Best Free Checking Accounts

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Blank CheckbookIf you were to build your personal finances from the ground up, the checking account would be the first “product” you’d pick. If you’ve ever drawn your financial network map, you’ll remember that the checking account is the spoke in your primarily hub-and-spoke layout. Your paycheck is deposited into your checking account, your savings accounts are linked to your checking account, and when it’s time to pay credit cards or the mortgage, chances are the money comes from your checking account.

So if you were to rebuild your personal finances or build it from scratch, the first step is finding a checking account that fits your needs. For me, I need a checking account to be free, have plenty of ATMs, and no minimum balance. If your bank doesn’t offer that as a minimum, I’d find one that does.

So how do you find the best free checking account?

Online Checking Accounts

If you’re comfortable banking entirely online, I recommend going with an online checking account because they will offer far better yields and rewards than any brick and mortar bank. The tradeoff is that you won’t be able to visit a branch to deposit your checks but you are handsomely (relatively) rewarded for the added headache. Also, online checking accounts make it really easy to take advantage of online CD rates. The best CD rates are usually from online banks.

Reward Checking Accounts

If you aren’t or you don’t like the idea of mailing/scanning in checks, there are plenty of free checking accounts. Before you do anything, see if you can get access to a reward checking account. Reward checking accounts are those accounts that offer high yields as long as you make double digit debit card transactions each statement cycle.

Credit Union or Community Banks

If those aren’t available, check with a local credit union or community bank. There are far too many small community credit unions and community banks for me to name but they often will have the best free checking accounts. They will have low fee requirements, fair fee schedules, and the added benefit of a strong local presence.

Best Free Checking Accounts

If you don’t have that option, one of the following larger banks may be available (I looked at the ten largest US banks by deposits):

  • Bank of America MyAccess Checking – No monthly maintenance fee if opened online, no minimum balance.
  • BB&T Free Checking – No minimum balance requirements or a monthly maintenance fee.
  • Capital One Rewards Checking – No monthly service fee or minimum balance requirements, unlimited check writing, reward miles for banking transactions (5000 for opening an account & setting up direct deposit, etc.).
  • Chase Checking – No monthly service fee with direct deposit or 5+ debit card purchases within a statement period, otherwise $6.
  • Citibank EZChecking – No monthly fee and unlimited check writing when you maintain a combined average balance of $1,500 across linked Citibank accounts. May also qualify for 5 free uses of non-Citibank ATMs, reimbursements of the first six ATM fees per statement period up to $5 per transaction, and fee rebates of up to $12 per year (there is a litany of explanation and fine print at the bottom, review that for state specific caveats).
  • HSBC Choice Checking – Free with direct deposit, otherwise you must maintain $1,500 in deposit balances of $5,000 in combined balances in HSBC accounts or pay an $8/month fee.
  • PNC Bank Free Checking – No monthly service charge or minimum balance, non-PNC ATM fees are reimbursed if you have a $2,000 average monthly balance.
  • SunTrust Free Checking – No minimum balance requirement or monthly maintenance fee, free 1st order of small package of checks, NSF first item fee discount (one time discount).
  • U.S. Bank Silver Package Checking – No monthly maintenance fee.

Most of the major banks offer a free checking account with no minimum balance and no monthly maintenance fees, which is ideal. Recently, banks have been adding minimum balance requirements (Citibank just settled with the NYS AG to extend, for a year, their free checking offer with no minimum balance to new EZChecking customers) so keep an eye out for any changes not reflected in the above list.

Finally, remember that free checking is only free in that you aren’t paying fees. None of the accounts listed offer any interest so you are really “paying” in the interest you aren’t earning. We try to keep our checking account as low as possible, putting any savings into an interest bearing savings account. Fortunately, at least right now, savings interest rates are abysmal (under 2%) so the cost is fairly low.

(Photo: heidielliott)

{ 62 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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62 Responses to “Best Free Checking Accounts”

  1. JC says:

    Bank of America MyAccess checking has a monthly maintenance fee of $8.95/mo unless you have a balance of $1500 or direct deposit enabled.

    Chase Checking has a monthly maintenance fees of $6/mo unless one makes 5 debit card purchases/mo (ATMs don’t count) or direct deposit.

    Numbers are accurate as of this writing.

  2. Hoppingmad in Illinois says:

    Time to update your info. Chase just announced $12/month fee for “free” checking unless one maintains a minimum $1,200 DAILY balance or has at least one direct deposit of $500 per month (NOT to be confused with two $250 direct deposits).

  3. Hilary says:

    Can anyone tell me of good NYC CUs?

  4. Darlene says:

    BB&T no longer offers free checking unless you qualify in 1 of 3 categories

  5. Anthony Mitchell says:

    I am always astonished by the poor value for money US consumers get from thier checking or current accounts. In the UK virtually all are free and offer a wider range of features. Those banks that do charge tend to be for premium accounts which have private banking or offer perks such as free travel insurance or car recovery as part of a package. In addition UK banks have a non charge “link” agreement with each other so no one is charged ATM fees. Come on US banks learn from the Brits and play fair with your customers.

  6. Anonymous says:

    SunTrust is now charging as of Nov. 1. 2011

  7. Anonymous says:

    Suntrust is changing the rules for the clients.

  8. Poor Boy says:

    You should update your list. I’m a SunTrust customer, as of Jan, 2011; now looking for a new bank, because they no longer have free checking. My basic, non-interest bearing checking account will be charged $17/mo. Unless I maintain a balance of $3K + direct deposit. Why should I let the bank use 10% of my annual income for free?

  9. Anonymous says:

    All of these banks now charge..none are free anymore try again..

    • dc trader says:

      Capital One Bank (formerly Chevy Chase bank) has free checking with no minimum balance requirement.

  10. Anonymous says:

    cash is better hide it in your backyard safely
    no fees, on hand, secure.

  11. DG says:

    The problem with Capital One online banking, is they do not debit bill payments until they are cashed, so your balance, is always way off. For a business using online checking this an incredible defect. It makes it very easy to over draw and lose track of bill payments.

  12. michael maccoll says:

    not sure anymore i know i closed all my cc cards accounts years ago after i made a payment to bank of America and they cashed the check then charged me for not paying then maxed the charge took too long sending copies of the cashed check to them to fix the problem but they never fixed the problem they caused with my bank at that time not sure i would ever go back to having them again never saw any benefits from having or using them. remember by depression era grand parents talking about not trusting banks and that they were crooks legal or not, it always made me wonder why someone would pay to let a company hold their money and charge them to do so while they used said money to make them self, not you money and charge you a fee while doing it.

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