Best No-Fee Checking Accounts of 2020
Don't pay for a checking account if you don't have to
A checking account is the account you probably use most often. Problems and costs associated with your checking account can have a ripple effect that causes you to waste time, energy, and money. Fortunately, there are a lot of good options out there, and free checking accounts are easy to find. The accounts on this list have no monthly maintenance fee or make it easy to qualify for a fee waiver—and if you manage your account well, you'll avoid other pesky fees, too.
A good checking account has minimal fees, deposit insurance, easy access to cash, and crucial features like mobile deposit and online bill pay.
For most people, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the banks on this page. But when you have particular needs, one bank might have a slight edge over the others.
- Ally Bank Interest Checking Account: Best Overall
- Discover Bank Cashback Debit Account: Best for Cash Back Rewards
- Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account: Best for Frequent ATM Users
- Chase Bank Total Checking: Best With Nationwide Branches
- NASA FCU eChecking Account: Best Credit Union
Ally Bank’s free Interest Checking account is a solid offering that can meet your needs for an everyday checking account. Although the account pays interest, it’s a small amount, and that’s not the main attraction—you probably don’t want to keep too much in your checking account anyway.
Ally charges no monthly fees, and there’s no minimum deposit required to open an account. It’s free to receive wire transfers, and you can order cashier’s checks at no additional charge. For ATM withdrawals, you can use the Allpoint network to get cash fee-free at over 43,000 locations. Also, Ally rebates up to $10 per month of non-Allpoint ATM fees.
Ally Bank has several other offerings, including a high-yield savings account with no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirement, so it’s a decent option for one-stop bank shopping.
For more information, see our complete review of Ally Bank.
Discover Bank’s free checking account provides cash back rewards when you spend with your debit card. You can earn 1% cash back on certain purchases of up to $3,000 per month, with a maximum reward of $30 per month, or $360 per year.
The Cashback Debit account is an online bank account with access to 60,000 no-fee ATMs. There are no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements, and you can order (and expedite delivery of) official bank checks for free.
Discover Bank offers free overdraft protection, which some banks charge additional fees for. If you link your checking account to a backup funding account (such as a savings account at Discover Bank), you can pull funds from that account at no charge.
For more information, see our complete review of Discover Bank.
With online banks, there are no branches for fast deposits or in-person banker visits.
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account: Best for Frequent ATM Users
Charles Schwab Bank has a solution to those ATM fees that cost money and annoy you: Get unlimited rebates on ATM fees you pay anywhere in the world when making a cash withdrawal. The High Yield Investor Checking account is an FDIC-insured bank account with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirement, and online bill pay.
Schwab Bank might be particularly attractive to those who use a debit card to withdraw cash overseas. There is no foreign transaction fee or foreign exchange-rate adjustment when purchasing using your card abroad. With other banks, this might add 1 to 3% to your transaction.
To open a High Yield Investor Checking account, you need to open a Schwab One brokerage account, which may add an unwanted hurdle for those who just want a bank account. Schwab One accounts also have no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirement.
Chase Bank’s Total Checking account isn’t technically free, but it’s relatively easy to qualify for a fee waiver. You don't have to pay the $12 monthly fee on that account if you receive ACH direct deposits of at least $500 per month in your account (or if you meet other criteria). Deposits can include your earnings from work, government and retirement benefits, or other electronic transfers.
Chase’s bank branches might be useful if you prefer to deposit funds or work with bank staff in person. For example, if you frequently receive cash or need to deposit large checks, you may be better off banking in a branch. Chase has over 5,000 branches throughout the U.S., and you can transfer funds to and from external banks at no charge.
If you don’t qualify for Chase’s fee waiver, you pay $12 per month for the Total Checking account, so it’s critical to meet those requirements.
For more information, see our complete review of Chase Bank.
NASA Federal Credit Union has a free eChecking Account if you qualify for a fee waiver through one of two ways. Either set up direct deposit into your account, or combine eStatement signup with using the online bill payment service three times per month. If you don’t meet that requirement, the monthly fee is $8. There’s no minimum balance requirement, and you get one free insufficient funds fee waived each year.
NASA FCU is part of the CO-OP shared branching network, which allows you to deposit money and make withdrawals (and more) at branches of other credit unions. You’re not limited to using NASA FCU branches. In total, you have over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs and 5,600 shared branches available to you.
You can also earn rewards for spending money with your debit card. Earn up to $0.05 per transaction, with a maximum reward of $250 per year.
To join any credit union, you need to satisfy an eligibility requirement and join the credit union. That’s easy to do. If you don’t already qualify for NASA FCU membership, you can meet the requirement by getting a free membership to the National Space Society.
What Is a Good Checking Account?
We evaluated checking accounts for the features you need to bank conveniently and inexpensively, including:
- Minimal fees. Free checking isn’t hard to find. These banks provide checking accounts that charge no fees, or it’s relatively easy to qualify for a fee waiver.
- Safety. Your deposits are insured up to federal limits through FDIC or NCUSIF coverage. Currently, that amount is $250,000 per depositor per institution.
- Easy access to cash. Checking accounts are for spending, and you may want to spend with cash. But when you pay hefty ATM fees, cash becomes expensive. We’ve favored banks that offer extensive ATM networks, or provide ATM fee reimbursements, which refund fees you might’ve incurred when using an out-of-network ATM.
- Essential features. Online bill pay, checkwriting, mobile deposit, and a debit card are basic requirements for a checking account. We want to make sure you have access to the most useful banking tools, and a few extra perks can enhance your banking relationship.
You might not find a bank that checks all of the boxes, but ideally, you can find one that has the most important benefits. For example, if you don’t use ATMs frequently, it might not matter if you get ATM rebates. In that case, you can favor other features, like low fees.
What's the Difference Between No-Fee Checking and Regular Checking Accounts?
The primary difference between free checking accounts and regular accounts is the monthly fee. You don’t necessarily get more by paying fees, and in some cases, you’re using the same account. The question is whether or not you can meet the requirements to dodge fees.
There are two ways to use a checking account without paying monthly maintenance fees:
- Choose an account that never charges monthly fees. Ally, Discover, and others fall into this category.
- Qualify for a fee waiver on an account that might charge fees. Chase and NASA FCU fall into this category.
In the examples above, the accounts that are completely fee-free happen to be online banks. But brick-and-mortar institutions also offer free checking. Community banks and credit unions are an excellent place to look for free accounts.
Is There Any Reason to Not Get a Free Checking Account?
Truly free checking accounts typically offer everything necessary for everyday checking. You can spend with a debit card, set up direct deposit, transfer money between accounts, and deposit checks with your mobile device.
Some banks might add perks at different service levels, but most people are fine with the basic free option (or the one with the easiest fee waiver). For example, Chase Bank has several banking tiers, with premium options that provide free checks, a dedicated 24/7 customer service line, and more.
As you compare accounts, evaluate how much you really need any premium features. For example, if the only perk that appeals to you is a free book of checks, is that worth paying a monthly fee? You can order inexpensive checks online, and some banks provide a free book of checks with your account.
Unless you need the features that come with a paid account, free checking is probably your best option.
Free accounts, such as those from Ally, Discover, and others, provide everything most people require. If you need branches for in-person banking or deposits, a credit union with shared branching or a bank with fee waivers is an excellent solution.
How to Find a Good Free Checking Account
To find the right checking account for your needs, narrow down the universe of banks to a handful of promising candidates. Then, evaluate each bank with your typical banking behavior in mind. For example, do you use ATMs frequently? Do you need to deposit cash? Do you regularly use cashier’s checks?
Compare each bank, and note any fees you might have to pay. Review costs for ATM withdrawals, overdrafts, and more by reading the bank’s disclosure statement. A free checking account shouldn’t charge monthly fees—unless you’re qualifying for a fee waiver.
This brief research should familiarize you with the banks on your list, and helps you learn more than most people know about their bank. You’re ready to choose the bank that best fits your needs.
Before making a final decision, read reviews of your top banks or credit unions for dealbreakers. While every institution can make mistakes or have some unhappy customers, reviews can help you understand the customer experience before you take the leap.
Once you reach a final decision, switch to your new bank. Use this checklist to help make the process go smoothly.