According to data from the 2016 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, the median checking account balance for U.S. households was $3,400, while the average balance was $10,545. The average figure was much higher than the median due to the presence of some extremely high-income households in the survey. For a closer look at the amounts most people keep in their checking accounts, we broke the numbers down into several different demographic groupings.
Average Checking Account Balance in the U.S.
The Survey of Consumer Finances is conducted and published every three years, most recently in 2016. 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|
Since 2004, the median balance of U.S. checking accounts increased in every survey year, with the exception of a drastic dip immediately after the economic recession of 2009. However, the average or mean checking account balance has never stopped growing in the 21st century. This difference between median and mean can be explained by the unique 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 mostly 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 skewing effect, we focused our analysis on 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. Between 2016 and 2013, average balances have increased for every income group other than the highest- and the lowest-earning households.
U.S. Checking Account Balances by Income, 2013-2016
|Income Range||2016 Average Balance||2013 Average Balance||3-Year Change|
|$25,000 - $44,999||$4,303||$3,615||+19.0%|
|$45,000 - $69,999||$6,492||$5,032||+29.0%|
|$70,000 - $114,999||$8,593||$8,110||+6.0%|
|$115,000 - $159,999||$12,939||$11,731||+10.3%|
On average, checking account balances in the highest income group outweigh those of any other group by a large 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 generally found that older households have larger balances. Between 2013 and 2016, most age groups saw an increase in the average checking account balance. Households under 35 experienced very little change in their average, which stood at $4,013 in the latest survey.
U.S. Checking Account Balances by Age, 2013-2016
|Age Group||2016 Average Balance||2013 Average Balance||3-Year Change|
Here, the data show that people leave more and more in their checking accounts as they grow older. Out of the four demographic factors we assessed, grouping by age resulted in the smallest discrepancy between the average and median balance numbers.
According to the 2016 SCF, the median checking balance peaks at $7,600 for Americans aged 75 or older, while the medians for all groups under age 45 fall below the national median balance of $3,400. The gap between median and average checking account balances grew slightly wider for progressively older groups.
Average Checking Account Balance by Gender
Categorizing the survey responses based on the head of household's gender revealed another significant discrepancy. Male-headed households in the survey reported an average checking balance that was more than double the average for female-headed households.
U.S. Checking Account Balances by Gender, 2013-2016
|Head of Household's Gender||2016 Average Balance||2013 Average Balance||3-Year Change|
Over 77% of the households responding in the 2016 survey were headed by men, leaving female-headed households underrepresented relative to the most recent U.S. Census data. Still, the discrepancy we found between the two groups is consistent with census findings on their relative 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 probable 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 balance. While the difference between male and female averages ($7,167) was greater in absolute terms, the male median balance was at least four times higher than the female median—a wider gap than we found between the averages. This suggests that for most households,
Average Checking Account Balance by Race
The SCF also asked households to identify with one of several racial categories. The data on checking account balances revealed large differences among the four groups outlined in the Federal Reserve's survey.
U.S. Checking Account Balances by Household Race, 2013-2016
|Race||2016 Average Balance||2013 Average Balance||3-Year Change|
Both the average and median balance numbers were four times greater for white and "other" 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 19.4% of black and 18.2% of Hispanic respondents had no checking accounts at all, compared to just 3.5% of white non-Hispanics and 4.7% of respondents in the "other" category. These unbanked households may keep their funds in cash or other non-deposit assets like prepaid debit cards.
It's also necessary to understand the composition of the "other" group. According to the Federal Reserve, this category "includes respondents identifying as Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, other race, and all respondents reporting more than one racial identification". Taken together, households belonging to these "other" groups reported higher average and median checking account balances than the other three major ethnic groups.
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 72% of all participants in the 2016 SCF, they made up over 88% 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 2016 SCF, about 7.1% did not have checking accounts, while another 7.0% reported having active accounts but zero deposited funds at the time of the survey. In sum, nearly 1 in 7 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