How to get a free checking account

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In a Nutshell

Checking accounts come with a wide variety of fees, from ATM charges to penalties for letting your account balance get too low. Asking questions up front can help you avoid a checking account with these unnecessary costs and find one that’s truly free.

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Checking accounts aren’t always free, but if you look carefully and tune into the details, you might find an account that won’t cost you anything.

A checking account at a bank or credit union is a safe place to keep your money. But not all checking accounts are created equal. Some come with a host of costs and fees you might not expect, so it’s important to shop around and compare the fine print before opening a new account.

Here are some of the common costs and fees you might be charged for opening and maintaining a checking account.

  • Initial deposit: The amount of money you’re required to deposit in order to open an account.
  • Minimum balance requirement: The minimum amount of money you’re required to keep in your account in order to avoid fees.
  • Monthly service fee: Monthly charges you incur, which can be dependent on whether or not you meet specific account requirements.
  • Overdraft fees: The charges you receive when you spend or withdraw more money than you have available in your account.

These are just some of the costs that can make a checking account far from free. If you’re looking for a bank account that won’t slam you with hidden fees, here are a few options to consider.

Free ATMs $0 initial deposit $0 monthly fee $0 minimum balance Free debit card Free checks
Discover® Cashback Debit
Capital One 360 Checking
Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Cashback Debit: Discover

Why we love it

Not only is the Discover® Cashback Debit account free, it also earns you 1% cash back on up to $3,000 worth of purchases on your debit card each month. That’s a total of up to $30 a month, or $360 a year, just for making debit card purchases.

Discover® Cashback Debit account holders also benefit from First Fee Forgiveness. That means the first fee of the year that’s charged to your account — whether it’s an insufficient funds fee or stop-payment fee — will be waived. The exception is wire transfer fees, which are not included in First Fee Forgiveness and won’t be waived.

Watch out for

There are a handful of ways to deposit money to this account — online transfer, direct deposit, mobile checking — but Discover’s banking is all done online, so you can’t deposit cash or checks at an ATM or bank branch.

Capital One 360 Checking®

Why we love it

Capital One’s 360 Checking® account gives you the flexibility of choosing one of four different overdraft protection options. Here’s what you can choose from.

Auto-Decline: All transactions that can’t be covered are declined.

Next Day Grace: Capital One covers the overdraft and gives you one business day to repay the balance to avoid a $35 charge.

Overdraft Line of Credit: The overdraft balance turns into a loan you repay at 13% variable interest.

Free savings transfer: Funds are automatically pulled from your savings account to cover the overdraft.

Watch out for

Having your choice of overdraft protection doesn’t mean you can easily get away with frequent overdrafts. With the Next Day Grace option, Capital One can choose not to cover your purchase in certain situations, like if your account is in poor standing or you’ve had too many overdrafts already.

For the line of credit overdraft option, you’ll need to first apply, and then be approved for a line of credit, which involves a hard inquiry into your credit. Regardless of your choice of overdraft coverage, bounced checks result in a $9 nonsufficient funds fee.

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Why we love it

Alliant offers much higher interest rates for this account than the average U.S. checking account earns. And while there’s no minimum balance requirement to earn interest (and no balance cap), any cash that is in your High-Rate Checking account earns 0.65% APY.

Watch out for

In order to earn interest on your account, you have to choose eStatements over paper statements and receive at least one electronic deposit per month. If there’s a month in which you don’t receive an electronic deposit, you won’t earn interest that month.

Bottom line

Having a checking account makes it possible for you to store your money safely and to conveniently send and receive payments. But not everyone can qualify for a free checking account.

If you’ve applied for a checking account but were denied due to your checking history, try applying for a low-risk account. These accounts may lack perks like online bill pay, but they’re designed to prevent you from overdrafting or bouncing checks. A low-risk checking account can be exactly the tool you need to help you start building a better checking history.