Best Free Checking Accounts
There’s nothing worse than seeing that something is “free,” only to find out later you have to pay to get it. If a checking account is advertised as “free,” it shouldn’t have unexpected fees attached.
Banks offering the best free checking accounts don’t try to throw such wool over your eyes. They’re upfront about any fees, and often brag in large print on their websites about how much customers can save by not paying fees at their bank.
Free checking accounts can do more than save you money in fees. They can also pay interest, offer overdraft protection, pay cash back rewards, and other types of rewards checking, and should be easy to use.
Here are the 10 best free checking accounts, with the main focus on what each offers for free.
- Overview of the 10 best free checking accounts
- Best free checking accounts summary
- Why you should open a free checking account
- The bottom line
Overview of the 10 best free checking accounts
|Ally Bank||ATMs at retailers|
|Discover Bank||Many fee-free services|
|Capital One 360||Branches +40,000 ATMs|
|Axos Bank||1% cash back|
|Bank of America||Many ATMs, branches|
|Chime||No overdraft charges|
|BBVA||64,000 free ATMs|
|Radius Bank||Unlimited ATM rebates|
|Aspiration||Customers set fee|
10 best free checking accounts
The no-fee checking accounts we recommend all have free services, but some have more than others. Many more. If fees are charged, you may be able to get around them by using the bank’s debit card a few times a week, or keeping a minimum account balance.
Businesses sometimes try to hide fees in the fine print. An asterisk or popup information box on a feature listed as free may pop up, pointing out exclusions or limitations that apply. That’s OK, as long as you’re aware of it. If you’re shopping for a free checking account, it’s worth your time and money to read the fine print and find out if “free” is really free.
Ally Bank’s Interest Checking Account is free in one of the best ways available: Free ATM withdrawals.
It uses Allpoint ATMs, so you’ll have to look for Allpoint’s freestanding, green and black machines to deposit cash or withdrawal money from. They shouldn’t be hard to find, with more than 43,000 of them across the country. They’re at many retailers, including Target, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Safeway, and Circle K.
If you use another ATM and are charged a fee, Ally Bank will reimburse up to $10 per statement cycle.
Ally offers a free debit card, as every bank listed here does, but if you’re taking out cash often, it may be easier to use an ATM. Especially from a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees. Look for a bank that has free ATMs near you. Almost every city has a Target, Walgreens, or other retailers that Allpoint has ATM access so you should have access to your cash.
The interest checking account pays 0.10% annual percentage yield, or APY, on a minimum daily balance of less than $15,000.
The Chase Total Checking account isn’t free, but it is if you meet certain monthly requirements. Do one of the following to waive the $12 monthly service fee:
- Deposit $500 or more a month
- Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 in checking account
- Keep an average daily balance of $5,000 or more in Chase accounts
Why go through any of these hoops to get free checking? There are a few reasons, but the main one is access to Chase’s full in-branch services. Chase has nearly 4,900 branches, and if you like walking into a bank office to get your questions answered or want to bank in person with a teller, this free checking account makes it easy.
Well, maybe not too easy for the last two requirements to waive the monthly maintenance fee. But if you have direct deposit, which should be a no-brainer for most people, then Chase’s checking account will pay you $200 to open an account with direct deposit. You then get online and in-person access.
Use one of the bank’s 16,000 ATMs and it’s free. Using a non-Chase ATM costs $2.50 in the U.S. and $5 outside the country.
Discover Bank goes to great lengths on its website to promote its long list of what it doesn’t charge fees for on its Cashback Debit account. Discover highlights that it has “No Hidden Fees” and some of the things it says it doesn’t charge for include:
- Monthly maintenance, with no monthly balance or activity requirements
- Withdrawals at 60,000 ATMs nationwide
- Insufficient funds
- Deposited item returned
- Stop payment order
- Replacement debit card
- Expedited delivery for debit card replacement
- Standard checks
- Official bank check
- Expedited delivery for official bank checks
- Online bill pay
The list of its fee-free services is a little longer, but you get the idea.
This free checking account also offers 1% cash back on debit card purchases up to $3,000 per month. That can add up to $30 per month, or $360 per year in cash in your pocket.
The card is Discover branded, which isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard branded debit cards. You may want a second debit or credit card to shop everywhere.
Discover Bank allows users to withdraw cash from more than 415,000 ATMs nationwide, wherever the Discover, Diners Club International, or PULSE symbols are seen. Discover’s website is unclear if those ATMs charge fees, but it does say it will never charge customers a fee to use an ATM.
To pay $0 fees, use the 60,000 in-network ATMs Discover works with that don’t charge fees through the Allpoint and MoneyPass networks. The owner of an ATM outside of those networks may charge a fee, Discover warns. As far as we can find, Discover doesn’t reimburse customers for those fees.
Capital One 360
The free checking account at Capital One 360 has the basic free services you’d expect from a checking account. The bank says its 360 Checking Account has no fees to open, keep and use an account.
It also has more than 40,000 fee-free ATMs in the Allpoint network at stores across the country, such as Target, Safeway, CVS, and Walgreens, among many others. Discover Bank, Ally Bank and other banks use Allpoint ATMs, so finding one at a retailer near you shouldn’t be difficult.
Capital One also has 2,000 ATMs of its own, along with 755 branches and 30 Capital One Cafes where you can hang out in a coffee shop-type of atmosphere and do your banking.
The bank has a few free options for overdraft coverage, though you have to act quickly to avoid an overdraft charge.
Capital One generally declines transactions that will cause you to overdraw your account. It also automatically transfers money from a savings or money market account you have with Capital One to cover a debit charge that your checking account doesn’t have enough money to pay.
A $35 overdraft fee will be charged if you don’t replace the overdrawn amount within a full business day.
One thing we really like about Axos Bank is that it offers five types of checking accounts. We won’t go into all of the details here, but there’s some type of account for everyone. All have no maintenance fees.
- Essential Checking with unlimited ATM fee reimbursements
- CashBack Checking with unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements
- First Checking for ages 13-17 in a joint checking account
- Rewards Checking that pays up to 1.25% APY with direct deposit or using a debit card 15 times each month
- Golden Checking for age 55 and older that pays 0.20% APY on all balances
The bank’s rewards checking program is popular, and we’ve written about it before, but one that we think is just as good is CashBack Checking. It pays up to 1% cash back on all transactions with its debit card that require a signature. A $1,500 balance must be maintained to earn the cash back.
The program has no maintenance or annual fees, though it does charge $25 in a non-sufficient funds fee if a payment is made or returned without enough money in your account. Unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements are offered, as are unlimited check writing privileges.
Bank of America
The biggest benefit of having a Bank of America checking account is that it should never be difficult to find an ATM. It has more than 16,000 ATMs that can be used for free and about 4,300 branches.
Bank of America has three types of checking accounts. The one that’s aimed at everyday banking is called Advantage Plus. It has a $12 monthly maintenance fee, but it can easily be waived by doing one of three things:
- Direct deposit of $250 each month
- Maintain a $1,500 minimum daily balance
- Enroll in its Preferred Rewards program
All of its checking programs charge $2.50 for using non-Bank of America ATMs in the U.S., and $5 internationally.
Chime’s free checking account, which it calls a Spending Account, comes with a Visa debit card and it doesn’t have monthly maintenance fees or a minimum balance requirement.
Chime is an online bank — and only online — that is FDIC insured. It has no monthly fees or overdraft fees.
You can get cash at more than 38,000 ATMs in the U.S. that are part of the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance networks, all without paying a fee. However, if you use an out-of-network ATM, Chime charges $2.50 per transaction.
A big bonus of a Chime bank account is that it doesn’t charge overdraft fees. It mainly does this by not allowing accounts to become negative. Chime doesn’t offer overdraft protection transfers or a line of credit, so transactions that a customer doesn’t have enough money in their account for aren’t approved.
An alternative, however, is offered through its SpotMe program. For customers with at least $500 in monthly direct deposits, if they overdraft up to $100 with a debit card purchase, they’ll be covered by the bank without a fee. Your next deposit will be used to cover the negative balance.
Chime online banking says it offers this service partly from optional tips that members leave. When a negative balance is repaid, Chime gives customers the option to leave it an optional tip to pay it forward. You may have never thought of tipping your bank for good service, but Chime says this helps SpotMe remain a fee-free service.
The BBVA Online Checking account is free, with no monthly service charge or a minimum balance requirement. Only $25 is needed to open an account.
To totally avoid a monthly fee, be sure to opt-out of paper statements or you’ll be charged $3 for the service.
Its biggest benefit may be the 64,000 ATMs across the country that it offers free access to. It’s part of the Allpoint network and has its own BBVA ATMs at branches in seven states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas. The online account isn’t available in Arkansas and Hawaii.
If you live near a 7-Eleven (and who doesn’t?), some of the ATMs in those convenience stores may also be used for free with a BBVA account. All 7-Eleven ATMs with an FCTI contact sticker on them are fee-free, the bank says.
Using an ATM outside of its networks costs $3, and no reimbursement is given.
ATM fees for using another bank’s ATM, called an out-of-network ATM, can be the deciding factor for many people looking to open a free checking account. Averaging almost $5 per transaction, the fees can get costly. For a $40 withdrawal, that’s a 12.5% surcharge.
That can add up to a monthly pain in the neck if you’re just starting life as a checking account holder and use ATMs often to withdraw cash.
Some banks, including Radius Bank, offer unlimited ATM fee rebates. This is a major bonus if you don’t want to search for your bank’s ATM and you need cash fast.
Radius Bank doesn’t charge checking account clients a fee for using another bank’s ATM, according to the fine print on the bank’s website. And it gives “unlimited automatic ATM surcharge rebates for ATM fees other banks charge you.”
You’re covered on both ends. Radius Bank won’t charge you a fee for using an ATM, and it will refund you for a fee that another bank charges for using its ATM. So if your Radius debit card is accepted at such a machine, you’re covered.
The only exclusion is international exchange fees, the bank says. But it will still rebate you for an ATM fee outside of the U.S. That seems fair enough.
If you haven’t received a rebate for a fee you believe is eligible, Radius advises calling its customer service line
If you really want no fee for a free checking account, you can set your banking fee at $0 at Aspiration under its “Pay What is Fair” model.
This nonbank financial service provider combines checking and savings accounts in a cash management account where customers are trusted with setting the fee they think is fair. Aspiration goes to great lengths on its website to explain that there’s no catch to this free offer.
“At Aspiration, you decide how much to pay us,” the site says. “We’re confident enough in our products and confident enough in the honor of our customers to trust you to do the right thing.”
Its business is built on trust that customers won’t pay any fee, which customers can change at any time on their account dashboard. Of every dollar paid in fees, 10 cents is donated by Aspiration to charities.
So what do you get for paying what you think is fair, even if it’s nothing? The main thing in its basic Spend and Save plan is free access at 55,000 in-network ATMs through Allpoint. No overdraft fees are charged because transactions won’t proceed if you have a negative balance. The account doesn’t pay interest.
For many more benefits, including 5% cash back on purchases and 1% APY interest rate paid on balances, you’ll need to upgrade to Aspiration Plus. And that cost is only increasing, maybe because not enough people are paying a fee to use the basic account.
Aspiration Plus costs $7 per month, and the cost has only increased over the past few years. The fee isn’t optional and you can’t drop it to zero.
Sometime before Aug. 5, 2020, it charged $4 per month. In 2019 it charged $6 per month or $59 per year for this upgraded plan. The current fee can fall to $5.75 per month, but only if you pay $69 per year in advance.
Best free checking accounts summary
Under ATM cost, the first figure is for in-house ATMs, and the second is for out-of-network. If only one figure is given, both types of ATMs can be used.
|Bank||Monthly fee||ATM cost||Insufficient funds||Reimburement for out-of-network ATM|
|Ally Bank||$0||$0||$10 per statement||$7.50 per item|
|Capital One 360||$0||$0||$0||$35|
|Axos Bank||$0||$0||Unlimited in U.S.||$25|
|Bank of America||$12||$0/$2.50||$0||$35|
|Radius Bank||$0||$0||Unlimited worldwide||$25|
Are ATMs really free?
A sticking point in opening a “free” checking account is if what the bank promises to be free is really free. For many people, free access to ATMs is important. This can be a bigger factor with online-only or small banks, since they don’t have the massive network of physical branches and ATMs that Bank of America, Chase and Capital One do.
In-network ATMs are usually free for customers to use, while out-of-network ones are owned by another bank and charge a fee. The average out-of-network fee is $4.69, Radius Bank says. Use one six times a month and it adds up to $337 in a year.
If a bank says it will reimburse you for out-of-network ATMs, be sure to check if there’s a limit to how many transactions will be paid for. Or if there’s a monthly cap to fee reimbursements.
So seeing a bank list its services as “free” should send you checking the small print in the footnotes for its lawyer-approved description of benefits. So should the word “unlimited.” You don’t want to be surprised with a fee when you’re in front of an ATM and need to take cash out.
Most of the banks we’ve reviewed here don’t reimburse anything for such ATM usage, so check how many in-network ATMs are in your area.
How do I avoid overdraft fees?
If you regularly go into a negative balance on your checking account and have to pay overdraft fees, then you should obviously look for a bank that has low fees.
Banks may say that they don’t charge such fees but look into the fine print on their sites to see what related charges they may ding you with.
One way they avoid charging overdraft fees, which we’ve written about before, is with a simple form of overdraft protection: not approving transactions in accounts with negative balances. You can also sign up for this option.
But even with that protection, a bank may still charge you a fee of $5 or so for a returned check or debit card transaction.
A good way to avoid these fees is to use your mobile banking app to see what your balance is and add new charges to your checkbook that haven’t been deducted yet.
How do I deposit money?
Unless your free checking account is through a bank with physical branches, you’ll have to deposit money through the mobile app or at an ATM.
Depositing cash can be especially troublesome. Not all ATMs are set up to accept deposits. If your bank doesn’t own or have a partnership with an ATM, you probably won’t be able to deposit cash into it.
This goes for big banks too. They have their own ATMs and branches, so finding one to deposit money should be easy.
If you can make a deposit at any ATM, it may take up to five business days to process it. Normally, deposits are processed immediately or the next business day. Each bank will likely charge a fee for using an out-of-network ATM.
Why you should open a free checking account
A free checking account can be the best way to get started in the world of banking. After all, you’ll need to deposit and spend money for the rest of your life, so having a free account will make it a lot cheaper.
A free account can make it easy to withdraw cash at ATMs everywhere, give you a break when you use a debit card for something you can’t afford right away, and may even reimburse you for using an ATM that’s not in its network.
One survey found that the average monthly fee on a checking account was $14.39 in 2019. Over a year that adds up to $172.
That’s a lot of money to pay for the privilege of being able to use your money and keep it in a safe place. Find a free checking account and use that $172 in savings elsewhere.
The bottom line
A free checking account shouldn’t be hard to find. We’ve outlined 10 of the best. Each has a feature we think is reason enough to open an account, though your priorities may differ.
The number of ATMs and where they are, physical branches, fees that can be avoided and even bonuses such as cash back on purchases or interest paid on balances may all be part of what you want in a checking account.
And they’re all out there. You just have to find the best free checking account that’s best for you. The best free services for one person may not be the best for everyone. Choose wisely.