In 2021, you shouldn’t have to pay for a great checking account. There are enough choices out there to pick from, and you can even be selective based on your priorities for a deposit account. We’ve rounded up 11 of the best free checking accounts of 2021 and covered their advantages and disadvantages here.
In this post you'll learn:
Best Overall – Capital One 360
You’ve heard of this one, no doubt, whether you’re a Capital One customer or not. The Capital One 360 Checking Account is our top pick for the best free checking account overall. This is a fee-free checking account with a solid mobile app, good cash access, and options for getting your money faster and protecting yourself from over drafting.
You can manage this account from a Capital One bank or cafe or manage it completely online from the mobile app, which scores in the high 4’s. Enroll in instant alerts to receive push notifications about your activity. There are no fees for monthly maintenance, low balance, or transfers. Access your money at more than 70,000 in-network ATMs across the country.
You can choose what happens when you overdraft to avoid paying fees. Coverage options include Auto-Decline (transactions declined), Free Savings Transfer (funds transferred from savings or MMA), and Next Day Grace (one full day to transfer the money into your account).
Best for Budgeting – One
For an account that will help you keep your spending in check and save money, check out the One Spend and Save Account. This checking account by One Finance is a unique multi-purpose account that lets you spend, save, and borrow in one place. This checking account is ideal for budgeting and building good habits.
You can organize your money into “Pockets” to allocate funds for different purposes and share these with other people in your household. To help yourself save money, you can enroll in Auto-Save to round up your purchases when using your One card or move a portion of your paychecks over to your savings. One offers an uncapped APY of 3% on Auto-Save balances and 1% on the rest of your savings balance.
Customers can also enroll in Credit Builder to add on-time payments to their credit history, no credit checks required. Customers create a Credit Builder Pocket, use the available money to make purchases or pay bills, and One Finance automatically pays the entire balance at the end of the month and reports the payment to the three major credit bureaus.
Best for Earning Interest – Alliant High-Rate Checking
The Alliant High-Rate Checking Account has consistently ranked as one of the top free checking accounts for a couple of years now. It is best for people looking for a checking account that earns interest. Right now, the rate is 0.25%. Although that’s not knock-your-socks-off great, it is easy to earn and there are no caps.
Rather than requiring you to maintain a minimum balance to qualify for this rate, Alliant lets you qualify by opting into eStatements and making at least one electronic deposit (via ATM, mobile deposit, direct deposit, etc.) per month.
Other nice features include overdraft protection, a digital Visa debit card on top of your physical one, and Courtesy Pay to avoid decline fees when a payment or transfer doesn’t go through. You can access your money at more than 80,000 in-network ATMs and get reimbursed up to $20 per month when you incur fees from using out-of-network machines. The Alliant High-Rate Checking Account is an all-around smart choice.
Best Online-Only Account – Axos Bank Checking Account
If you want to be able to do 100% of your banking from your phone or computer, the Axos Bank Essential Checking Account is for you. This is a basic digital checking account that does everything right. First, there are none of your typical maintenance and account fees. Everything from incoming wire transfers to checks are free, and this account offers unlimited ATM reimbursement as well.
Plus, you can get your direct deposits up to two days early and earn money when you refer friends. The Axos checking account can even be linked to other budgeting and payment apps like Venmo. Customers can reach customer support 24/7. Basically, we didn’t find anything not to like about this one.
Axos also offers a Rewards Checking account and Cashback Checking account. Though these don’t have handy features like early direct deposit and ATM reimbursements and require higher balances and more regular debit card use, they do pay up to 1.25% interest and 1% cashback, respectively.
Best for Business – Novo Business Checking
Business owners can do their banking for free too. The Novo Business Checking Account is best for small business owners, start-up owners, and entrepreneurs.
This is an online-only checking account that doesn’t charge for transfers, checks, or wires and doesn’t have minimum daily balance requirements. Get all of your ATM fees reimbursed, too. Novo can connect to many common payment and management platforms including Stripe, Quickbooks, Shopify, Slack, and Zapier. The minimum opening balance is just $50 and anyone who owns a business, corporation, or non-profit is eligible to join.
For a free and convenient solution to your business banking needs, consider the Novo Business Checking Account.
Best for College Students – Chase College Checking
Students between the ages of 17 and 24 who are enrolled in a college or university full-time are eligible to open a Chase College checking account. This account is free until a student graduates (up to five years) and then costs $6 a month unless waived. There is no minimum balance required to avoid the monthly fee or open an account.
Users can transfer money instantly through Zelle and enroll in account alerts for upcoming payments, low balance, etc. The Chase mobile app is user-friendly and easy to navigate.
All new customers receive a $100 account bonus when they open an account and make 10 qualifying transactions within 60 days. This is a pretty basic checking account in terms of features and usage, but being a customer with Chase means access to a large network of branches and ATMs and decent customer service.
Best for Low Balance – GO2bank Checking Account
The online-only bank account by GO2bank is best for users who intend to maintain relatively low balances. This is because the GO2bank mobile account is eligible to earn an interest rate of 1% on your balance, capped at $5,000. Your balance may exceed this, but it won’t earn interest.
To start earning interest, you can open savings vaults within your checking account and save for different goals. Interest is calculated for each vault and distributed accordingly but you will not earn interest on more than $5,000 across all of your vaults. Refer friends to receive up to $1,500 annually at a bonus rate of $50 per friend you refer. There is a GO2bank secured credit card as well that does not require a credit check to open and needs a cash deposit of only $100.
Just note that this account is only free if you receive at least one direct deposit transfer per month. Otherwise, the monthly maintenance fee is $5. GO2bank also offers up to $200 in overdraft protection to users who qualify to have the monthly fee waived (must opt in).
Best for High Balance – Ally Bank Interest Checking Account
On the flip side, you may be searching for a checking account that rewards higher balances. If this is true for you, the Ally Bank Interest Checking Account may be a good fit. This account earns an APY of 0.10% on balances less than $15,000 and an APY of 0.25% on balances greater than $15,000. There are no minimum balance requirements, but those with high balances will get the most benefit out of this checking account.
Ally Bank is a fully-digital bank, but you’ll still have access to more than 43,000 ATMs. This debit card has excellent security features. For example, you can enable Card Controls to set spending limits for your card, restrict certain merchant categories, or even restrict card use to a certain distance from your phone’s location (all useful in the event that your card is stolen).
This account is completely free except for fees charged for outgoing wires, expedited card delivery, and returned deposits.
Best for Usage Flexibility and Cash Access – Varo
Another online account, the Varo Bank Online Checking Account offers convenience and a modern banking experience. This checking account is best for people who want easy access to their money when they need it, even in advance of when they get paid.
This account comes with a contactless Visa debit card that can be used at more than 55,000 ATMs. You can receive your direct deposits up to two days in advance with this account and may even qualify for a cash advance of up to $100. To be eligible, your account must be 30 days old or older, you must receive at least $1,000 in direct deposit transfers every month, and you must not have any unpaid advances.
This debit card is also eligible to receive up to 15% in cashback on select purchases, deposited into your checking account every time you earn $5. You can see which retailers have the best cashback offers from the app. Open a Varo Savings Account and link it with your checking account to save easily with round-ups and automatic transfers.
Best Mobile App – Chime
Chime has one of the best banking apps out there, making it our pick for the top checking account for people who want a positive mobile experience. The Chime Spending Account stands out for having first-rate customer service and a mobile app that sets the bar high. It has a sleek and simple design that makes it easy to see your activity and manage your account.
There are almost no fees associated with this checking account, other than an out-of-network cash withdrawal fee. You can use your Chime debit card at more than 60,000 ATMs for free.
Users may be eligible to receive between $20 and $200 in overdraft protection if they have direct deposits totaling $200 or more every month. This account also offers advances of up to two days on direct deposits and a round-ups savings feature that will automatically round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and transfer the extra to your Chime Savings Account (if you have one).
Best for Cashback – Discover Cashback Debit
Discover is known for its cashback credit cards, but it also extends its cashback offers to checking account customers. The Discover Cashback Debit card is the card for you if you want to earn money every time you spend money but don’t want a credit card. Users can earn 1% cashback on up to $3,000 in transactions every month, or a total of $30 a month and $360 a year. ATM transactions, loan payments, and peer-to-peer transfers are not eligible to earn cashback.
There are no monthly maintenance fees, low balance fees, or transfers fees for this account. You can use your debit card to withdraw money at over 60,000 in-network ATMs and make instant online transfers through Zelle.
This account is a good option if you want to earn a little extra money through spending rather than through maintaining a balance.
There’s a perfect free checking account out there for everyone, no matter how much money you have or how you plan to use your account. Find a checking account that will help you achieve your money goals and save you money. When opening a checking account, spend some time shopping around and comparing your options. Use this article to help you get started.