Best Checking Accounts of 2021
Your checking account is where it all happens. It’s the center of your financial universe, some might say.
But after you’ve opened the account, things seem done and dusted. You use your account daily – yet you rarely question whether your account could do more for you.
There are some pretty awesome checking accounts on the market – and it would be a shame to miss out. I’m talking about accounts that are completely free (if you still pay for yours!) or accounts that even pay you just to use them.
Yes, that’s right – you could be making money just by keeping your account open (and keeping some money there).
12 Best Checking Accounts
Here are the best checking accounts of 2021:
- 🏆 Chase: Best Overall Checking Account
- Axos Bank: Best Interest Rates
- Consumers Credit Union: Best Credit Union for Checking
- Discover: Best National Bank for Checking
- Betterment: Best Checking Account for Robo Investors
- Aspiration: Best for Earning Cash Back
- Chime: Best Checking Account for Millennials
- BBVA: Best Online-Traditional Mix
- Capital One: Best Mobile App
- Ally Bank: Best for Customer Service
- Wells Fargo: Best for Traditional Access
- TIAA: Best for Simplicity and Transparency
The Chase Total Checking account is an excellent option, especially if you want a physical branch you can pop into on every corner. Chase has one of the biggest branch and ATM networks in the U.S. (Yup, more than 4,700 branches!)
The account isn’t free — there’s a $12 maintenance fee – but you can avoid it by receiving at least $500 in direct deposits a month and keeping a daily balance of $1,500. As a plus, they often offer bonus offers if you meet the qualifying requirements.
- $12 maintenance fee can be waived
- No minimum balance requirements
- Access to 16,000 Chase ATMs
- Access to over 4,700 bank branches
- Highly-rated mobile app (4.6 on the App Store, 4.4 on Google Play)
Axos Bank’s Rewards Checking account is an excellent choice for anyone looking to earn high interest on their checking account.
Your checking account balance could earn 1.25 percent APY if you combine the following three criteria:
- Direct Deposits: Receiving monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more, not including transfers, to earn the first 0.4166 percent APY.
- Visa Debit Card Use: Earn the second 0.4166 percent by using your Axos VisaDebit Card for at least 10 transactions per month (min $3 per transaction).
- More Visa Debit Card Use: Earn the third 0.4166 percent APY by using your debit card for another five transactions, bringing the monthly total to 15 (min $3 per transaction).
Most of us can hit these three targets without much hassle. Axos Bank stops paying interest on checking balances of $150,000 or higher.
Axos Bank hits the spot in other areas too – like no maintenance fees, monthly minimums, or overdraft fees. There’s a $50 minimum opening balance, but that’s pretty easy to hit.
Also, with Axos Bank, you get unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements, which is pretty awesome.
- Earn up to 1.25 percent APY on any balance (if you meet the qualifying activities).
- Unlimited ATM fee reimbursements in the U.S.
- No overdraft fees
- No minimum account balance.
- Only $50 to open an account.
Consumers Credit Union’s Rewards Checking
Consumers Credit Union has some too-good-to-be-true checking account interest rates that are very real.
First the basics: CCU’s Rewards Checking account has no minimum balance, no maintenance fees, no ATM fees, and that jaw-dropping high yield.
You can earn as much as 4 percent APY on balances of up to $10,000. That’s right, 4 percent! To earn this much interest you’d just need to keep a monthly balance of $1,000, gain another $1,000 in direct deposits each month, use your debit card at least 12 times, and opt-out of paper statements.
Consumers Credit Union also has a highly-rated mobile app, making it easy to manage your account on-the-go.
- Stellar APY (4 percent on balances of up to $10,000).
- Unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees.
- No monthly maintenance fees.
- No minimum account balance
- Excellent mobile app
With Discover Bank’s Cashback Debit Checking account, you can get 1 percent cash back on up to $3,000 qualifying purchases each month.
Plus, forget having to pay for your checking account – there are no maintenance fees, no insufficient fund fees, nor ATM fees (at over 60,000 ATMs in the U.S.)
- No account fees.
- No minimum balance requirements.
- Earn 1 percent cash back on up to $3,000 in purchases each month.
- Access over 60,000 free ATMs nationwide.
- Highly-rated mobile app (4.8 on the App Store, 4.7 on Google Play).
For fans of online-only banks, I recommend Betterment Checking, a new offering from the robo-advisor Betterment.
With no branches and no way to deposit cash, you’ll grow accustomed to using your phone as the main way to access your money.
And Betterment is made for this: Its streamlined apps show you just what you need when you need it. As a new product, Betterment Checking is native to the world of mobile banking.
The bank does not require a minimum balance or a monthly fee of any sort so you don’t have to worry about meeting criteria to avoid the fee. Speaking of fees, you’ll get reimbursed for other banks’ ATM fees anytime you use an ATM, even if it’s in another country.
- No overdraft or monthly fees.
- No minimum balance requirements.
- Reimbursement for other banks’ ATM fees.
- Reimbursement for Visa’s 1 percent foreign transaction fee.
- Seamless transfers between checking and investing.
- FDIC protection up to $250,000, of course.
- Highly rated app.
Aspiration Spend & Save™
Aspiration has a new checking account designed to promote environmental causes while helping you save money on everyday purchases. You’ll get 1 percent APR on your Aspiration Spend & Save™ checking account balance, which dwarfs even the savings rate at most neighborhood banks.
They also pay 0.5 percent cash back on your debit card purchases, and you can increase that reward to 1 percent when you shop environmentally friendly retailers.
Along with all this earnings potential, you’ll also pay no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, and no ATM fees even when you use another bank’s ATM network.
With so much earning and saving happening, a lot of customers wonder how Aspiration can afford these incentives. The answer? Existing only online opens up a lot of possibilities. With no buildings to heat and cool and no staff in every city across the country, Aspiration can afford to pay higher rates.
Speaking of profit-sharing, Aspiration also shares 10 percent of its annual revenue with environmentally friendly causes, helping earn it B Corp status.
- No monthly, overdraft or ATM fees charged
- 1 percent interest earned on the Spend & Save™ Account balance
- $10 required to open an account; no minimum balance afterward
- Solid mobile apps
- Connect Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay easily
- Limited retirement and investment accounts available to connect.
Chime’s Spending Account is awesome for multiple reasons. First, there are no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements. Second, there are more than 38,000 fee-free ATMs. Third, the whole checking account experience is very neat, thanks to Chime’s highly-rated mobile app.
- No maintenance fees.
- No minimum account balance.
- Over 38,000 fee-free ATMs.
- You can get paid up to 2 days early with direct deposit.
- Automatic Savings feature helps you save automatically.
- Highly rated mobile app (4.8 on the App Store, 4.7 on Google Play).
If you could mix the benefits of online and traditional banking evenly, the result may look like BBVA, formerly BBVA Compass. This bank’s free checking account is easy to open online but it does not pay interest on your balances.
However, BBVA’s savings and money market accounts pay higher-than-average annual percentage yields. Though it has a geographic footprint across the Sun Belt states, BBVA serves as a full-service online bank. The bank embraced online banking early.
- Great for small business owners
- Highly rated app
- Physical branches in Sun Belt
- 24/7 online customer service
CapitalOne 360 Checking Account checks many of the most important boxes – and it has some pretty exciting perks. There are no fees, no minimum opening deposit, and you also earn interest on your balances.
On top of that, CapitalOne’s mobile app receives excellent ratings – and the company prides itself on user-friendly digital tools.
- No monthly maintenance fees.
- No minimum balance requirements
- Earn interest (0.1 percent on all balances).
- Highly-rated mobile app for banking on-the-go (4.7 on the App Store, 4.6 on Google Play)
Ally Bank delivers what we all want from a checking account: no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum opening balance, and your money grows without you having to take any action.
You can beat Ally Bank’s interest rates with another online bank, but it’s hard to beat the bank’s convenience and simplicity.
Ally is also super diverse for an online bank. You could get a mortgage, an investment account, an auto loan and, of course, high yield savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and customer service around the clock.
- It’s free ($0 monthly fee).
- Top-rated mobile app (4.8 on the App Store, 4.3 on Google Play).
- The account is interest-bearing (0.1 percent APY on balances of less than $15,000, and 0.5 percent on balances of $15,000 and more).
- There’s no minimum deposit.
- Access to over 43,000 free ATMs.
Few of us will be impressed by Wells Fargo’s interest rates or fee structures, but if you want easy access to your money through traditional channels such as a dedicated ATM network and branches in every community, Wells Fargo will make your list.
Wells Fargo serves 70 million customers worldwide with 8,000 branches in 35 countries. The bank’s Everyday Checking charges a $10 monthly service fee but most account holders waive the fee by receiving at least $500 in direct deposits or using the account’s debit card more than 10 times each month.
- No liability for unauthorized ATM or debit card charges.
- Nice budgeting tools.
- Nice suite of online banking tools.
- Customer service 24/7.
- 8,000 branches, 13,000 branded ATMs.
TIAA Bank specializes in high yield savings accounts but its new interest checking account could pay an introductory rate of 0.4 percent APY.
After the first year your rate would decrease to a pedestrian 0.15 percent on smaller balances, up to $15,000, with rate bumps available on higher balances.
You’d need to make a $100 deposit to open this account.
TIAA excels with its fee structure. The bank simply does not charge fees so you don’t have to think about following guidelines to waive the fee. I like this bank’s transparency and simplicity.
- Connections to great savings tools
- Connections to top-notch investments
- Simplicity and transparency
- A pledge to offer competitive interest on checking
To be so simple — you just deposit money and spend it, right? — checking accounts can be complicated. For example, when a free checking account charges fees for an extra feature you want, like paper checks, is it really free?
Here are some more questions people ponder when they’re choosing a bank.
Is it Bad to Have Multiple Checking Accounts?
So, you’re seeing these fantastic free checking accounts and thinking… why can’t I just have multiple accounts – and reap ALL the benefits you’ve just mentioned?
While that’s a very valid question that has crossed the minds of many (including mine!), dealing with multiple financial institutions can get too confusing.
Having one or two accounts should be easy enough to manage. Especially if you own a small business or side hustle and want to keep your personal finances separate from work.
That’s the right thing to do – and if you’re looking for a bank for your business, check out this list of best business checking accounts for 2021. But if you decide to open three or four accounts at different banks – that’s when it may no longer be worthwhile.
Managing Accounts Gets Tricky
If you have multiple accounts, keeping track of your accounts, their passwords, and other sensitive information can be difficult. You always have to keep an eye on your account to prevent identity fraud or be able to identify it as soon as possible.
If you have one or two accounts that’s an easy task — and I recommend opening a high yield savings account online and connecting it to your primary checking account.
But having accounts with three or four different financial institutions, on the other hand, can mean things get a little overwhelming, and you’re aren’t able to protect your private information as well as you should.
Each account you open should have a specific purpose, and the bank you choose should be uniquely qualified to take care of its purpose. If an existing bank can do what you need just as well — or almost as well — keep things simple by staying put.
Another Con: Fees Add Up
If you have multiple accounts, you’ll also need to keep track of how much you’re being charged for each account. You may open an account that’s free – but fees can be introduced later, or you could incur fees for certain transactions that you may not have known before.
Having multiple accounts means staying on top of bank fees becomes a challenge. And I know what you’re thinking – it’s just a dollar or two, but if you have many accounts, those fees can quickly add up — and they can gnaw away at your cashback rewards or higher interest payouts.
Meeting Requirements Becomes Difficult
The bank accounts that offer interest checking accounts and other promotions often come with caveats. You’ll have to keep a specific minimum balance or use your debit card a dozen times a month.
When your funds are distributed across multiple accounts meeting those requirements gets harder.
For example, some accounts require direct deposits of $1,000 a month to waive monthly service fees or qualify for the best annual percentage yield — an easy-enough hurdle, right?
But could you meet that requirement at two or three different accounts?
You might also forget which accounts refund ATM fees or which ones allow your partner to call customer service as a joint account holder.
Now if you’re willing to invest some time and energy into this, you could open and manage at least a couple of checking accounts – and reap their unique benefits.
I know a lot of people who do this – and use certain accounts for cash back, others for spending abroad, and others for earning interest. It will require some calculations and being wise with your money, but it can certainly be done.
Does My Credit Score Affect My Checking Account?
Here’s another question I get asked a lot. Applying for a checking account may feel like applying for a loan, but your credit history doesn’t directly affect your eligibility for a checking account.
That being said, banks can check your banking history through a special industry-specific database they call ChexSystems. If you have other checking accounts that stayed in the red for weeks, or if you never cleared up overdraft charges on your last bank account, your new bank will probably know about it.
Banks have the right to deny you an account or approve you for an account with higher fees. Signing up for a joint account with someone who has a more placid banking history could help you access better terms.
Now, your credit score will matter if you try to start an overdraft protection line of credit which is a form of borrowing.
Online vs. Traditional Checking Accounts
Seems like every year my list of best checking accounts has yet another online bank. This is partly because new online banks come on the scene and offer nice perks like interest checking accounts and high yield money market or savings accounts.
Should you consider an online bank for your primary checking account? Online checking can usually pay higher interest and offer lower fees, as you can tell by my list above.
But the answer depends on how you use your checking account:
- Deposits: Do you depend on making cash deposits directly into your checking? Online banks rely on mobile check deposits or transfers between your different financial institutions. Depositing cash could be a hassle. You’d need to deposit the cash in a local account and transfer the deposit to your online bank. It can take a few business days to transfer money. Or you could write a check from another bank and deposit the money more quickly via mobile check deposit. Even then it may take a few days for the check to clear.
- ATM Access: This used to be more of a problem for online banks. But now most of them reimburse you for other banks’ fees when you have to use one to make an ATM withdrawal or deposit. Check your online bank’s policy before opening an account. Some work only on some ATM networks such as Allpoint or STAR. Others limit your ATM fee rebates per month.
- In-Person Customer Service: Do you rely on walking into an office and asking the teller a question or two? You couldn’t do this with an online bank, but you could call, chat, email, or in some cases, text.
The best banks — both online and traditional — give you the most seamless access to your money when you need it. You shouldn’t have to think about surcharges or ATM reimbursements every time you want to pay for something.
The best banks also have the features you want like overdraft protection and online bill pay. More and more online banks now charge extra fees for old-fashioned paper checks and paper statements.
What About a Brokerage Account?
Most banks with online checking started out as savings account banks before expanding into checking. Now, online brokers have started offering deposit accounts like checking and savings, too.
For example, Betterment, the award-winning robo-advisor, now has a checking account, and it made my list of best checking accounts above. Acorns and Charles Schwab have brokerage checking accounts too.
These accounts have FDIC insurance just like any other checking account. If you invest through a broker, ask about its high yield investor checking account which could give you a higher APY. Just to be clear: You don’t trade out of your checking account.
You’d need to transfer money into the brokerage account first to make trades. But since both accounts are part of the same financial institution, you could make these transfers more quickly. I expect to have more investor checking accounts on this list in the future.
What to look for in the best checking account
Ultimately, most of us want the same things from our checking account: low fees (or no fees at all), free ATMs (or multiple ATM fee rebates), and good customer support.
These are the very basic elements you should look for – but you could demand even more from your checking account!
Many banks allow you to earn interest on your cash, which is awesome. Make sure you know how much you need to deposit and keep in your checking account to earn interest – sometimes that can be a pretty hefty sum!
Note: You will owe taxes on interest from a checking account.
If you’ve been denied approval for a checking account, here are some of the best checking account alternatives.