U.S. Bank Smartly™ checking review: Lots of fees and limitations

A woman with a thoughtful expression uses her smartphone to look into the details of a US Bank Checking account.Image: A woman with a thoughtful expression uses her smartphone to look into the details of a US Bank Checking account.
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U.S. Bank checking accounts at a glance

Physical locations2,000+ branches in 26 states, mostly concentrated in the western and midwestern U.S.
Getting startedEasy to open either online or in person ($25 minimum opening deposit)
Monthly service fee$6.95 (fee waived if you meet certain requirements)
Overdraft fees$36 per transaction (unless you have overdraft protection)
Other feesOut-of-network ATMs, letting your account go dormant, opting for paper statements, sending and receiving wires
How to depositChecks, cash, ACH transfers, direct deposit, wire transfers, Zelle
How to withdrawCash, debit card, Zelle, ACH transfer, wire transfer, money order, check
Notable featureEarn rewards — such as higher interest rates on your savings or having certain fees waived — that depend on the size of your account balance

As the fifth-largest bank in the country, U.S. Bank serves as a one-stop banking shop with options for credit cards, loans, investments and deposit accounts — including checking accounts. Just like other big banks, it has thousands of branch locations for easy access. But you’ll pay for it through very low interest rates, a confusing program and the possibility of paying high fees.

U.S. Bank offers two main types of checking accounts, the first of which — the U.S. Bank Smartly Checking Account — we’ll review here.

5 things to know about a U.S. Bank checking account

Here are some points to take into consideration when considering a U.S. Bank checking account:

1. May be hard to avoid fees

Looking at the sales page for the Bank Smartly checking account, you’d think there weren’t any ATM fees or overdraft fees, and that it’d be easy to dodge the monthly maintenance fee. When you dig into the fine print, you’ll see this can be true — only if you meet a long list of criteria.

In order to avoid these fees, you’ll need to remain aware of the requirements and possibly jump through some hoops. If you’re looking for a no-fee checking account, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

2. Branches more widely available in western and midwestern states

U.S. Bank has thousands of branch locations, but they’re centered more in the western and midwestern U.S. If you prefer to do your banking in person and you live in the Eastern or Southeastern U.S., you might be out of luck.

3. Excellent mobile and online banking

Although U.S. Bank has many physical locations, it also has a global digital footprint. According to the company, about 80% of customer banking transactions and 65% of loans are now being completed digitally. You can use the U.S. Bank app to do just about anything, including looking up bank statements, setting up transfers, depositing checks, paying bills and more.

According to a bank representative, you’ll need to live within a certain distance of a U.S. Bank branch location (determined by your ZIP code) to open a checking account, even online.

4. Earns interest

You can earn interest on the funds you keep in a U.S. Bank Smartly checking account. The rates are variable depending on your “interest tier level” — meaning, the more money you have in your account, the higher the annual percentage yield, or APY, will be.

5. Can earn Smart Rewards

You can unlock more benefits by enrolling in U.S. Bank’s Smart Rewards program. It’s free to join, and once your combined savings and checking account balances reach certain levels, you’ll start earning extra perks — such as fee waivers and discounts or minor boosts to your interest rate.

Is U.S. Bank a good bank to bank with?

If you live out West or in the Midwest and want to bank in person, or you want an interest-earning checking account with a rewards program, U.S. Bank may be a good option. However, you’ll have to be OK with the possibility of paying higher fees and earning low returns on your deposit.

If you want to deal with a more straightforward fee-free bank or you’re searching for in-person banking in other parts of the country, you may want to keep looking.

Does U.S. Bank offer free checking?

U.S. Bank doesn’t offer any free checking accounts. It’s possible, however, to avoid the bank’s $6.95 monthly maintenance fee on its Bank Smartly checking account — if you can meet one of its waiver requirements.

  • You’re between 18 and 24 years old
  •  You’re 65 years old or over
  • You’re a member of the military
  • You have a U.S. Bank credit card
  • You have at least $1,000 in monthly direct deposits into your account
  • You’re eligible for one of U.S. Bank’s rewards tiers
  • You keep an average checking account balance of $1,500 or more each month

Not sure if U.S. Bank is right for you? Consider these alternatives.

  • Ally Bank: If you’re willing to try an online bank, Ally Bank is light on fees and heavy on the interest rate you’ll earn.
  • Alliant Credit Union: If you prefer a community-centered credit union, almost anyone can join Alliant and get access to its banking products.

About the author: Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance writer living in Kirkland, Washington. She has been a professional dogsled racer, a wildlife researcher, and a participant in the National Spelling Bee. She writes for websites such a… Read more.