Where to Find Free Checking Accounts Now

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Check CardA few years ago, during the depths of the credit crisis and new legislation, banks were scrambling for ways to generate more revenue. With there long time friend Mr. Overdraft gone (and the ability to re-order it to increase fee revenue), many experts predicted the death of the free checking account. Now that we’ve exited the credit crisis, was the prediction of the death of free checking accurate?


Some banks instituted fees but then offered easy ways to get out of them, which is like not having them in the first place. So where do you need to go to find free checking?

Online Banks

Online banks like Ally Bank, ING Direct (now Capital One 360), and others like them have always offered free checking with no minimums (or $1 minimums). These are usually your best options if you don’t mind not having a local branch. They often refund ATM fees or don’t charge them in the first place (the bank that owns the ATM may charge a fee and the online bank may refund them).

The best part about online banks is that they often pay you interest as well. It won’t be a lot but it’ll be close to their savings account rate because they know you can just move between the two accounts or opt for free overdraft protection. For example, as of April 2013, Ally Bank pays 0.40% APY on balances of less than $15k and 0.75% for balances above that. They pay 0.84% on their savings account – so it’s pretty close.

Reward Checking Accounts

Love high rates but really need a branch you can walk into? Look for a reward checking account. These are checking accounts that offer a higher interest rate when you meet their reward requirements (usually 15 transactions on the debit card, online statements, and other similar requirements). One reward checking account we profiled many years ago is still going strong – Evantage Bank offers a 2.00% APY checking account on balances up to $10,000 with a $1 minimum and just 10 check card transactions a cycle. The days of 5.00% APY may be gone but 2.00% is at least twice what you’d get from major online banks.

Brick & Mortar for DD or Min Requirement

If you really want a national brick and mortar bank, you can often avoid a $5-$15 fee if you maintain a minimum balance or have a direct deposit each statement cycle/month. For example, Bank of America will not charge you a $12 monthly maintenance fee if you maintain an average daily balance above $1500 or make one direct deposit of $250+ each month. Wells Fargo waives their $9 a month fee if you maintain a balance of $1500 or make direct deposits totally $500+.

One “hidden” cost is the loss of interest on that money because those checking accounts don’t pay interest. On $1500, 0.4% is approximately $6 a year. So there may not be a fee but there is a cost associated with it.

Free checking is not dead and, if you compare it to what existed before the crisis, it hasn’t really changed that much despite what the experts predicted.

(Photo Credit: RambergMediaImages)

{ 10 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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10 Responses to “Where to Find Free Checking Accounts Now”

  1. Tim says:

    What about Schwab?

  2. “On $1500, 0.4% is approximately $60 a year.”

    I would love to earn $60/year on just $1500. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work out that way.

    $1500 * 0.4% = $6

    So if you consider that lost interest a “cost”, it’s only $6/year, or about 50 cents each month.

  3. lostAnnfound says:

    Our credit union still has free checking, as do many others in the area. We don’t keep money in our checking account to earn interest. Enough money goes in to pay the bills and other expenses for the week. We have a $100.00 “buffer” in there to cover any unforeseen events. The rest of our money is kept in savings account to earn interest. It’s also a helpful deterrent to keep spending in check since we would either have to go the CU or access our account online from the computer to transfer money to our checking account to make a purchase.

  4. Jonathan beat me to it!

    Fortunately, our costs haven’t gone up because of the high balance we keep and our DDs.

  5. Shafi says:

    Because the interest rate is so low, I asked the bank to make my checking account maintenance and interest free. However, I have to maintain $150 minimum on a daily basis.

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