Best Checking Accounts of 2021
Part of becoming an adult is opening a checking account. Having a basic bank account to deposit your paycheck and prove to landlords and others that you can afford their services is almost required to get through life.
Smartly, most people do this. Nearly 95% of U.S. households have bank accounts, according to a 2019 survey by the FDIC.
Your first checking account may not be one you keep for the rest of your life. Your financial needs can grow over time, and it’s worth shopping for a checking account that has the best options for you. This can include a high-interest checking account that pays for keeping money in it or just a free checking account with plenty of ATM access.
Here are the 10 best checking accounts we’ve found, with highlights of what we think they do best. Be sure to check out each one yourself to see what other features are offered and how much the fees are if any.
- Overview of the 10 best checking accounts
- Best checking accounts summary
- Why you should open a checking account
- The bottom line
Overview of the 10 best checking accounts
|Capital One 360||Mobile app|
|Chime||Early direct deposit|
|Ally Bank||Alexa users|
|Axos||Free nationwide ATMs|
|Chase Total Checking||Many branches|
|Discover Bank||800,000 locations|
|Bank of America||Waived fees|
|Radius Bank||Free worldwide ATMs|
|Charles Schwab Bank||Customer service satisfaction|
10 best checking accounts
You may not need a checking account that does more than the basic tasks of being a place to deposit money, withdraw cash, and pay bills. It should be a safe place to put your money, meaning it’s FDIC-insured. After meeting those requirements, you may want a little more from your checking account. Here are 10 of our favorites that can meet those extra needs.
Capital One 360
There are many things to like about the Capital One 360 checking account. It’s free, has more than 40,000 ATMs in the Allpoint nationwide network, and it has 755 branches and 2,000 ATMs of its own.
One feature we like a lot is its easy-to-use yet robust mobile app. Almost every bank has a mobile app, and many will have the same features that Capital One does. But this one is intuitive and easy to use and gets high marks from reviewers.
It has a perfect five-star rating in the Apple app store, and 4.6 stars in the Google Play app store. A 2020 survey by Kiplinger’s found Capital One to have the best digital capabilities, with an app that’s clean and uncomplicated and providing features important to bank customers.
One of the best things about a mobile banking app is being able to use it to make credit card or debit card purchases. You can leave your wallet or purse at home. Here are some other features of the Capital One mobile app:
- Card lock if your card is lost or stolen
- Instant purchase notifications
- Bill payments
- Secure and easy sign-in with fingerprint or customized pattern
- Send money securely through Zelle
- Mobile check deposits
- Free credit score details
- Alerts and notifications about accounts
Chime is one of the few companies that allow checking account customers to get their paychecks early through direct deposit. Instead of waiting until payday for money from your employer to be deposited in your bank account, you can get it up to two days early through a direct deposit with Chime.
Most traditional banks make funds available two days after an employer deposits money in a worker’s account. With the Chime Online Spending Account, which is basically a checking account with a debit card, Chime makes those electronic deposits available immediately.
As we’ve written before, that can help you avoid overdraft charges at almost any other bank. Chime doesn’t charge overdraft fees because it will not approve transactions that would create a negative account balance.
It also has a program called SpotMe where Chime covers a negative balance and pays a debit card transaction, with the customer’s next deposit used to cover the payment. An optional tip can help cover its costs.
Getting your paycheck two days early can allow you to pay your bills on time if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, or can give you cash for an emergency.
No maintenance fees, a highly rated app, plenty of ATMs, and a high-yield, interest-bearing checking account are some of the best features of Ally Bank’s online-only checking account.
Another that caught our eye is a feature called Ally Skill. It works with Amazon Alexa so you can use your voice to command your account from across the room.
Start by saying “Alexa, open Ally,” and you can check balances, hear recent transactions, get today’s interest rates from Ally for a CD, and transfer money, such as to a high-yield savings account.
It also works with Ally CurrenSee, a service Ally provides that helps users make informed buying decisions. Ask it about the price of an item, and it will tell you how many hours of work equal that amount.
For example, ask “Alexa, ask Ally to convert this $150 dress into Ally Currensee.” Alexa will ask for your annual income and how many hours you work each week, and will tell you how many hours you worked to buy the dress. It may get you to rethink how you buy things.
One problem with having a checking account with a bank that is online only is that you won’t find physical branches, which means no ATM withdrawals.
To solve this problem, most online-only banks work with ATM networks. A free online checking account at Simple lets users spend their money with a Visa debit card and paper checks, but also with more than 40,000 ATMs tied to the Allpoint network that other online banks also use.
Using these in-network ATMs usually means you won’t have to pay a fee. Simple has fee-free ATMs through Allpoint, and they’re usually found at stores. Look for the Allpoint logo on ATMs in Walmart, Costco, Dunkin, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Hess, Safeway and other stores.
Simple warns customers that some of its ATMs may warn users about a surcharge, but they won’t actually charge them. If a Simple customer is charged a fee for using an Allpoint ATM, it asks them to let it know and the fee will be refunded.
Banks sometimes differ in how many ATMs they say are served in the Allpoint network. Simple says it has more than 40,000 ATMs that accept its debit card without a fee. It doesn’t refund out-of-network ATM fees.
Simple also doesn’t accept deposits through ATMs, even if the ATM is capable of accepting deposits. For that, you’ll need to use its photo check deposit process through the app.
Unless you live in San Diego, Las Vegas, or Columbus, the capital of Ohio, then you’re not going to find one of the three branches of Axos Bank.
What you’re much more likely to use are the 91,000 ATMs it has across the country. The ATMs are part of the Allpoint and MoneyPass networks and can be found at stores such as 7-Eleven.
That’s more than double the number of ATMs of many other online-only banks, but it’s not the best feature of the many free checking accounts Axos offers. What it does best is offer unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements.
Whether it’s in-network or an out-of-network ATM, you won’t have to pay for using it with an Axos account. Even fees charged by the ATMs owner will be reimbursed.
You don’t have to do anything to get your money back. The fees are refunded automatically at the end of each month. And they’re unlimited. Withdraw money from any ATM as many times as you want, and Axos will pay the fees.
Chase Total Checking
If you want a free checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank with a lot of branches, then the Chase Bank and its Chase Total Checking account may be what you’re looking for.
It has 4,700 branches, so finding one near you shouldn’t be difficult. It also has 16,000 ATMs with the Chase name on them that are free for customers to use.
Chase charges a $12 monthly maintenance fee for its checking account, but don’t let that deter you. It can easily be dropped to $0 by making direct deposits of $500 or more per month, or by having an average daily balance of $1,500 in the one account or at least $5,000 in a combination of accounts.
Chase has many types of checking accounts, including for high school and college students who are just opening their first checking account.
Discover Bank is well-known for having zero fees, and it comes through with a free checking account that has no fees for many services it offers.
This includes no fees at the more than 60,000 ATMs it partners with through the Allpoint and MoneyPass networks. Discover Bank has only one branch, in Greenwood, Delaware, so you’ll probably need to use its many other ways to withdraw cash.
But that’s just the beginning of how many ATMs and financial institutions that a Discover debit card can be used at. In total, it can be used at more than 415,000 ATMs nationwide. However, other than the 60,000 that are in-network, the others may charge a fee that Discover won’t reimburse you for.
The biggest number Discover throws out is that cash can be withdrawn from a Discover checking account at more than 800,000 locations. Along with the ATMs, that includes banks and credit unions that work with Discover.
That’s a lot of places to use your checking account at, though a large chunk of the 415,000 ATMs will likely charge a fee that won’t be reimbursed by Discover. It also requires searching for a bank that works with Discover. Still, 60,000 no-fee ATMs is a lot, and can hopefully be enough to get you cash when you need it.
Bank of America
Like other brick-and-mortar banks, Bank of America has a lot of branches and a lot of ATMs, including at its banks and elsewhere. It has 16,000 ATMs and 4,300 branches, which should make it easy to find cash when you need it.
What it excels at, we think, is by offering three types of checking accounts that each waive the monthly service fee by meeting minimum balance requirements or having direct deposits of at least $250 each month. That level of direct deposit should be possible for most customers.
For students who are in high school, college, or a vocational program, the Advantage SafeBalance account has a $4.95 monthly maintenance fee that can be waived if they’re under 24 and are enrolled in school. It helps them not spent more money than they have with no overdraft fees.
The Advantage Plus checking account is for everyday banking for nonstudents. The $12 monthly account fee can also be waived easily, such as having direct deposit of $250 or more per month.
If you have a high balance and have outgrown your account, the Advantage Relationship checking account with perks for higher balances can be beneficial. Its $25 monthly fee can be waived with a combined balance of $10,000 in linked accounts.
If you require a lot of banking services that normally charge fees, this account waives many of them. They include waiving fees for:
- Overdraft protection transfer, normally $12
- Statement copies, normally $5
- ATM or debit card replacement, normally $5
- Stop payment requests, normally $30
- Incoming domestic wire transfer, normally $15
Radius Bank is headquartered in Boston, where it has its one branch office. Otherwise, you’ll have to bank online or use its 20,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass or SUM networks that don’t charge a fee.
However, that 20,000 limit of ATMs isn’t the whole story. Radius Bank has a generous policy of giving rebates for an unlimited amount of ATM surcharges when withdrawing money from a Radius checking account at an out-of-network ATM. In other words, if another bank charges you a fee for using its ATM, Radius will automatically refund it.
The company says on its website that ATM rebates are given for using an ATM anywhere in the world, although the fine print at the bottom of the page says: “Excludes international exchange fees.” That’s different from an ATM usage fee from a bank that isn’t in Radius’ network, but it’s still a fee to be aware of if you're traveling internationally.
Another part of the small print to be aware of is that it's unlimited, free ATM usage could disappear if the bank ever decides it should: “Radius Bank reserves the right to modify or discount the ATM surcharge rebate program at any time.”
That’s normal legal verbiage to know if you think any bank account and its rules are set for life. They’re not.
In addition to the fee-free ATMs, the Radius Bank Rewards Checking account pays 1% cashback rewards on signature-based purchases in stores and online. Just select “credit” instead of “debit” at store checkouts, and you’ll earn cashback on your purchases.
Charles Schwab Bank
Charles Schwab Bank has only one type of checking account. It’s built for account holders who are investors and must be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account. If you have no interest in that, then you should look elsewhere for a checking account.
But even if investing and checking don’t go together for you, you can still open a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account and use it solely as a checking account without using or funding the brokerage account at all. You’ll still have to open a brokerage account to have the checking account, but you don’t have to use the brokerage account.
The checking account has some great features. It pays a variable interest rate of 0.03% annual percentage yield (APY), and like Radius Bank pays unlimited ATM fee rebates for using any ATM around the world.
The bank has 345 branches and an unknown number of brokerage branches around the country, though it’s unclear from the bank’s website if it has any branches with banking services. Either way, any ATM in the world can be used with its debit card for free because Schwab refunds ATM fees.
Charles Schwab is well known for its excellent customer service. It received the top ranking in J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Direct Banking Satisfaction Study for overall satisfaction. It was one of only two banks to rank higher than the industry average.
Its website, online chat, and toll-free phone number service have all been praised.
So for all of the financial products, Charles Schwab may try to sell you, and there will be plenty, you should expect excellent customer service. That may be hard to find anywhere else.
Best checking accounts summary
|Bank||Monthly fee||Branches||ATMs||Key feature|
|Capital One 360||$0||785||42,000||Mobile app|
|Chime||$0||0||38,000||Early direct deposit|
|Axos||$0||3||91,000||Unlimited ATM use|
|Chase Total Checking||$12||4,700||16,000||Many branches|
|Discover Bank||$0||1||60,000||800,000 locations|
|Bank of America||$12||4,300||16,000||Waived fees|
|Radius Bank||$0||1||Unlimited||$0 ATM fees globally|
|Charles Schwab Bank||$0||345||Unlimited||Customer service|
Which banks will likely charge me fees?
A monthly maintenance fee and ATM fees for using cash machines not used by your bank are the two most common types of fees you’ll pay. Some fees can be waived.
Fees vary by bank, but in general, you should expect to pay higher fees and more of them to traditional banks for a checking account. These are the big, brick-and-mortar bank names you see in high-traffic areas where physical banks are common. They have higher overhead than online-only banks, so their fees are usually higher.
The main benefit of such a bank is you can walk into any branch for personal service. If you’re not familiar with online banking or don’t want to use it, then a checking account at a physical bank is your main option.
Monthly maintenance fees are the most common. They can often be easily waived by maintaining a daily balance of $1,500 or so or having direct deposit for your paycheck.
Online-only banks are less likely to charge fees, though they may charge for using ATMs outside of their network. In many instances, however, they’ll refund those fees up to a certain amount each month. A few offer unlimited fee reimbursement for using other ATMs.
Will I be able to reach someone on the phone?
If you can’t walk into a bank, then your next-best option for getting help is looking at the bank’s website for answers.
They should have a FAQ section, and a way to contact customer service. This may be through an online chat, email, or phone call. Many customers prefer calling so they can speak to someone directly about their problem and get follow-up questions answered immediately.
When researching banks, look for a customer service phone number to call. If you can’t find one easily on the bank’s website or app, then that’s not a good sign. If it has a phone number, call it and tell them you’re considering becoming a customer and would like some questions answered.
Some banks have better customer service than others. Capital One finished in first place in a bank service survey by Kiplinger’s. It far outperformed other finalists when the magazine phoned the company as a potential new banking customer.
Kiplinger’s docked Chase because it was unable to reach a representative on the phone about questions as a potential new customer.
Some other banks had no apparent contact numbers for new customers or directed callers to visit their website or a branch to open an account, Kiplinger’s found.
How much do I need to open an account?
Opening an online checking account is easy, and all of the banks we’ve recommended allow accounts to be opened online.
A minimum amount of money usually isn’t required to open an account. Just $1 may be enough. Most, however, may ask you to start with a $25 deposit. If your funds are low, this should be the first question you ask when shopping for a checking account.
If you already have an account elsewhere, you should be able to transfer money to open a new account at a different bank with your account and routing numbers. If your new bank has a physical branch, visiting it and making a deposit in person can also be easy.
Why you should open a checking account
A checking account is a basic necessity of life. You’ll need it to pay bills, keep your money safe, and to get cash or a debit card for expenses.
A checking account may also be used by landlords, utilities, and other companies to prove that you have an income.
At the very least, a checking account will make your financial life easier.
That doesn’t mean you have to pay to have one. Most banks offer accounts without monthly maintenance fees. If a fee is charged, it can often be waived by meeting minimum balance requirements or having direct deposit from your employer.
Look for a checking account that has enough ATMs in your area, and ATMs that are in its network so you won’t pay fees. If fees are charged for using out-of-network ATMs, make sure your bank will reimburse you for the fees.
The bottom line
Shopping for the best checking account shouldn’t be difficult. There are plenty of choices and banks are anxious to gain you as a customer.
After all, a customer who is opening their first checking account may turn out to be a life-long customer. That can lead to home mortgages, car loans, student loans, and all kinds of banking services that can benefit both sides.
Just always be on the lookout for bank fees. ATM fees average $5, which can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars if you use one a few times a week.
The best checking accounts won’t try to bleed you dry with fees each month just so you can use a basic checking service to keep your financial life in order. If they do, shop around for another one. There are plenty of banks after your business.