5 Best Free Checking Accounts in 2022

We reviewed the checking account offerings from over 60 banks in the United States in recent weeks and in the process analyzed over 200 checking accounts before coming to our view of the best checking accounts in 2022. Collectively, these banks represent over two thirds of the consumer deposits outstanding in the United States. One of the factors that becomes quite clear as you study various bank offerings is that what’s “best” for one consumer might not be what’s best for another given the variety of features each account offers, and so there’s clearly an element of picking and choosing what matters to you the most.

As a result, we have structured our view of the best checking accounts on the market in 2022 into segments to help you find the accounts that offer the “best” when it comes to the features you care about the most. This article focuses on the best free checking accounts currently available.

 

Table of Contents

Why Focus on Checking Accounts?

We chose to focus on checking accounts because they are by far the most important of the bank account options simply because we use them the most often. As our March survey results showed, checking accounts are also adopted to a much more significant degree than other accounts, which holds true for both bank and credit union customers.

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Checking accounts are transactional accounts meaning that banks expect balances to move up and down as the account is used for deposits and withdrawals. A checking account is what we all use to handle several every day banking transactions such as withdrawing cash from an ATM, direct deposits from employers, rent payments, paying credit card bills, sending and receiving payments from friends, making payments on mortgages and other loans, the list goes on. Clearly, in terms of just how frequently we use them, checking accounts are a lot more important than savings accounts. The important point is that as a consequence of these accounts having fluctuating balances, it is much trickier for banks to lend out balances sitting in checking accounts. Therefore, they have to implement rules to ensure a minimum amount is always kept in these accounts or find ways to get compensated for providing these accounts to their customers. So, not only do we use checking accounts a lot more than pretty much any other bank account type, but more of us have them and they can be very costly if you don’t choose wisely – these three points are the reasons why we chose to focus on checking accounts for this study.

5 Best Free Checking Accounts

Banks need to find a way to generate a profit using their customers’ balances. With savings account which have much less volatile balances, the banks profit by lending out those balances and earning interest on the loans – doing this with a checking account is complicated given its transactional nature, and so the majority of banks enforce account minimums and/or monthly account fees to compensate for this (in addition to charging for a host of other services). When we say “best free checking accounts” we are referring to checking account offerings that are free to open and free to maintain, that is, these accounts have no monthly costs and no minimum balances. In addition, we were looking for accounts that threw in some additional freebies for everyday banking items on top of being free to use. These are 5 best options we found:

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Each one of these 5 checking account options are currently offered totally free: there are no monthly costs to simply have the account, and no minimum balance required in order to keep the account free. In fact, four out of the five accounts also have no minimum deposit required to open the account¬† – the exception is CIBC which has a a $50 minimum. It’s important to note that the monthly fee for the account isn’t all that banks charge for. There is a long list of additional costs associated with everyday banking services including the following:

  • ATM Fees
  • Foreign Exchange Fees
  • Wire Transfer Fees (incoming and outgoing)
  • Overdraft and NSF Fees
  • Teller Services Fees
  • Safety Deposit Boxes
  • Account Research

We scored each account based on these metrics and summarize our findings below. In short, if you’re looking for a checking account with the lowest possible fees where you don’t have to maintain a minimum balance, these are among the best free checking account options in the market today.

CIBC – myChoice Plus Checking

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) offers one of the most compelling best free checking account options on the market. While the account does not have an account minimum, if you maintain a balance of $10,000 or more that alone can allow you to upgrade to the myChoice Prestige Checking account which has several added benefits to the below:

  • Pros
    • No monthly fee
    • No minimum balance requirement
    • Earns Interest
    • Up to $25 of ATM charges refunded each cycle
    • No annual fee for the overdraft line of credit
    • No annual fee for home equity line of credit
  • Cons

In addition, if you maintain a balance of $10,000 you can upgrade to the myChoice Prestige Checking and see your ATM fee refunds increase to $50 per cycle, in addition to getting free domestic wire transfers, free cashier’s checks and money orders.

Discover Bank – No-Fee Checking

Discover is traditionally a credit card card issuer which owns the PULSE network, Discover card and Diners Club card. We suspect their effort to build a consumer banking franchise is in part why they’ve come up with one of the most unique checking account offerings available today. The account became available in April 2022 and following what the company describes as an “amazing response” they paused accepting new customers as they worked on being able to support the significant demand for the product.

The checking account offering allows cardholders to earn 1% cashback on debit card purchases up to $3,000 a month. This means that you can literally make $30 each month for having this account and actively using your debit card. Being able to actually make money from a free checking account makes this one of the best free checking accounts on the market. It also is a major reason why we included Discover Bank as one of the best banks in NYC.

  • Pros
    • No monthly fee
    • No minimum balance requirement
    • No minimum deposit
    • No charge for overdrafts
    • Free cashier checks and no charge for expedited delivery of checks
    • Earn 1% cashback on debit card purchases
      • Maximum eligible purchases of $3,000 a month
      • Ineligible purchases include: ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders (or other cash equivalents), peer-to-peer payments, payments made using third-party accounts such as PayPal and loan payments
  • Cons
    • No ATM fee rebates
    • Currently not available

Ally Bank – Interest Checking

Similar to Discover, Ally’s original business was automotive finance and traces its roots to the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). Ally Bank wins high marks for is simplicity and transparency around its account features.

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Transparency around fees was ranked as one of the most important deciding factors for consumers during our March 2022 survey and that should position Ally Bank favorably (to be frank, it is surprising how many banks still opt for very complex descriptions of their product offerings). These are the pros and cons of Ally Bank’s Interest Checking:

  • Pros
    • No monthly fee
    • No minimum balance requirement
    • Earns Interest. If you maintain a daily balance above $15,000, Ally Bank currently will pay a 0.25% interest rate on your account balance, which is significantly above competitors who tend to be around 0.10%
    • Will reimburse up to $10 of domestic ATM charges per cycle
    • Free incoming domestic and international wire transfers
    • No charge for overdraft services
      • Overdraft Transfer Service – when you set this up, Ally Bank will automatically transfer funds from your Ally Savings or Money Market accounts without charge.
      • CoverDraftSM Service – provides up to $100 as a buffer as needed for situations where your account gets overdrawn, for free. You may automatically qualify for this account once it is funded with $100 or more.
  • Cons
    • Stop Payment Fees
    • Foreign Exchange Fees (Ally Bank charges a 1% FX fee while most banks charge 3%)

First National Bank of Omaha – Free Checking

First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO) is one of the oldest banks in the country and was first established in 1857. While the name might lead you to think that this is a small community bank in the state of Nebraska, FNBO now operates in 7 states and has over $25 billion in assets. They also have one of the most attractive free checking offers in the country. In addition to the below listed pros and cons, the bank will not charge for account closure or account dormancy, which the majority of banks tend to charge for.

  • Pros
    • No monthly fee
    • No minimum balance requirement
    • No ATM fees charged by FNBO
    • Free incoming domestic and international wire transfers
    • Free Stop Payments
    • One overdraft fee refunded per year
    • Free Cashier’s Checks
    • $25 discount on safety deposit box rental rates
    • Discounts of up to 0.25% on auto, home equity and personal loans
  • Cons
    • Does not earn interest
    • Does not have Zelle

Charles Schwab Bank – High Yield Investor Checking

Charles Schwab is clearly known for their brokerage business which is one of the leading platforms for individual investors interested in trading stocks, bonds, options and other securities. While Charles Schwab Bank’s checking account is attractive in its own right, we think this account is especially compelling for consumers who are also interested in opening a brokerage account at some point in the future. One of the unique features of this account is it offers an interest rate of 0.03% on balances starting at $0.01. Several banks won’t pay interest on a checking account until balances reach a threshold that is often well into the thousands of dollars.

  • Pros
    • No monthly fee
    • No minimum balance requirement
    • Earns Interest
    • No ATM fees charged by Charles Schwab Bank. Unlimited rebates worldwide for any ATM fees charged for cash withdrawal by other banks
    • No fees for foreign transaction
    • Free domestic incoming wire transfers
    • No fee to transfer balances to cover overdrafts
    • No charge for Stop Payments
  • Cons
    • Does not accept wires in foreign currencies or from foreign banks

Other Free Checking Accounts

While the purpose of this article was to highlight the best free checking accounts, we think its only fair to give a shout out to the accounts that are still offered without monthly fees, even though what they offer beyond that might be limited.

  • CIBC – atop this list is CIBC’s iCan Checking Account. The account does not earn interest and requires a minimum of $50 to open. It offers account holders 1% cash back on debit card purchases up to a maximum of $20 per statement cycle. The bank will also refund ATM fees each statement cycle to a maximum of $50.
  • Bell Bank – the bank’s America’s Best Checking account has no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement. You need a deposit of $50 or more to open the account. As of this writing, Bell Bank is offering a promotion where if account holders refer a friend to open an account with Bell Bank, both the account holder and their friend can receive $50.
  • Capital One – the 360 Checking account is offered with no monthly cost and is an interest earning account. Account holders can also receive their first checkbook (with 50 checks) free of charge. That is unfortunately the extent of the freebies – for sure there’s value in the fact that this account is offered for free, but compared to the accounts discussed earlier it should be obvious why it didn’t make the cut for the best free checking accounts.
  • BOK Financial – the Free Checking account by BOK Financial requires a $50 minimum deposit to open but has no monthly fee or minimum account balance. Account holders will receive one overdraft fee refund per calendar year, and can also transfer funds from linked accounts with BOK Financial to cover an overdrawn checking account without charge.
  • Arvest Bank – the Free Blue checking account has no monthly fee or minimum balance but does require a $50 minimum deposit to open. With this account you are eligible for $400 of overdraft coverage but have to get approval from the bank (its not automatic).

Closing Thoughts: 5 Best Free Checking Accounts

Checking accounts play a central role in our financial lives and in many cases will be the account that we use the most frequently. Because of the transactional nature of these accounts, they tend to have a lot more fees than other financial accounts and products which individually might not seem like a lot, but can end up becoming very costly. For example, if you have $2,000 in your checking account on average and are charged a monthly fee of $10, after a 10 year period you would have paid $1,200 in fees – 60% of the total amount you have in the account – just for having the account open!

The situation gets even more dire if you are sending and receiving wire transfers, using cashier’s checks and regularly using the ATM and other services. This realization is at the core of our obsession with free. Where possible you should always look for accounts that cost the least for storing your money while allowing you to access everyday banking services. At a minimum it is important to be aware of the various bank account options available in the market, and we hope this article has been at least somewhat helpful with that.