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10 Best Online Checking Accounts

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Checking accounts are one of the most under-estimated income- and benefit-generating financial accounts there is.

When it comes to looking for high-yield, investors and consumers naturally gravitate toward high interest deposit accounts and certificates of deposit, as well as other investments. 

But the right checking account can also work to improve your financial situation, in much the same way as high interest deposit accounts.

It’s for this reason that we put together our list of the 10 best checking accounts in 2021.

Quick Summary of Best Checking Accounts in 2021

Product

APY

Learn More

Radius Bank logo

Radius Bank Rewards Checking

0.75%

With $2,500 minimum balance

at Radius Bank,

Member, FDIC

Axos Bank logo

Axos Bank™ Rewards Checking

2.10%

With $0 minimum balance

at Axos Bank™,

Member, FDIC

Chime Bank Logo

Chime Spending Account

N/A

at Chime,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Novo Bank logo

Bank Novo

N/A

at Bank Novo,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Level Bank logo

Level Bank

2.10%

With $0 minimum balance

at Level,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Starling Bank logo

Starling Bank

0.5% AER

With up $2,000 minimum balance

at Starling Bank,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Varo Bank Logo

Varo Bank Account

N/A

at Varo,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Ally Bank logo

Ally Bank Interest Checking

.10%

With $0 minimum balance

at Ally Bank,

Member, FDIC

Tiaa Bank logo

TIAA Bank

0.25%

With $0 minimum balance

at TIAA Bank,

Member, FDIC

Qapital logo

Qapital App

N/A

Equally important is that, with only one exception, none of the 10 best checking accounts charge monthly service fees.

(Qapital is a banking app that charges a monthly plan fee, but more than offsets that with thousands of dollars per year in potential savings).

Some of the accounts on the list are also interest-bearing.

In some cases, the interest being paid is minimal.

But in others, it rivals that of high interest savings accounts and money markets and is well above interest being paid on deposit accounts by the vast majority of local banks.

About the Banks on Our List

best checking accounts

Our selection of the banks on his list is not arbitrary.

Many are what are referred to as neobanks or challenger banks.

Neobanks are direct banks that operate only online or through mobile apps, and don’t have physical bank branches.

In fact, most of the banks on our list have no local branches at all.

Challenger banks are what we may think of as banking disruptors.

They are primarily new businesses that rely heavily on technology and specialize in very specific niches. 

This is why many of the banks on our list also offer cash back debit cards, which blends the best benefits of both debit cards and rewards credit cards.

In compiling our list of the 10 best checking accounts for 2020, we used the following criteria:

  • Minimum initial deposit: Banks with zero or very small minimum deposit requirements are preferred.
  • APY: We emphasized either interest-bearing checking accounts, those offering cash back rewards, or those connected with high yield savings accounts.
  • Monthly service fee: Nine of the 10 banks we selected have no monthly service fee
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: If a service fee is charged, we included the checking account only if the fee can be avoided with a specific minimum balance.
  • Mobile check deposits: This feature is a requirement in today’s financial world.
  • Foreign transaction fee: We favored those banks that either charge no foreign transaction fee, or those that charge well below the 3% typically charged by credit cards.
  • Availability: The more widely a banking services available, the better. We favored banks that are available in all 50 states, and one that is available only to residents of the UK.
  • Branch locations: None of the banks on our list has a network of physical bank branches.
  • In-network ATMs: Larger networks are more beneficial, since they provide free access to your money in more locations.

You’ll see each of these criteria described under each of the 10 banks on this list.

The 10 Best Checking Accounts for 2021

Rather than ranking checking accounts in numerical order, we’ve instead listed them by the category we’ve judge them to be best for.

This is in recognition of the fact that there is no one best checking account, but rather various checking accounts that will work best for the needs of individual consumers.

Best for Unlimited ATM Fee Reimbursements: Radius Bank

Radius Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: $100
  • APY: 0.75% on balances of $2,500 to $99,999.99 then 1.00% APY on balances of $100,000 or more (no interest is paid on balances less than $2,500)
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: Not indicated
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: None, but provides unlimited ATM rebates

Boston-based Radius Bank is a full-service bank that operates entirely online.

In addition to free checking accounts, they also offer interest-bearing savings accounts and certificates of deposit.

But if they have a specialization, it’s providing business banking services to small businesses.

Various loan programs are offered, however those are provided by third-party partners, and not directly by Radius Bank.

Their Rewards Checking offers a powerful combination of high interest paid on balances over $2,500, as well as 1% cash back using your debit card.

Unique features: Radius Bank Rewards Checking offers unlimited 1% cash back on debit card purchases.

The rewards apply to both online and in-store signature purchases.

However, to qualify for cash back rewards, you must have the account open for at least 30 days and receive at least $2,500 in directs deposit into the account, or keep an average balance of $2,500 or more in the account.

The Bank is also paying a $50 referral fee for each person you refer who opens an account.

Best for Cash Back Rewards: Axos Bank

Axos Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: $50
  • APY: None, but rewards up to 1.25% annualized
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: 1%
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: None, but offers unlimited ATM fee reimbursements

Founded in 1999, and based in San Diego, California, Axos Bank is one of the more interesting banks on this list, and not just because of its checking account.

In fact, it offers five different personal checking accounts, though in this guide we’re going to focus on the Rewards Checking Account.

But they also offer the full range of deposit products, including certificates of deposit, as well as business banking accounts and a variety of business services.

And if you’re interested in investing, you can also do that through Axos Invest – which came into existence when Axos purchased the Wisebanyan robo-advisor investment platform.

Unique features: Rewards Checking is a free checking account, and while it doesn’t pay interest, it has a very generous tiered rewards program.

You can earn a total of 1.25% on an annual basis broken down as follows:

  1. Receive monthly direct deposits totaling at least $1,000, earn 0.4166%
  2. Use your Axos Visa Debit Card for at least 10 transactions per month ($3 per transaction minimum), earn another 0.4166%
  3. Use your Axos Visa Debit Card an additional five times per month, or 15 times total ($3 per transaction minimum), earn still another 0.4166%

It’s an opportunity to earn rewards totaling 1.25% just for doing what you probably already do anyway.

And not only does the account offer higher rewards, but you can also get unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements, and there are no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees charged on your account.

Best for Totally Free Checking: Chime Bank

Chime Bank Logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • APY: N/A, but 1.60% on the Chime Savings Account
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: $0
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: 38,000+

Chime Bank offers fee-free checking, which they refer to as the Chime Spending Account.

They earn their revenue from fees paid to them by Visa every time you use your debit card.

The absence of fees is a natural draw to consumers, and Chime now has more than 5 million customers, even though it has no brick-and-mortar branches.

Unique features: The SpotMe feature enables you to avoid bank overdrafts. It’s available if you receive monthly payroll direct deposits of at least $500.

But if you qualify, you can overdraw your account by up to $100 without being charged an overdraft fee.

What’s more, it’s designed specifically for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck – which unfortunately describes 78% of workers in the US.

That may help to explain Chime Bank’s rapid growth.

Chime Bank also offers “Round-ups” on your debit card purchases.

Each time you complete a transaction, the charge is rounded up to the next dollar, with the difference deposited into your Chime Savings Account.

That account currently pays 1.60% APY and has no fees.

Another big Chime Bank advantage: no credit check is performed in the application process.

You can open an account even with bad credit.

Best for UK Consumers: Starling Bank

Starling Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: None
  • APY: N/A
  • Monthly service fee: None, 3 British pounds per postal deposit
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Not indicated
  • Foreign transaction fee: None
  • Availability: UK residents only, 16 and over
  • Branch locations: UK only
  • In-network ATMs: N/A

Based in the United Kingdom, Starling Bank was launched in 2014 to help people transform the way they manage their money.

The service currently has more than 1 million customers.

It's named for a bird that’s “sociable, adaptable, friendly and supportive”, all qualities Starling Bank hopes to exhibit.

Account deposits can be made at any local post office, effectively giving you 11,500 “branches” throughout the UK.

Unique features: You can set up Goals to save money for specific purposes.

Like other banking apps on this list, Starling Bank also make use of round-ups.

Each transaction run through your account is rounded up to the nearest British pound, with the change moved into your savings account.

Best for Blending Budgeting with Your Checking: Simple Bank

Simple Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: $0
  • APY: 0.01% in checking account, but 1.75% on all savings balances
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: 1%
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: 40,000+

Based in Portland, Oregon, Simple Bank was launched in 2009.

Though it offers both checking and savings account equivalents, the main twist of this banking service is the budgeting feature.

It operates as a bank account and budgeting app in one. The banking app is built on the concept of giving you complete control over where your money goes.

You can set aside money for recurrent necessities, but also set up goals for specific spending purposes, like an upcoming trip.

You can hold just as much money as you need in your checking account, and move any additional funds into savings, which pays one of the highest interest rates available on a deposit account anywhere.

Your account comes with a Visa debit card, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted, as well as to access cash at more than 40,000 in-network ATMs.

Unique features: The checking account pays interest of just 0.01% APY.

But funds transferred into a Protected Goals Account (savings) pays 1.75% APY on all balances.

And like other banking apps on this list, Simple Bank also offers Round-ups that round-up your purchases to the next dollar, and move the change into savings.

Money placed in your savings accounts are held by Simple Bank’s banking partner, BBVA USA.

Best for Total Checking Account Return: Level Bank

Level Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: None
  • APY: 2.10% + unlimited cash back
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: No, but it is in the works
  • Foreign transaction fee: None
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: None, but 3 ATM fee reimbursements per month

Level Bank is an online banking app that pays interest on your account, and also comes with a cashback debit card, called Level Debit Card.

Level Bank is provided by Zero Financial, Inc., a next-generation financial technology company based in San Francisco that combines debit card functionality with credit card rewards.

But despite the name, Level Bank is not a bank. It’s an organization that offers banking services through a partnership with Evolve Bank & Trust.

Evolve holds all deposits and also acts as the issuer for the debit card.

Interest is actually earned in your Level Bank Account, while cash back rewards are provided by the Level Debit Card.

Unique features: You can earn 1% cash back on online and signature purchases made with your Level Bank Visa Debit card, but to qualify you must make minimum monthly direct deposits of $1,000.

There is no minimum balance requirement, maintenance fees, overdraft fees, or foreign transaction fees.

The debit card can be used with both Venmo and Square Cash.

Meanwhile, you can earn 2.10% APY on deposit balances, with no fees. 

That gives you an opportunity to earn income from your account, from the combination of cash back on debit card transactions and interest on your savings balance.

Best for Checking with the Highest Yielding Savings Account: Varo Bank

Varo Bank Logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: None
  • APY: None on checking, but 1.92% to 2.80% on Savings
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: None
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: None
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: 55,000+

Varo Money is a mobile banking app offering both free checking and high-yield savings, operating entirely as a mobile banking platform.

Not only are there no physical branches, but there’s no online capacity either.

The service provides two accounts, a checking account and a high-yield savings account that pays one of the highest interest rates available at any bank.

Varo offers banking services through Wilmington, Delaware, based The Bancorp Bank, a $4.4 billion banking organization.

The checking account comes with a Varo Visa Debit Card, that offers all the benefits of a Visa card, and allows you to connect with Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Cash App and Venmo.

You’ll earn 1.92% APY on savings balances.

And you can earn up to 2.80% APY, but you’ll be required to make at least five debit card purchases each calendar month and receive at least $1,000 per month in direct deposits.

The higher APY applies only to balances up to $50,000.

Unique features: Varo has a strong emphasis on enabling you to save money.

They offer two features to help you do that. Save Your Pay allows you to have a percentage of your direct deposits automatically transferred into your savings account.

Meanwhile, Save Your Change is a round-up feature that rounds each purchase transaction up to the nearest dollar, then moves the change to your savings account.

Varo also offers a very generous referral program.

If you refer another person who opens an account and makes a qualifying direct deposit of at least $200, you’ll receive a $75 bonus. 

You can earn a total of $500 in referral fees, which you can earn with just seven successful referrals.

Varo also doesn’t run a credit check when you open an account, making it suitable for consumers with bad credit.

Best for Turning a Non-saver into a Saver: Qapital

Qapital logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: None on checking, $10 for investment account
  • APY: 0.01%
  • Monthly service fee: $3, $6 or $12 per month, depending on plan selected
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: N/A
  • Foreign transaction fee: N/A
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: None

Qapital is an app that’s primarily designed to help you save and invest money.

It works as a banking app and micro-savings app in one.

According to the company, the average user can save between $1,500 and $5,000 per year, depending on the plan level chosen. 

There are three plan levels, Basic ($3 per month), Complete ($6), and Master ($12).

The Complete and Master plans come with a Visa debit card, but the Basic plan does not.

Varo not a bank account itself, but an app you connect to your credit card and/or a checking account and debit card with your regular bank.

You’ll have a Goals account and a Spending account.

Funds in the Spending account are held in an interest-bearing, FDIC insured account, while Goals are invested in an ETF portfolio. 

You’ll be able to transfer funds from your Spending account to your Goals account to build your investment portfolio.

Unique features: Qapital also uses the round-up method to accumulate savings through small amounts.

But what makes it different is that it rounds your purchases up to the nearest $2.

For example, if you make a charge of $8.25, it will be rounded up to an even $10, with $1.75 going into your Goals investment account.

But to make saving money fun, Qapital also enables you to create “triggers” to transfer funds to your account.

For example, they have channels with social media platforms, like YouTube, Spotify and Pintrest.

Each time you perform certain activities, such as liking a video, Qapital will transfer a small amount of money into your Goals.

Qapital has all kinds of activities that will act as triggers.

But what ultimately makes Qapital unique among the banking apps on this list it’s that the only one that enables you to move money directly into investing.

Once in your Goals account, your portfolio can be invested in a mix of 12 different asset classes, each represented by an individual exchange traded fund.

Best for Banking Where You Invest: Ally Bank

Ally Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: None
  • APY: 0.10% with less than $15,000, 0.50% with more than $15,000
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: 1%
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: 55,000+, and will reimburse up to $10 per month in fees charged by non-network ATMs

Ally Bank’s Interest Checking account is an interest-bearing checking account with no monthly fees, and none of the fees commonly associated with other accounts.

For example, they don’t charge for domestic or international incoming wires or for cashier’s checks.

However, they do charge fees for other bank services, like returned deposited items, overdrafts, and outgoing domestic wires.

About the only disadvantage with this account is that you can’t make cash deposits, which is hardly unusual with online checking accounts.

Unique features: One of the big advantages to working with Ally is the wide diversity of financial products the company offers.

For example, they offer high interest online savings, money markets, and certificates of deposit.

And they also provide mortgages and some of the most innovative auto financing deals in the industry.

Ally Bank is also an excellent choice if you want to bank where you invest.

Ally Invest is fast growing to become one of the most popular discount investment brokerage services in the industry.

And if you want a managed investment option to go with your self-directed investing, you can take advantage of Ally’s Managed Portfolios.

It’s a robo-advisor with no advisory fees, and a minimum initial investment of just $100.

Best for Pure High Yield Checking: TIAA Bank

Tiaa Bank logo
  • Minimum initial deposit: $100
  • APY: 1.01% for one year
  • Monthly service fee: None
  • Minimum balance to avoid monthly service fee: N/A
  • Mobile check deposits: Yes
  • Foreign transaction fee: Not indicated
  • Availability: All 50 states
  • Branch locations: None
  • In-network ATMs: 80,000+

TIAA Bank’s Yield Pledge Checking account pays the highest interest on all balances of any bank on this list, at 1.01% APY for one full year.

However, after that year is over, the interest rate drops to between 0.25% to a maximum of 0.55%, based on current rates and depending on your account balance.

The attached debit card comes with several protections.

This includes extended warranty protection of up to one year over the manufacturer’s warranty, and price protection, reimbursing you for the difference between the purchase price paid and the advertised price of an eligible item, up to $250.

They also provide return protection, that will refund you up to $250 for an item that a merchant will not take back within 90 days of purchase.

Unique features: Apart from paying high interest on checking, TIAA is a full-service financial services provider.

On the banking side, they offer money markets and CDs, as well as credit cards.

They also offer home mortgages and home equity loans. 

And you can also invest through TIAA, using brokerage services, mutual funds, annuities, and IRAs.

They even enable you to invest in precious metals and foreign currencies.

FAQ's

With the cashback offers you frequently referred to cash back being paid on signature purchases – exactly what are they?

The debit card is a Visa card or Mastercard, which means you can run it for purchases like a credit card. These are what are referred to as signature purchases, because you’re frequently required to sign for the transaction.

A signature purchase is one that’s completed without entering your personal identification number for your debit card. To take full advantage of the cash back offers, you’ll need to run both in-store and online purchases as credit card transactions, not debit card transactions.

Isn’t it a major disadvantage that a bank has no local branches?

In today’s banking environment, a lack of physical bank branches is no longer a serious issue. The reality is that in an age of electronic money, most transactions take place through the Internet anyway.

And since you can now access banking through either online or mobile platforms, there’s hardly a need to go into a bank branch anymore.

You didn’t mention the availability of paper checks with any of the banks on the list. Isn’t that a disadvantage?

Not really. The reality is that paper checks are fast disappearing from banking. With the availability of electronic transfers, online bill pay, person-to-person transfers, and debit card payments, checks are increasingly becoming unnecessary.

Paper checks are also inconvenient. It takes more time to fill out and mail a check than does to make a payment through an online or mobile app. And perhaps more important, paper checks expose you to potential identity theft. A paper check is also a paper trail, which means you’ll have a document floating around that has personally identifying information.

Think about it – a typical paper check includes your name, your bank routing number, and your personal account number. That’s all a thief would need to access your bank account and obtain control of your identity.

But with that said, most of the banks on our list do enable you to issue electronic checks, and some even make paper checks available on request.

How important is interest yield on a checking account?

Though some of the checking accounts on this list pay impressive interest, it’s not as important as it seems at first glance. That’s because the checking account is, first and foremost, a transaction account.

You’ll deposit money into the account, but then quickly spend it to cover expenses and transfers. After the funds are quickly moved out of your checking account, there’s not much balance to earn interest.

What’s more, excess balances in checking accounts are typically moved into high yield savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or investment accounts. High interest on checking is definitely better than no interest at all. But it isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, at least when it comes to checking accounts.

Which is a better deal with a checking account, high interest for cashback rewards?

For the vast majority of consumers, it’s going to be cash back rewards – and it won’t even be close.

For example, let’s say you have an average balance of $10,000 in your checking account all year long, which is earning 1%. That will get you $100 in interest over the course of the year, at what is admittedly an exceptionally high interest rate on a checking account.

But let’s say you make $2,000 per month in purchases – or $24,000 per year – using a cash rewards debit card connected to your checking account. With a 1% cash back rewards structure, that will translate into $240 in rewards.

$240 versus $100; yeah, cash rewards are the better deal. And that doesn’t even count the reality that very few consumers have $10,000 available to park in a checking account primarily to earn interest.

Which Checking Account Should You Pick?

In evaluating the checking accounts on this list, one point becomes abundantly clear: some of the very best checking account plans available are completely unlike traditional checking accounts of 10 or 20 years ago.

That’s precisely because the entire banking industry is changing, and even becoming more consumer-friendly.

For example, notice the rising number of accounts that charge no monthly maintenance fees.

At the same time, look at the number of accounts that also pay interest on your checking account balance.

Then there are the cash back rewards debit cards, that add a touch of credit card rewards to what was once a boring checking account that did little more than charge fees for the privilege of having an account.

In addition, many checking accounts today also incorporate valuable financial services.

Some offer budgeting capabilities to help you better manage your money.

Many provide the ability for you to save money using different strategies that help to overcome what may have been up to this point your own inability to be able to save.

And still others connect with either high yield savings accounts or investment accounts.

Today’s checking accounts are not only more consumer friendly, offering more benefits and fewer fees, but they are also becoming more goal oriented.

Checking accounts are no longer limited to just spending. You can now use them to manage money and even create and fund future goals.

If today’s checking accounts increasingly look less like the traditional checking accounts of yesterday, it’s looking like a win-win for consumers.

Choose one of the checking accounts from our list, and you may find your checking account becoming more like a personal financial assistant, and less like a wellspring of annoying recurring fees.

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