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Best Free Checking Accounts for September 2022

No-fee checking accounts don't charge you to access your money.

a person takes a photo of a check to deposit it using a mobile app
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

Checking accounts are a critical service offered by financial institutions allowing consumers to safely store and manage their money. While having a checking account may be a requirement for many people, paying to use one is not. Accounts advertised as "free checking" by a bank or credit union do not charge the following fees: 

  • Minimum balance fees
  • Regular transaction or service fees
  • Monthly service fees
  • Withdrawal or transfer fees

By law, free checking accounts cannot charge the fees listed above or limit the number of transactions available per month.

CNET recognizes that keeping more of your hard-earned money is essential for building wealth and reaching your financial goals. Given the plethora of options available nationwide, we've done the work to locate the best picks for free checking accounts. Let's review the best free checking account options available.

CNET's picks for the top free checking accounts

The average monthly service fee charged for checking accounts nationwide is $16.19, according to a 2022 checking account and ATM fee study from CNET's sister site Bankrate. That can put a dent in your resources over time. Some banks will waive service fees to achieve the appearance of free checking when certain criteria are met, such as maintaining a minimum monthly balance or opting for e-statements. Only accounts that offered a purely no-fee checking account paid the highest annual percentage yields and were insured by either the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or National Credit Union Administration for up to $250,000 made our list of top free checking accounts.

Some banks also offer bonuses or rewards to open a free checking account. Terms and conditions vary with each bank. 

Top free checking accounts

Name APY Minimum initial deposit Bonus Locations Overdraft fees
Consumers Credit Union 3% $0 N/A Branches in Illinois, digital banking services $30
Conexus Credit Union 1.75% $0 N/A Branches through the Midwest, digital banking services $45
Axos Bank 1.25% $50 N/A Digital only $0
NBKC Bank 0.5% $0 N/A Branches in metro Kansas City, digital banking services $0
Alliant Credit Union 0.25% $25 $100 Digital only $0
Ally 0.25% $0 N/A Digital only $0
FNBO Direct 0.15% $1 N/A Digital only $33
Capital One 0.1% $0 N/A Branches in nine states, digital banking services $35
Discover 0% $0 1% cash back Digital only $0
Lake Michigan Credit Union 0% $0 N/A Branches in Michigan and Florida, digital banking services $30

More details on the top free checking accounts

Consumers Credit Union
  • APY: 3.00%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: 11 branches
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

This Illinois-based bank has 11 branches located in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Mobile and online banking make this free checking account accessible nationwide. Membership eligibility is open to anyone. The credit union is a part of a national network of 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

  • APY: 1.75%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: 5,600 shared branches
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

Conexus Credit Union is part of the CO-OP Shared Branch network which allows members to visit any credit union in the network to manage financial transactions. There are 67,000 surcharge-free ATMs in the network. Maintaining a minimum of 15 debit card transactions or a net spending total of $450 per month will qualify your free checking account for a 1.75% APY up to balances of $25,000. Membership is open to anyone based on criteria listed on Connexus

Axos
  • APY: 1.25%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $50
  • Number of locations: N/A
  • Mobile banking availability: Only mobile and online banking services are offered

Axos launched in 2000 as a digital bank. Headquartered in San Diego, its Rewards Checking is a completely no-fee checking account that can offer a competitive APY of up to 1.25% based on requirements such as a qualifying, monthly direct deposit, 10 or more debit card transactions per month, and maintaining a minimum required balance in an Axos investment account. Rewards Checking customers also receive unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements.

NBKC logo
  • APY: 0.50%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $25
  • Number of locations: 4
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile banking app available

NBKC has four branches located in Kansas and Missouri. Mobile and online banking services make its free checking Everything Account accessible nationwide. Customers can also withdraw money at more than 37,000 ATMs and qualify for $12 in ATM fee reimbursements per month. It offers competitive rates on deposit accounts, which can be opened via its website.

Alliant Credit Union
  • APY: 0.25%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $25
  • Number of locations: N/A
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile banking app is available (online banking is not available)

Membership is open to current or former employees of Alliant's US partner businesses. Visit Alliant for a complete list of businesses. High-Rate Checking accounts opened by Oct. 7, 2022, are eligible for a $100 bank bonus and $100 donated to a charitable organization if a $100 minimum balance is maintained through the end of February 2023. High-Rate Checking account customers also have access to more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs and up to $20 per month in ATM fee reimbursements.

Ally
  • APY: 0.25%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: N/A
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

Ally's Interest Checking is available nationwide. It offers a robust suite of digital services without charging any fees for minimum balances, overdrafts or official checks. Account holders will be pleased with the surcharge-fee network of more than 43,000 ATMs and the $10 per month in ATM fee reimbursement available.

  • APY: 0.15%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $1
  • Number of locations: 109
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

FNBO Direct is the digital arm of First National Bank of Nebraska. Online checking is a no-fee checking account that provides access to more than 2 million ATMs. The $1 initial deposit required to open an account is reasonable. Any balances over 1 cent are eligible to earn the APY. The account also comes with free fraud monitoring and doesn't charge for stop payments. FNBO Direct is a green-friendly company that has eliminated paper checks.

Capital One
  • APY: 0.10%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: 755
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

Capital One, the 10th largest bank in the US, is an online bank with physical locations that you can visit in nine states across the eastern and southern US. It has also expanded the bank branch concept into a coffee shop styled Capital One Café. The Capital One 360 costs nothing to set up. Balances under $50,000 earn a 0.10% APY.

Discover
  • APY: 0%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: 755
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

Discover Bank is an online financial services company that offers products such as deposit accounts, credit cards, personal loans and student loans. It eliminated fees on deposit accounts in June 2019. The Discover Cashback Debit is a completely free checking account that pays 1% cash back on debit card purchases up to $3,000 per month. The ATM network of more than 60,000 surcharge-free ATMs provides more access to cash nationwide.

  • APY: 0%
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • Number of locations: Nearly 50 branches
  • Mobile banking availability: Mobile and online banking services are available

Membership eligibility is open to anyone. Lake Michigan Credit Union has numerous branches throughout Michigan and more than 10 across Florida. It offers a full suite of robust banking services in-person and virtually. Members can also access financial wellness services. The credit union is a part of the Allpoint network with 55,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

What factors should you consider when opening a checking account?

By law, banks and credit unions cannot charge monthly fees, transaction fees, transfer fees or minimum balance fees on accounts advertised as free checking. Additional charges based on services provided, such as statement copies or overdraft coverage, may exist for some banks. Review the account's terms and conditions fully to ensure you understand any applicable fees.

Pros and cons of a free checking account

Pros

  • Free checking accounts do not charge monthly fees, transaction fees or charge a fee if your balance drops below a minimum threshold.
  • Free checking accounts are offered by traditional brick-and-mortar banks or credit unions, online-only financial institutions, or hybrid companies.
  • Some free checking accounts pay competitive APYs and offer rewards or other bonuses.
  • Many free checking accounts have no or low initial deposit requirements to open an account.

Cons

  • Free checking accounts may require several additional tasks to earn the highest APY.
  • Competitive APYs are often capped at a maximum balance amount.

How can you earn a competitive yield?

Often, competitive APYs offered by free checking accounts are linked to qualified activities. For example, Axos Bank offers up to 1.25% APY if the customers establish direct deposits of $1,500 or more per month, add a loan payment and maintain minimum balances in investment accounts. Axos Bank customers already doing business with the bank should take advantage of the competitive rates.

FAQs

What do you need to open a checking account?

To open a checking account with a US-based bank, you need:

1. A Social Security number.

2. Government-issued proof of identity and legal residency or citizenship such as a driver's license, passport or state ID.

3. Where applicable, a minimum initial deposit.

What are the minimum deposit and balance requirements?

Free checking accounts vary in the minimum initial deposit required. In our list above, that ranges from $0 to $50. Each bank's requirements can vary based on its business model and marketing efforts. A checking account that requires a minimum balance to avoid service fees is not a free checking account.

Are there options for overdraft protection?

Overdraft protection is a service offered by banks to cover the cost of transactions that exceed an account's available balance. Banks can charge a monthly or per transaction fee for this service. Some banks that offer no-fee checking accounts will include overdraft protection at no additional cost. Others waive the one overdraft fee per year as an overdraft forgiveness service. 

An overdraft protection service can be valuable as the average overdraft fee of $30 per transaction can add up quickly.

How can you avoid hidden fees?

When opening any account, review the account disclosures completely to understand the terms and conditions associated with the new account. Sticking with accounts advertised as free checking accounts will help you avoid taking on unknown fees. 

Free checking accounts may charge fees for services such as official check writing. This will all be listed in the account disclosures. If you're in doubt, schedule a call with your customer service representative or personal banker to review all potential fees customers may incur.

Methodology

CNET reviewed checking accounts based on the latest APY information, fees charged and services offered from issuer websites. We evaluated checking accounts from among more than 50 banks, credit unions and financial companies. We selected the accounts that were no-fee checking with the highest APY and were insured up to $250,000 from among the organizations we surveyed.

Banks surveyed include: Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express National Bank, Axos Bank, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Bank5 Connect, Barclays, BMO Harris, Bread Savings, BrioDirect, Capital One, CFG Community Bank, Citizens Access, Colorado Federal Savings Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Credit One Bank, Discover Bank, First Internet Bank of Indiana, First Tech Federal Credit Union, FNBO Direct, GO2bank, Golden 1 Credit Union, HSBC Bank, Huntington Bank, Lake Michigan Credit Union, LendingClub Bank, Live Oak Bank, M&T Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Merrick Bank, Nationwide (by Axos), Navy Federal Credit Union, NBKC, OneUnited Bank, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Quontic Bank, Rising Bank, Salem Five Direct, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Synchrony Bank, TAB Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, Truist Bank, U.S. Bank, UFB Direct, Union Bank, USAA Bank, Vio Bank and Wells Fargo.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.