The Best Checking Accounts in California for 2024

The best checking accounts in California can be found through local banks or online options. Compare fees, rewards, ATM access, and rates.
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Written by Shannon Lee
Financial Expert
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Managing Editor
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When it’s time to find a new checking account in California, you have plenty of choices. Two of the best options include local banks and online banks.

Let’s look at your various options in California and which checking account might be right for your financial needs.

Best Checking Accounts in California

California is home to some of the nation’s largest banks, with online and in-person financial activity options. Here are some of The Golden State’s most common options for checking accounts.

Banc of California

With a recent merger that absorbed Pacific Western Bank, Banc of California is a large bank that offers robust checking account options.

Basic Checking is home to no minimum opening deposit, no direct deposit requirement, and no online account transfer fees. The Interest Checking offers all this plus a competitive rate on your money. The Banc-On Account provides online and mobile banking, no overdraft fees, and a $25 minimum deposit to get started.

Most potential accounts might become available as the dust settles from the bank merger.

Wells Fargo

Headquartered in San Francisco, this is one of the largest banks in the nation, but California residents can still enjoy the local feel of their community branches.

As befitting such a large bank, Wells Fargo offers four different checking accounts. Clear Access banking is the basic option for those wanting to get started. The $5 monthly fee is waived for those between the ages of 13 and 24.

The next step up is Everyday Checking, suitable for those who want to pay their bills and get direct deposits to keep their financial life moving. Prime Checking and Premier Checking are for those who want to earn good interest on their money.

East West Bank

This is another large bank offering numerous financial services, including six checking accounts to serve your needs.

At East West Bank, Value Checking and Student Plus Checking provide a checking service with low fees that can be waived through certain activities. Senior Checking for those 62 and older offers breaks on fees and other perks.

The unique Community Checking is for those individuals who might have difficulty getting a bank account. Those who want to earn interest can look into the Premier Checking or the Premier Money Market, where you can make your money work harder.

Find the Best Checking Accounts

Hundreds of banks offer checking accounts, and there’s fierce competition among them to offer the best perks and the lowest fees.

Use the list below to sort through the list to find a checking account that fits your financial goals.

What to Look for When Choosing a Checking Account in California

Knowing what to look for in a checking account can help you decide if that particular institution is right. Here’s what matters when opening up a checking account in California.

Monthly Fees

Most banks are eliminating as many fees as possible to be more customer-friendly. If there is a maintenance fee, look to banks that allow you to waive the fee with specific activities, such as by signing up for direct deposit or maintaining a reasonable minimum balance.

Other Fees

Watch out for additional fees that might affect your bottom line. These could include fees for paper statements, wire transfers, and overdrafts.

Carefully weigh the fees to determine if they matter to you. For instance, if you never use wire transfers, that fee might not make any difference in your final decision on which bank might be right for you.

ATM and Branch Access

If you want to be able to access your money at all times, make sure plenty of ATMs are available to you. While a particular bank might not have its own network of ATMs, it might tap into more extensive national networks that can ensure you can get your money for free.

If banking in person matters to you, choose a bank with good branch access. Look at the bank’s online map of branches to find the ones closest and most convenient for you.

Interest Rates or Bonuses

Some banks offer interest-bearing checking accounts. Some of these are tiered, meaning that the more money you hold in the bank, the more you can make in interest.

Some banks will work to earn your business through offering bonuses, and in some cases, these can be substantial. When you see an offer for a checking bonus upon opening an account and depositing a certain amount, take the time to look at the facts of the account to determine if it will be right for you long-term.

Mobile Banking Apps

A bank with a robust app will help ensure you can handle your money online or through your smartphone anytime. A good app will have excellent reviews, be very easy to use, and do exactly what you want it to do. If you can’t do some things on the app, such as transferring money to outside accounts, it might pay to look elsewhere.

Pros & Cons of Local Banks

When you choose a local bank, you are opting for a particular set of advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what to expect from your local banking options.

Pros

  • Branches in your local area make it easy to bank in person.
  • Many local banks will have the full suite of financial offerings, from checking accounts to mortgages.
  • There is usually a strong ATM network associated with local banks.

Cons

  • Interest rates for checking accounts might be lower for local banks than for online banks.
  • Some local banks won’t have robust mobile apps or a solid online presence.

Online Checking for California Residents

Reviews of banks can help you determine which one is right for you. Here, we take a look at some of the most common online checking accounts for those who live in California.

Discover® Cashback Checking

Discover Bank’s online checking account offers distinctive features, including 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in monthly debit card purchases, fee-free overdraft protection, and early direct deposit access.

The account stands out for its absence of monthly maintenance fees, insufficient funds fees, and extensive ATM access. However, it is solely online, limiting in-person services for those who prefer branch banking.

While earning cash back is capped, the account caters well to fee-conscious individuals comfortable with online banking. Customer service lacks an online chat option, and the account does not accrue interest.

Overall, Discover’s checking account is a compelling choice for those prioritizing fee transparency and online functionality, with potential drawbacks for those desiring in-person services or unlimited cash back.

Citi Priority Checking

The Citi Priority Checking account stands out with a potentially substantial signup bonus, fee waivers, and exclusive service deals. It caters to existing Citi customers, frequent travelers, and those maintaining significant checking account balances.

With features like fraud monitoring and travel perks, it offers a comprehensive banking experience. However, the $30 monthly maintenance fee is noteworthy, though it can be waived with a $30,000 minimum balance. Interest is not earned on the account, emphasizing its focus on other perks.

Accessible online or in person, it provides a versatile banking experience, appealing to those seeking elite benefits but may not suit those prioritizing interest earnings or lower fees.

Pros & Cons of Online Checking Accounts

Just as local banks have certain advantages and disadvantages, online checking accounts have their own victories and challenges. Consider these points.

Pros

  • Online banks allow you to move your money around freely through robust mobile apps and online sites.
  • If you don’t need many different financial options, a simple online checking account might be ideal for you.
  • Online checking accounts might offer higher interest rates because online institutions tend to have lower overhead and thus can pass those savings on to you.

Cons

  • Some online banks have no branches, making it frustrating to find a human to speak to.
  • You might be unable to obtain all your financial needs, such as mortgages or car loans, through an online bank.

How to Choose: California Local Bank vs. Online Checking Account

Local banks are ideal for those who want a bank branch’s friendly community atmosphere and the ease of meeting with a banker. They might also work well for those who need a little personal touch when it comes to applying for loans and explaining extenuating circumstances.

Local banks might not be the best option for those needing a seriously robust mobile app or wanting to do more online banking.

Online checking accounts offer the option of handling your money from anywhere at any time. These are ideal for those who can manage their money online without meeting with a banker.

Fortunately, customer service for most online banks is top-notch, so you can still contact someone when you really need to. Online banks might not have as many options for your financial life, but they will often have little perks and benefits that local banks can’t offer, such as impressive interest rates on high-yield checking accounts.

What to Know About California Checking Accounts

California checking accounts have several rules you should know about if you plan on having a checking account in the state.

Checking Accounts Available to More People

In 2023, the California legislature took up the cause of no-fee checking for those who have trouble paying the sometimes high fees required by banking institutions.

Under this plan, individuals could access their money at post offices rather than banks. It might be a viable option for those with trouble keeping a checking account active in light of potential fees. 

Account Garnishment is Limited

In some states, debt collectors can clean out a bank account. That’s not the case in California, where debt collections can occur but must stop when an account reaches $1,724. At that point, no more debt garnishment can be taken from a checking account in California.

Kids Can Have Accounts

Anyone of any age can have a bank account, but only those over 18 are allowed to manage the account independently. However, a parent, grandparent, or other custodian of the child can open an account, enabling the child to use the account under their supervision.

Advance Direct Deposit Is Allowed

Many checking accounts in California offer the option for advance direct deposit. That means if you have a regular direct deposit that hits your account on a routine schedule, your bank can choose to deposit that anticipated money into your account a few days early.

This can help you plan your finances every week.

About Author
Shannon Lee
Shannon Lee, a versatile contributor to MoneyRates, is a freelance writer with a passion that spans over two decades. Her extensive writing portfolio encompasses a myriad of topics, ranging from personal finance and home improvement to education, relationships, and medical and health subjects. In addition to her prolific freelance career, Shannon is also a novelist. Shannon’s dedication to providing insightful and informative content makes her a valued voice in the world of personal finance.
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