Best Checking Accounts of 2021: High APYs & Low Fees

Even with so many online banking options, consumers still turn to brick-and-mortar banks for basics like a checking account. Traditional banks have worked hard to compete with their digital-only counterparts, offering robust apps, online bill pay, and low-fee or no-fee checking. Some even provide a return on your investment with checking that offers interest.

To help you in your quest for better banking, GOBankingRates analyzed financial products from over 100 banks to find some of the best checking account offers for 2021. Criteria included the following:

  • Minimum deposit required
  • Monthly maintenance fee
  • Minimum balance required to avoid fees
  • Annual percentage yield
  • Nonsufficient funds fee

Here are GOBankingRates’ best checking accounts for 2021:

Best Checking Accounts of 2021

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Wells Fargo Bank Everyday Checking

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Bank of America Advantage Plus Banking®

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Discover Bank Cashback Debit

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Simple Checking + Protected Goals

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PNC Bank Virtual Wallet Checking Pro with Spend

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Betterment Checking

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E*TRADE Checking

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TIAA Bank Yield Pledge Checking

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Truist Bank Essential Checking

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Ally Bank Interest Checking

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CIT Bank eChecking

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U.S. Bank Easy Checking

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SoFi Money

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Axos Bank Essential Checking

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NBKC Bank Everything Account

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Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking

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USAA Federal Savings Bank Classic Checking

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Radius Bank Rewards Checking

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First Internet Bank Free Checking

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If you’re looking for the best checking account to open, consider which features best meet your needs. Some things to consider might be free checking, the best interest rates, a low minimum deposit to open an account, or even a bonus for opening the account. You should be able to find a good option in this list no matter what you’re looking for. Keep reading for details on each account so you can more easily compare and decide which type of checking account best suits you.

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Wells Fargo: Best Checking Account

Why we like it: Founded in 1852, Wells Fargo has a longstanding history as one of America’s top banks. With more than 13,000 ATMs and 5,200 branches across the U.S., the bank is both reputable and accessible. You need just $25 to open a checking account, making it a great choice for college students, young adults and those new to banking. Low monthly service fees and a robust mobile app set Wells Fargo apart from many smaller banks.

Benefits

  • Longstanding reputation
  • Multiple branch and ATM locations
  • Low minimum deposit to open an account
  • Many ways to avoid monthly fees
  • Available in many states across the U.S.
  • Free checking for college students and those between the ages of 17 and 24

Drawbacks

  • No interest on deposits
  • No branches in select states, particularly in the Northeast U.S.
  • $35 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Everyday Checking

Minimum Deposit

$25

Monthly Fee

$10

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$500

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$35
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Bank of America: Advantage Plus

Why we like it: Bank of America offers three tiers of Advantage Checking: Advantage SafeBalance, Advantage Plus and Advantage Relationship. While the middle option, Plus, makes our list of best checking accounts, the beauty of their offerings is that you can scale up or down as needed. With a robust app that offers mobile deposits and Zelle compatibility to send money, Bank of America is a tech-forward company that also offers more than 4,267 branch locations and a nationwide network of ATMs.

Benefits

  • Low monthly fees with multiple ways to waive them
  • Mobile deposits and access to Zelle payment platform
  • Scalable options based on your monthly deposits and banking needs

Drawbacks

  • $100 minimum to open an account
  • $35 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Advantage Plus

Minimum Deposit

$100

Monthly Fee

$12

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$1,500

APY (for $5,000 balance)

N/A

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$35
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Discover Bank: Cashback Debit

Why we like it: This online-only checking account backed by credit card company Discover provides a debit card that offers cash back – a rare find in today’s banking climate. With no fees, free checks, online bill pay and Discover’s reputation behind it, this checking account is perfect for anyone who doesn’t care about having a brick-and-mortar location to visit.

Benefits

  • No overdraft fees
  • Online and mobile banking access
  • Cash back debit card
  • Free checks
  • No insufficient funds fee
  • No minimum deposit

Drawbacks

  • No interest paid

Checking Account

Cashback Debit

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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Simple Bank: Simple Checking + Protected Goals

Why we like it: This high-yield checking account from Simple, an online bank that also provides budgeting services, incorporates fee-free checking and no minimum deposit, plus no overdraft fee. What’s not to like?

Benefits

  • Free online bill pay
  • No monthly service fee
  • No overdraft fee
  • Ultra-low minimum balance
  • Free online and mobile banking
  • High APY
  • Let’s you save money toward your goals in an easy-to-access checking account
  • Access to more than 40,000 fee-free ATMs

Drawbacks

  • No physical location
  • Protected Goals account does not include a debit card, but Simple Checking does

Checking Account

Simple Checking + Protected Goals

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0.01

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.60%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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PNC Bank: Virtual Wallet Checking Pro with Spend

Why we like it: This checking account may be a mouthful to say, but it’s got no minimum balance and low monthly service fees that are easily waived. Plus, it’s offered by the reputable PNC Bank, with a 100+ year history in financial management. PNC combines its Spend checking account with a virtual wallet that makes it easy to manage your money on the go. Plus, you can earn up to $500 when you open your account.

Benefits

  • Low monthly service fees
  • No minimum balance to open an account
  • Network of 18,000 ATMs nationwide to manage and access your money with no fees
  • Linked savings account with no fees
  • Backed by reputable PNC Bank
  • Free checking for adults 62+

Drawbacks

  • No interest
  • $36 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Virtual Wallet Checking Pro with Spend

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$36
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Betterment: Checking

Why we like it: Betterment provides a simple, fee-free checking account and debit card with no minimum deposit required.

Benefits

  • No monthly fees or account minimums
  • ATM fees and foreign fees reimbursed automatically
  • Earn cash back at select locations
  • No overdraft fees
  • Backed by NBKC Bank, which is FDIC-insured

Drawbacks

  • Not a physical bank

Checking Account

$0

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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E*TRADE Bank: E*TRADE Checking

Why we like it: E*TRADE is one of the few banks today that offers free checks plus a robust mobile app and no minimum deposit to get started.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance required
  • Free checks
  • No monthly maintenance fees
  • Owned by Morgan Stanley

Drawbacks

  • Transferring money can take up to 3 business days, while check deposits can take up to 5 to open your account
  • Not a brick-and-mortar bank
  • $25 overdraft fee

Checking Account

E*TRADE Checking

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$25
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TIAA Bank: Yield Pledge Checking

Why we like it: With purchase benefits on their debit cards, TIAA Bank offers generous interest rates on balances and no fees.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance required
  • No monthly fees
  • 0.12% APY interest
  • ATM fee reimbursement
  • Free debit card with benefits

Drawbacks

  • Requires $100 minimum deposit to open an account
  • $30 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Yield Pledge Checking

Minimum Deposit

$100

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.12%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$30
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Truist Bank: Essential Checking

Why we like it: SunTrust Bank has become Truist and is offering no-fee mobile banking, low maintenance fees with multiple ways to waive the fees and access to Zelle P2P payments.

Benefits

  • Free starter pack of checks
  • Low maintenance fee with multiple ways to waive it
  • Free checking for students

Drawbacks

  • $36 overdraft fee
  • Paper statement fee

Checking Account

Essential Checking

Minimum Deposit

$100

Monthly Fee

$7

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$500

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$36
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Ally Bank: Interest Checking

Why we like it: With no monthly maintenance fees and up to 0.25% interest (with a minimum balance of $15,000, or 0.10% with no minimum balance), Ally Bank offers many benefits, including a robust mobile app, a network of 43,000 fee-free ATMs and no minimum deposit to open an account.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Between 0.10% and 0.25% interest
  • Network of 43,000 fee-free ATMs in the Allpoint network
  • Send money with Zelle
  • Round debit transactions to the nearest dollar and have the change deposited into your connected Ally Online Savings Account

Drawbacks

  • $25 overdraft fees
  • Online-only bank

Checking Account

Interest Checking

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.10%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$25
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CIT Bank: eChecking

Why we like it: There are no hidden fees, and you can open an account for as little as $100.

Benefits

  • Monthly ATM fee reimbursement up to $30
  • No monthly fees

Drawbacks

  • $30 overdraft fee

Checking Account

eChecking

Minimum Deposit

$100

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.10%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$30
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U.S. Bank: Easy Checking

Why we like it: With a low monthly maintenance fee, fee-free overdraft protection and free checking for adults 65+, US Bank offers a host of benefits.

Benefits

  • Low monthly fee that can be waived with direct deposits or a minimum account balance
  • Free account for adults 65+
  • Mobile check deposit
  • Online bill pay
  • Overdraft protection from a linked account

Drawbacks

  • $2 paper statement fee
  • $36 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Easy Checking

Minimum Deposit

$25

Monthly Fee

$6.95

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$1,500

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$36
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SoFi: SoFi Money

Why we like it: A new addition to our list of best checking accounts in 2021, SoFi Money requires no minimum deposit, has zero fees and can deliver between 0.01% and 0.25% interest. Plus, earn as much as $125 when you sign up for a checking account, set up direct deposit of $500 and use your SoFi debit card for purchases.

Benefits

  • Access to more than 55,000 ATMs worldwide with no fees
  • Generous bonus
  • Checking account with interest
  • P2P transfers
  • No overdraft fees
  • Free access to events, experiences, financial planning, and other services

Drawbacks

  • Not a physical bank

Checking Account

SoFi Money

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.01%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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Axos Bank: Essential Checking

Why we like it: With no fees and an option to get paid up to two days early with Direct Deposit Express, Axos Bank Essential Checking helps your money go farther, faster.

Benefits

  • Online bill pay
  • No minimum deposit
  • No fees of any kind
  • Access direct deposit funds two days earlier
  • No minimum balance required
  • Reimbursed ATM charges

Drawbacks

  • No physical bank
  • Takes 15 minutes to apply online
  • No interest paid

Checking Account

Essential Checking

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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NBKC Bank: Everything Account

Why we like it: With no minimum balance, NBKC Bank’s Everything Account delivers an APY of 0.80%, plus fee-free banking.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance required
  • No monthly fees
  • No overdraft fees
  • Network of more than 34,000 MoneyPass ATMs are free
  • $12/month reimbursement for out-of-network ATMs
  • Free online bill pay

Drawbacks

  • Deposits may be held for 5 to 9 business days on new accounts (within the first 30 days)

Checking Account

Everything Account

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.80%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$0
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Charles Schwab Bank: High Yield Investor Checking

Why we like it: With no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum balance, the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account links to your Schwab One brokerage account for seamless money management. It offers a reasonable APY, no foreign transaction fees and an easy-to-use mobile app.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance required
  • No monthly fees
  • 0.03% APY interest
  • No minimum deposit
  • Easily manage all your Schwab accounts and investments with one login
  • Robust mobile app
  • Unlimited reimbursement of fees at ATMs worldwide
  • No foreign transaction fees

Drawbacks

  • Online-only banking; no physical branches
  • $25 overdraft fees

Checking Account

High Yield Investor Checking

Minimum Deposit

$0

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.03%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$25
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USAA Federal Savings Bank: Classic Checking

Why we like it: USAA has no monthly maintenance fees, a network of more than 60,000 fee-free ATMS nationwide and a robust app that includes a Quick Balance widget to see your account balance without logging in.

Benefits

  • No minimum balance required
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 0.01% interest
  • Access to more than 60,000 ATMs with no fees nationwide
  • $15/month reimbursement for out-of-network ATMs
  • Only $25 deposit required to open an account

Drawbacks

  • $29 overdraft fee
  • Only available to U.S. military members and veterans, pre-commissioned officers, their spouses and children

Checking Account

Classic Checking

Minimum Deposit

$25

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.01%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$29
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Radius Bank: Rewards Checking

Why we like it: No-fee, high-APY checking with free worldwide ATM withdrawals make the Radius Bank Rewards Checking account a knockout contender.

Benefits

  • Receive 1% cash back from purchases with a balance of $2,500-plus or at least $2,500 in monthly direct deposits
  • Earn up to a 0.15% APY on balance of $100,000 or more
  • Free ATMs worldwide
  • Free first order of checks
  • Early access to direct deposits
  • Mobile money management

Drawbacks

  • $100 minimum deposit required to open account
  • $25 overdraft fee

Checking Account

Rewards Checking

Minimum Deposit

$100

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.10%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$25
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First Internet Bank: Free Checking

Why we like it: First Internet Bank’s Free Checking offers free checks, Zelle P2P payments and no fees, combining the best of online banking with traditional tools like checks.

Benefits

  • Free bill pay
  • Up to $10 in monthly ATM fee reimbursements
  • $25 minimum to open account
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • Free first order of checks
  • Upgrade to Interest Checking to earn up to 0.30% APY

Drawbacks

  • $30 overdraft fee
  • Online-only bank
  • No interest

Checking Account

Free Checking

Minimum Deposit

$25

Monthly Fee

$0

Minimum Balance to Avoid Fee

$0

APY (for $5,000 balance)

0.00%

Overdraft/NSF Fee

$30
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Tips for Choosing the Best Checking Account

With so many checking accounts available, choosing the right one can seem like a Herculean task. Simplify the process by analyzing your personal financial situation and prioritizing which checking account features are the most important for you. For example, if you have a large amount of money to deposit, you might be able to access an account loaded with services from a major international bank for no monthly fee. If you aren’t quite ready to make a deposit but want to establish a checking account, you might want to look at online banks that still offer traditional services but don’t require a minimum balance to waive their monthly fee.

Your choice may also be affected by how you use ATMs. If you travel a lot, for example, you might prefer a checking account that reimburses overseas ATM fees; if you only use in-network ATMs, you might not care about your bank’s ATM policy and gravitate towards one that offers local discounts, for example. 

Overall, your choice should provide you the most amount of services that you will actually use at the lowest possible cost. 

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Checking Accounts vs. Savings Accounts

Checking accounts and savings accounts are both places to hold your money, but they serve different purposes and typically offer different terms. Checking accounts are intended to be transactional accounts, from which you can access your cash and pay your bills. Savings accounts, as the name implies, are designed for savings, such as for emergencies or a housing down payment. Most savings accounts provide some sort of interest for holding your money there, while finding checking accounts with an APY can be done, but it’s not as common.

Advantages of a Checking Account 

  • Access to cash via ATMs or debit cards: Most checking accounts offer you access to your cash anywhere in the world via an ATM network; you can usually use a debit card to pay for purchases anywhere that credit cards are accepted.
  • Access to online and mobile banking: In the age of electronic banking, you can nearly always access your account information via your smartphone or the web.
  • “Home base” for money, can receive direct deposits and send or receive ACH payments: Checking accounts offer the ability to manage your financial life in a single location. You can see and manage both your incoming deposits, such as paychecks, and your outgoing expenses, including bills and cash withdrawals.
  • FDIC insurance: Checking accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation up to $250,000 per covered bank.
  • More liquid than a savings account: Checking accounts are generally entitled to unlimited transactions. Certain savings account transactions, including pre-authorized, automatic, check or debit card transactions, are limited to six withdrawals per month by federal law.

Disadvantages of a Checking Account

  • Accounts generally have some type of fees: Not all checking accounts have minimum balance or ongoing monthly fees, but most have fees for certain transactions, be they wire transfers, overdrafts or out-of-network ATM transactions.
  • ATM withdrawal limitations: Some ATMs limit withdrawals to $800 per day or less. If you need to take out more cash at one time, you’ll need to visit a branch.
  • May have minimum balance or debit card transaction requirements to avoid monthly fees: Although there are many banks that offer free checking accounts, they often come with restrictions. You may need to deposit and maintain a certain minimum balance to keep your account “free,” or you may need to make a certain number of monthly debit card transactions.
  • Generally pay low or nonexistent yields: Checking accounts typically pay far less interest than savings accounts, primarily because funds are constantly flowing in and out of the accounts.

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Summary

There is no one bank account that is right for every customer. However, once you decide what are the most important banking features for you, it’s easy to filter through the options and find a good selection of banks that you can choose from. Somewhere in the above list, you should be able to find a quality bank that provides the services you need for a low cost.

FAQ

It’s not hard to understand the concept of a checking account: It’s a place to hold your money where you can access it easily, via debit card transactions, checks, ATMs, or at your local bank. Because so many different kinds of checking accounts exist, many people still have questions about them. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding checking accounts.
  • What Is a Checking Account?
    • checking account is a secure place where you can keep your money for daily transactional needs, such as paying bills or depositing your paycheck. Most banks have numerous checking account options that you can choose from based on your daily financial needs.
  • How Does a Checking Account Work?
    • A checking account is merely a holding place for money. Both incoming and outgoing transactions are processed electronically within the FDIC-insured account, typically overnight. Debit card and ATM transactions usually reduce your available balance immediately, whereas it can take a bit longer for a paper check to clear, meaning the funds show up as deducted from your account.
  • What Is a Checking Account Used For?
    • A checking account is primarily used as an insured place to conduct your daily financial transactions. You can use the debit card that came with your checking account to get cash out of an ATM or pay a merchant. If you need to write a check or send an ACH payment, that money will also come out of your checking account. You can sign up for direct deposit and have your paycheck directly deposited in your checking account, or you can use your bank’s smartphone app to make a mobile deposit of a check.
  • Can I Open a Checking Account With No Money?
    • Each individual bank sets its own account minimum. Some banks have no minimum required balance to open an account and no monthly maintenance fees. Other banks may require larger deposits or “qualifying activities,” such as monthly direct deposits or debit card transactions, to avoid a monthly fee.
  • What Is a Free Checking Account?
    • Since financial services is a competitive industry, there are various interpretations of the word “free.” Some banks, such as Simple Bank, charge no monthly maintenance fees and have no minimum balance requirements. Others, such as Chase, may offer checking accounts that require monthly direct deposits or a minimum balance to avoid a monthly fee. Some banks may offer a checking account with no monthly maintenance fee but charge $3 or more for ATM withdrawals from out-of-network terminals. Read all of the fine print before signing up for a “free” checking account.
  • Can I Get Free Money From Opening a Checking Account?
    • Many banks will offer new customers a bonus for signing up for a checking account. However, you typically need to conduct certain qualifying transactions to receive the bonus. For example, if you open a new checking account with Chase Bank and set up direct deposit immediately, you can earn $200.

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: To discover the Best Checking accounts, GOBankingRates looked at the top institutions in terms of total assets size that had available published data. To determine rankings GOBankingRates looked at the following factors: (1) total assets as sourced from the FDIC; (2) number of branch locations as sourced from the FDIC; (3) minimum deposit to open an account; (4) monthly fees associated with the account; (5) minimum balance needed to avoid the fee; (6) APY on the checking account; (6) overdraft fee amount; (7) the average mobile app rating between the android and apple stores. All factors were then scored and combined, with the lowest score being best. Factor (1) was weighted 1.5 times, factor (2) was weighted 2 times, and factor (6) was weighted 0.5 times. For all Savings and Checking Account data only the basic accounts/products offered at each institution was analyzed. All data is up to date as of November 4, 2020, rates and fees subject to change.

John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.

About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.

Best Checking Accounts of 2021: High APYs & Low Fees
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