Best Online Checking Accounts of 2021

Setting up a direct deposit and don’t know where to start? We’ve rounded up the best online checking accounts of 2021, most with no fees and high APY.

Reviewed by Robin Hartill, CFP®
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When customers grew tired of high cable and satellite bills, streaming giants Netflix and Hulu entered the playing field.

When customers lamented their experiences with taxis, Uber and Lyft offered a new way to get around town.

And when customers saw that their financial institutions were not working with their best interests in mind, online bank accounts came onto the scene to offer more.

The best online checking accounts offer members lower fees (or sometimes even no fees) and higher interest rates than their traditional bank and credit union competitors. Top checking accounts also have responsive websites and advanced mobile apps to provide the same convenience of in-person banking on the go.

And despite what you might think about an account that is entirely online, online checking accounts are incredibly safe. (Lack of safety is just one of many myths about online banks.)

All this makes online bank accounts highly appealing to savvy Penny Hoarders — or, in the case of online checking accounts, savvy penny spenders.

The 9 Best Online Checking Accounts of 2021

Bank Top Feature
NBKC No monthly or overdraft
Axos Rewards Checking Up to 1.25% APY
Ally Interest Checking No monthly or overdraft
Discover Bank Cashback Debit 1% cash back
Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking Up to 4.09% APY
Wealthfront Cash Account No account minimum
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Universal ATM reimbursem
Chime Spending Account Automatic Rounding Tool
Capital One 360 70,000+ in-network ATMs

NBKC Bank

Best for Fee-Free Checking

Key Features
  • 0.15%
  • No monthly, overdraft or foreign trans. fees.
  • No minimum account balance
5 out of 5 Overall

The National Bank of Kansas City, more popularly known as NBKC, isn’t just for Kansans. It boasts a high APY, lack of fees and easy ATM access for the checking account. If you’re looking for a bank devoid of fees (like foreign transaction fees and overdraft fees) and $12 per month in ATM fee reimbursements, this account should be on your list.
nbkc

APY
0.15%, no matter the balance.
Minimum balance requirement
$5 to open the account, but no minimum balance is required.
Monthly fees
None
Foreign transaction fees
None
Overdraft fees
None
ATM fees
Fee-free access to more than 37,000 MoneyPass ATMs

Axos Rewards Checking

Best for Frequent Debit Card Users

Key Features
  • Up to 1.25% APY
  • No overdraft or monthly fees
  • Unlimited domestic ATM reimbursements
4.5 out of 5 Overall

Formerly known as Bank of Internet, Axos Bank offers a great online checking account with the potential to earn up to 1.25% APY. You just have to meet three unique conditions each month (each worth 0.4166% APY): receive at least one direct deposit of $1,000+; use your debit card 10 times per month; and use your debit card 15 times per month.
Axos Rewards Checking

APY
Up to 1.25% APY (0.4166% APY per condition met).
Minimum balance requirement
None.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
Yes, up to 1% of each transaction.
Overdraft fees
None.
ATM fees
Unlimited ATM fee reimbursements; none outside the U.S. (Replacement debit cards cost $10.

Ally Interest Checking Account

Best for Mobile Banking

Key Features
  • Up to 0.25% APY
  • No monthly or overdraft fees
  • 10 monthly out-of-network ATM fee reimbursement
4.5 out of 5 Overall

Ally Bank offers both checking and savings accounts that are worth your consideration, especially with easy ATM access and lack of monthly maintenance fees. If you keep $15,000 or more in the Ally Interest checking account, you’ll earn 0.25% APY; otherwise, it’s 0.10%. However, we recommend keeping less in checking and more in a linked Ally savings account, which earns 0.60% APY.
Ally Interest Checking Account

APY
Up to 0.25%.
Minimum balance requirement
None.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
Yes, 1% of each transaction.
Overdraft fees
None.
ATM fees
Offers U.S.-based ATM reimbursements up to $10 and 43,000+ Allpoint ATMs are free.

Discover Bank Cashback Debit

Best for Cash Back

Key Features
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No overdraft or monthly fees
  • 60,000+ fee-free ATMs
4 out of 5 Overall

The biggest reason customers love this high-yield checking account: Your earnings are all about how you spend. Unlike other banks on this list, Discover does not pay out an APY. Instead, it rewards you for using the money in your checking account. Right now, Discover gives you 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases every month. That’s up to $30, just for using your debit card as you
Discover Bank Cashback Debit

APY
1% cash back
Minimum balance requirement
None.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
It depends on the country.
Overdraft fees
None.
ATM fees
Access to more than 60,000 fee-free ATMs; fees for out-of-network ATMs.

Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards

Best for High APY Credit Unions

Key Features
  • Up to 4.09% APY
  • No monthly fees
  • Potential for unlimited ATM fee reimbursement
4 out of 5 Overall

If you have your sights set on the highest APY possible, go with Consumers Credit Union. Just be ready to meet some strict criteria first. To earn 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 and unlimited ATM fee reimbursement, you need to use the debit card at least 12 times per month (and run it as credit ); have one or more direct deposits or ACH debit to your account totaling $500 a month.
Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards

APY
Up to 4.09%
Minimum balance requirement
None, but $5 minimum opening deposit required.
Monthly fees
None
Foreign transaction fees
Yes, 1% of each transaction.
Overdraft fees
$30 for every overdraft. You can link the account to an online savings account and get overdraft protection.
ATM fees
30,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide; unlimited fee reimbursement if conditions are met.

Wealthfront Cash Account

Best for Investors

Key Features
  • 0.10% APY
  • No monthly or overdraft fees
  • Easy to sync with investments + savings accounts
4 out of 5 Overall

The Wealthfront Cash Account is a new high-interest checking offering from Wealthfront, a popular banking service. It does everything that traditional checking accounts do — but it’ll pay you double the national average interest, and you can get paid up to two days early when you directly deposit your paycheck. The appeal of Wealthfront is its associated online savings and investment accounts.
Wealthfront Cash Account

APY
0.10%
Minimum balance requirement
You only need $1 to open an account, and there are no account minimums.
Monthly fees
Wealthfront won’t charge you any monthly or maintenance fees.
Foreign transaction fees
Yes, 2.75% of each transaction.
Overdraft fees
There is no overdraft option, so you don’t have to worry about overdraft fees.
ATM fees
You get a debit card that works at 19,000 fee-free ATMs across the U.S.

Charles Schwab High Yield Investor

Best for Travelers

Key Features
  • Universal ATM fee reimbursements
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Linked brokerage account
4 out of 5 Overall

Travelers will love the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, thanks to universal ATM fee reimbursements and lack of foreign transaction fees. However, interest on the account is negligible. And while there are no minimum balance requirements for the bank account, you will be required to open a linked Scwab brokerage account. You will want to keep something in the brokerage account.
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor

APY
0.03%
Minimum balance requiremen
None, but linked brokerage account required.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
None.
Overdraft fees
$25 nonsufficient funds fee, charged up to $100 a day.
ATM fees
Universal ATM fee reimbursements.

Chime Spending Account

Best for Beginners

Key Features
  • Automatic rounding tool; auto savings transfer
  • Early paycheck access
  • 60,000+ fee-free ATMs
4 out of 5 Overall

What makes Chime unique is how it helps users build up their savings. Chime can automatically transfer 10% of any direct deposit into your savings. Even more helpful is the automatic rounding tool. If you buy an iced coffee for $3.14, Chime rounds the charge up to $4 and puts the extra $0.86 into your savings account. You can turn off both features at any time.
Chime Spending Account

APY
N/A; 0.50% in linked savings account.
Minimum balance requirement
None.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
None.
Overdraft fees
None.
ATM fees
60,000 fee-free ATMs in the U.S. ATM withdrawals are limited to $500 per day.

Capital One 360

Best for ATM Users

Key Features
  • 0.10% APY
  • No monthly or foreign transaction fees
  • 70,000 in-network ATMs
4.5 out of 5 Overall

Capital One 360’s checking account is not the strongest, but its decent APY, its access to ATMs, easy linkage to a high-yield savings account and its lack of foreign transaction fees are its saving grace. When it comes to overdrafts, Capital One lets you decide what happens: You can set up auto-decline, free savings transfer, or next day grace (a day to replace the amount before charged $35).
Capital One 360

APY
0.10%
Minimum balance requirement
None.
Monthly fees
None.
Foreign transaction fees
None.
Overdraft fees
$35.
ATM fees
70,000 Capital One and Allpoint fee-free ATMs, but there is no fee reimbursement for out-of-network ATMs

What to Look for in an Online Checking Account

If you keep your cash in a traditional bank or credit union but are drawn to the convenience and higher returns of an online checking account, consider several important factors:

  • Annual percentage yield (APY): An annual percentage yield, according to Investopedia, is “the effective annual rate of return taking into account the effect of compounding interest.” If you are intrigued by complex math formulas, Investopedia even explains the calculation. But for those who, like me, shudder at the thought of high school math, here’s the easier thing to remember: The higher the APY, the more money you earn. An alternative to consider to APY is cash back. Some checking accounts, like Discover, offer cash back in place of interest. Depending on how much you spend in debit card purchases, cash back could be the better option.
  • Minimum balance: The best online checking accounts typically require no minimum balance — or a reasonably low balance. Some banks may require minimum balances on checking accounts to achieve certain benefits, like a higher APY or ATM fee reimbursements.
  • ATM fees: Speaking of ATMs, look for a mobile-based checking account with a large network of fee-free ATMs nationally, or even globally. A truly good checking account should even reimburse you for fees other ATMs outside of the network may charge you.
  • Monthly fees: Make free checking accounts a top criterion when selecting an online bank account; this is often a key differentiator from checking accounts at traditional banks, which often charge monthly service fees. If an online bank includes “monthly maintenance fee” in its fine print, take your money elsewhere.
  • Foreign transaction fees: If you travel out of the country frequently, find a checking account with a debit card that does not charge you a fee to use an ATM or make a transaction abroad. However, this may not be the most important criterion, as many savvy online bank members also have travel rewards credit cards that are fee-free globally, eliminating the need for fee-free foreign debit card transactions.
  • Overdraft fees: Everybody makes mistakes. Don’t let your online bank punish you for it. Find a checking account that will not charge you an overdraft fee if you accidentally overspend. Some checking accounts let you opt out of their overdraft programs.

Downsides of Online Checking Accounts

Even the best free online checking accounts have their disadvantages.

The biggest downside to online checking accounts: Many online financial institutions do not contract with ATMs, so depositing cash can be difficult. Even those of us who live by the plastic in our wallets may sometimes need to deposit cash, like if Grandma gives you $100 for your birthday or you wait tables and amass a fair amount in cash tips each week.

Pro Tip

If you don’t want to carry a lot of cash, purchase a money order for as little as $1 and then deposit the money order electronically. Or give it to a friend who can Venmo you the equivalent.

Other drawbacks to online checking accounts include a lack of cashier’s checks (you may have to order one and wait a few days for it to arrive) and a lack of in-person service. When I am stressed about my finances or troubled by activity I see in my account, I find it satisfying to go into one of my credit union’s physical branch locations to get assistance with my checking account. But if you think you can keep your cool while getting help over the phone or online, this shouldn’t be a problem.

A woman looks out a window.
Getty Images

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you are making the move from a checking account at a traditional bank to an online account, you likely have some questions. Here, we’ll tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about online checking accounts:

What Other Banks are Like Chime?

Chime is certainly one of the more interesting online banking accounts out there, but its app-based approach is not wholly unique. Some of Chime’s competitors—and thus alternatives for you to consider—include Current Bank, Varo, and Acorns.

Current Bank allows you to set up Savings Pods, little sub savings accounts to work toward a goal. You can also get your paycheck two days early.

Varo Bank has checking and savings accounts, the latter with an automatic savings tool. Varo also has early direct deposits.

Finally, Acorns allows you to get involved in micro-investing, rounding up your purchases and investing the remaining amount. There is a monthly service fee for this account, however.

A bank account with any of these institutions could be worthwhile, but in general, Chime tends to be the most popular option.

Who Has the Best Free Checking Account?

This is a good question, but a challenging one to answer. It really comes down to your specific needs. Accounts are often advertised as “fee-free,” but that could just mean no monthly fees, which are kind of “catch-all” monthly maintenance fees. They still might charge foreign transaction fees, overdraft fees and even lost debit card fees.

Think about your lifestyle. Do you travel abroad regularly? Look for an account with no foreign transaction fees. Have you paid one too many overdraft fees? Avoid accounts that overcharge you for those mistakes.

But there’s more to a checking account than being fee-free. Do you want a high interest checking account? Are you interested in a free checking account with a highly rated mobile app? Do you want to be able to link your checking account to a savings account? How important is easy ATM access to you? Would you benefit from early direct deposits?

There are so many factors to consider. Our rankings include the best of the best, but you’ll want to use the table above to zero in on the checking account that is right for you.

Can I Open a Checking Account With No Money?

Many banks require a minimum deposit amount when opening a new account, and others still have minimum balance requirements. That said, you can find banks with no minimum deposit at opening and no minimum balance. So yes, some banks do allow you to open a checking account with no money.

How Do I Deposit and Withdraw Money With an Online Checking Account?

Depositing checks at online banks is easy. Any account worth considering will have a mobile check deposit feature that allows you to take pictures of the front and back of the check. Funds will not be immediately available when you use this option, so hold onto the paper check until the money has cleared.

Note: Some banks may have limits on the size of the check that can be deposited. In that case, you may need to work with a brick-and-mortar bank to get the check cashed, but it’s rare that most of us will be cashing $50,000 checks.

If you have another savings or checking account with a physical bank, most online banking accounts will allow you to connect the two accounts so that you can transfer funds. Having an online account with good rewards that is connected with a brick-and-mortar bank that is close to your home makes depositing funds easy.

To deposit cash, just go to an ATM within your online bank’s network. You can also buy a money order, which will carry some level of fee, albeit a minimal one.

You can also fund your checking account via direct deposit. If your employer offers direct deposit or you receive any kind of financial aid from the government, set up that direct deposit to go directly into your checking account.

Withdrawing money from your online bank account works similarly. You can go to an ATM that is in network for free withdrawals. You can also transfer money to a connected account and withdraw in person. Finally, online checking accounts should come with debit cards, which you can use to spend your money.

Are Online Checking Accounts Safe?

Yes, online banks are safe. Choose a bank that is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or a credit union that is insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Not sure whether you should go with a bank or credit union? Check out the pros and cons of banks and credit unions before making a decision.

Secure online banks and credit unions will also offer account security features like multi-factor authentication and biometrics.

A man works on his laptop on his deck at home.
Getty Images

Tips for Choosing the Best Online Checking Account

You don’t need every feature, so think about your needs before choosing an account. Opening accounts with multiple institutions could help you secure the best features.

Still not sure which online checking account to choose? Here are a few tips that might help in your bank account selection process.

Think About Your Needs from a Checking Account

Most online checking accounts — especially the ones on our top nine list — offer some combination of good perks, though they might be missing out on others. Ultimately, you have to decide which checking account benefits are more important to you.

Are you looking at your checking account as a small but smart investment strategy? Go with an account with a higher APY. Do you regularly rely on cash when traveling? Look for an online bank without ATM surcharges and that reimburses you out of network.

You should also consider whether banks or credit unions are the right option for you when researching checking accounts.

Maintain More Than One Account

You don’t have to have all your accounts through the same financial institution. You can start your savings and money market accounts at a local credit union, sign up for an online checking account for the high APY and easy access to ATMs and utilize a national brick-and-mortar bank for your car loan.

Many of those traditional banks and credit unions also offer their own online bank accounts for a “hybrid solution” that gives you in-person access to assistance and that still offers the benefits of an online account.

Know What You’re Signing

Before signing with an online checking account — or any account with any financial institution — read the fine print. Closely.

APYs that sound too good to be true may only apply for a set amount of time or under set conditions; ordering checks in the mail or wiring money may cost an unexpected fee; and foreign transactions may be free, but foreign ATMs may include a fee.

Reading the fine print of potential checking accounts may also help you discover other benefits (like no wire fees) that may be important to you but that are not commonly advertised.

Timothy Moore covers bank accounts for The Penny Hoarder. He has worked in editing and graphic design for a marketing agency, a global research firm and a major print publication. He covers a variety of other topics, including insurance, taxes, retirement and budgeting and has worked in the field since 2012.