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January 2021's Best Free Checking Accounts

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We maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments. This post contains links from our advertisers, and we may receive compensation when you click these links. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone. | Advertiser Disclosure

Finding the Best Free Checking Accounts

Free checking accounts make it extremely easy to utilize your funds on a daily basis without paying a monthly fee. Though you typically sacrifice high annual percentage yield (APY) for this level of accessibility, some of the accounts on this list break that norm.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Axos Bank Axos Bank logo Read More 1.25% $50
  • Great APY and no fees
  • Strong customer experience
Radius Bank Radius Bank logo Read More 0.10% $100
  • Earn cash back and interest
  • Inclusive ATM fee reimbursement program
Capital One Capital One logo Read More 0.10% $0
  • Decent checking APY
  • Solid branch access
Simple Bank Simple Bank logo Read More 0.40% $0
  • Good APY
  • Minimal account fees
Varo Bank Varo Bank logo Read More 0% $0
  • Easy-to-manage account
  • No minimum deposit to open
TIAA Bank TIAA Bank logo Read More 0.12% $100
  • Can earn unlimited ATM fee reimbursements
  • Consistently high APY
Wealthfront Wealthfront logo Read More 0.35% $1
  • Basic, no-frills checking account
  • Good APY
nbkc Bank nbkc Bank logo Read More 0.40% $0
  • High APY at an online bank
  • Ample ATM access
Ally Bank Ally Bank logo Read More 0.10% $0
  • Tiered APY structure
  • Great customer service
Charles Schwab Bank Charles Schwab Bank logo Read More 0.03% $0
  • Unlimited ATM fee rebates
  • Connect with your Schwab brokerage account

How We Determine the Best Free Checking Accounts

By heavily focusing on the APY, ATM network size, overdraft fee and minimum opening deposit of each offer, SmartAsset narrowed down the free checking account options out there to the 22 top options. We then determined which institutions have the strongest customer service. Combining these two steps led us to this list of the best free checking accounts on the market right now.

Axos Rewards Checking Account

Axos Rewards Checking Account

As the highest-rated account in our study, the Axos Bank Rewards Checking account offers you great customer service. The account also features the highest-earning APY on this list at 1.25%, though there are three stipulations to receive this rate. If you reach all three, you’ll receive the full 1.25% APY. These requirements go as follows:

  • If you have monthly direct deposits totaling at least $1,000, you earn 0.4166% APY
  • If you use your Axos Visa debit card at least:
    • 10 times per month (minimum $3 per transaction), you earn 0.4166% APY
    • 5 more transactions, totaling 15 times per month (minimum $3 per transaction), you earn 0.4166% APY

The more conditions you meet, the more you earn. You won’t have to worry about a minimum balance if you’re looking to open an account, nor are there any insufficient funds fees if you overcharge your account. When it comes to ATM withdrawals and deposits, Axos Bank affords all account holders unlimited reimbursements for all domestic ATM charges.

New to banking with an online-only institution? Axos Bank has a 24/7 personal banking hotline ready to answer any questions you might have about your account, ATM charges or anything else. If you’re unable to call, the bank also provides a speedy online chat service.

Radius Bank Rewards Checking

Radius Bank Rewards Checking

Radius Bank’s Rewards Checking is a great free account that gives you a solid APY if you have a high enough balance. More specifically, any account with less than $2,500 in it is subject to a 0% APY. But once you surpass that minimum, you can earn interest according to the following rates:

  • Balance of $0.01 to $2,499.99: 0.00% APY
  • Balance of $2,500 to $99,999.99: 0.10% APY
  • Balance of $100,000 and up: 0.15% APY

This account’s earnings potential doesn’t end with the above interest rates, though. Radius Bank offers Rewards Checking account holders up to 1.5% unlimited cash back on online and signature-based transactions when they use their Radius debit card.

Radius Bank also includes an extremely forgiving ATM fee reimbursement policy. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you use an international or domestic ATM, as both are included under Radius Bank’s ATM fee rebate program. There are foreign exchange fees that apply, though. You can make an unlimited number of free online transfers, not only between your other Radius Bank accounts, but also to your accounts at outside financial institutions.

You are required to make a deposit of at least $100 to open a Radius Rewards account. If you’re an account holder, Radius gives you a debit card that you can use anywhere that accepts Mastercard. You’ll also be able to add your card to your Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay account.

Capital One 360 Checking

Capital One 360 Checking

The Capital One 360 Checking account is a free checking account that’s part of Capital One’s online suite of bank accounts. This simple account would be a good option for just about anyone, including college students and professionals alike. There are absolutely no monthly fees with this account, and Capital One will not charge you for your first checkbook. The bank also doesn’t call for any specific minimums, meaning just about anyone can open an account.

Capital One’s Apple and Android mobile apps and online banking website are both easy to use and highly rated. But perhaps the strongest part of this free account is its wide access to ATMs. In fact, Capital One offers account holders a nationwide network of more than 40,000 ATMs entirely for free. While the bank only has physical branches in eight states, if you live near one, you’ll have the option to bank in person or digitally.

When it comes to checking accounts, interest rates are pretty rare. But for the Capital One 360 Checking account, customers will receive a 0.10% APY on all balances.

Simple Bank Checking

Simple Checking Account

The ease of Simple’s mobile app and website interface is the principal factor that gives it such a beneficial and practical online banking experience. The bank has included in these tools the ability to deposit your checks on the go, set up direct deposit, link outside accounts and even make instant money transfers between two Simple accounts. However, if your friends don’t use Simple, you can also send money to anyone with Venmo, Paypal or Square.

This account has surprisingly strong interest-earning potential. In fact, if you open a Protected Goals Account with your checking account, your APY will increase to 0.40%, regardless of your balance. Those that do not have a Protected Goals Account will receive just a 0.01% APY.

Simple is partnered with the Allpoint® ATM network, affording you access to more than 40,000 ATMs around the country. While you Simple won't charge you a fee if you swipe your debit card at an out-of-network ATM, you may see one from the ATM operator. Unfortunately, Simple doesn’t reimburse these fees, so be wary of where you go for cash.

When it comes to the rest of the bank’s fee structure, there’s really nothing else to worry about. With Simple, you will not be charged fees for overdrafts, ingoing and outgoing transfers, debit card replacements or account closures.

Varo Bank Checking

Varo Bank Account

Varo Bank’s checking account is tailor-made for you if you’re starting to earn a significant amount of money in your early professional career. Anyone experienced with mobile devices will likely find Varo’s app and financial management tools user-friendly. You can even take care of mobile check deposits and online bill pay through the app.

You’re automatically included in its early direct deposit program if you connect your paycheck deposits to your account. Varo claims that this unique offering could help you gain access to your money up to two days earlier than normal. Instead of waiting around for the typical processing times, when Varo receives your paycheck notification from the Federal Reserve, it will immediately send the funds to your available balance. Furthermore, you can take advantage of Varo’s Forecast system, which is meant to help you plan ahead for your monthly bills.

Though there is no specific amount of money you’ll need to open one of these accounts, you also will not earn any interest on your balance. Varo has managed to eliminate all monthly, overdraft, foreign transaction and debit card replacement fees, keeping what you make in your wallet.

TIAA Bank Yield Pledge® Checking

TIAA Bank

The introductory 0.40% APY, which is only available on balances up to $250,000 for first time Yield Pledge Checking account holders, is what will likely jump out to you immediately about the TIAA Bank Yield Pledge® Checking account. The interest possibilities of this account go even further, though, as TIAA Bank states your yield will be in the top 5% of Competitive Accounts because they review competitor bank rates each week and adjust theirs when needed.

Though the initial APY lasts just a year, your rate will remain extremely competitive in the long haul because of the above commitment. Any prospective account holders who manage to keep high balances in the account will see even stronger benefits as well.

These accounts also feature low fees, so the interest you’re accruing won’t be meaninglessly stolen away. Most importantly, though, there are no ATM fees at in-network ATMs. For customers with at least $5,000 in their account, reimbursement is unlimited; otherwise, it's limited to $15 per month.

Wealthfront Cash Account

Wealthfront Cash Account

Wealthfront may be commonly known as a robo-advisor service, but it does more than just that. Wealthfront’s checking account, called the Cash Account, is a great option for anyone looking to both earn interest and avoid monthly fees. More specifically, account holders will earn a 0.35% APY on all balances. This is a great checking rate given today’s economic environment, especially because you don’t have to meet any requirements to earn it.

You only need $1 to open a Wealthfront Cash Account, and it has no monthly services fees, no transfer fees, no overdraft fees and more. Wealthfront is also partnered with Green Dot Bank, granting account holders access to a network of 19,000 fee-free ATMs. 

Another perk of the Wealthfront Cash Account is its increased FDIC insurance, which stands out in comparison to most competitors. While other banks typically offer up to $250,000 of FDIC insurance, Wealthfront offers up to $1 million. Other perks of this account include the ability to receive your paycheck early if you enroll in direct deposit and 24/7 customer service.

nbkc Everything Account

Everything Account

This nbkc account is unlike many other bank accounts on the market. While most banks split up their savings and checking products, nbkc combines the two into a single product called the Everything Account. With this account, you’ll earn a 0.40% APY on all balances. In addition, you don’t need to meet any requirements to receive this rate. So by combining your checking and savings needs into a single account, you can earn interest, manage your money and track your spending all at once.

There are almost no fees attached to the nbkc Everything Account. In fact, you won’t pay any monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, minimum balance fees or foreign transaction fees.

Account holders have free access to the MoneyPass ATM network, which boasts 34,000 ATMs around the U.S. nbkc will also reimburse you for up to $12 in out-of-network ATM fees every month. Beyond this, you’ll receive a free Mastercard debit card.

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account

Ally Bank

The Ally Interest Checking Account features a modest APY of 0.10% on accounts with less than a $15,000 minimum daily balance. However, if you can manage to get your account’s daily balance above $15,000, your APY will jump to 0.25%.

There are no monthly maintenance fees associated with this account, and you’ll receive free expedited ACH transfers and checks. You’ll also have access to a large network of 43,000 Allpoint ATMs for free. Plus, Ally will reimburse you for up to $10 in out-of-network ATM fees each month.

Ally Bank is an online bank that’s well-known for its robust online presence and strong customer service. Its mobile app has high ratings on both the Apple and Android app stores, and its website is quite easy to use. For example, you can deposit checks and pay bills remotely, all while having access to comprehensive, 24/7 customer service over the phone or online.

Schwab High Yield Investor Checking®

High Yield Investor Checking

Making money is the ultimate prize for any investor. The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking® account makes that goal just a bit easier for Schwab investment clients. Through this benefit, you’ll be able to merge your new checking account with your Schwab One® brokerage account. This allows you to transfer funds quickly and easily between the two accounts and helps you avoid the processing time of a wire transfer from another account.

Aside from these perks, your account will also have a 0.03% APY and low fee schedule. These nearly nonexistent fees are headlined by an unlimited out-of-network ATM fee reimbursement program, granting you access to use any ATM wherever you want. Feel free to open an account with whatever money you have available, as you incur no charge for having a low balance.

All accounts receive a Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card and free checks. If you want to speed up your payments, you can also incorporate your Schwab debit card into your virtual wallet, either with Apple, Microsoft or Samsung.

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