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Reviews

Best no-fee checking accounts of September 2020

CNBC Select reviewed dozens of checking accounts from online banks, brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions to find the top 5 that have no monthly fees.

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Checking accounts are an essential financial tool, but they can also be expensive. Many major banks charge account maintenance fees that can cost you up to $15 a month.

Sometimes, if you meet certain requirements, such as maintaining a minimum balance and/or setting up direct deposit, your bank will waive the monthly fee. However, there are a number of good no-fee options that don't come with a bunch of rules attached.

CNBC Select analyzed and compared dozens of checking accounts offered by online and brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions that charge zero monthly maintenance fees.

When ranking the best no-fee checking accounts, we focused on the following criteria:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Low initial deposit of $0 to $50
  • Available nationwide
  • Physical branch locations and/or online accessibility
  • Large ATM network
  • FDIC or NCUA insured up to $250,000

Accounts on our list had to meet all of the requirements above to be considered one of the best. In addition, all checking accounts mentioned below provide access to thousands of free ATMs and offer mobile check deposits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best checking accounts.)

Best no-fee checking accounts

Best overall: Capital One 360 Checking Account

Capital One 360 Checking®

Capital One 360 Checking®
Information about the Capital One 360 Checking® Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Capital One is a Member FDIC.
  • Monthly maintenance fee

    $0

  • Minimum deposit to open

    $0

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.10%

  • Free ATM network

    39,000+ Capital One® and Allpoint® ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    $35 if you opt-in to Next Day Grace

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Top-rated mobile app
  • No minimum deposit to open an account
  • 0.10% APY on all account balances
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Free savings transfer for overdrafts after opt-in

Cons

  • No reimbursement for out-of-network ATM fees
  • $35 overdraft fee if you opt-in to Next Day Grace

Who's this for? The Capital One 360 Checking Account takes the number-one spot on our list thanks in part to its top-rated mobile app, physical bank locations and an above-average APY. Plus, this account ranks number four on J.D. Power's 2019 U.S. National Banking Satisfaction Study, which ranks bank customer experience across various factors, including deposit accounts and convenience. Capital One receives strong satisfaction scores for mobile banking and checking accounts.

There's no minimum to open a Capital One 360 Checking Account, and you can earn 0.10% APY on all balances, which is higher than the national average of 0.04%.

If you overdraw your account, Capital One offers the ability to opt-in to Next Day Grace, which allows the bank to authorize transactions that exceed the balance in your account. You'll have until the end of the next business day to make your balance positive, or you'll incur a $35 fee.  If you don't opt-in, Capital One will either auto-decline transactions that exceed your checking account balance (at no fee) or transfer available funds from a linked savings account, depending on the option you choose. Any bounced paper checks will incur a $9 fee, regardless of overdraft coverage.

For account holders who prefer to bank in-person, Capital one has 450 branch locations and is a better choice than online-only checking accounts. Plus there are currently 41 Capital One Cafes that provide a place to bank, work, grab a cup of coffee and get advice from a certified money coach. Currently, many Cafes are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Capital One is in the process of re-opening select locations.

There are no foreign transaction fees, so you can use your debit card outside the U.S. with incurring any extra costs.

Runner-up: Ally Interest Checking Account

Ally Interest Checking Account

Ally Interest Checking Account
Information about the Ally Interest Checking Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Ally is a Member FDIC.
  • Monthly maintenance fee

    $0

  • Minimum deposit to open

    $0

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.10% less than $15,000 minimum daily balance; 0.50% over $15,000 minimum daily balance

  • Free ATM network

    43,000+ Allpoint® ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    Up to $10 per statement cycle

  • Overdraft fee

    $25

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Top-rated mobile app
  • No minimum deposit to open an account
  • ATM fee reimbursement up to $10 per statement cycle
  • 0.10% or 0.50% APY, depending on daily account balance

Cons

  • $25 overdraft fee

Who's this for? If branch-based locations aren't a must, consider the online-only Ally Interest Checking Account. This account ranks slightly behind Capital One due to its lack of physical locations. Otherwise, it's quite similar with no minimum to open and a well-reviewed mobile app.

Ally Bank account holders have access to over 43,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMs, but even then you may want to use an ATM from a different provider. What sets Ally apart is that you can be reimbursed up to $10 per statement cycle for fees charged at out-of-network ATMs nationwide. You don't need to meet any requirements to benefit from this perk.

Account holders also earn a higher-than-average APY. You can earn more depending on how much you have in your account:

  • 0.10% APY on minimum daily balances less than $15,000
  • 0.50% APY on minimum daily balances over $15,000

While the Ally Interest Checking Account offers a higher interest rate on balances over $15,000, you're better off putting that money in a high-yield savings account. The Ally Online Savings Account, which is on CNBC Select's list of the best high-yield savings accounts, currently offers a 1.00% APY on all balances, which is double the checking account's APY.

Best for rewards: Discover Cashback Debit Account

Discover Cashback Debit Account

Discover Cashback Debit Account
Information about the Discover Cashback Debit Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Discover is a Member FDIC.
  • Monthly maintenance fee

    $0

  • Minimum deposit to open

    $0

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Rewards

    1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month

  • Free ATM network

    60,000+ Allpoint® and MoneyPass® ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    $0

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Top-rated mobile app
  • No minimum deposit to open an account
  • 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month
  • Opt-in to free overdraft protection
  • No overdraft fees

Cons

  • No reimbursement for out-of-network ATM fees

Who's this for? If you want a debit card that acts similar to a credit card, the Discover Cashback Debit Account has you covered. This checking account provides customers with 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month. That's up to $30 cash back per month and $360 annually.

While 1% is lower than the cash-back rate you'd receive with one of the best credit cards, it's great for debit cards, which typically don't offer rewards programs. Account holders have the ability to redeem cash back as a deposit into a Discover checking, savings or money market account or transfer it to their Discover credit card. 

Since Discover is an online bank, there are no physical locations. However, Discover provides 100% U.S.-based customer service representatives that are available 24/7 and access to over 60,000 fee-free Allpoint and MoneyPass ATMs.

There is no minimum deposit required to open this account, and overdraft protection is free (which is hard to find).

Best for out-of-network ATMs: Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking Account

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking
Information about the Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Alliant Credit Union is a Member NCUA.
  • Monthly maintenance fee

    $0

  • Minimum deposit to open

    $0

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.25% with paperless and recurring monthly electronic deposit

  • Free ATM network

    80,000+ Alliant network ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    Up to $20 per month

  • Overdraft fee

    $25

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Top-rated mobile app
  • No minimum deposit to open an account
  • ATM fee reimbursement up to $20 per month
  • 0.25% APY

Cons

  • $25 overdraft fee
  • Must opt-in to paperless statements and have a recurring monthly electronic deposit to earn APY

Who's this for? Consumers who find it hard to stick to in-network ATMs should opt for a checking account that reimburses the fees you may incur. The Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking Account provides you with up to $20 per month in ATM fee rebates if you use out-of-network ATMs.

This is one of the highest monthly reimbursements and can save you up to $240 in ATM fees each year. There are no requirements to benefit from this perk.

Beyond ATM fee rebates, the Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking Account offers 0.25% APY, and you don't have to deposit any money to open an account. In order to earn interest, you must opt-in to paperless statements and have a recurring monthly electronic deposit (such as direct deposit, payroll deposit, ATM deposit, mobile check deposit or transfer from another financial institution).

Alliant is primarily an online-only institution with one location in Illinois. Since it's a credit union, you have to be a member to open a checking account. The easiest way to become a member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. However, you don't need to pay the charity directly since Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union.

Beyond no-fee checking, Alliant offers an industry-leading cash-back credit card: the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card. This card tops our list of the best cash-back cards with 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash-back rewards per billing cycle).

Best for students: Chase College Checking℠ Account

Chase College Checking℠

Chase College Checking℠
Information about the Chase College Checking℠ Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Chase is a Member FDIC.
  • Monthly maintenance fee

    $0 for college students 17 to 24

  • Minimum deposit to open

    $0

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    None

  • Free ATM network

    16,000 Chase ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    $34

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Top-rated mobile app
  • No minimum deposit to open an account
  • New account holders can earn a $100 bonus, valid until 10/08/2020
  • No. 2 on J.D. Power's 2019 U.S. National Banking Satisfaction Study

Cons

  • $34 overdraft fee
  • No APY
  • No reimbursement for out-of-network ATM fees

Who's this for? The Chase College Checking℠ Account provides zero monthly service fees for up to five years for college students 17 to 24 who show proof of student status at account opening.

After the five-year period, the monthly fee is $6, which is waived if you make one direct deposit each month or maintain an average beginning day balance of at least $5,000.

Beyond no service fees for students, this Chase account is known for offering new account holder bonuses. Currently, new Chase College Checking℠ account customers can receive $100 after completing 10 qualifying transactions within 60 days of account opening. Offer expires October 8, 2020.

There's no deposit required to open this account, and you'll also pay no monthly maintenance fee on a Chase Savings℠ account linked to this account for overdraft protection.

Chase has 16,000 fee-free ATMs and nearly 4,900 branches across the U.S. Plus Chase ranks number two on J.D. Power's 2019 U.S. National Banking Satisfaction Study for providing innovative technology and high satisfaction with ATMs, plus the lowest incidence of problems.

Common checking account fees

Before you choose a checking account, familiarize yourself with common checking account fees. Here are seven common fees you may incur:

  • Monthly maintenance fee: The monthly service fee, often up to $15, that banks or credit unions charge to maintain your account.
  • Overdraft fee: If you spend more than the amount in your account, resulting in a negative balance, you may be hit with a steep overdraft fee up to $35.
  • Non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee: If you write a check and it bounces because there isn't enough money in your bank account, you'll likely incur a NSF fee.
  • ATM fee: When you use ATMs that aren't affiliated with your bank or credit union, you may be hit with two fees: one from your bank/credit union and another from the ATM operator. Banks/credit unions charge around $1.63 while ATM operators charge roughly $3.09.
  • Paper statement fee: If you don't enroll in paperless, you may pay up to $5 per statement.
  • Foreign transaction fee: If you use your debit card to make purchases or withdraw money from an ATM outside of the U.S., you'll often incur a fee that's often 3% of the U.S. dollar amount of the transaction.
  • Account closure fee: If you close your account within 90 to 180 days of opening it, you may incur an account closure fee around $25.

Our methodology

To determine which checking accounts provide the best place to deposit your money at no monthly cost, CNBC Select analyzed dozens of U.S. checking accounts offered by online and brick-and-mortar banks, including major credit unions. We narrowed down our rankings by only considering checking accounts that charge no monthly maintenance fees (and no catches to benefit from zero monthly fees).

While the accounts we chose in this article consistently have no monthly maintenance fees, we also compared each checking account on a range of features, including:

  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Low initial deposit of $0 to $50
  • Available nationwide
  • Physical branch locations and/or online accessibility
  • Large ATM network
  • Ease of use and account accessibility
  • Customer reviews, when available

All of the accounts included on this list are Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insured up to $250,000. This insurance protects and reimburses you up to your balance and the legal limit in the event your bank or credit union fails.

The rates and fee structures for checking accounts are subject to change without notice and they often fluctuate in accordance with the prime rate.

Your earnings depend on any associated fees and the balance you have in your checking account. To open an account, some banks and institutions may require a deposit of new money, meaning you can't transfer money you already had in an account at that bank. However, the five accounts listed above currently don't require any deposit during account opening.

Information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.