.10% APY, $100 minimum opening deposit
This checking account doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees and earns a competitive APY of 1.10 percent when you make 10 or more qualifying debit card purchases of at least $10 each statement cycle. The minimum opening deposit is $100.
Not making the minimum required deposits will result in an APY of 0.01 percent.
Best for: Large network of fee-free ATMs
Mobile app offered: Yes
ATM access: More than 90,000 ATMs in the U.S.
Offers and incentives: In addition to a debit card, the account comes with a wearable pay ring, which can be used at stores for contactless payments.
Ally Bank, Interest Checking Account: 0.10%-0.25% APY, $15,000 daily minimum balance required for top APY
Ally Bank offers a checking account that doesn’t have a monthly maintenance fee or a minimum opening deposit. It also pays 0.1 percent APY on balances less than $15,000 and 0.25 percent APY with a minimum daily balance of $15,000.
Ally’s interest checking account also offers freebies, such as free standard checks and access to free Allpoint ATMs. Ally eliminated overdraft fees in June 2021.
Best for: 24/7 service
Mobile app offered: Yes
ATM access: More than 43,000 Allpoint ATMs
Offers and incentives: Free standard and cashier’s checks and incoming wire transfers
FNBO Direct, Online Checking Account: 0.15% APY, $1 minimum deposit
The FNBO Direct Online Checking Account only requires $1 to open the account and helps you earn some interest. The account has free incoming wires and no monthly maintenance fees. With this account, you’ll be able to access surcharge-free ATMs via Allpoint’s network.
Best for: Annual overdraft refund
Mobile app offered: Yes
ATM access: 55,000 Allpoint ATMs
Offers and incentives: FNBO Direct automatically refunds one overdraft fee or returned item fee every 12 months from the date you last received a refund. (A returned item fee occurs when a transaction is returned unpaid because there’s insufficient money in the account.)
Capital One, 360 Checking Account: 0.10% APY, $0 minimum opening deposit
This checking account earns a little bit of interest on all balances and doesn’t require money to open or maintain the account. It also gives you fee-free access to more than 70,000 Capital One, MoneyPass and Allpoint ATMs.
You can open a 360 checking account either online or at a Capital One location.
As of January 2022, Capital One no longer charges overdraft fees.
Best for: Branches and online combination
Mobile app offered: Yes
ATM access: More than 70,000 Capital One, MoneyPass and Allpoint ATMs
Offers and incentives: First order of checks is free
What to expect when opening a checking account
Generally, it should take under half an hour to open an account. There are some circumstances where it might take longer.
The account opening process may take longer if you have a credit freeze on your credit file and the bank’s policy is to contact at least one credit bureau during the account-opening process. If there is a freeze on your credit in place, check with the bank before applying to see whether you need to lift the credit freeze at only one credit bureau or whether you need to do this at multiple bureaus.
Getting a competitive yield
There are free checking accounts that offer you a competitive APY and charge no fees. But you’ll likely need to set up a direct deposit or make a certain number of debit card purchases to qualify for the higher APY. At some banks, both direct deposit and a minimum number of debit card purchases may be required.
Unlike most savings accounts and money market accounts at online banks, this high APY might be capped if your balance goes beyond a certain amount. Any balance amount that surpasses a certain threshold earns less than the top-yielding savings accounts and money market accounts. Therefore, transferring any excess balances to higher-earning accounts (like savings accounts or money market accounts) is a good way to optimize your earning power.
Pros and cons of free checking
Before opening a free checking account, weigh the pros and cons to see if it’s the right product for you.
There are many options that have low minimum balance requirements. Some accounts might not require any minimum balance to open or maintain the account.
With some accounts, you may be able to use any ATM convenient to you for free.
Paying maintenance fees on a checking account should be avoidable. Save this money, and instead of paying these fees to a bank, use it to pay bills or build an emergency fund.
Some free checking accounts may offer you more perks and benefits, such as free checks, cash back on debit card purchases or a high APY.
If you need to make a certain number of debit card purchases to meet the account requirements to get a higher APY, you might be better off with a cash back or rewards credit card. Compare these options to see which is better for you.
Many checking accounts are free, as long as you maintain a certain balance. But some accounts might have high minimum balances. Having a lot of money in a checking account that isn’t earning a high APY, just to avoid a maintenance fee and earn some perks, might not be worth as much as having your money in a high-yield savings account.
Free checking account FAQs
Accounts usually have a minimum amount required for opening and a minimum balance that you need to stay above to avoid a maintenance fee.
Nearly half (48 percent) of checking accounts that don’t earn interest are considered free, according to Bankrate’s 2022 checking account and ATM fee study. A checking account is considered free if it doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees or require a minimum balance.
Some banks may offer a checking account that will waive the maintenance fee if you have your direct deposit going into this account. Others will waive the fee if you maintain a set minimum balance, and the average amount needed for this is around $539, according to that same Bankrate study. A significantly higher average minimum balance of $9,658 is required to avoid monthly fees on interest-bearing checking accounts, according to Bankrate’s 2022 study.
Look for a checking account that doesn’t have a maintenance fee and/or requires a minimum balance that you can always stay above.
Some free checking accounts pay a higher APY if you have a direct deposit or make a certain number of purchases with a debit card.Banks also may offer reimbursement on out-of-network ATM fees, free official checks or a free order of standard checks, as long as direct deposit or balance conditions are met.
If you’ve had your checking account for years, that’s typical. The average U.S. adult has had the same primary checking account for about 17 years, according to a Bankrate survey. But banking has changed a lot in the past 17 years. For instance, some checking accounts offer mobile apps that caution you before you overdraw your account. Others let you overdraw your account without the bank charging a fee. It’s smart to compare checking accounts for a better offer, especially if your checking account is charging you maintenance fees.
See if your bank has an option to enroll in debit card overdraft protection. If you’re going to enroll in this feature, ask how much the bank charges if you make a transaction that takes your account negative.
Bankrate’s 2022 checking account and ATM fee study found the average overdraft fee is $29.80.
Many free accounts can end up costing you fees if you don’t meet the bank’s requirements. Make sure you know what these rules are before opening an account.
Some fees to watch for:
Maintenance fee: You’ll usually get charged this fee if you go below a certain balance in a monthly statement period.
Overdraft fee: Transactions that cause a negative balance (i.e., withdrawing more than is deposited in the account) can trigger this fee.
Sustained overdraft fee: A fee charged after a certain period of time if your account remains negative.
ATM fees: Know what it will cost you to withdraw your money from an out-of-network ATM (and confirm what counts as in and out of network). Some banks will reimburse some or all of these fees. According to Bankrate’s 2022 checking account and ATM fee study, using an out-of-network ATM costs an average of $4.66. A customer’s bank charges an average of $1.52 and surcharges from the ATM cost customers an (additional) average of $3.14.
Paper statement fees: Many banks charge a fee to receive a paper statement in the mail.
If you’re incurring fees, you need to re-evaluate your accounts to avoid as many fees as you can. Here are a few of the most common — yet avoidable — fees.
A bank generally charges this fee if you go below a certain balance in your account. Some banks may waive this fee if you have a direct deposit into your account, though it might have to exceed a certain dollar amount.
How to avoid this fee: Find a bank that doesn’t charge a maintenance fee or one that has a low minimum balance. Also, find a bank where your direct deposit will automatically waive the monthly maintenance fee.
Banks charge this fee when you spend more than what’s in your account and the bank covers the transaction.
How to avoid this fee: Sometimes having too many bank accounts can result in an overdraft. Consolidating accounts could prevent this from happening. Planning and budgeting can also help you prepare for expenses. Keep an eye on your account using an app, online banking or a checkbook register.
A charge for using an out-of-network ATM is another common fee.
How to avoid this fee: Find banks that either waive a certain amount of out-of-network ATM fees or banks that have a large network or a network convenient to you. Also, you’re usually able to get cash back on a debit card purchase at a grocery store, pharmacy or convenience store. Keep in mind that there are usually limits, just like on ATM withdrawals, to how much cash back you can receive.
Requirements for opening an account vary from bank to bank. Here is a list of items you might need to provide or be aware of when opening a new checking account:
Your legal name
Social Security number or tax identification number
Date of birth
Scan of your government-issued photo ID
Initial deposit (If you’re making it electronically from an existing account, you may need the routing number and account number for the account.)
At an online bank, you’re almost always able to open an account online. Many brick-and-mortar banks also let you open up accounts online.
An online bank may also allow you to apply for an account over the phone.
Methodology for Bankrate’s Best Checking Accounts
Bankrate’s editorial team receives no direct compensation from advertisers, and our content is fact-checked to ensure accuracy. Our editorial and research teams analyzed more than 100 widely available financial institutions, made up of the biggest banks and credit unions, as well as a number of popular online banks.
To find the best checking accounts, Bankrate’s editorial team analyzed various factors, such as fees, minimum balance requirements and annual percentage yield (APY) offered. All of the checking accounts listed are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) at banks or by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) at National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) credit unions.
Account minimums, monthly service fees and ATM charges are some important things to consider when choosing a checking account. It’s easy to find a checking account that doesn’t charge fees and has minimal balance requirements. Many online banks offer them, and they are a good fit for many consumers.
Choosing a bank or credit union that’s backed by the federal government will ensure your money is safe. Be sure to follow FDIC and NCUA limits and guidelines.
Bankrate’s editorial team chose the criteria, developed a scoring system to determine the best checking accounts, and used its knowledge of financial services and banking experience to choose the best ways to rate them.
Banks we monitor
These financial institutions are featured in our CD rate research: Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, Amerant Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express National Bank, Axos Bank, Bank5 Connect, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Barclays, Bask Bank, BB&T, BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union), Bethpage Federal Credit Union, BMO Harris Bank, Bread Financial (formerly Comenity Direct), BrioDirect, Capital One Bank, Chase Bank, CIBC USA, CIT Bank, Citibank, Citizens, Citizens Bank (Rhode Island), Comerica Bank, Customers Bank, Delta Community Credit Union, Discover Bank, Emigrant Direct, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First Internet Bank, First Technology Federal Credit Union, FNBO Direct, Golden 1 Credit Union, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley Private Bank, Huntington National Bank, Investors Bank, Investors eAccess, KeyBank, Limelight Bank, Live Oak Bank, M&T Bank, MySavingsDirect, Navy Federal Credit Union, NBKC Bank, PenFed Credit Union, PNC Bank, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Quontic Bank, Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, Regions Bank, Salem Five Direct, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union, Suntrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, UFB Direct, Union Bank (California), U.S. Bank, USAA Bank, Vio Bank, VyStar Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Zions Bank.