The Best Checking Accounts of 2021

It seems that every time you check your mail these days you find, yet another, offer to receive $500 if you set up a checking account with XXX bank, right? You may be completely satisfied with your current banking situation but that $500 is really appealing. Depending on your unique financial situation, it might not be a bad idea to change banks, but it also might cost you more in the long run than that $500 spot you receive three months after signing up. 

We have analyzed all the checking accounts out there and found our favorites based on recommendations from our founder, Ramit Sethi. Finding the right checking account for your circumstances should not add stress to your life. We are here to help and do not have any affiliation with the following banks. 

The Top 10 Checking Accounts of 2021

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab ranks among the most reliable checking accounts and rightly so. It comes with the most benefits recommended by Ramit, and is the account he personally uses. The benefits include: 

  • Free foreign transactions
  • Unlimited ATM reimbursements
  • An APY
  • No minimum balance or monthly maintenance fees

If you regularly travel to different countries or need a checking account with the best advantages, you should look no further than the Charles Schwab checking account.

However, you need to get a Charles Schwab brokerage account when opening a checking account with them. The brokerage account is entirely free, so you do not have to worry about any fees or minimum balance requirements. All you have to do is create the account. After that, you do not have to use it.

The only disadvantage that comes with the Charles Schwab checking account is the low number of physical branches. While this is fine for most people, it can be a significant inconvenience for people that deal with foreign currencies regularly.

However, a Charles Schwab checking account should prioritize anyone that does most of their banking online or is lucky to have a branch near them.

Chime

If you’re looking for a checking account that does more than the ordinary, Chime is a great option. You get a mobile checking account that offers a number of benefits such as:

  • No maintenance fees
  • Free overdraft protection up to $100
  • No transfer fees
  • No ATM fees
  • No foreign transaction fees

Additionally, you can receive your paycheck earlier by as much as two days and automate savings so that the account automatically pulls a specific amount from the deposits and allocates it to a separate savings account.

Axios

Axios offers three different checking accounts, with each one coming with various benefits. The essential checking account has various benefits such as:

  • No API required 
  • No monthly fee 
  • No minimum balance
  • Mobile deposits
  • Unlimited ATM reimbursements for US ATMs

You will however pay a 1% transaction fee for all foreign transactions. The only difference between the Essential and Rewards checking accounts is that the latter offers an APY of up to 1.25%. The Cashback checking account is similar to the Essential checking account, only that it requires an average balance of $1500 to get 1% cashback up to $2000 per month. However, the 1% cashback only applies to signature-based transactions meaning that you have to run the debit card as credit.

HSBC

HSBC offers a few checking accounts that you can choose from, including the Basic Banking checking account, the Choice Checking account, the Advance checking account, and the Premier checking account. Although HSBC does not offer any great propositions, it is an excellent option for those looking for a truly global bank as they have physical branches across the world. However, there are some significant drawbacks to using HSBC.

The downsides include:

  • You do not get an APY with Basic Banking and Choice checking accounts
  • You will pay a 3% foreign transaction fee that applies for both accounts
  • The Choice Checking account charges a $15 monthly fee if you do not meet the minimum balance requirements
  • Both Basic Banking and Choice checking accounts do not offer any ATM reimbursements
  • You will pay a $2.50 fee for every transaction out of network ATMs
  • You will pay a $25 monthly fee if you do not meet the minimum balance requirements for the Advance checking account
  • The premier checking account requires a $50 monthly payment under the same conditions
  • You must maintain a minimum balance of $5,000 with direct deposits or $10,000 for the advance checking account
  • The premier checking account requires a minimum balance of $100,000 across all accounts
  • The advance checking account offers ATM reimbursements four times per statement, but in the US only exclusive of New York

If you do not have an international lifestyle, own homes in multiple countries, or do business internationally, the availability of branches all over may not be worth the extra cost.

Ally

Ally is one of the online-only banks that’s growing in popularity lately. Some of the pros that come with the Ally checking account include:

  • A 0.60% APY 
  • No monthly fee applies 
  • You do not have to maintain a minimum balance 
  •  Mobile deposits
  • ATM reimbursements worth up to $10 per statement

The cons are listed below:

  • A foreign transaction fee of 1% of the transaction
  • Lack of physical branches

Although Ally has a reliable checking account, it is not comparable to Charles Schwab.

Capital One 360

Capital One 360 checking accounts come with various benefits. They include:

  • An APY of 0.20% on $0 to $50,000
  • Amounts between $50,000 and $100,000 have an API of 0.75%
  • Over $100,000 earns an APY of 1%
  • No monthly fees or minimum balance requirements
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • ATM reimbursement of up to $15 for every statement

The major disadvantages of the Capital One 360 checking account include:

  • It only has a few branches in a few cities
  • Sub-1% APY, since most people do not stack up to $100,000 in their checking accounts
  • Lower balances attract an APY of 0.20%, which results in a nominal value

Ideally, the APY should not contribute to your decision to get a Capital One checking account.

If you already have a Capital One credit card, nothing should stop you from getting a Capital One 360 checking account. Not only does it closely compare to the Charles Schwab checking account, but you also benefit from the possibility of having all your accounts consolidated.

Discover

Some of the most significant advantages for those with Discover checking accounts include: 

  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Mobile deposits
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1% cashback on debit card purchases worth up to $3,000

The Discover checking account has a few disadvantages including:

  • It offers no APY 
  • Discover has no physical branches
  • You may have difficulty getting a Discover card accepted internationally

Although there is nothing terrible about the Discover checking account, it also has no standout positive aspect. Although they offer a 1% cashback on credit card purchases, you have to skip the credit card rewards program to use the debit card.

Unless you already use Discover credit cards, you may not want to switch to the Discover checking account. On the other hand, it may also offer an excellent proposition for people that want to get rid of credit cards and need a debit card that offers a cashback program.

Chase

Chase has three checking accounts. The Chase Total Checking account comes with:

  • No APY
  • A $20 monthly fee which is nullified if you have $500 worth of direct deposits, a $1,500 balance at the beginning of every day, an average balance of $5,000 in both checking and savings accounts
  • No minimum balance requirements 
  • No ATM reimbursements and foreign transaction fees

The Chase Premier Plus Checking account offers:

  • 0.01% APY
  • $25 monthly fee is waived if you have an average balance of $15,000 across the checking and savings accounts or a Chase mortgage with linked payments
  • ATM reimbursements four times per statement

Like the Chase Premier Plus Checking account, the Chase Sapphire Checking account: 

  • Fee charges are $25, monthly fee waived for account holders with an average balance of $75,000 across the savings and checking accounts
  • Has no minimum balance requirements
  • Offers unlimited ATM reimbursements

The most significant disadvantage with any of the Chase checking accounts is the requirements you need to fulfill to have the monthly fee waived. However, it offers an excellent option for those planning on getting a Chase savings account and can quickly meet the balance requirements to have the monthly fee waived.

If you can get the monthly fee waived, The Chase checking accounts are a great option since you benefit from mobile deposits and mobile banking, 0 foreign transaction fees, and ATM reimbursements. You also benefit from the convenience of walking into any Chase branch as they have branches in almost every major city.

USAA

Some of the perks of USAA checking accounts include:

  • A 0.01% APY with $1,000 or more
  • No monthly fee
  • Although you spend $25 to open the account, you do not have to maintain a minimum balance after that
  • ATM reimbursements up to $15 per statement, but you pay a $2 fee to USAA on every ATM withdrawal after the first ten statements
  • People in the military do not have to pay an initial deposit and get a pre-filled 1199A
  • Service members also receive payments a day early

They unfortunately do charge a 1% foreign transaction fee. USAA has physical branches in West Point, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, and Annapolis. Generally, you can easily find checking accounts where you are better than USAA. However, it may be an appealing option to people already doing a lot of business with USAA and need to keep all their accounts in one place.  For instance, they have one of the best car insurances.

Simple

With a Simple checking account, you get: 

  • A 2.02% APY on Protected Goals with a balance of $2,000 or better
  • No monthly fee requirements
  • No minimum balance restrictions
  • Access to mobile deposits

However, they have a number of disadvantages:

  • They don’t offer ATM reimbursements
  • They charge a foreign transaction fee of up to 1%

Instead of splitting the balances between the savings and checking account, Simple uses the “Goals” and “Save to Spend” sections. It is more like a combined savings and checking account with an excellent user interface that allows customers to control their spending.

What is a checking account?

A checking account refers to a specific bank account that allows you to withdraw quickly and deposit the money required for your daily transactions. The transactions may include depositing a received check, taking out money using your debit card, or setting up direct deposits for your paychecks.

They are among the most liquid bank accounts meaning that they allow you to access your money quickly. Although they allow for unlimited withdrawals and deposits, some have daily maximum limits, depending on the bank you use.

The primary purpose of checking accounts is to hold money in a safe place in the short term so you can easily access it when you need to cover different expenses.

Do you need a checking account?

Various studies indicate that millions of people do not have checking accounts. Many people have developed general distrust for banking institutions after the 2008 financial crisis. But having a checking account makes life a lot easier. Here are some of the reasons why you should have a checking account.

  • A checking account allows you to get paid quickly. With many people living from paycheck to paycheck, getting paid on time is a priority. Having a checking account allows your employer to set up direct deposits, so you get the money deposited directly into your account without any extra fees or time. In addition, you gain access to the funds immediately when they get into your account.
  • It also offers security and protection since it leaves a paper trail. For example, if you get robbed while carrying cash, you cannot recover the money. On the other hand, a checking account allows you to access time-stamped transaction data that indicates how much money was in the account and a specific time and where the money went.
  • Access to online budgeting tools which give you more control over your finances.
  • Ease of paying recurring bills.
  • The convenience of using a debit card.

Are online checking accounts safe?

Banks and credit unions have a big responsibility to keep your accounts safe, with no doubts about the safety of your online checking account. All banks and credit unions use state-of-the-art complex security software and encryption methods to protect all accounts. You can quickly contact the bank you have an online checking account with for more information on how they protect your online checking account. Some banks also have insurance policies to safeguard balances above a specified amount so that you will have your money refunded in case of any losses.

You can improve the safety of your online checking account by protecting your cell phone and any devices used to access the account. Also, create strong passwords that no one can guess. Additionally, you should avoid using public computers to access online checking accounts since you may leave behind a trail of data that someone can use to access it.

Factors to consider when selecting a checking account

User experience

When choosing a checking account, always consider the user experience. The ideal checking account should be accessible to anyone. You should avoid any credit unions and localized options since most of them have geographic restrictions, although they come in several benefits. If you have a credit union in your area of residence, find out if they offer free checking accounts.

Most people bank online, but you may have to visit a physical branch in some cases. Only online options may not meet your needs in such cases. Also, scrutinize the interface of the online banking portal to ensure that it makes it easy for you to complete your transactions without any complications.

Fees

Although you may come across some checking accounts that charge overdraft fees, the ideal checking account should not have any fees. Some of the standard fees you need to avoid when treating a checking account include minimum balance, ATM fees, and maintenance costs. While most of the checking accounts listed above come with cashback and APY offers, you are likely to get you better cashback offers and higher APYs with your rewards cards and savings account, respectively. In addition, the ideal checking account should not have any transaction fees or monthly fees.

Convenience

Ideally, try as much as possible to avoid checking accounts from banks and credit unions that only cover a specific region. Credit unions offer a lot of benefits, but they only serve specific professions or areas. In addition, you may have a preference for banking and a physical branch instead of doing all the banking online. Choosing a checking account from a bank with multiple physical locations allows you to do this.

Reputation

Right off the bat, we excluded several checking accounts from our list. Mostly from major banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

While not every major bank is horrible, a few of them definitely are. Wells Fargo committed one of the largest banking scandals of all time. And the list of horror stories from Bank of America is seemingly endless.

Some big banks are decent (like Chase), but we didn’t even consider offers from Wells Fargo or Bank of America. These are terrible banks. No matter how good their accounts, we recommend staying away.

Help with saving and budgeting

Let’s say that you’re earlier in your financial journey and still developing habits around saving and budgeting.

In that case, we recommend giving Simple a try. It’s a combined savings and checking account with an interface built around helping you save. It’ll also figure out all your bills for you, telling you exactly what you can spend at any given moment, completely guilt-free.

Yes, Simple’s APY on its savings account isn’t as high as other savings accounts. And the perks on its checking account aren’t as valuable as Charles Schwab. But the extra support you get with saving and spending is well worth it in our opinion.

Special circumstances (cash and foreign currency use)

As much as we love doing everything online, there are two good reasons to choose a checking account that has fewer perks in order to have a bank with a physical branch nearby.

1. Large cash withdrawals or deposits

If, for whatever reason, you deal with large amounts of cash regularly, you really need a physical branch.

If you need to withdraw more cash than a typical ATM can handle even once or twice a year, it’s worth getting a checking account at a local bank.

2. Foreign currency

If you deal with foreign currency regularly, we’ve found it immensely helpful to have a physical branch nearby.

For example, if you are a freelancer and get paid from foreign banks, you may need to go to a physical bank location to cash that check.

Another perk of having a local branch: exchanging foreign currency back into U.S. dollars. Having a local branch completely solves any leftover foreign currency problems you may have after taking an international trip. You can simply walk in, give them whatever you have left, and they deposit it into your account at a decent exchange rate. No need to deal with getting ripped off at the airport.

So if you’re dealing with foreign currency or large amounts of cash even a few times a year, it’s worth getting a checking account with a local branch, even if the perks aren’t as good. Hopefully, one of the banks in our list has a local branch near you. If you’re not sure, start with Chase, since they have branches all over the U.S.

Common checking account fees

Regardless of the option you choose, it would help if you always prioritized finding a free checking account. In addition, there are some standard checking account fees you need to look out for. 

There is a monthly service fee that customers pay to maintain the checking account open every month. Some institutions, however, waive the fees upon meeting specific requirements.

To ensure that you choose the correct checking account, always consider the user experience, fees payable, convenience, and bank reputation. As Ramit emphasizes in his guide to personal finance, checking accounts are a great way to put your financial life in order.

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