According to data from the 2013 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, the median checking account balance for U.S. households was $2,900, while the average balance was $9,132. The large difference between the two figures was due to the overrepresentation of high-income households in the survey. For a closer look at the amounts people keep in their checking accounts, we turned to figures broken down along several demographic categories.
Average Checking Account Balance in the U.S.
The Survey of Consumer Finances is conducted and published every three years, most recently in 2013. According to the Federal Reserve, "the survey data include information on families’ balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics." Data from previous SCF years show significant changes in checking account balances since 2001. Our analysis of average savings account balances based on the same data can be found here.
|Year||Average Checking Balance||Median Checking Balance||3-Year Change in Median|
The median balance in U.S. checking accounts was on the rise until the 2010 SCF, in which the median declined by more than one-third. The most likely cause of this disruption is the 2009 economic recession, which forced many Americans to draw heavily on their deposited funds. However, the average or mean checking account balance actually increased between 2007 and 2010. We can attribute the difference between median and mean to the structure of the Federal Reserve's survey.
The SCF is designed to provide information about a broad range of financial assets held by American consumers, and certain asset types — such as stocks and bonds — are only held by wealthier households. In order to provide statistically significant information about those assets, the survey includes a disproportionate amount of high-income participants, resulting in a higher mean balance for checking accounts. To avoid this issue, we turn to the median balance and how it changes when the participants are divided by income, age, gender and race.
Average Checking Account Balance by Income
Among households with one or more checking accounts, higher household incomes are associated with higher balances, with the difference growing more pronounced at higher income levels.
|Income Range||Average Checking Account Balance|
|$25,000 - $44,999||$3,606|
|$45,000 - $69,999||$5,117|
|$70,000 - $114,999||$9,427|
|$115,000 - $159,999||$18,500|
On average, checking account balances in the highest income group outweigh those of any other group by a huge margin. This final income group comprises a very broad range of incomes, with extremely high-income outliers skewing the average. Meanwhile, the median checking account balance doubles with each successive income group, except for households earning $160,000 or more per year.
At the other end of the income spectrum, close to 27% of participants earning under $25,000 reported having no checking accounts at all, suggesting a greater consumption of alternative financial services and prepaid debit cards in that group.
Average Checking Account Balance by Age
When we examine the average checking balances across different age groups, we see a predictable correlation between older households and larger balances. However, checking balances fall off among households headed by individuals age 75 and up.
|Age Group||Average Checking Account Balance|
Here, the data show that people leave more and more in their checking accounts as they grow older, with the exception of the oldest Americans. Out of the four demographic factors we assessed, grouping the respondents by age showed the smallest discrepancy between the average and median balance numbers.
According to the 2013 SCF, the median checking balance peaks at $6,000 for Americans between 65 and 74 years of age, while the medians for all groups under age 55 fall below the national median balance of $2,900. Although the variation in checking balances among age groups is significant, it's clear that checking account funds are more evenly distributed across age groups than income brackets.
Average Checking Account Balance by Gender
Grouping responses based on the head of household's gender reveals another significant discrepancy. Male-headed households in the survey reported an average checking balance three times larger than the average for female-headed households.
|Head of Household's Gender||Average Checking Account Balance|
Over 76% of the households responding in the 2013 survey were headed by men, leaving female-headed households underrepresented relative to the most recent U.S. Census data. Still, the discrepancy between the two groups is consistent with census findings on their economic situations.
In addition, the difference in men's and women's checking account balances is most likely amplified by other factors such as children and marital status within the households. For example, it's probably that more female-headed households have a single parent compared to male-headed households. If true, this would drastically reduce the average income and balance level for female-headed families.
Interestingly, gender was the only category in which the median balance actually showed a greater relative disparity between groups than the average. While the difference between male and female averages ($7,524) was greater in absolute terms, the male median balance was four times larger than the female median —a wider gap than we found between the averages.
Average Checking Account Balance by Race
The survey also prompted respondents to identify with one of several categories related to race. The data revealed a large difference in checking account balances between white non-Hispanic households and other groups.
|Race||Average Checking Account Balance|
Both the average and median balance numbers were four times greater for white households than for black and Hispanic households, but there are a number of other facts that may be more useful to understanding the differences involved. First, about 25.5% of black and 21.2% of Hispanic respondents had no checking accounts at all, compared to just 4.78% of white non-Hispanics. These "unbanked" households may keep their funds in cash or other non-deposit assets like prepaid debit cards.
Finally, the large number of high-income participants in the survey may have had an influence on the median checking account balances of the race categories. While white non-Hispanic households accounted for about 71% of all participants in the 2013 SCF, they made up over 89% of households in the highest income bracket. Compounding this imbalance is the overrepresentation of the wealthiest households necessary for the survey's other objectives. These two factors likely resulted in an excessively high median and average for checking account balances.
Historical Data on U.S. Checking Account Balances
Aside from the Survey of Consumer Finances, the Federal Reserve also tracks the monthly total of checkable deposits in the U.S. This includes the funds in all bank accounts that let the account-holder write checks against the balance.
While checkable deposits include checking accounts, the term also encompasses money market accounts and even certain savings accounts that come with checks. The total for checking accounts alone is bound to be somewhat smaller than the total for checkable deposits. As with savings deposits, the total checkable deposits in U.S. banks began increasing more rapidly between 2008 and 2009, coinciding with the beginning of the most recent recession.
Despite this increase in total checking balances, it's worth noting that out of more than 6,000 households that responded to the 2013 SCF, about 7.7% did not have checking accounts, while 5.5% reported having active accounts but zero deposited funds at the time of the survey. In sum, more than 1 in 8 households either had empty checking accounts or no accounts at all. Given the SCF's focus on wealthier households, the ratio of households without checking account balances may actually be greater on the national scale.
- Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Survey of Consumer Finances [SCF]
- Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Total Checkable Deposits [TCDSL], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
- US Census Bureau, Wealth and Asset Ownership - People and Households