Do you remember why you chose your current checking account?
If you got started early, your parents might have helped you open a kids’ account at their bank’s branch. Or maybe you went with the bank down the street from your work after getting your first W2 job.
Whatever the reason, location likely played a big part. Thankfully, you’re no longer confined to a financial institution because of its proximity to you — or a brick-and-mortar site altogether, for that matter.
From higher interest rates to better benefits, it pays to expand your search beyond your local bank or credit union these days. Here’s how to choose the right checking account for you.
Advantages of Choosing the Right Checking Account
You probably already know that you need a checking account. It serves as the primary hub for your money. It’s where your paychecks land, and, from there, you use the money to pay bills, buy the stuff you need and hopefully slide some of it into a savings account.
Picking a bank account is a surprisingly personal choice. What makes an account “good” depends largely on your financial situation and goals. Checking accounts come in a lot of varieties these days, each with different features and benefits. It’s up to you to do the research and find the one that will benefit you and your lifestyle the most.
But we can tell you a few things that make any account good. Here are a few important features to keep in mind:
- Fees: How much will it cost you to manage your money with this account?
- Rewards: What do you earn in return for using the account?
- Accessibility: What are the requirements to open this account and earn the rewards?
- Mobility: Can this account travel and move with you?
Types of Checking Accounts
There are a few varieties of checking accounts out there that offer different benefits. You just need to figure out which kind will work best for you. Some of your options are:
- Student Checking: These accounts usually feature minimal fees and no minimum balance. They also don’t offer a lot of perks. They’re bare-bones accounts designed for cash-strapped students who just need the basics.
- Express Checking: This is the checking account for today’s digital person. If you don’t like going to the bank, this could be for you. These accounts are designed for use on computers, phone apps, ATMs or by telephone. You may actually get a fee for going to a live teller. The upside is fees are minimal as long as you keep banking digitally.
- Joint Checking: Need to share a checking account with a spouse or another person? A joint account lets you both put money in and take money out as needed.
- Fresh Start or Second Chance Checking: If you’ve run into financial trouble and have had your accounts closed, it can be tough to get a new account. These accounts are designed to minimize the bank’s risk, but they allow you to open a new account. If you maintain it well for an extended period of time, it may open opportunities for you to upgrade.
- Rewards Checking: Rewards checking offers the highest perks, such as annual percentage yield (APY) interest on the account balance. Debit card purchases could also receive cashback bonuses or earn points for things like airline travel or gift cards. Some, however, will come with an annual fee.
Check out our current list of bank promotions for a chance to gain a monetary bonus when signing up for a new bank account.
So How Do You Choose? Our Methodology
We decided to see how some of our favorite checking accounts stack up against this criteria.
We graded 10 bank and credit union accounts on the factors that we like to see in any checking account — no fees, free ATMs, good rewards, easy set up and accessibility.
What Are the Best Checking Accounts of October 2021?
Based on these criteria, here are some institutions with the best accounts:
|Chase Total Checking||C||A||B||A||B|
|TD Bank Convenience Checking||C||A||C||A-||B|
|Axos Bank Essential Checking||A||A||B||B||B+|
|Ally Interest Checking||A||D||B||A||B|
|Consumer Credit Union Free Rewards Checking||A||A||B||A||B|
|Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking||B||F||D||A||C+|
|Chase College Checking||C||C||A||A||B+|
|Montgomery Bank New Start Checking||A||F||B||B||C+|
1. Chime Spending Account
Chime is an online checking account that offers some unique features with its online bank account that traditional banks haven’t caught on to yet. Consider:
- Chime doesn’t charge overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees.
- Chime customers have access to thousands of fee-free MoneyPass ATMs around the country.
- When you set your payroll up for direct deposit to your Chime spending account, your paycheck will post up to two days before payday, giving you more time to plan, save and pay the bills.
- You can open an easy-to-access connected savings account. It allows you to automate your savings with features like the round-up tool, which will round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and dump the change into savings.
- Its mobile app is user-friendly, making managing money super accessible via iPhone or Android.
- It has a “Pay Friends” feature, so you don’t have to mess with cash, math or other apps to split the bill.
Plus, it takes about five minutes to sign up. The bank verifies your personal information, takes note that you’re at least 18 or older, then you’re good to go. No opening deposit required.
For an account that’ll help you strike up savings — and that could pay you two days early — check out Chime.
Want more information about Chime? Read our full Chime Bank review.
2. Varo Checking Account
Varo has combined traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy. Its big selling points include:
- No hidden fees: With Varo, as long as you use one of more than 55,000 Allpoint® ATMs across the world, you’ll never pay fees. Additionally, you’ll pay no monthly service fees, no minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash replacement fees. You’ll just pay out-of-network ATM fees and cash deposit fees if you deposit cash in-store through Green Dot®.
- All-in-one: In addition to a bank account, you can open a Varo Savings Account (earning from 0.20% to 3.00% APY), connect your credit cards and more.
- Early access to your paycheck: Get paid up to two days before your check is typically posted when you set up direct deposit with Varo.
- Varo Forecast: Varo keeps tabs on how much you spend across all your accounts, so you can better analyze and project your cash flow. It also allows you to set spending caps.
To sign up for Varo, you’ll have to download its free app.
3. Chase Total Checking® Account
Here’s another account with stellar rewards: You can get a $225 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking account.
Getting the bonus is pretty simple, compared with similar offers. Open a new Chase Total Checking® account* with $0, and set up direct deposit within 90 days of opening.
Keep your account open for at least six months, or you’ll lose the bonus at closing.
The account comes with a $12 monthly service fee, but it’ll be waived if you have monthly direct deposits of at least $500. If you don’t have direct deposit, you can also have the fee waived with a minimum daily balance of $1,500 (or $5,000 across multiple Chase accounts).
Chase offers online, mobile and text banking at no extra charge, and you can deposit checks from anywhere using the Chase mobile app.
You can use a Chase ATM for free, but you’ll pay a $2.50 fee for non-Chase ATMs in the U.S., $5 for international withdrawals — so this account isn’t the best for frequent international travelers. The bank has branches and ATMs in 33 states around the U.S., so you can avoid the fees if you’ve got one nearby.
4. TD Bank Convenience Checking Account
The best thing about TD Bank is it’ll pay you just for opening an account. You’ll get $150 when you open a TD Convenience Checking account online. (Note: this offer expires Nov. 30, 2021.)
To get your bonus, you’ll have to sign up for direct deposit and receive a total of $500 or more into your new account within 60 days of opening. Should be easy to achieve if you set your main paycheck up for direct deposit.
Your money won’t earn interest in this account, but the new-account bonus is worth a few years of the interest you’d see in most checking accounts.
The $15 monthly fee on this account sounds hefty at first, but it’s waived if you maintain a $100 minimum daily balance. If you tend to keep a low balance, that fee — and the account’s $35 overdraft fee — could pinch your wallet.
All TD accounts include free online and mobile banking, including mobile check deposit.
Anyone can open an account online, but the brick-and-mortar banks (and ATMs) are mostly located along the East Coast. With a $3 fee for using an out-of-network ATM, you might want to have a physical location nearby
For a $300 bonus and an interest-yielding account, consider TD Bank’s higher-tier Beyond Checking account. You must meet certain criteria (and be a new customer) to earn this bonus.
5. Axos Bank Essential Checking Account
Axos’ Essential Checking account comes with no monthly or annual fees and no overdraft fees.
An Axos representative told TPH all its checking accounts require a $100 minimum opening deposit, but after that require a minimum balance of only $1. Despite the low minimum balance, this bank rewards its customers with up to 1.00% APY on their balance (though Essential Checking accounts are not eligible).
It will also reimburse you by the end of the next business day for unlimited ATM fees within the U.S.
Per a rep via live chat, you’ll pay a 1% service transaction charge on purchases made in other countries. So even though this online bank account is flexible, it isn’t ideal for international travelers.
6. Ally Interest Checking Account
With Ally’s free, online Interest Checking account, you can use any Allpoint ATMs in the U.S. for free, plus Ally will reimburse you up to $10 for other ATM fees within the U.S.
Another bonus is that in early June 2021, Ally permanently suspended overdraft fees for all accounts. It’s the first U.S. bank to do this.
An Ally representative told The Penny Hoarder this checking account has no required minimum deposit to get started.
With a daily balance of $15,000 or more, this checking account yields 0.25% interest. Below $15,000, it’s 0.10%. That tops a lot of bank accounts, but it’s not as impressive as we’d expect for an account with “interest” in the name — and that balance requirement is a beast.
You can access this account online or through the Ally app, so it’s an accessible choice for anyone within the U.S.
7. Consumer Credit Union Free Rewards Checking Account
The rewards on Consumer Credit Union’s Free Rewards Checking are pretty sweet, but the requirements are hefty.
You’ll earn 2.09% interest on your balance up to $10,000 and have all ATM fees reimbursed, as long as you:
- Make 12 debit card purchases each month without using the PIN (as a credit transaction).
- Have at least one direct deposit or ACH credit of $500 or more each month.
- Enroll in e-documents.
In addition to that, you can earn 3.09% or 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you meet CCU Visa credit card spending requirements: $500 and $1,000, respectively.
All CCU branches are in Illinois, but anyone can open and manage an account online and through the mobile app.
8. Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account
Schwab Bank is loved by international travelers. The account offers unlimited ATM fee rebates for cash withdrawals at ATMs anywhere in the world.
You can manage your account online or through the Schwab app for iPhone, and make deposits through the app, so this account keeps up with jet-setters.
The downside? Schwab’s online-only High Yield Investor Checking account must be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account. Luckily, there are no fees or minimum deposits to open either account, as long as you open them together.
Neither account comes with monthly fees or a minimum balance, but “other account fees, fund expenses and brokerage commissions may apply” to the brokerage account once you begin investing, according to the Schwab site.
The checking account offers a variable interest rate. If you want to grow your savings through Schwab, you’ll want to invest through the brokerage account.
9. Chase College Checking Account
The Chase College Checking Account is designed with the college student in mind. For anyone ages 17 to 24 with proof of college enrollment, there is no monthly service fee.
However, it does come with some hefty insufficient-funds fees and fees for using non-Chase ATMs.
New applicants can get a $100 bonus in their account just for signing up for paperless statements and making 10 qualifying transactions within the first 60 days. Debit card transactions count, so that should be easy.
No other rewards are a part of this account, but that’s typical with a student checking account.
Beyond that, the account comes with the accessibility of one of the nation’s largest banks, so ATMs are plentiful and online and mobile banking is available.
10. Montgomery Bank New Start Checking Account
The Montgomery Bank New Start Checking account is what you want in a second chance banking account. No frills, but no unnecessary fees, either.
All it takes is a $20 minimum deposit to open the account. While this is a no-frills account, it offers a lot of benefits for those who are looking to get back on their financial feet again.
This account is loaded with free options, which is what a student checking account should be all about. Check these out:
- No monthly service fee
- No minimum balance
- A free debit card
- Free direct deposit and unlimited check writing
- Access to no-fee MoneyPass ATMs
*Chase Fine print:
“Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $225 checking bonus: 1) Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval AND 2) Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. After you have completed all the above requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.
“Account Closing: If your checking account is closed within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.”
This content is not provided by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.
Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.