While many of today’s consumers don’t regularly write out physical paper checks anymore, free checking accounts serve a vital purpose in conducting day-to-day money matters. How can you decide which bank is best? The best free checking accounts should offer you plenty of ATM locations, physical branches if you need them and easy online account features so you can track your funds anytime and anywhere. We also made our list of best banks for free checking based on how easy it is to bank on-the-go. The top choices all require no minimum balance, and some even pay interest.
The Best Free Checking Accounts
- Discover – Best for cashback earning
- Ally Bank – Best for low fees
- CapitalOne 360® – Best for those who travel
- Axos Rewards Checking – Best for ATM users
|Bank||APY||Minimum Deposit||ATM Access|
|Discover||0%||$0||60,000 ATMs nationwide|
|Ally Bank||0.50%||$0||43,000 ATMs nationwide and $10 out-of-network reimbursement|
|CapitalOne 360®||0.75%||$0||40,000 ATMs nationwide|
|Axos Rewards Checking||Up to 1.25%||$0||Unlimited ATM reimbursement|
What is a Free Checking Account?
A bank account that lets you deposit money and make withdrawals by using checks or a debit card is a checking account. A free checking account charges no monthly maintenance or minimum balance fee. That means you can keep a very low balance in the account and not be penalized with a charge. You may have a daily or weekly limit to how much you can deposit or withdraw from your free checking account.
Whether you use actual checks or just use the bank’s debit or ATM card, it’s still considered a checking account. Many people link their regular paychecks from their job to their checking account and have the money deposited automatically. Likewise, it’s common to have bills paid automatically from the same checking account. Consumers often manage this account through a mobile banking app or online account where you can see the deposits and withdrawals made to the account.
Free Account vs Regular Account
Not all checking accounts are free from monthly fees. While a standard checking account might pay you a low rate of interest on the money kept in the account, it may charge you a maintenance fee for simply having the account or writing a large number of checks. The bank may also charge you for making cash deposits rather than using your mobile banking app to deposit via a check. If you don’t have much money to spend on monthly maintenance fees and don’t care about earning interest on your balance, a free checking account is your best option.
Free Checking vs Savings Account
Free checking is made for regular deposits and withdrawals so that you can fund everyday purchases. A savings account, on the other hand, is designed as a place to save up money for long-term savings goals. Both a savings and free checking account are free from monthly fees, but a savings account will usually pay interest on your money for keeping it there. Very few free checking accounts pay interest. If you don’t need to access your money as easily and want to watch it grow over time, a savings account is a better option for your savings goals.
Free Checkings vs Money Market Account
Another common banking service is a money market account. While these accounts often offer checks and debit cards, money market accounts require a very large minimum deposit and won’t allow you to make as many withdrawals or deposits as a free checking account. They are regulated in the same way as a savings account and will charge you a fee for making more than six withdrawals per month. They are not a good choice for someone who wants to access their money more often or doesn’t have a large initial amount of cash to open the account and keep it funded.
The 4 Best Free Checking Accounts
Discover – Best for cash-back earning
While the Discover free checking account doesn’t give you an annual interest-earning opportunity, it makes up for it with a generous cash-back rewards program on debit card use. Users can get 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month. Frequent debit card users have the potential to earn up to $360 a year, regardless of the average daily balance kept in the account. This is far more competitive than what someone would earn via the standard interest rates for a free checking account.
You can open an account with just $1, and there’s no minimum monthly balance required. The bank offers convenient online features, a mobile app, and access to over 60,000 no-fee ATMs nationwide. Enjoy a free first check order, no fees for online bill pay, and a no-fee replacement debit card, too.
Ally Bank – Best for low fees
Ally doesn’t market its checking account as a free checking account, but it might as well be. This no-minimum-balance checking account is a favorite among those who want to earn higher interest and pay low or no fees. Currently, it rewards your account balances with 0.10% APY for accounts under $15,000 and 0.50% for those above. Just snap a pic of your paycheck within the mobile app and have funds available immediately, where it can grow faster than if you waited around to deposit in a traditional, brick-and-mortar bank.
Its ATM access is wide, and it offers a $10 monthly reimbursement for when you’re not near a participating machine. Like the others in our best free checking account list, there is no minimum monthly maintenance fee, making this a good option for those who love the perks of free checking and want to make their money mature over time.
CapitalOne 360® – Best for travelers
In addition to the frequent new-account bonuses that Capital One is known for paying out, the CapitalOne 360 free checking service is a mobile-friendly way to bank anywhere — even for those who travel globally. Pay no fee at over 39,000 Capital One or Allpoint ATMs and never pay foreign transaction fees for overseas purchases.
The account requires no minimum deposit or balance and has one of the better mobile check deposit apps on the market. You also have four choices for overdraft protection: auto-decline, free transfer from your connected CapitalOne savings account, access to an overdraft line of credit (subject to approval), or a one-day grace period before you’re charged a $35 overdraft fee.
The interest rate varies based on your account balance, with accounts under $50,000 earning just 0.20% APY and larger accounts (those over $100,000) earning up to 0.75%. Your first order of checks is free, too.
Axos Rewards Checking – Best for ATM users
While the tiered rewards system for the Axos Rewards Checking account is one of the more competitive on the market, the real allure to this free checking account is the unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. If you’re one who likes to stop and get cash where it’s most convenient, no matter who owns the ATM, you’ll save big over the course of the month. With a $50 minimum opening deposit and no monthly minimum balance requirement, it’s still a good pick for those with modest funds.
Earn up to 1.25% APY by performing a number of actions throughout the month, including receiving direct deposits of $1,000 a month or more and using your debit card for a minimum of 10 separate $3+ transactions a month. Tack on a high-yield savings account with Ally and then you can get 1.30% APY. This 100% online back offers a secure mobile banking app and charges no overdraft fees for those who link their free checking account to another Axos account.
The Final Word
Today’s free checking accounts are ideal for those just starting out in the banking world or who need access to their funds without the hassle of monthly maintenance fees and penalties. They are also best for those who don’t have a lot of money to open up interest-earning checking accounts or more expensive money market accounts. The best free checking accounts give you access to ATMs all over the U.S. and on-the-go banking with the ease of an app. Even if you never write a paper check or visit your branch in person, the benefits of fee-free banking are hard to dismiss.