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The best checking accounts of 2019

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My checking account pays me $83 per year for using it.

How?

First, I have an APY that gives me $5 per year. That’s pretty small, but it’s a start.

Then I have an ATM fee reimbursement. All my ATM fees get refunded at the end of the month. If I use the ATM once per month with an average fee of $4, that’s $48 per year.

And finally, my checking account has no foreign transaction fees. I travel internationally twice per year and usually withdraw $500 each time from international ATMs. Some banks have foreign transaction fees as high as 3%. That would cost me $30 for the year. Instead, I pay $0.

Not to mention that I have no minimums and no maintenance fees.

That’s a pretty sweet deal for a checking account.

Our financial lives revolve around our checking account. The majority of our cash and earnings pass through it and we access it all the time. Instead of having a checking account that dings you with fees and limits, get one with the perks that help you live your rich life.

The best checking account for you is largely going to depend on just a few things:

  1. Start with the best default: Charles Schwab checking. This is what I use.
  2. Do you want extra help with saving and budgeting? If so, get Simple.
  3. Do you deal with large amounts of cash or foreign currency regularly? If so, get a bank with a local branch.
  4. Is convenience a priority for you? If so, get a checking account at a bank that you already use.
  5. Do you want a cash back program on your debit card because you’re against using credit cards? If so, get Axos or Discover checking.

The best banks with the best checking accounts

Based on our criteria for what makes a great checking account, we’ve narrowed the options down to this list:

When building this list, we looked at these factors:

User experience

The user experience on a checking account matters a lot.

Unlike a savings account that we might check a few times per year, we’re in our checking accounts all the time. The online and mobile apps need to be decent. Thankfully, most banks have invested in their apps over the past few years, so the overall quality is much higher than it used to be.

We’ve only included checking accounts that have great online and mobile apps.

Fees

I see no reason to ever get a checking account with a minimum balance or maintenance fee. Every bank used to have them. And the big banks were the worst offenders. Then some upstart banks released no-fee checking accounts, which forced most banks to remove their fees.

Nearly all the banks in our list have no minimum balance or maintenance fees. And if they do, we’ve made sure to call them out.

In our opinion, there are too many amazing checking accounts without regular fees to settle for an account that does have them.

Convenience

As you consider the different checking account options, keep convenience in mind. Over time, simplifying your accounts and prioritizing a single bank will become a higher priority.

In the beginning, perks tend to matter more than convenience. Then it tends to flip at a certain point in your financial journey.

Take ATM reimbursements for example. Saving $3-5 every month makes a big difference early on. Then when you reach a certain level, skipping the ATM reimbursement to simplify your life starts to sound pretty appealing.

There’s no right answer here, it comes down to your preference. If you’re not sure, use these guidelines:

  • If you don’t care about having another bank login or you’re setting up your accounts for the first time, maximize your perks. Find the account with the best set of perks.
  • If the thought of managing another account feels like a headache, feel free to sacrifice a few perks in order to get a checking account at a bank that you’re already using.

We looked for checking accounts that either had great perks or other popular offerings that could be bundled together.

Reputation

Right off the bat, we excluded several checking accounts from our list. Mostly from major banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

While not every major bank is horrible, a few of them definitely are. Wells Fargo committed one of the largest banking scandals of all time. And the list of horror stories from Bank of America is seemingly endless.

Some big banks are decent (like Chase), but we didn’t even consider offers from Wells Fargo or Bank of America. These are terrible banks. No matter how good their accounts, we recommend staying away.

Why APY doesn’t matter for your checking account

Lots of checking accounts promote their annual percentage yield (APY). Get another 0.40% return on your cash, sounds pretty amazing right?

Having an APY is completely worthless on a checking account. It’s effectively zero.

I’ve personally used the Charles Schwab checking account for years, which has a 0.40% APY, one of the highest out there.

And yet it earns me only $5 per year.

Why so little? There’s no reason to sit on a bunch of cash in a checking account. Even if you have a relatively high cash reserve (for whatever reason), you’re much better off putting that cash into a savings account, which gets you an even higher APY.

Sacrificing the $5 that you might make from a checking account APY in order to get another perk that’s more valuable is well worth the cost. When you’re looking through checking accounts, don’t even consider the APY. It sounds good in theory but has no real impact on your finances.

Best checking account reviews

Here’s how our top checking accounts all break down.

Axos

Axos has three primary checking accounts, and each has a different set of perks:

Essential

Rewards

CashBack

APY

None

Up to 1.25%

None

Monthly fee

None

None

None

Minimum balance

None

None

$1,500 average daily balance to get 1% cash back up to $2,000 per month

Mobile deposit

Yes

Yes

Yes

ATM reimbursement

Unlimited for U.S. ATMs

Unlimited for U.S. ATMs

Unlimited for U.S. ATMs

Foreign transaction fees

1%

1%

1%

Physical branches

None

None

None

The Rewards and CashBack accounts need a bit more explanation.

First, you can’t get an APY and cash back on the same account. You have to pick one or the other by choosing from one of the accounts.

For the APY on the Rewards account, it’s up to 1.25%. You’ll get 0.4166% each time you meet one of these conditions (do all three for a total APY of 1.25%):

  • Get monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more.
  • Use your debit card for a total of 10 transactions per month (min $3 per transaction).
  • Use your debit 5 more times for a total of 15 transactions per month (min $3 per transaction).

On the CashBack account, you have to maintain an average daily balance of $1,500 over the month. The 1% cash back will also only apply to “signature-based transactions.” This means that the debit card has to be run as credit. Confusing right? Here’s another way to think of it: if your debit card is run as a debit card and you enter your pin, you don’t get cash back. You have to pick the credit option each time you use the card. And the cash back is limited to a maximum of $2,000 per month.

At first, the cash back sounds amazing. Cash back on a checking account seems like an incredible perk.

The problem is that the cash back will only apply when you’re using your debit card. With the minimum balance and the “signature-based” restriction, it’s not nearly as attractive as it could be. That’s an awful lot of restrictions when you could simply use a cash back credit card instead. By using a credit card, the cash back rewards will be much higher and with fewer restrictions.

I’d only consider Axos if you’re completely against using credit cards and want a checking card that has a debit card with some rewards. In that case, this is one way to get a cash back program without a credit card.

Even the APY Rewards account isn’t that interesting. In order to get the full 1.25% APY, you have to be using your debit card regularly. And if you’re using your debit card, you’re not using your credit card. The extra APY isn’t worth forgoing a credit card rewards program.

Charles Schwab

Perks

  • APY: 0.40%
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursements: Unlimited
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Physical branches: They do exist but there’s usually only 1-2 per city

For perks, Charles Schwab is the undisputed champion.

There are no monthly maintenance or minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees, unlimited ATM reimbursement without any restrictions, and an APY.

If you travel internationally or are looking for the checking account with the best perks, get the Charles Schwab checking account. We can’t recommend it enough.

There is a small catch when opening a Charles Schwab checking account: They require that you also open a brokerage account with them. There are no fees or minimum balance on the brokerage account — it’s completely free. The only requirement is to open the account. You never have to do anything with it. Schwab is hoping that you’ll use them as a brokerage when you’re ready to have one later.

The only real downside to the Charles Schwab checking account is the limited physical branches. If you handle cash or deal with foreign currency frequently, their branches might be extremely inconvenient for you.

As long as you do all of your banking online or get lucky by having a branch near you, get a Charles Schwab checking account.

HSBC

HSBC has quite a few checking accounts to choose from:

Basic Banking

Choice Checking

Advance

Premier

APY

None

None

0.01% on balances above $5

0.01% on balances above $5

Monthly fee

$3/month regardless of balance

$15/month if minimum balance isn’t met

$25/month if minimum balance isn’t met

$50/month if minimum balance isn’t met

Minimum balance

None

None with direct deposit or $1,500

$5,000 minimum balance w/ direct deposit or $10,000

$100,000 across accounts

Mobile deposit

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

ATM reimbursement

None, fee of $2.50 when using out-of-network ATMs

None, fee of $2.50 when using out-of-network ATMs

4 times per statement (U.S. only and doesn’t include NY)

Unlimited (U.S. only)

Foreign transaction fees

3%

3%

3%

None

Physical branches

Worldwide

Worldwide

Worldwide

Worldwide

Compared to the other accounts in this list, HSBC’s offerings aren’t great. There are monthly fees that are somewhat difficult to get waived, the ATM reimbursement is limited, and the foreign transaction fees are super high. None of the perks get competitive until you’re at the Premier level, which requires a $100,000 balance.

Why include HSBC at all?

One reason: some folks need a truly global bank. If you’re doing business internationally, have homes in multiple countries, or have an international lifestyle, the support of a global bank could be well worth the extra fees and lack of perks.

For most folks, skip HSBC entirely and choose one of the other options in this list.

Ally

Perks

  • APY: 0.60%
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: Up to $10 per statement
  • Foreign transaction fees: Up to 1% of transaction
  • Physical branches: None

Ally has a pretty solid checking account.

However, it’s not as good as Charles Schwab. First, it has a 1% fee on foreign transactions. That’s a deal-breaker for me when traveling. Second, the ATM reimbursement is limited to $10 per statement. Third, while the APY is higher than the Charles Schwab checking account, the APY doesn’t matter on checking accounts anyway. Lastly, Ally doesn’t have any physical branches at all.

Ally has a good checking account, but you’ll be better off with Charles Schwab.

Capital One 360

Perks

  • APY: $0 – $50,000 is 0.20%, $50,000 – $100,000 is 0.75%, and over $100,000 is 1%
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: Up to $15 per statement
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Physical branches: A couple of branches or “cafes” in a few cities

Getting a 1% APY sounds nice but the Capital One 360 Checking tiers make it completely irrelevant.

Why would you have $100,000 in your checking account anyway? Even if you’re sitting on cash deliberately, it should be in a savings account, which will always have a much higher APY. And with the lower APY of 0.20% on lower balances, the value ends up being minor.

Don’t factor the APY into your decision to get the Capital One checking account.

That said, all the other perks for this account are pretty good. No maintenance or minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees, an ATM reimbursement up to $15 per statement, and a couple of physical branches if you’re in a major city.

While it’s not quite as good as the Charles Schwab account, it’s really close.

I’d strongly consider getting a Capital One 360 checking account if I already had a Capital One credit card. Being able to keep my accounts consolidated would be a huge bonus.

Discover

Perks

  • APY: None
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: None
  • Foreign transaction fees: None but good luck trying to get a Discover card accepted internationally
  • Physical branches: None
  • Cash back: 1% on up to $3,000 of debit card purchases

The Discover checking account is a bland account. There’s nothing bad about it, but there’s nothing good about it either.

It does have two main perks: no foreign transaction fees and cash back. The foreign transaction fees are irrelevant. I wouldn’t even attempt to use Discover when traveling internationally, I stick to a Visa card. The cash back at 1% is nice, but you’d have to skip a credit card rewards program in order to use the debit card. This is only valuable if you’ve decided to avoid credit cards entirely. It’s also limited to $30 worth of cash back per month. That’s extremely low.

I’d avoid the Discover checking account unless I was already using Discover credit cards and desperately wanted the extra simplicity from having all my accounts in one place. Or if I was avoiding credit cards entirely and wanted a debit card with a cash back program.

Chase

Chase actually has three checking accounts:

Chase Total Checking

Chase Premier Plus Checking

Chase Sapphire Checking

APY

None

0.01%

0.01%

Monthly fee

$12, waived if you have $500 of direct deposits, a balance of $1,500 at the beginning of every day, or an average balance of $5,000 across your checking and savings accounts

$25, waived if you have an average balance of $15,000 across your checking and savings accounts or a Chase mortgage with linked payments

$25, waived if you have an average balance of $75,000 across your checking and savings accounts

Minimum balance

None

None

None

Mobile deposit

Yes

Yes

Yes

ATM reimbursement

None

4 times per statement

Unlimited

Foreign transaction fees

None

None

None

Physical branches

Lots

Lots

Lots

The hurdles that Chase requires in order to get the monthly fee waived is annoying. This is the main downside of the Chase checking accounts.

However, they could still be the best accounts for you. I’d seriously consider a Chase checking account if I was also planning on getting a Chase savings account and knew that I’d easily hit their balance requirements in order to get the monthly fee waived. We have a deep-dive on all the best savings accounts here.

Once we factor out the monthly fee, the Premier Plus and Sapphire Checking are both decent offers. APY doesn’t really matter anyway, both have mobile banking and deposits, no foreign transaction fees, and ATM reimbursements. Plus, we get the added bonus of being able to walk into a physical branch since Chase branches are in most cities.

Basically, the Chase checking accounts are a competitive checking account with all the benefits of a major bank. And if you have the Chase credit cards, you could get all your accounts with one bank, making everything really convenient.

USAA

Perks

  • APY: 0.01% with $1,000 or more
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: $25 to open the account, then no minimum balance after that
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: Up to $15 per statement but there is a $2 fee from USAA on every ATM withdrawal after the first 10 per statement
  • Foreign transaction fees: 1%
  • Physical branches: Branches in Colorado Springs, West Point, Annapolis, and San Antonio
  • Military perks: If you’re part of the military, there’s no initial deposit required, you get a pre-filled 1199A, and you get paid a day early

If you’re in the military, there are a few unique perks that other checking accounts don’t have. But I wouldn’t call them game-changing perks. The 1199A is a direct deposit form. You only have to fill this out once when setting up your new account (unless you switch jobs). This only saves you 15 minutes of time.

Getting paid a day early is kind of nice but only impacts you during the first payment cycle. Then your paychecks will have to last the same number of days as they usually would.

Otherwise, none of the perks are that great. The ATM reimbursement only lasts until $15 and then USAA hits you with a fee after the first 10 per statement. There’s also that 1% foreign transaction fee to watch out for, so you’d want to avoid using this account when traveling internationally.

On the whole, there are better checking accounts to choose from. I’d only consider the USSA checking account if you’re already doing a lot of business with USAA and want to keep your accounts in one place. For example, their car insurance is pretty good.

Simple

Perks

  • APY: 2.02% on “Protected Goals” with a balance of at least $2,000
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: None
  • Foreign transaction fees: Up to 1%
  • Physical branches: None

Simple does things a bit differently than the other banks. Instead of splitting your balances between checkings and savings, Simple has “Goals” and “Save to Spend” sections.

In other words, Simple is more of a combined checking and savings account with an amazing UI that helps you control your spending.

You’ll set up as many Goals as you want and when you want to hit your savings goals. Like saving $2,000 for a trip to Italy in 6 months. Then Simple automatically figures out how much you need to save and regularly reduces that amount from your Safe to Spend amount.

Your Safe to Spend amount is your total balance, minus your Goals and scheduled bills over the next 30 days. Whenever you’re wondering if you can afford something, simply check the Safe to Spend amount and if there’s enough, go for it. This helps immensely with guilt-free spending.

Simple also has a set of reports to track spending across categories over time.

I highly recommend Simple if you’d like an account that makes it easier to save and budget.

Chime

Perks

  • APY: None
  • Monthly fee: None
  • Minimum balance: None
  • Mobile deposit: Yes
  • ATM reimbursement: None and Chime has a $2.50 fee for any out-of-network ATM
  • Foreign transaction fees: No fees on foreign transactions but you do get the $2.50 ATM fee since Chime’s in-network ATMs are only in the U.S.
  • Physical branches: None
  • Early direct deposit: Yes
  • Send checks by mail: Yes, Chime will send the check for you
  • Round-up savings: Automatically round up every transaction to the nearest dollar, placing that extra amount into a savings account

Chime is another bank that combines your checking and savings accounts. It’s similar to Simple.

It has a great UI and a nifty way to help you save. It’ll automatically round up your charges to the nearest dollar, putting the difference in a savings account. Saving a few pennies will add up fast. If you’ve had trouble saving in the past, this will help a lot with hitting your savings goals.

You can also transfer up to 10% of your pay into a savings account. While this is a nice touch, it’s possible to set up an automatic transfer between any checking and savings accounts.

On the whole, we recommend Simple over Chime, since Simple has more features to help you with saving and budgeting.

The 5-step process to finding the best checking account for you

  1. Start with the best default: Charles Schwab checking.
  2. Do you want extra help with saving and budgeting? If so, get Simple.
  3. Do you deal with large amounts of cash or foreign currency regularly? If so, get a bank with a local branch.
  4. Is convenience a priority for you? If so, get a checking account at a bank that you already use.
  5. Do you want a cash back program on your debit card because you’re against using credit cards? If so, get Axos or Discover checking.

Step 1: Start with the best default checking account

If we look at the value of perks across different checking accounts, Charles Schwab beats all the other accounts easily. There are no maintenance fees, no foreign exchange fees, unlimited reimbursement on ATMs worldwide, and an APY.

If you’re looking for the most valuable checking account and the following steps don’t apply to you, we recommend getting Charles Schwab.

For the other options that we’re about to walk through, evaluate those accounts against the Charles Schwab checking account.

Step 2: Do you want extra help with saving and budgeting?

Let’s say that you’re earlier in your financial journey and still developing habits around saving and budgeting.

In that case, I strongly recommend giving Simple a try. It’s a combined savings and checking account with an interface built around helping you save. It’ll also figure out all your bills for you, telling you exactly what you can spend at any given moment, completely guilt-free.

Yes, Simple’s APY on its savings account isn’t as high as other savings accounts. And the perks on its checking account aren’t as valuable as Charles Schwab. But the extra support you get with saving and spending is well worth it in my opinion.

Step 3: Do you deal with large amounts of cash or foreign currency regularly?

As much as I love doing everything online, there are two good reasons to choose a checking account that has fewer perks in order to have a bank with a physical branch nearby.

1. Large cash withdrawals or deposits

If, for whatever reason, you deal with large amounts of cash regularly, you really need a physical branch.

Take my friend for example. One of his main hobbies is gambling. He treats it as an expense and always stays within his budget. He’s in the fortunate position of being able to do this.

He heads out to Las Vegas once or twice a year and withdraws a bundle of cash for the trip. Neither of us has personally tried to see how many consecutive withdrawals we can make from a single ATM, but we don’t really want to find out. In situations like this, a local bank completely solves the problem.

If you need to withdraw more cash than a typical ATM can handle even once or twice a year, it’s worth getting a checking account at a local bank.

2. Foreign currency

If you deal with foreign currency regularly, I’ve found it immensely helpful to have a physical branch nearby.

Years ago, I did a workshop for a Canadian startup accelerator and got paid $4,000 in Canadian dollars. They mailed me a check. While it’s possible to do a mobile deposit with normal checks through my Charles Schwab account, that doesn’t work for checks in other currencies. Luckily, Charles Schwab tends to have a branch in most cities. I still had to drive all the way across the city multiple times to get the deposit sorted out. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with this again. But if I did, I’d get a checking account at a large, local bank just for depositing checks in foreign currencies.

Another perk of having a local branch: exchanging foreign currency back into U.S. dollars. After any international trip, I always end up with $50-100 worth of leftover foreign currency. I consider the airport currency exchange kiosks a complete rip-off. Not only are the exchange rates terrible, a lot of them don’t accept smaller bills. Having a local branch completely solves my leftover foreign currency problem. I can simply walk in, give them whatever I have left, and they deposit it into my account at a decent exchange rate. Problem solved.

So if you’re dealing with foreign currency or large amounts of cash even a few times a year, it’s worth getting a checking account with a local branch, even if the perks aren’t as good. Hopefully, one of the banks in our list has a local branch near you. If you’re not sure, start with Chase, since they have branches all over the U.S.

Step 4: Is convenience a priority for you?

Before jumping into a new account, ask yourself how much you value convenience.

Do you really want to manage a dozen different financial accounts? I know that seems like a lot, but when you factor in checking, multiple credit cards, a mortgage, student loans, 401Ks, brokerage accounts, savings, joint accounts, and all the accounts for your spouse, it adds up really fast.

The more time goes on, the more you’ll value simplicity across your accounts. I know multiple people who have gladly paid ATM fees again just to get a few of their accounts under the same bank.

Capital One is a great option for simplicity, since they have great credit card offers and they have a really strong checking account. While Chase’s checking accounts aren’t as good, their credit cards tend to be among the best. And if you use Discover cards, definitely consider Discover’s checking account.

Step 5: Do you want a cash back program on your debit card because you’re against using credit cards?

Generally, you want to use credit cards for the majority of your spending. With all the travel rewards and cash back credit card options out there, it’s free money back in your pocket. As long as you pay off your credit cards every month, there’s no downside.

But what if you’re still against credit cards? Some folks have trouble controlling their spending on credit cards and others are philosophically opposed. Or maybe their credit score is too low to get a credit card.

If that’s you, there are a few cash back programs on debit cards for checking accounts. Axos and Discover both have great options.

Again, a cash back program on a debit card will always be inferior to credit card cash back offers. You will get less money back by going this route. That said, it may still be worth it for you if you’re trying to avoid credit cards entirely.

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