Information about this product has been collected independently by the author. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.
Checking accounts should be free, period. At least, that’s what I believe.
Unfortunately, many of the largest banks in the US have terminated their free checking programs and replaced them with “free checking if you meet the following criteria” programs, a far cry from the free checking programs many companies previously offered.
These “free” checking accounts often require customers to jump through hoops or maintain a minimum balance requirement, use direct deposit, or use bill pay. Some banks even require a combination of these services before they will give you a “free” checking account.
But they still get you on the back end in the form of ATM fees, overdraft fees, expensive checks, maintenance fees, and more often than not, hold your minimum balance hostage in a non-interest-bearing account. You deserve better than that. But don’t fear, we have great advice on different banks you can choose.
How to be a Top Online Checking Account
These “gotcha” fees were the driving force behind creating this list of the best online checking accounts. Most consumers need a checking account that will perform well without hassles or fees.
It would also be nice to earn a little interest on your money. These are the main criteria used to create this list of the top internet checking accounts – FDIC insured, no monthly maintenance fees (or very easy to avoid fees), convenient features, wide ATM access, nationwide account access, and an interest-bearing checking account.
One more note – several of these banks aren’t the behemoths you might be familiar with. Mainly, these banks offer their services online, where costs are lower. This decreases costs to the consumer and allows banks to charge fewer fees.
Thanks to technology, banking is very different from it was a decade ago. Just about everyone is managing their banking needs online or through an app.
While being one of “the best online checking accounts” doesn’t REQUIRE a great smartphone app, it helps. Some people will never go to a physical bank branch, and that’s where a useful and easy-to-use app comes in.
How To Choose a Free Checking Account
No checking account is 100% free in today’s competitive banking environment. You will not have to pay for your most frequent and day-to-day transactions.
You’ll deal with conditions or hidden fees in most cases, so the best you can do is look for free checking accounts that are functionally free to the customer.
- No monthly maintenance fee. Some banks may offer a checking account that will waive the maintenance fee if you have your direct deposit going into this account.
- No or low minimum balance or monthly activity requirement to remain fee-free
- Low or no non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees or an overdraft protection option that is low or no cost
- Low or no fees for wire transfers, stop payments, debit card replacement, standard checks, returned items, or other similar services you are most likely to need or use.
- Added perks, such as a decent or better APY, cash back opportunities, excellent customer service, a well-regarded mobile app, or early access to your paychecks.
Conversely, avoid online banks that have fees you should try to avoid, such as:
- Overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees are charged when you spend more than you have in your account. It’s not uncommon for banks to charge $35 per occurrence — and charge you for several occurrences per day if several charges come back before you can make a deposit.
- An inactivity fee is charged when you stop using your account for an extended period, usually six months. Inactivity fees can run as much as $20 per month for some banks.
Added Perks to Look For
New-customer bonuses reward you for opening an account. You’ll likely have to meet eligibility criteria, such as receiving a certain number of direct deposits into the account.
- Affinity group rewards waive fees or offer special accounts or benefits for students, seniors, and current and past armed forces members.
- No account limitations such as those that allow you to make transfers via a service like Zelle but limit how much you can transfer per day.
- You may earn relationship perks by opening multiple bank accounts or maintaining high balances. That may translate to better interest rates on your deposit accounts or rate discounts on mortgages and other loans.
Comparing the Top Online Checking Accounts in Each Category
Every consumer has unique banking needs. So we have categorized these checking accounts based on who they serve. So check out these options if you are looking for a lucrative sign-up bonus, you are in the military, are a college student, or if you live in certain regions.
Best Checking Sign Up Bonus – TD Beyond Checking Account – $300 Bonus
Suppose a sign-up bonus for opening a new bank account gets your attention. In that case, I’d recommend looking at the TD Beyond Checking account, which currently offers a $300 sign-up bonus for new customers who meet the eligibility criteria.
- New customers who apply online for a TD Beyond Checking account can earn a $300 cash bonus after receiving direct deposits of $2,500 or more within 60 days.
- To qualify for this offer, you must be a U.S. resident and apply for the offer online.
- Offer is available in these states: CT, DC, DE, FL, MD, ME, MA, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, SC, VT, and VA.
- Get full details on the TD Bank website, our TD Bank Bonus Offer page, or our TD Bank Review.
There is also a $150 cash bonus for new TD Convenience CheckingSM account customers after receiving direct deposits of $500 or more within 60 days. The biggest downside is the limited geographic area of this offer. You can read our TD Bank Review or visit the TD Bank website for more information.
Best Checking Sign Up Bonus (Nationwide) – Chase Total Checking® – $225 Bonus
If you don’t live in one of the states where TD Bank is available, check out Chase Bank for one of the most significant bonuses for opening a new checking account. Currently, Chase Bank is offering new customers a bonus of $225 when they open a Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit within 90 days. Here are the details:
- New Chase checking customers enjoy a $225 bonus when you open a Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit
- Access to 16,000 Chase ATMs and more than 4,700 branches
- Chase Mobile® app – Manage your accounts, deposit checks, transfer money, and more — all from your device.
- Open your account online now.
- Available online nationwide except in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. For branch locations, visit locator.chase.com.
- Overdraft Services – no fee if you’re overdrawn by $50 or less at the end of the business day*
- *We charge a $34 Insufficient Funds Fee per item during our nightly processing, beginning with the first item that overdraws your account balance by more than $50 (maximum of 3 fees per business day, up to $102).
Best Checking Account for Military Members & Families – USAA
USAA Federal Savings Bank. I’ve been a USAA member for over a decade, stemming from my days in the US Air Force. You need to have a military affiliation (current or former military member, or son or daughter of a USAA member) to become a USAA member and use their banking and other products and services.
That said, USAA Classic Checking is among the best in the nation, offering a truly free checking account with no monthly fees and free ATM reimbursements (up to $15 per month). They don’t charge for using an ATM; they reimburse you when you use another bank’s ATMs.
That has saved me a lot of money over the years.
USAA offers free checks, an online savings account, mobile deposit, and many other great features. As a member for over a decade, I can’t recommend them enough.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.usaa.com
Best Checking Account for College Students – Chase College Checking
When searching for a college checking account, I recommend students get an account with online access and a wide national footprint, just in case they need to visit a brick-and-mortar location or access an ATM.
The Chase College CheckingSM account fits that bill nicely, as they have more than 4,700 branches and 16,000 ATM locations. College students should also look for an account with a low minimum balance requirement. Chase again meets the bill.
There is no minimum deposit requirement to open an account, and the $6 monthly fee is waived for up to five years if you are a student between the ages of 17 and 24 when you open the account.
Chase Bank also makes it easy to send and receive money quickly using Chase QuickPay® with Zelle®, and you can deposit checks from your mobile device just by taking a photo with the Chase Mobile® app.
Visit the Chase bank website for additional fees and account features.
Best Rewards Checking Account – Discover Bank
Discover Bank. Discover is better known as an issuer of credit cards, but their savings and checking accounts are among the best in the business.
Discover Bank has no minimum balance requirement, no monthly maintenance fees, free online bill pay, debit card, no ATM fees plus reimbursement of other banks’ ATM fees, access to over 60,000 fee-free ATMs, online access, immediate transfers between Discover accounts, no online transfer fees, and no fees for standard check orders.
Discover Bank also has a top-notch savings account that offers some of the best interest rates in the nation, making this an attractive option if you prefer to link your accounts.
The best part? You can earn up to $120 in yearly rewards using your Discover Bank Checking Account. You can earn $0.10 for each debit card transaction, every bill you pay online, and each time a check you write clears (up to 100 combined transactions each month).
I love using my cash rewards credit cards, but there are times when you need to use your checking account. Why not get rewarded at the same time?
For more information or to open a checking account online, visit their website: www.discoverbank.com
Other Great Online Checking Accounts
TIAA Bank Yield Pledge Checking Account
TIAA Bank is best for customers who maintain a relatively high balance in their checking accounts. This benefit is that TIAA Bank’s Yield Pledge Checking account interest rates exceed the checking account interest rates found at many popular “big bank” savings accounts.
TIAA Bank’s high-interest savings account is also consistently among the highest in the nation. It is a good idea to link these accounts to ensure you always receive a solid return on your savings.
TIAA Bank checking accounts feature unlimited check writing, mobile checking, and one of the most remarkable features in the industry – the ability to make check deposits online by scanning a check and uploading it to your account.
The high-interest rates and conveniences make this a good option for those who like to keep a little extra cash on hand.
For more information or to open a checking account online, visit the TIAA Bank website.
Ally Bank Checking Account
Ally Bank has made significant strides in features and customer service over the last several years. Ally Bank now offers best-in-class checking and savings accounts, with features found in a few locations.
The Ally Interest Checking account features an interest-bearing account, free bill pay, free debit card, free ATM usage (ATM fees are reimbursed each month), and free checks with unlimited check-writing ability.
Free checks are a nice bonus, as many banks charge $20-30 for a set of checks (though you can usually save money buying checks from Costco or other locations). Finally, there are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit the Ally Bank website, or read our Ally Bank Review.
Capital One 360 Checking Account
Capital One bought the US branch of ING Direct and re-branded it as Capital One 360. The only thing they changed was the name and the brand colors.
The simple-to-use interface, great rates, and other features remain unchanged.
I’ve been a customer of Capital One 360 for over ten years now. They were one of the pioneers in direct banking and offered an easy-to-use account that can be linked to your Capital One 360 Savings Account.
Features include a solid interest rate, ability to link accounts, free bill pay, free debit card, access to over 55,000 free Allpoint® ATMs, no minimum balance requirement, and no monthly fees.
Capital One 360 accounts also offer the ability to send checks online, create sub-accounts for easier management, and transfer money to other Capital One 360 members for free (a very cool peer-to-peer system similar to PayPal but limited to other Capital One 360 members).
For more information or to open a checking account online, visit Capital One 360.
FNBO Direct. First National Bank of Omaha is the largest privately-owned bank in the US. They have long been a large regional bank but have expanded to the national level over the last few years with its online branch – FNBO Direct.
Their online checking account has no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees, offering competitive interest rates for checking accounts. If you maintain a low monthly balance in your checking account, then FNBO is a nice option since most large banks require a minimum balance to avoid fees for their checking accounts.
Additional perks include free bill pay, a free VISA debit card, a high-interest savings account option that you can link to your checking account, high-interest CDs, an excellent rewards card, the ability to transfer money via e-mail, or your cell phone, and their website features a user-friendly interface. You can read our full FNBO Direct review here.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.fnbodirect.com
Citibank Checking Account
Citibank is one of the largest financial institutions in the US, with hundreds of physical branches and access to 29,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide. Depending on your checking account with Citi, you may also be eligible for ATM fee reimbursements.
Each Citibank checking account comes with online banking, free online bill pay, free mobile banking with CitiMobile, online check images, paperless bank statements, and 24/7 customer support.
Citibank is also a full-service bank that offers various other services, including investment products and loans, credit cards, and mortgage products. A minimum balance is required for the account to be free.
Here is a more in-depth Citibank Checking Account Review.
Zions Bank Checking Account
Zions Bank is a regional bank that has been around for over 135 years. Their attractive no-fee online checking account has served as an excellent way for them to serve a wider customer base.
The Zions Bank High Yield Internet Checking is an interest-bearing online checking account that offers competitive rates based on the balance you maintain in your account.
In addition, you can link this to a high-yield savings account, pay your bills online, transfer money, etc. Zions Bank offers a wide range of financial products, including the savings mentioned above and checking, along with CDs, investment accounts, business accounts, and more.
It takes $100 to open an account, and there is no minimum balance requirement. For more information or to open a checking account online, visit their website: www.zionsbank.com
Aurora Bank Checking Account
Aurora Bank is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, bringing over 85 years of banking experience. The Aurora Bank Checking Account with Interest offers competitive interest rates, free ATM withdrawals from an extensive, nationwide network, check writing, debit card, electronic transfers, and direct deposit.
Your account is eligible for overdraft protection, and your first set of checks is free. Aurora Bank also offers a wide range of consumer, business, and commercial banking, including savings, checking, money market accounts, debit cards, CDs, a variety of loan options, and more.
For more information or to open a checking account online, visit the Aurora Bank website.
Axos Bank (formerly Bank of Internet USA)
You’ll have to meet a few requirements, but most of them are simple.
Axos Bank is one of the more obscure banks on our list, but that doesn’t mean you should count them out of your search. With their “Rewards Checking” account, you can earn up to 1.30% APY, which is drastically higher than you will earn with just about any other checking account.
With Axos Bank, you can enjoy online banking, unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements, and some cashback purchase rewards. Just like the other banks on our list, there are no monthly fees and no minimum balance that you have to maintain.
While it might sound like an odd choice, if you’re looking for another high-yield checking account, look no further than MemoryBank’s EarnMore Account. If you open up one of these accounts, you can enjoy a stunning 1.50% APY for the first year that you have the account.
Like the Bank of Interest account, you’ll need to meet some simple requirements to get the high-yield returns. You can take advantage of their high APY if you have one direct deposit into your checking account and use your debit card 5 times every month.
After the first year, the APY will be around 1.0%, which is still much higher than the competitors on the list. If you’re looking for a company that’s going to reward you for the cash in your checking account, the MemoryBank is an excellent option.
One of the obvious downsides is that you won’t have access to thousands of physical branches across the country like you will with some options.
Bank5 has one of the best free online checking accounts on the market. They have a “Connect High-Interest Checking Account” that is easy to open and has several benefits.
They have free mobile and online banking to let you use bill pay and receive eStatements for no charge.
One of the most notable advantages of their online checking account is the 0.76% APY and free ATM use anywhere (with a few exceptions). Bank5 will reimburse your ATM fees and surcharges for up to $15 every statement cycle.
That is a unique advantage you won’t find with many other banks.
Another benefit of opening a Connect High-Interest Checking account is having access to their UChoose Rewards, which reward you for using your debit card. Whenever you use your Bank5 Connect card, you’ll earn points. For every $2 that you spend, you’ll earn 1 point.
You can use those points to redeem thousands of options.
Additional Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Checking Account
Aside from fees, APY, and limitations, you should take note of a few other things when looking for the best online checking account. I like to look for banks that offer multiple services such as checking, savings, certificates of deposit, and more.
Choosing a bank that only offers a limited number of services is fine if you only need those specific services (this is common, for example, with online savings accounts). Just be sure to compare your needs before settling on a bank.
Finally, give some consideration to customer service. When making this list of the best free online checking accounts, customer service was taken into account, but you should always do your research before you pick a bank.
When you’re looking at customer service ratings and reviews, keep in mind that there is always going to be disgruntled customers. Regardless of how kind or courteous their customer service is, there will always be negative reviews.
Take those with a grain of salt. Look for trends or common complaints that their customers have.
Are Online Checking Accounts Safe?
Yes. FDIC insurance protects your checking account balances against bank failures or other types of events that would put your funds at risk.
Look for banks with FDIC insurance up to the statutory maximum of $250,000 per account.
A Note About Local and Regional Banks
Many local banks, regional banks, and credit unions offer similar deals and can be a great place to open a free checking account. However, there are a couple of downsides – often, they do not offer an extensive ATM network or are limited in other ways.
I recommend comparing online checking accounts from multiple financial institutions to find the one that best meets your needs.