12 Best Free Checking Accounts at U.S. Banks

12 Best Free Checking Accounts at U.S. Banks

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find truly free checking accounts. At many banks, you’re now required to pay a monthly maintenance fee for the privilege of keeping your checking account open. Such fees can range from a few dollars to $20 or more, depending on the bank and other associated perks. To avoid these fees, you may need to maintain a high minimum daily balance, make regular deposits of a certain size or frequency, or execute a minimum number of transactions in a statement period.

Fortunately, it’s still possible to find free checking accounts. You just have to know where to look. Many online banks offer legitimately free, FDIC-insured (up to $250,000 per account) accounts with few restrictions and plenty of sweeteners. Some even pay noticeable interest.

If you’re looking for a checking account that won’t eat away at your deposits, take a closer look at these options available to customers throughout the United States.

Very Attractive Yields, Even on Low Balances

bank5connect logobank5connect logoIf you’re looking for an attractive yield with a reasonable minimum balance requirement, it’s hard to do better than the Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking Account. Bank5 Connect also has reasonable overdraft fees and a generous reimbursement policy for third-party ATM fees. A sub-par mobile app counts against it, but the main website works okay on mobile devices.

1% Cash Back on Up to $3,000 in Debit Card Purchases Each Month

Discover Bank is a full-service online bank with an unusually generous, totally free checking account. The headline here is the account’s 1% cash back yield on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month. That adds up to as much as $30 cash back per month, or $360 cash back per year.

Discover Bank has no minimum balance requirements and boasts a pretty forgiving fee schedule with no bill pay, check reorder, replacement debit card, bank check, or wire fees. Plus, customers have fee-free access to more than 60,000 ATMs around the U.S. – more than most competitors.

You Might Also Like: Looking for even more cash back opportunities? Discover has multiple cash back credit cards, all of which offer double cash back in the first year thanks to Discover’s generous Cashback Match feature. Check out our Discover it and Discover it Chrome reviews for details.

See our Discover Bank review for more information.

No Minimums; No ATM Fees, Ever

Ally Bank is one of the original online banks, and its Interest Checking account remains immensely popular. There are no minimums of any kind here. Ally also reimburses all third-party ATM fees, without exclusion. Low overdraft fees (just $9 per transaction) sweeten the deal further.

Drawbacks include low yields on modest balances and a surcharge on all international transactions.

See our Ally Bank Review for more information.

No Minimum Balances; $50 Account Opening Bonus

capital one 360 logocapital one 360 logo360 Checking from Capital One 360 comes with an attractive yield, especially for larger balances. Though the once-generous account opening bonus has been discontinued, the relatively low fees make this a low-overhead option for frugal account holders.

360 Checking’s mobile app is among the best in the business, with intuitive mobile check deposit, an interactive ATM finder, seamless person-to-person money transfers, and text alerts for a wide range of account functions. Drawbacks include high fees for replacement debit cards, high minimum balance requirements for the best annual yields, and no out-of-network ATM fee reimbursements.

See our Capital One 360 review for more information.

Tiered Yields up to 1.25%

bank of internet usa logobank of internet usa logoThe Bank of Internet USA Rewards Checking account is one of several free checking options offered by Bank of Internet USA, a pioneering online bank. Rewards Checking doesn’t automatically pay interest, but you can earn a yield of up to 1.25% on your funds by meeting certain qualifications. These include using your debit card 10 times per month and accepting a monthly direct deposit of at least $1,000. Basically, BoI wants to be your primary checking account.

BoI is one of the few online-only banks that allows remote cash deposits, thanks to its partnership with the Green Dot® Reload @ the Register program. If you earn a substantial portion of your income in cash, this is a definite perk – though, at up to $4.95 per transaction, it’s not cheap.

One big downside is no overdraft service unless you open another account with BoI. And, though the bank advertises free checks with a new checking account, you actually need to request them when you open the account (and checks might not be the first thing on your mind at that time).

Potential for Very High Checking Yields

Independent Bank is a Texas-based institution that offers banking products to customers across the United States. Though its Free Rewards Checking account comes with a relatively low baseline interest rate, it has the potential to yield up to 1.50% annually when used properly. If you satisfy certain conditions, the Free Rewards Checking account pays better than many 24-month CDs. These conditions are:

Other useful features include the option to link to Independent Bank’s REALSaver savings account for automatic savings transfers.

Competitive Yields on All Checking Account Balances

fnbo direct logofnbo direct logoThe FNBO Direct Online Checking account is a straightforward product that pays an attractive yield on all balances, has a negligible minimum opening deposit ($1), and never requires a minimum balance. Despite its no-frills appearance, this account has a nice mobile platform that lets you send money directly to friends and family at no charge.

FNBO does have some drawbacks: no reimbursement for out-of-network ATM fees and hefty daily overdraft fees.

See our FNBO Direct Review for more information.

No Minimum Opening Deposit or Balance Requirements

salem five direct logosalem five direct logoThis account from Salem Five Direct offers a decent yield across the board, boasts a straightforward cash back program that rewards virtually all debit card purchases, and has a relatively low minimum opening balance requirement. It also reimburses all third-party ATM fees without limit – a powerful sweetener for a bank that has few branded ATMs of its own.

On the flip side, the annual yield is a bit low – it hasn’t changed since 2012. Plus, the mobile platform isn’t very user-friendly. Perhaps it hasn’t changed since 2012 either. And this account isn’t available through Salem Five’s physical branches, which dot Massachusetts – the only state with supplemental DIF insurance.

Yield Always in Top 5% of U.S. Checking Accounts; Many ATM Fees Waived

TIAA Bank (formerly EverBank) is a full-service online bank with a very attractive checking option: the Yield Pledge Checking Account. The “pledge” is that the account’s yield will always be in the top 5% of all U.S. checking accounts, as measured by the Bankrate BRM Index (released monthly). So far, TIAA Bank has held up this bargain.

Other advantages include a robust mobile app and an overdraft line of credit that may be cheaper than a traditional overdraft fee. The biggest drawback is the high minimum opening deposit requirement – $5,000. Other drawbacks include a minimum balance requirement for reimbursement of out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees.

1 American Airlines AAdvantage Mile for Every $3 Spent 

UFB Direct is affiliated with Bank of Internet USA, but administers a separate checking account that focuses on cash back and airline rewards. For every $3 you spend with your debit card, you earn 1 American AAdvantage mile, up to 120,000 per year. Though exact redemption values vary based on route popularity and other factors, 25,000 miles is enough to cover the cost of a round trip between any North American destinations.

Other perks include a free overdraft transfer program and the ability to make cash deposits at participating retail locations through Green Dot® Reload @ the Register – though you’ll pay up to $4.95 per transaction for that privilege. The biggest downside is the lack of an annual yield.

You Might Also Like: Are you an American Airlines fan? If you have strong credit, you might be eligible for a premium American Airlines credit card. Check out our CCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® Review for more details.

Prefer general-purpose travel credit cards? Check out our roundup of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market.

Low Minimum Opening Deposit; No Minimum Balance Requirement

first internet bank logofirst internet bank logoFormerly known as First Internet Bank of Indiana, First Internet Bank (or First IB) serves U.S. customers nationwide. It doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement and has a negligible minimum opening deposit.

Its biggest drawbacks include no yield and no reimbursement for other banks’ ATM fees. If you can manage a minimum daily balance of $500, spring for First IB’s Interest Checking Account, which yields 0.55% APY and waives its $10 monthly maintenance fee when you keep your balance above that threshold.

Low Account Opening Balance and No Minimum Balance Requirements

State Farm Bank is the consumer banking arm of State Farm, best known for its comprehensive lineup of insurance products. With a low account opening balance requirement and no ongoing minimum balance requirements, the State Farm Bank checking account is definitely worth a look in its own right though.

Perks include mobile check deposit, unlimited ATM fee reimbursements with a recurring direct deposit arrangement, and solid overdraft protection. The fee structure is relatively lax here – if you’re careful, you won’t pay much to keep this account running. But the nonexistent yield is a problem.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a checking account with a measurable yield, check out State Farm Bank’s Interest Checking account. It earns 0.25% APY on balances above $2,500 and has no monthly maintenance fee with a qualifying direct deposit arrangement.

If you cling to the quaint notion that you shouldn’t have to pay for a basic checking account, any one of these options should suit you. However, before you settle on a choice, do your homework. Be especially vigilant for any signs of systemic problems, such as data security issues or a pattern of customer service complaints, at your chosen bank. After all, you don’t want to stop being an educated consumer just because a product or service is free.

What’s your favorite free checking account?

Updated: August 28, 2018
Categories: Banking

Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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