As you explore banks where you may want to set up a checking account, you'll encounter an enticing offer: a free checking account. But the truth is that not every so-called "free" checking account is truly free. Fortunately, there are still top banks out there that offer actual free checking accounts where you can stash your hard-earned cash.
U.S. Bank vs. Chase Free Checking Accounts
Two of the largest banks that offer free checking accounts are Chase Bank and U.S. Bank. However, be aware that the U.S. Bank free checking accounts and checking accounts at Chase usually just exclude maintenance fees. You may also need to meet certain conditions for these maintenance fees to be excluded. Outside of maintenance fees, other fees can apply as well, so it's a good idea to read the fee schedule of all of these accounts carefully. The two banks come with unique account offerings and fees.
U.S. Bank Free Checking Account
U.S. Bank offers a free Student Checking account with no monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements. The U.S. bank free checking account also requires a fairly low minimum opening deposit of $25. For account holders, all ATM transactions made through U.S. Bank ATMs (and the first four uses of external bank ATMs per statement period) are also free of charge.
However, the U.S. Bank free checking account does not accrue interest on any money deposited. And while you may never incur them, you should know that the free checking account comes with a few fees. For example, the bank charges for paper statements, overdraft protection, and returned deposits or cashed checks.
In addition to the free checking account, U.S. Bank offers three fee-waivable checking accounts—that is, the monthly fee can be waived if you meet certain requirements. These accounts include the Easy Checking, Gold Checking, and Platinum Checking accounts. Depending on the account, you may need to meet a certain average daily account balance, make a certain minimum monthly deposit amount, be of a certain age, or have other accounts with the bank to waive the maintenance fee of $6.95, $14.95, and $24.95 for the three accounts, respectively. Unlike the other checking accounts, the Platinum Checking account accrues interest on your balance. This may make it more attractive to account holders who want to grow their deposits.
U.S. Bank offers a debit card and free internet banking with bill pay for all of its free and fee-waivable checking accounts. Additionally, the bank employs a mobile banking system that is compatible with many web-based mobile devices so that you can check your account on the go or deposit checks for free. U.S. Bank archives all checks electronically and provides either details about or images of canceled checks in your statements, depending on your account.
Chase Bank Checking Account Features
When it comes to free checking accounts, Chase Bank does not have a completely free account like the U.S. Bank free checking account. However, it does have a few fee-waivable checking account options to choose from. These include the Chase Total Checking, Chase Premier Plus Checking, and Chase Sapphire Checking accounts. If you make a certain deposit amount into your account or hold the required beginning daily balance or minimum average beginning daily balance in your account, the bank will waive the monthly service fee from Chase so that you can, in effect, use the account for free.
Of the three accounts, the Chase Total Checking account has the most lenient requirements for waiving the service fee. It requires $500 in direct deposits, a $1,500 beginning day balance, or an average beginning day balance of $5,000 to waive the $12 monthly service fee from Chase. It requires a $25 minimum opening deposit. The other two accounts require higher daily balance requirements to waive a $25 monthly fee. But unlike the Chase Total Checking account, these accounts accrue interest.
Aside from maintenance fees, the Chase Total Checking account charges for using ATMs belonging to other banks. However, external ATM use is free for the first four monthly uses if you have the Chase Premier Plus Checking account, and is always free if you have the Chase Sapphire Checking account. Other common checking account fees include overdraft protection fees and debit card protection coverage fees.
All of the Chase checking accounts provide free online bill payment and access to a mobile banking service for your cell phone or other mobile devices. In addition, you can view canceled checks on your online statements. Chase also offers free ATM transactions at Chase Bank ATM locations. You should also expect zero liability protection on their ATM/debit cards in addition to the standard protection offered by VISA check cards. If your card is used in an unauthorized manner, Chase Bank will refund your money to your account.
Comparing Free Checking Offerings from U.S. Bank and Chase Bank
When you compare the free checking account offerings of U.S. Bank and Chase Bank, it's clear that only U.S. Bank offers an actual free checking account with no maintenance fees. While Chase Bank offers a variety of fee-waivable checking accounts, the monthly service fee on checking accounts at Chase can only be waived by meeting certain requirements. This means that someone who doesn't want to fuss with these requirements may find it easier to open a U.S. Bank free checking account. But depending on your financial situation, you may be able to meet the requirements of waiving the fee for a U.S. Bank fee-waivable account or a checking account at Chase without much difficulty.
It's also important to remember that cost isn't the only factor to consider when opening a checking account. You should also compare the different checking account options offered at the same bank and the convenience features or financial incentives they provide.
Like most banks nowadays, U.S. Bank and Chase Bank both offer comparison tools and charts on their websites to help you choose the right account for your needs and budget. So read the fine print, compare accounts, and choose an account based on your actual banking needs.