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The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

By Raider @davedallyv
The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

Checking accounts are the foundation of most people’s personal finances, so it is essential to have one that not only helps you pay bills and keep track of money, but also works well with your other bank accounts to keep your finances in good working order.
More than two dozen options were examined across a broad range of categories in both traditional and online-only banks in order to determine these picks for the best checking account. As with any financial account, a handful of key features rise above the rest: ATM and branch availability, overdraft protection, fees, bank bonus enticements and reimbursements, minimum deposit requirements and just how simple it is to move money in and out of an account – whether by direct deposit, mobile deposit or old-school cash deposit. Interest rate is not really a factor with a standard checking account (more on that below).
Each financial institution’s online banking capabilities were taken into consideration. We also looked at some new, trendy features, such as banks, making funds available a few days early to customers who’ve signed up to receive their paycheck via direct deposit.
We paid close attention to bank account fees. Even if a bank touts a “free checking account,” that might not be the whole truth. If you’re considering a new checking account, scrutinize the fee schedule, which will reveal how much a bank charges for a “monthly maintenance fee,” using an out-of-network ATM, falling below a minimum balance requirement or spending more than you have (resulting in an overdraft fee). You do not want to be hit with a $4 fee just for making an ATM withdrawal at the wrong machine for your bank account.
Though some fees may apply only in certain conditions – you have not set up direct deposit or you want to receive monthly paper statements, for example — such waivers should be carefully scrutinized. You won’t want to be in a position where missing your minimum deposit by a couple of bucks or keeping an account balance that’s slightly too low racks up a “monthly maintenance fee.”
We are also a bit dubious of checking accounts that feature cash-back and rewards incentives. However, a 1% cash-back account could be moderately lucrative, this type of account may obligate you to hit a monthly spending threshold or maintain a certain minimum balance. If earning cash back or rewards is your priority, you are better off using a cash-back credit card, the best of which offer significantly higher rates. In addition, if you tend to maintain a high account balance in your checking account, consider putting some of that cash into a savings account, CD or money market with a higher annual percentage yield.
It may be helpful to think of a checking account as one part of a multifaceted personal financial system. Though it may require some management on your end, there are benefits to using an array of tools, with each serving a primary function: a checking account for receiving money and paying bills, a credit card for spending (and earning rewards or cash-back incentives) and a savings account for storing short-term savings or an emergency fund – with investment and brokerage accounts driving long-term savings goals such as college and retirement.

Best overall checking accountBest overall checking account (runner-up)Best for in-person bankingHighest APYAnother good choice

Bank/institutionLendingClubNBKC BankChaseConsumers CUAlliant Credit Union

AccountRewards CheckingEverything AccountTotal CheckingRewards CheckingHigh-Rate Checking

Branch accessNoLimited (4 locations)YesShared BranchingNo

ATMs (number/network)35,000 / MoneyPass and SUM34,000 / MoneyPass16,000 ATMs / 4,700 Branches30,000 / CO-OP80,000 / AllPoint

Out-of-network ATM fee reimbursement (monthly)Unlimited$12NoneUnlimited$20

Overdraft fee$25None$34$30$25

Foreign transaction feeNone None $5 per withdrawal and $2.50 for transfers/inquiries at ATMs outside the US$3 ATM, 2%1%

Monthly feeNoneNone $12 None None

Minimum opening deposit$100 NoneNone $5None

LendingClub Rewards Checking Account

The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

LendingClub checks all of the boxes, earning it our choice for best checking account overall: unlimited ATM reimbursement, support for mobile check deposits and transfers and no monthly or out-of-network ATM transaction fees. It is an excellent checking account — and with its modest APY and decent cash-back reward structure (for a checking account), it could suitably serve as a one-size-fits-all account to cover all of your savings, spending and checking needs. In addition, you can link up to three accounts to your checking account for overdraft protection.
It is worth noting that LendingClub will never charge you for using an ATM outside of its partner networks (MoneyPass and SUM) — and it will provide unlimited reimbursements if another financial institution charges you for using its ATM. That is an unparalleled level of protection from ATM fees. Another nice feature: If you have direct deposit set up, LendingClub will make your funds available a few days early.
You can also earn up to 1% cash back on everyday purchases, if you maintain an account balance of at least $2,500. The 0.10% APY is a higher rate than most checking accounts, but probably not high enough to make a difference in your overall financial picture. Still, even without the APY or rewards, the LendingClub account stands out above the rest.

Monthly fee: None
Minimum opening deposit: $100
Out-of-network ATM fees: None
Out-of-network ATM reimbursements: Unlimited
In-network ATMs: 35,000+ (MoneyPass and SUM)
Direct deposit funds available early: Yes
Mobile check deposit: Yes
Cash deposits: MoneyPass ATMs
APY: Earn 0.10% APY on balances between $2,500 – $99,999; 0.15% APY on balance $100,000 or higher

NBKC Bank Everything Account

The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

This bank shares our distaste for fees. As such, there are no minimum balance fees, overdraft fee penalties, maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or out-of-network ATM fees. Aside from a few esoteric international wire fees, when NBKC says it does not charge fees, it means it.
The NBKC Everything account offers a 0.15% APY on all balances. For a checking account, that is a decent interest rate. And in contrast to most other banks, who ask you to jump through hoops – like making a number of monthly debit card purchase transactions, signing up for direct deposit or maintaining a certain account balance – to earn interest, NBKC takes a simpler, unconditional approach with no minimum deposit required. In addition, like LendingClub, NKBC will provide early access to your paycheck if you sign up for direct deposit. You get $12 in monthly ATM reimbursements – which is good, though not as great as LendingClub’s unlimited offer of unlimited ATM fee rebates.
We also like NBKC’s app, which offers useful money-management features. The “virtual piggy bank” mobile banking app can help you save for specific items and the financial snapshot, which allows you to link external accounts, provides a complete financial picture in one place.

Monthly fee: None
Minimum opening deposit: None
Out-of-network ATM fees: None
Out-of-network ATM reimbursements: $12 per month
In-network ATMs: 34,000 (MoneyPass)
Direct deposit funds available early: No
Mobile check deposit: Yes
Cash Deposits: MoneyPass ATMs
APY: 0.15% on all balances

Chase Total Checking

The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

Large traditional banks like Chase (and Bank of America and Wells Fargo) are more likely to charge fees – for nebulous purposes like “monthly maintenance” or an out-of-network ATM fee – than newer players. That noted, if you are able to maintain a significant balance in your checking account and can stick to using in-network ATMs, the big banks offer national branch access, in-person customer service and online and mobile banking tools that are both sophisticated and easy to use.
Chase has nearly 4,700 branches in the US, second only to Wells Fargo, and 16,000 ATM locations, more than any other US bank. If branch access is a priority – whether for making transactions or speaking with someone – Chase, a traditional bank, is a great option. However, you will want to make sure you can easily meet the requirements (listed above) to waive that annoying $12 monthly maintenance fee.
It is also worth noting that the Chase Total Checking account offers a $200 account bonus when you fund a new account with direct deposit. Given that those checking accounts offering the highest APY likely will not yield $200 in interest over years, this one-time standard checking account incentive goes a long way.

Monthly fee: $12
Requirements to avoid monthly fee: Monthly direct deposit of at least $500+; or $1,500 daily balance; OR $5,000 combined average balance
Minimum opening deposit: None
Out-of-network ATM fees: $2.50
Out-of-network ATM reimbursements: None
In-network ATMs: 16,000 ATMs, 4,700 branches
Direct deposit funds available early: No
Mobile check deposit: Yes
Cash deposits: Branches and ATMs
APY: None

Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking

The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

If earning interest is your top priority, Consumers Credit Union’s Rewards Checking account offers the highest APY – though it comes with some hefty bank account requirements. To qualify for the category-high 2.09% APY, you will need to: sign up for electronic monthly statements (instead of paper statements); make at least 12 debit card purchases per month; and receive at least $500 in direct deposits or mobile check deposits every month. To qualify for a 3.09% APY, you need to meet all those requirements and spend at least $500 with a Consumers Credit Union credit card each month. In addition, to qualify for 4.09%, you need to spend at least $1,000 with a Consumers Credit Union credit card each month.
Yet, interest aside, this account has a lot going for it: CCU does not charge monthly fees and it offers unlimited ATM reimbursements, mobile check deposit and early access to direct deposits. If the APY requirements are not daunting to you, this could be a great checking account. Otherwise, if earning cash back is your priority, you are better off with a dedicated cash-back credit card.

Monthly fee: None
Minimum opening deposit: $5
Out-of-network ATM fees: None
Out-of-network ATM reimbursements: Unlimited
In-network ATMs: 30,000 (CO-OP)
Direct deposit funds available early: Yes
Mobile check deposit: Yes
Cash deposits: No
APY: 2.09% – 4.09% tiered system on balances up to $10,000

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

The 5 Best Checking Accounts of 2021

This free checking account is exclusive to members of the Alliant Credit Union (and its partners), most of which are based in the Chicago area. That noted, you can become a member of the organization’s “partner charity” with a $5 donation. Once you have joined, there is quite a bit to like: up to $20 in ATM reimbursements a month (sufficient to cover one cash withdrawal outside of AllPoint’s ATM network per week) and a 0.25% APY – if you set up direct deposit and forgo monthly paper statements. There is no minimum balance requirement. That noted, unlike some other banks, the Alliant Credit Union does not provide early access to direct deposits and there are no cash-back offers for using the debit card.

Monthly fee: None
Minimum opening deposit: None
Out-of-network ATM fees: None
Out-of-network ATM reimbursements: $20 per month
In-network ATMs: 80,000+ (AllPoint)
Direct deposit funds available early: No
Mobile check deposit: Yes
Cash deposits: Select AllPoint ATMs
APY: 0.25%, as long as you opt-in to eStatements and receive one DD per month

Is it standard practice to pay fees regularly to use a checking account?

No. Some banks may pass off fees as the normal costs of doing business, but with all of the free checking options available, you should avoid fee-heavy accounts. There are plenty of free checking options that will give you the tools you need to receive income and make payments, in addition to other benefits, without incurring any regular charges in the form of a monthly service fee.

How many checking accounts should you have?

For most people, the answer is one. Even if you can earn a little extra money by combining rewards or interest, it is usually not worth the time and hassle. Your personal checking account should be simple, easy to use and easy to manage. If you run a business, you should look into opening a separate business checking account, which is different from a standard checking account.

How do the ATM networks like MoneyPass and Allpoint work?

An increasing number of financial institutions are online-only (like some of the banks profiled above), without their own branches or ATM networks. Given this, an online bank will partner with established networks like MoneyPass or Allpoint, which place ATM locations in popular retail establishments such as pharmacies, grocery stores and convenience stores. People with an online checking account can use a “Find a nearby ATM” feature on their bank’s website or mobile app before making an ATM withdrawal to insure they will not incur an ATM fee if their financial institution does not offer ATM fee rebates.

How much interest can I earn with a checking account vs. with a savings account?

While many accounts use an APY as a selling point, it is important to note that a checking account’s interest rate will rarely net you much. A balance of $2,500 at a 0.10% APY earns you roughly $2.50 annually. In contrast, savings accounts generally deliver between 0.60% and 1%, which would net you between $15 and $25 per year. Therefore, if you are looking for an interest-bearing checking account, you are not going to find a great or even good one. Go for a savings account instead.

The 5 Best Savings Account of 2021

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