Finding banks that offer free checking accounts can be difficult these days, especially now that government regulation has forced banks to pass fees on to their customers to try to regain profits.
Below is a list of banks that still offer free checking accounts, along with some of their terms and conditions. If you have a bank that you would like to add please leave the info in the comments section so we can use this as a resource for readers to find the best free checking accounts around the country.
Capital One 360 (Formerly ING Direct) does not have a monthly fee for their checking accounts. They also give you free access to 35,000 ATM’s nationwide and (my favorite part) have no overdraft fees. (They do however charge interest for the amount overdrafted for each day your account remains overdrafted)
Ally Bank is another popular online bank offers checking accounts with no monthly fees. They also offer no fees for ATM’s nationwide, PLUS if you use another bank’s ATM they will reimburse you for the fees that the other bank charges for the transaction (awesome!)
Bank of America
Bank of America’s MyAccess Checking is free when you either 1) have a direct deposit of at least $250 per month or 2) maintain a balance of $1500. If neither of these apply to you it’s a $12 a month fee. So yes, Bank of America offers “free checking” but only if you met certain criteria.
Chase Total Checking has no monthly service fee if you ether 1) have a direct deposit of $500 or more every month, 2) maintain a $1500 balance or 3) have an average daily balance of $5,000 or more in linked deposits or investments. If you don’t meet these criteria, you get a $12 fee.
Citibank does not appear to have any minimum balance or direct deposit requirements (at least at the time I am writing this). To get free basic checking at Citi you need at least 5 “qualifying transactions” which include a direct deposit, a debit card transaction or a qualifying bill payment. If you don’t complete this you get an $8 fee.
Local Banks and Credit Unions
Fortunately many smaller banks and credit unions that still offer free checking. I’m not going to try to list them all here but there are some things you should try to look for. If you are willing to put up with some restrictions (minimum balances, online account management, bill payments, direct depositing of your pay check, etc.) then you will find that you have many more options to find free checking accounts.
Why do banks and credit unions offer free checking accounts? Since it is free, they are not making any money on your business, so why do they do it? The single biggest reason is that it is a loss leader. Like when the grocery store offers peanut butter or toilet paper for a crazy low price. Customers come in for the sale items, but then they usually continue their shopping and make additional purchases that the grocery store makes a hefty profit on. The banks are hoping that you will sign up for free checking and then continue to use some of the other services that the bank offers, such as a credit card, a mortgage, investments, or any of their other services.
Since the downturn in the economy and the financial crisis, fewer and fewer banks are offering free checking. Soon there will most likely be limits on their ATM and interbank fees, so the banks are withdrawing their free services to make up the expected shortfall. With a little homework, however, you can still find smaller banks and many credit unions that do offer free checking.
The best free checking accounts will have the following features:
- No minimum balance requirements
- No ATM fees
- Free Debit Card transactions
- Free online access for account management
- Unlimited monthly checking
- No minimum check writing amount
- Free online bill payments
- Free checks (usually a quantity of 100)
- Reimbursement of non-bank ATM fees
- Overdraft protection
The major downside of free checking is that you are giving up earning interest on the account. There are exceedingly few checking accounts that offer interest, and of those that do, the interest rate is very low. Giving up very little or no interest to save on fees seems like a good trade off. Especially if you also have the ability to transfer your balance between a high interest savings account and the checking account online (instantaneously). You can usually find that some checking accounts are what they call ‘rewards checking’. This is basically like building up customer loyalty points (frequent flyer miles for one), but you will need to pay close attention to the fine print, as there are usually some hoops to jump through on these accounts.
In addition, free checking usually means that you are giving up the right to access cancelled checks, although you may still see an image of the signed check online. Stop payments and check return are also usually not available on free checking accounts. If these services are important to you then you should consider a premium checking account. Otherwise, your overall savings for using a free checking account will more than make up for the few times you need to pay for those particular services.
Disclaimer: This info was valid at the time of this writing and may have changed. As always terms and conditions apply, so please read all terms and conditions before signing up for ANY bank or investment account. ING Direct and Ally Bank are affiliates of Before You Invest.