Checking Account Report Card: 9 Accounts Graded on Fees, Rewards and More
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How do you choose where to do your banking?
If you’re like a lot of people, you probably just picked the institution closest to your house and opened the cheapest account to maintain.
That’s good enough if you’re just looking for a place to store your money, but banks have gotten a lot better than that. If you’re not shopping around, you’re probably missing out on lots of benefits.
Because of online banking and mobile apps, you don’t have to be tied to your local bank or credit union. You’ve got options.
So how do you choose?
Picking a bank account is a surprisingly personal choice. What makes an account “good” depends largely on your financial situation and goals.
But we can tell you a few things that make any account good: no fees, good rewards, easy to set up and accessible to anyone.
We decided to see how some of our favorite accounts stack up against this criteria.
We graded six bank and credit union accounts on these factors:
- Fees — How much will it cost you to manage your money with this account?
- Rewards — What do you earn in return for using the account?
- Accessibility — What are the requirements to open this account and earn the rewards?
- Mobility — Can this account travel and move with you?
Based on this criteria, here are the best checking accounts we've found:
1. Chime Spending Account
Chime is an online-only bank account that offers some unique features other banks haven’t caught on to yet.
- Chime doesn’t charge overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees.
- Chime customers have access to thousands of fee-free MoneyPass ATMs around the country.
- When you set your payroll up for direct deposit to your Chime spending account, your paycheck will post two days before payday, giving you more time to plan, save and pay the bills.
- You can open an easy-to-access, connected savings account. It allows you to automate your savings with features like the round-up tool, which will round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and dump the change into savings.
- Its mobile app boasts more than 2,000 five-star reviews, making managing money super accessible via iPhone or Android.
- It has a “Pay Friends” feature, so you don’t have to mess with cash, math or other apps to split the bill.
Plus, it takes about five minutes to sign up. The bank verifies your personal information, takes note that you’re at least 18 or older, then you’re good to go. No opening deposit required.
Note that the biggest complaint is a lack of mobile check deposit, but that function was recently added to the app. You'll have access to it once you enroll in direct deposit.
For an account that’ll help you strike up savings — and that’ll pay you two days early — check out Chime.
2. Varo Bank Account
Varo has combined traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy. Its big selling points include:
- No fees: With Varo, as long as you use one of its 55,000 ATMs across the world, you’ll never pay fees. Additionally, you’ll pay no monthly service fees, no minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash replacement fees. You’ll just pay out-of-network ATM fees and cash deposit fees if you deposit cash in-store through Green Dot.
- All-in-one: In addition to a bank account, you can open a Varo Savings Account (earning 1.5% Annual Percentage Yield), connect your credit cards and more.
- Early access to your paycheck: Get paid up to two days before your check is typically posted when you set up direct deposit with Varo.
- Varo Forecast: Varo keeps tabs on how much you spend across all your accounts so you can better analyze and project your cash flow. It also allows you to set spending caps.
To sign up for Varo, you’ll have to download its free iOS app. (Sorry Android users and desktop traditionalists!)
3. Chase Total Checking® Account
Here’s another account with stellar rewards: You can get a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking account.
Getting the bonus is pretty simple, compared with similar offers. Open a new Chase Total Checking® account* with a minimum $25, and set up direct deposit within 60 days of opening.
Note: Keep your account open for at least six months, or you’ll lose the bonus at closing.
The account comes with a $12 monthly service fee, but it’ll be waived if you have monthly direct deposits of $500 or more. If you don’t have direct deposit, you can also have the fee waived with a minimum daily balance of $1,500 (or $5,000 across multiple Chase accounts).
Chase offers online, mobile and text banking at no extra charge, and you can deposit checks from anywhere using the Chase Mobile app.
You can use a Chase ATM for free, but you’ll pay a $2.50 fee for non-Chase ATMs in the U.S., $5 for international withdrawals — so this account isn’t the best for frequent international travelers. The bank has branches and ATMs in 26 states around the U.S., so you can avoid the fees if you’ve got one nearby.
You can also earn an additional $150 bonus when you open a new Chase Savings(SM) account.
The bonus offer is available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
4. TD Bank Convenience Checking Account
The best thing about TD Bank is it’ll pay you just for opening an account. You’ll get $150 when you open a Convenience Checking account online.
To get your bonus, you’ll have to sign up for direct deposit and receive a total of $500 or more into your new account within 60 days of opening. Should be easy to achieve if you set your main paycheck up for direct deposit.
Your money won’t earn interest in this account, but the new-account bonus is worth a few years of the interest you’d see in most checking accounts.
The $15 monthly fee on this account sounds hefty at first, but it’s waived if you maintain a $100 minimum daily balance. If you tend to keep a low balance, that fee — and the account’s $35 overdraft fee — could pinch your wallet.
All TD accounts include free online and mobile banking, including mobile check deposit.
Anyone can open an account online, but the brick-and-mortar banks (and ATMs) are mostly located along the east coast. With a $3 fee for using an out-of-network ATM, you might want to have a physical location nearby
For a $300 bonus and an interest-yielding account, consider TD Bank’s higher-tier Premier Checking account.
5. Bank of Internet USA Essential Checking Account
Bank of Internet’s Essential Checking account comes with no monthly or annual fees, no overdraft fees and cash-back rewards for debit card purchases.
A BofI representative told TPH all its checking accounts require a $100 minimum opening deposit, but after that require a minimum balance of only $1.
It will reimburse you by the end of the next business day for unlimited ATM fees within the U.S.
For ATM use in another country, you’ll pay a 2% service fee, according to NerdWallet. So even though this online bank account is flexible, it isn’t ideal for international travelers.
6. Northpointe Bank Ultimate Checking Account
Northpointe Bank’s Ultimate Checking Account pays 5% compounded interest.
The catch? You can only get that 5% on a balance up to $5,000 in your account. Plus, you’ll have to meet these requirements to earn it:
- Enroll in e-statements.
- Have a direct deposit or automatic withdrawal of at least $100 a month.
- Spend at least $500 in at least 15 debit card purchases a month.
If you maintain the $5,000 balance and hit these requirements, you’ll earn $250 a year in interest — so the payoff’s pretty sweet.
Enrolling in e-statements through your online account is as simple as clicking a button. Setting up your paycheck for direct deposit is pretty simple, too, and should easily hit the $100 mark.
But the last requirement could be tricky.
Keep track of those debit card purchases. If you fail to meet any of these requirements, your interest rate drops to just 0.05%!
Northpointe Bank is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but anyone can open an account online with a $100 minimum deposit.
7. Ally Interest Checking
With Ally’s free, online Interest Checking account, you can use any Allpoint ATMs in the U.S. for free, plus Ally will reimburse you up to $10 — three average transactions per statement cycle — for other ATM fees within the U.S.
An Ally representative told TPH this checking account has no required minimum deposit to get started.
With a balance of $15,000 or more, this checking account yields 0.6% interest. Below $15,000, it’s 0.1%. That tops a lot of bank accounts, but it’s not as impressive as we’d expect for an account with “interest” in the name — and that balance requirement is a beast.
You can access this account online or through the Ally app, so it’s an accessible choice for anyone within the U.S.
8. Consumer Credit Union Free Rewards Checking
The rewards on Consumer Credit Union’s Free Rewards Checking are pretty sweet, but the requirements are hefty.
You’ll earn 3.09% interest on your balance up to $10,000 and have all ATM fees reimbursed, as long as you:
- Make 12 debit card purchases each month without using the PIN (as a credit transaction).
- Have at least one direct deposit, ACH debit or online bill-pay each month.
- Login to your online account at least once a month.
- Enroll in e-documents.
In addition to that, you can earn 3.59% interest on balances up to $15,000 and 4.59% up to $20,000 if you meet CCU Visa credit card spending requirements: $500 and $1,000, respectively.
All CCU branches are in Illinois, but anyone can open and manage an account online and through the mobile app.
9. Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account
Schwab Bank is loved by international travelers. The account offers unlimited ATM fee rebates for cash withdrawals at ATMs anywhere in the world.
You can manage your account online or through the Schwab app for iPhone, and make deposits through the app, so this account keeps up with jet-setters.
The downside? Schwab’s online-only High Yield Investor Checking account must be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account. Luckily, there are no fees or minimum deposits to open either account, as long as you open them together.
Neither account comes with monthly fees or a minimum balance, but “other account fees, fund expenses and brokerage commissions may apply” to the brokerage account once you begin investing.
The checking account offers a variable interest rate. If you want to grow your savings through Schwab, you’ll want to invest through the brokerage account.
*Chase Fine print:
Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $150 checking bonus: 1) Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval; 2) Deposit $25 or more at account opening; AND 3) Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. After you have completed all the above requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.
Account Closing: If your checking account is closed within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.
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