The Best Checking Accounts of May 2023
The Best Checking Accounts of May 2023
The best checking accounts minimize fees and have a network of ATMs where you need them.
Checking account features and fees differ from one institution to another, so shopping for the best checking account is important.
To help you search for the best checking account for you, MoneyRates looked at six fees commonly charged by banks, credit unions, and nonbanks. Review the companies we surveyed.
Of course, you’ll also want a checking account with all the convenience of direct deposit, online bill-pay, and mobile banking.
The reviews and information presented below can help you weigh the options.
If you want to look further, follow the tips in the How to Get the Best Checking Account section below.
Easily Compare the Best Checking Accounts Online
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Compare Financial Companies We Surveyed to Find the Best Checking Accounts
To monitor checking accounts, MoneyRates tracks a cross-section of the industry consisting of 50 of the largest U.S. deposit institutions, plus 25 medium-sized banks and 25 small banks.
This cross-section represents close to three-quarters of all U.S. bank deposits and includes over 300 different checking accounts.
Based on our research, the following were 20 of the best checking accounts, including the fees charged by each bank:
Key Factors in Finding the Best Checking Accounts
We examined six factors to find the best checking accounts.
- Minimum account size
- Monthly maintenance fees
- Overdraft fees
- Maximum overdraft fees per day
- Out-of-network ATM fees
- Paper statement fees
How We Picked the Best Checking Accounts
To weigh these six factors across hundreds of checking accounts, MoneyRates used the following process to pick the best checking accounts:
1. Accessibility to most customers
Some banks only offer their best terms to their largest customers, such as those with balances of $10,000 or more. Since this is beyond the means of most checking account customers,
MoneyRates found the best checking accounts for everyone by focusing its analysis on accounts with a minimum to open of $1,000 or less.
2. Free checking accounts
The phrase “free checking” generally refers to accounts with no monthly maintenance fees.
While free checking has become relatively scarce in recent years, it is fairly common among online checking accounts.
Since monthly maintenance fees are charged every month regardless of how you use the account, MoneyRates considers them of great significance and considered only accounts with no monthly maintenance fees as contenders for its picks of the best checking accounts.
3. Overdraft fees
At an average of $32.30 per transaction, overdraft fees can add up quickly and become staggering.
Plus, there is the potential for several overdraft fees to be charged in a single day.
So, the field of the best checking accounts with reasonable minimum costs was ranked based on both how high their overdraft fees are and whether there was a cap on the number of overdraft fees that could be charged in a single day.
4. Out-of-network ATM fees
Most banks charge you if you use an ATM that isn’t one of their own or part of a network to which they belong.
While these charges seem modest at an average of $1.74 per transaction, that can really add up if you use ATMs regularly.
The best checking accounts won’t nickel and dime you to death with ATM fees. That’s why this was used as the next ranking factor, just after the overdraft fee.
5. Paper statement fees
Most banks still do not charge you for receiving paper statements, so this was considered a low-priority ranking factor.
However, it was included in our survey of the best checking accounts because charges for paper statements are becoming more common.
Why we didn’t consider interest rates
Checking account interest rates were not considered in this ranking because the interest generated by checking accounts is usually negligible compared to their fees.
However, if you are able to identify checking accounts that would cost you nothing based on how you do your banking, you might use their interest rates as a tie-breaker in deciding among the best checking accounts. Finding the best high-yield checking accounts may be worth it in some instances.
What Is a Checking Account?
Technically, a checking account is a type of demand deposit account offered by banks and credit unions. This means you can withdraw your money without advance notice.
Checking accounts are designed to keep money safe and liquid – funds are readily accessible without restriction.
A checking account is a bank account designed to process daily transactions – incoming deposits and outgoing payments – seamlessly.
The ability to be able to use the account as much as you need to is at the heart of why checking accounts are effective money-management tools.
This easy, seamless access is also one of the reasons banks and nonbanks with some of the best checking account offers are reinventing checking accounts and finding new tools to offer to customers.
These newer, online, or hybrid checking accounts can be offered by a bank, brokerage firm, or other financial service providers.
Nonbank financial service providers typically partner with a bank to provide FDIC protection for their cash management accounts or spending accounts.
Cash management and spending accounts operate like checking accounts, but they may offer other features like mobile apps that help you monitor your budget, support charities, and find businesses that match your values.
Checking accounts are so commonplace today that most people think they’re all alike, but they’re not – especially now that technology is being used to reimagine how checking accounts work.
Knowing what to look for when determining the best banks for checking accounts could save you a great deal of money and time or even make managing your money easier.
Can I Have More Than One Checking Account?
Yes, you can have more than one checking account. For some people, one checking account is probably enough, but there are smart reasons why you may decide to have more than one checking account.
- If you share household expenses with a partner, you may wish to hold a joint checking account with that person and also have an individual account for your personal expenditures and purchases.
- If you’re helping a parent or other senior pay their bills, you can opt to hold a joint account with that person for ease of writing checks. You’d also have a separate account for yourself.
- If you make extra money from freelance work or a business, no matter how small, you may want to have an additional checking account for your extra earnings separate from your main account.
These are just a few of the reasons why you would want to have more than one checking account.
Whether you share one account with someone else or opt to have more than one individual account will depend on your own situation, but you are allowed to do so.
Before you open a second checking account, however, you should make sure that you are comfortable managing your primary checking account.
If you’ve just opened your first checking account or if you’re still getting used to managing it, you may want to wait before you open another.
When shopping for a second checking account, you should still look for the best checking account offers to meet your specific needs.
How Can I Choose the Best Checking Account?
Using MoneyRates’ selection process as a guide, here are some tips for how you can find the best checking accounts:
1. Check the monthly fee
While overdraft and ATM fees depend on how you use the account, maintenance fees are charged month after month no matter what.
Therefore, minimizing or avoiding this kind of fee should be your primary consideration when choosing a checking account.
2. Find out if a fee-waiver applies
Many banks that charge maintenance fees waive them if you meet certain conditions, such as maintaining a specified minimum balance or setting up a direct deposit.
If you are considering an account with a maintenance fee, see if you are likely to qualify for a fee waiver.
3. Decide on overdraft protection
Because overdraft fees are so expensive, MoneyRates recommends that you do not opt into overdraft protection.
However, if you plan to opt in, look for an account with relatively low overdraft fees and a cap on the number of such fees that can be charged in a single day.
4. Consider your ATM habits
If you plan to be a frequent ATM user, consider the locations of the bank’s ATMs or ATM network locations.
Make sure they are convenient for your regular travels so you can avoid fees for using out-of-network machines.
5. Consider customer service
If you like dealing with bank representatives in person, make sure you choose a bank with convenient locations and hours.
If you prefer to bank online, check which websites have features you are likely to find useful.
6. Protect your account
This starts by making sure the institution is protected by insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
Also, keep the balance of this account plus any other deposit accounts at the same institution below the applicable insurance limit. Typically, your total deposits should be less than $250,000.
7. Weigh additional benefits as tie-breakers
Banks sometimes offer promotions like cash bonuses and other gifts for opening an account. Some checking accounts even offer interest on your account balance.
They use a variety of enticements to attract customers; but in the long run, the value of these offers tend to pale in comparison to how much you could spend on fees.
These additional benefits should not be your primary reasons for choosing a bank, but they could be useful for deciding between two banks that are very similar on other criteria.
Use promotions, gifts, interest, and other benefits as a tie-breaker.
What to Consider Before Opening a Checking Account
You can compare lots of things when choosing a checking account – fees, locations, services, etc.
However, the factors that make the best checking account for you depend on how you intend to use the account. Before you open an account, consider the following:
Is the account federally insured?
Only banks that participate in FDIC insurance and credit unions that participate in NCUA insurance can claim to be federally insured.
Keep in mind, though, that not all accounts offered by these institutions are necessarily insured. While checking accounts should be, an investment account may not be insured.
How do you intend to use the checking account?
There are a variety of fees that potentially could affect your finances. Be clear about how you expect to use the account so you’ll know which are the most important to you.
- Maintenance fees only affect you if you don’t qualify for a fee waiver.
- If you tend to overdraft your account regularly, the size of the overdraft fee will be a big factor, as will whether the bank caps the number of these fees you can incur in a single day.
- If you are a regular ATM user, the location of the bank’s ATM network will be a key consideration.
Will you qualify for a fee waiver?
Many banks waive their monthly maintenance fee if you maintain a certain minimum-balance level. Others waive that fee if you set up direct deposit into the account.
Find out what a bank requires in order to waive its monthly fee. If you can easily qualify for a fee waiver, you can cross the monthly fee off the list of things to consider when choosing a checking account.
Does location matter to you?
If you still like to do your banking in person, the location of branches will matter a great deal to you.
If you use cash regularly, the location of the ATM network might be important. On the other hand, if you do your banking exclusively online, you don’t have to worry about location issues.
Is the bank as tech-savvy as you are?
If you want the latest in mobile-banking tools, keep in mind that while some banks are leading in technical innovation, others seem to operate as if they are still in the 20th century.
Check out a bank’s mobile and online tools to see if they are a good match for your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are paying $30 a pop for checking account overdraft fees, then you can probably do better. However, if those fees are a regular issue for you, then the size of the fee isn’t your only problem.
Here are three thoughts on how you can save money on your checking account:
You should be able to find overdraft fees that are less than $30. According to the most recent MoneyRates.com bank fee survey, the average was $29.16, so at $30 you’d be a bit over the average. The cheapest overdraft fee MoneyRates.com found was $18, but based on where most of the fees are bunched, if you found something in the mid-$20 range you’d be doing pretty well.
Don’t focus on any one fee when you shop for a checking account. After all, overdraft fees only kick in when you make the mistake of over-drafting your account, but maintenance fees will be there month after month. Look at the total package of fees, and figure out what would be the cheapest option based on how you bank.
Opt out of the overdraft protection program. If bank overdrafts are more than a rare mistake for you–say, once every few years–then the best solution would be to opt out of overdraft protection to cure yourself of the bad habits that are leading to those fees.
Financial trade-offs often come in different terms that make them a little challenging to compare, such as risk and reward, or in the case of many checking accounts, the trade-off between interest and a monthly fee. The best way to solve the dilemma is to do a little math to make the terms more comparable, though there are also some broad guidelines you can use for a decision.
In mathematical terms, you need to estimate what your average checking account balance is likely to be over the course of a year, and figure out how much interest you would earn on that amount based on the interest rate being offered. If that amount doesn’t exceed the fees you’d pay over the course of the year, you’d be better off with no interest on a free checking account.
As a general principle, in a low-interest-rate environment like today’s, you are more likely to be better off forgetting about the interest and choosing free checking. The only exception would be if you maintain a very high (i.e., $10,000 or greater) checking account balance. In a higher interest rate environment, it can be more worthwhile to pay the monthly fee and receive interest, even at lower balances.
If you want to learn more about checking accounts and other bank accounts, the answers to these frequently asked questions can help shed light on the topic.
Traditionally, these transactions were most often made by writing checks; but nowadays, automatic bill payments, ATM withdrawals, and electronic transfers are also very common. You can use a combination of these tools to handle both routine payments and one-time expenses.
Many checking accounts do pay interest, but interest is typically less important than fees in choosing a checking account. After all, typical monthly fees now total over $160 a year; on an account with $2,000 balance, it would take an 8% interest rate for interest to amount to more than fees – and you won’t find anything close to that these days. Plus, if it’s interest you are looking for, there are better accounts for earning interest, as discussed below.
A savings account guarantees your deposit balance and pays regular interest on the amount you have deposited. The number of times you can take money out in any given month is restricted; but in return for that, a savings account typically pays more interest than a checking account.
A money market account shares many characteristics with a savings account: it has guaranteed principal, pays interest, and allows a limited amount of transactions each month. As a practical matter, you should consider money market accounts alongside savings accounts when considering an account for building up savings.
If you don’t need regular access to your money and are simply concerned with earning the most interest, consider a certificate of deposit (CD). CDs lock your money up for a specified period of time, in exchange for which they typically pay more interest than checking, savings, or money market accounts.