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 jump through hoops or to maintain a certain 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.
What it Takes to be Best in Class
These “gotcha” fees were the driving force behind us creating this list of free online checking accounts. Most consumers need a checking account which will perform well without hassles or fees, and it would be nice to be able to earn a little interest on your money as well. Those were the main criteria used to create this list of free internet checking accounts – FDIC insured, no fees, convenient features, wide ATM access, nationwide account access, and an interest bearing checking account.
All of the accounts listed below meet those criteria, with one small exception – PerkStreet Financial doesn’t pay interest on the money held in your checking account, however, in my opinion they have a best in class debit rewards program, which makes their account worth the inclusion in this list.
One more note – most of these banks aren’t the behemoths you might be familiar with. For the most part these banks offer their services online where costs are lower and the customer service is often greater.
Best Free Online Checking Accounts
USAA Federal Savings Bank. I’ve been a USAA member for well over a decade now, stemming from my days in the US Air Force. While you need to have a military affiliation to become a USAA member (and gain access to their insurance products), you don’t have to be a member to use their banking and investment products. USAA’s free 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, and they reimburse you when you use another bank’s ATMs. That has saved me a lot of money over the years. They also offer free checks, an online savings account, and other features. As a user 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
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 their online branch – FNBO Direct. Their online checking account has no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees, and they offer 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 of the 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 which you can link to your checking account, high interest CDs, an excellent rewards card, ability to transfer money via e-mail or your cell phone, and their website features a user-friendly interface.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.fnbodirect.com
Capital One 360. 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 ING Direct for over 5 years now. They were one of the pioneers in direct banking and offer an easy to use account which can be linked to your Capital One 360 Savings Account (still one of the best in the business), as well as to your ShareBuilder account if you have one. Features include a solid interest rate, ability to link accounts, free bill pay, free debit card, over 30,000 free ATMs, no minimum balance, and no monthly fees. To top it off, Capital One 360 accounts also offer the ability to send checks online, ability to create sub-accounts for easier management, ability to 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 their website: Capital One 360
Ally Bank. Ally Bank has made major strides over the last two years in terms of features and customer service. Ally Bank now offers best in class checking and savings accounts, with features found in 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. Finally, there are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.allybank.com
PerkStreet Financial. PerkStreet practically rewrote the book on rewards debit cards with their cash rewards that rival and even exceed those of cash rewards credit cards. The PerkStreet FinancialSM Debit MasterCard® is a best in class cash back rewards debit card which offers up to 2% cash back on non-PIN purchases at a variety of stores and retailers, and 1% cash back on almost all other purchases. PerkStreet also offers up to 5% cash back in select categories which rotate. It only takes $25 to open an account, and with your account you receive the rewards debit card, free checks, free online bill pay, 24/7 customer service, and thousands of surcharge-free ATMs. There is no minimum balance requirement and the account is free with regular use.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.perkstreet.com
Citibank Checking. Citibank is one of the largest financial institutions on the US, with hundreds of physical branches, and access to 29,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide. Depending on which checking account you get 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 which offers a variety of 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.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: https://online.citibank.com/US/Welcome.c
Discover Bank. Discover is better known as an issuer of credit cards, but their savings and checking accounts are actually among the best in the business. Discover Bank has no minimum balance requirement, no monthly maintenance fees, online bill pay, debit card, no ATM fees plus reimbursement of other banks’ ATM fees, 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 which offers some of the best interest rates in the nation, making this an attractive option if you prefer to link your accounts. The only downside to the Discover Bank checking program is that you can only open it at a Discover Bank branch.
For more information or to open a checking account online visit their website: www.discoverbank.com
EverBank. EverBank is best for customers who maintain a relatively high balance in their checking accounts, as it requires a minimum of $1,500 to open an account. The benefit of this is EverBank’s checking account interest rates rival or exceed the savings account interest rates found at many popular “big bank” savings accounts. EverBank’s high interest savings account is also consistently among the highest in the nation, making it a good idea to link these accounts to ensure you always receive a solid return on your savings. EverBank checking accounts feature unlimited check writing, mobile checking, and one of the coolest 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 their website: www.everbank.com
Zion’s Bank. Zions Bank is a regional bank which has been around for over 135 years. Their attractive no fee online checking account has served as a great 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 their the aforementioned savings 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. Aurora Bank is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware and brings over 85 years of banking experience to the table. 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 their website: www.aurorabankfsb.com
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 downsides – many times they do not offer an extensive ATM network, or are limited in other ways. I recommend comparing multiple financial institutions to find the one that best meets your needs.