The Best Checking Accounts of 2018

Checking accounts aren't complicated, but they're one of the most important and frequently used financial products. We analyzed checking account features and fees at many major banks to determine which are the best options for your checking account in 2018.

Best Checking Accounts Overall

If you prefer to have a big network of branches and ATMs, with consistent updates to technology and security practices, a bank like Chase may have the checking account you need. If you're new to Chase, it also stands out for its generous sign-up bonus of up to $350.

Chase Total Checking

Among standard checking options, Chase Total Checking is the best all-around account thanks to its accessibility, affordability and its ongoing sign-up promotion.

Sign-Up Bonus$200
Monthly Fee$12.00
Balance to Waive$1,500
Opening Minimum$25.00

Chase Bank offers $200 to first-time customers for opening a Total Checking account; you can earn another $150 if you also open a standard savings account. Chase trims out several fees charged at the other big banks, such as the monthly paper statement fee, and with 5,100 branch locations and 16,000 ATMs nationwide, you can be confident of finding the same level of service in most areas of the country.

Beyond that, Chase Total Checking closely mirrors other major bank offerings. The monthly maintenance fee of $12 is waived if you can maintain a daily minimum balance of $1,500 or if you receive at least $500 in direct deposits during the month. This account represents an option that is not only well-balanced in its features but also commonly available.

Bank of America Core Checking

If Chase Bank is unavailable in your particular region, Bank of America provides a checking account that is similar to Chase's options in many respects.

Monthly Fee$12.00
Balance to Waive Fee$1,500
Opening Minimum$25.00
ATM Fee$2.50

As another one of the major banks, Bank of America offers a Core Checking account very similar in fees and features to those offered by their biggest competitors. This account is outstanding not for low fees, but for its consistent and widely available service options, an area where smaller banks fall short.

What holds Core Checking back from the top spot is the monthly paper statement fee, which is separate from the maintenance fee. This fee is easily avoided by accessing Bank of America's website and opting into paperless statements delivered online, but the fee is easy for customers to overlook and amounts to charging them for something that other banks provide for free. If you need a paper statement you can always print one out for free by logging into the bank's website.

Best Online Checking Accounts

With no need for physical storefronts, online-only banks leverage their low operating costs to offer products that pay out higher interest and charge lower fees.

Most Consumer-Friendly: Ally Interest Checking

Ally Bank is a good choice among online banks, not only for its low fees and competitive interest rate but also for its customer-friendly policies.

APY0.10% - 0.60%
Monthly Fee$0.00
Opening Minimum$0.00
ATM Fee$0.00

Several of the checking options we examined offer fees and rates comparable to Ally Bank's Interest Checking account, but only Ally earned full marks for "Best and Good Practices" in a 2015 Pew report on consumer banks—an impressive feat considering this bank operates entirely without physical locations or face-to-face customer service. Like most online-only banks, Ally operates robust mobile and online tools that allow you to manage accounts without visiting a branch location. Instead of in-person bank service, Ally Bank provides customer service through online channels and a 24/7 phone line.

Ally Interest Checking comes with no monthly fees, no ATM fees, no fees for overdraft protection and reduced fees on several other services. As a partner of Allpoint, a third-party ATM operator, Ally Bank provides customers access to 55,000 ATMs in the United States and worldwide.

Best Physical Branch Access: Capital One 360 Checking

Most online checking accounts are provided by banks that have no physical service locations, but Capital One breaks the "online-only" mold.

APY0.20% - 1.00%
Monthly Fee$0.00
Opening Minimum$0.00
ATM Fee$0.00

The Capital One 360 Checking account is a great option for customers who seek a balance between the convenience of online banking and the peace of mind that comes with being able to visit the bank in person. Several "online-only" banks provide service at physical locations, but Capital One operates the largest such physical network by far, with about 760 branches in the metropolitan areas of New York City, Washington D.C., Louisiana and the four major cities of Texas. Although more complex account management must be done through the online banking tools, you can still make deposits and withdrawals from your online account at these branches.

Another noteworthy feature of the 360 is its two overdraft protection choices: free transfers from your Capital One savings account, or free transfers from an overdraft line of credit, which charges interest on the amount you overdraw. The current rate of 11.50% APR means that every day, you pay about 3 cents for every $100 of negative balance. Compared to the typical up-front charge of $35 at other banks, Capital One's overdraft policy is basically free.

Best Checking Account for Lower Balances: PNC Standard Checking

PNC Standard Checking carries the lowest monthly fees out of the brick-and-mortar banks we examined, which is why PNC is one of our recommended starter banks.

Monthly Fee$7.00
Balance to Waive Fee$500
Opening Minimum$25.00
ATM Fee$3.00

Put together, the monthly maintenance fee of $7 and its $2 paper statement fee are less than what you'd pay for standard checking at almost any other large bank, but the best part of PNC's monthly fee policy is how easily you can avoid paying anything at all. You pay zero fees if you meet any one of the following conditions during the month:

  • Keep a daily average balance of $500
  • Receive $500 in direct deposits
  • Be at least 62 years old

The monthly waiver balance on a standard national bank checking account is usually $1,500 calculated as a hard daily minimum. PNC's $500 requirement is not only one third of the standard fee, but it's also calculated by taking the average of your daily balances from every day of the month. This means that even if your balance dips under $500 by a small amount, you can still avoid the fees by increasing your balance on the remaining days so that the average meets the waiver requirement.

Best High Yield Checking Account: Axos Rewards Checking

If your first and only concern is to maximize your interest rate, Axos Rewards Checking is the clear choice.

APY0.20% - 1.00%
Monthly Fee$0.00
Opening Minimum$0.00
Domestic ATM Rebatesunlimited

In order to earn the full 1.25% APY, you must fulfill two conditions each month:

  • Receive at least $1,000 in direct deposits
  • Make 15 purchases of $3 or more using your debit card

Meeting the direct deposit minimum gets you one-third of the APY, or about 0.417%, and making 10 debit purchases adds another 0.417%, with 5 more debit purchases bumping the rate up to the advertised 1.25%. This arrangement makes it important to ensure you are meeting the conditions each month.

Fortunately, there is no minimum balance requirement involved in the APY calculation. Instead of maintaining its own ATM network or partnering with a third-party ATM operator, Axos Bank™ offers unlimited rebates for domestic ATMs. Customers can use any ATM that accepts the Rewards Checking Visa debit card, and at the end of the month Axos Bank will reimburse all fees charged by the owners of the ATMs.

Best Student Checking Account: Santander Student Value Checking

If you set aside the issue of service areas, Santander Bank's Student Value Checking account is the best choice for students living away from home.

Monthly Fee$0.00
Opening Minimum$10.00
Incoming Wire Fee$0.00
ATM Fee$2.00

Santander's student account is unique for allowing free incoming wire transfers, which means you won't pay extra to receive money from parents or family—even if they live abroad or bank with a different institution. There's also no monthly maintenance fee, and you can avoid the $3 paper statement fee by choosing to receive online statements.

The ATM fee for using non-network machines is a lower-than-average $2, but this figure may be important given that Santander Bank's physical branches are mostly limited to the Tri-State area, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. While it's possible to do most of your banking through Santander's mobile services, you'll need cash from time to time, so if Santander is not in your area and you want to avoid the ATM fees, you should start by looking at banks that are locally available.

Best Checking Account for Travel Abroad: Schwab High Yield Investor Checking

Schwab's online-only checking account is highly beneficial for those who need to use ATMs and debit cards frequently, whether at home or abroad.

Monthly Fee$0.00
Opening Minimum$0.00
International Debit Fee0%
ATM Fee Rebatesunlimited

The Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account should be a top consideration for frequent travelers: not only do account holders get free withdrawals from Schwab ATMs, but they also receive unlimited rebates on withdrawal fees at non-network ATMs, domestic and international. In addition, there are no fees on international debit card transactions. As an added benefit, the account bears interest at a rate of 0.20% APY.

One shortcoming of this account is that it does not permit incoming or outgoing international wire transfers. However, such transfers actually have little relevance to most travelers, who tend to rely on ATMs and debit cards. In the event you need emergency funds, anybody back home can transfer money into your account on a domestic basis, just as they normally would.

Finally, opening a High Yield Investor Checking account requires opening a Schwab brokerage account at the same time. While this account costs no monthly fees and requires no minimum amount to open, you should keep in mind that investment accounts are subject to losses from market movement, and are therefore not covered by the FDIC deposit insurance that protects your checking and savings accounts.

Summary of Best Checking Accounts

Here's a fast summary of the important facts about each checking account we reviewed.

Checking AccountBest For…Monthly Fees
Chase Total CheckingBest Sign-Up Bonus$12.00
Bank of America Core CheckingWide Service Coverage$12.00
Ally Interest CheckingBest Customer Experience$0.00
Capital One 360 CheckingOnline Account with Brick-and-Mortar Service$0.00
PNC Standard CheckingLower Fees and Waivers$7.00
Axos Rewards CheckingBest Interest Rate on Checking$0.00
Santander Student Value CheckingNo-Fee Student Account$0.00
Schwab High Yield Investor CheckingNo International Fees$0.00

Finding Other Checking Accounts

If you haven't found the kind of checking account that suits your financial habits or situation, there are many more options out there which may fit the bill. For instance, if you place a high value on banks that emphasize face-to-face interaction and investment in your local community, you may want to look at a small neighborhood bank that has time to personalize its customer service. You may even consider joining a credit union, which is organized differently from a standard bank but which provides the same kinds of banking services and products.

In the end, you should narrow your focus down to a few key factors that can guide your decision. If you only have a little in the bank and depend on each new paycheck to replenish your balance, you may want to prioritize finding an easy monthly fee waiver. If you travel often, you may be worried about international transaction fees. Our comparison tool for checking accounts can also help you start your search effectively.

Chris Moon

Chris is a Senior Research Analyst at ValuePenguin who has covered deposit accounts and home loans since 2016. He has contributed insights and opinions to the New York Times and many other publications.

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