Where to Find Checking Accounts With No Fees

Free Checking Is Not Dead

Young man writing check on counter of bank
••• Jason Dewey / Getty Images

Free checking used to be a given. Not long ago, banks offered fee-free accounts as a way to get customers in the door. Sure, they lost a few bucks on these accounts, but they more than made up for it with other products and services. Now, checking accounts with no fees are drying up—or at least getting harder to qualify for.

Is it possible to enjoy fee-free checking these days? Absolutely. You just have to know where to look.

Online Banks

Internet bank accounts have consistently offered services over the years for free. These banks are continuing that tradition by offering checking accounts with no fees. Some accounts even pay a little bit of interest on the cash you have in your account, which doesn’t happen with most brick-and-mortar banking institutions. Online banks are especially attractive if you can’t qualify for fee waivers at traditional banks because most online bank accounts are truly free (whether you have $1 or $10,000).

Working with an online bank is a little different. You can’t walk into a local branch to get a cashier’s check, and things may take a little bit longer. However, it’s easy to do business with these banks. Just make sure you have an account at a brick-and-mortar institution (perhaps a savings account with no fees), and that that account is linked to your online bank account so you can transfer money back and forth electronically. To deposit money into your account, set up direct deposit with your employer, and use the bank’s remote check deposit tool, if available.

If you need a suggestion for an internet checking account with no fees, start with the following:

Small Banks and Credit Unions

If you’re not comfortable banking online, small banks and credit unions are also a good place to find checking accounts without fees. These institutions were not affected by the financial crisis in the same way that larger banks were, and they’re willing to offer free checking as a way to build new relationships. To find out about these banks, it’s best to look through local publications and ask people in your community who they recommend.

If you’ve never used a credit union before, you’ll need to find one that you’re eligible to join as a “member.” Don’t worry — it’s not that hard to qualify. You may be able to join a credit union simply based on where you work, where you live, or other general characteristics. Otherwise, credit unions are very similar to banks in terms of the products and services available. Just be sure to research any credit union’s offerings before you join to make sure they have what you need.

Is It Free or Not?

In some cases, it’s not easy to tell whether or not you’ll pay fees in a checking account. Banks may not advertise accounts as “free,” but they’ll end up waiving all the fees for you. Before you rule anybody out, find out what it takes to qualify for fee waivers. In many cases, you just have to set up direct deposit with your employer.

Too Good to Last?

You may wonder if it’s worth switching banks to get a checking account with no fees. If free checking is going extinct, you’ll waste time doing the legwork for a benefit that won’t last. The truth is that checking is changing, but free accounts will be around for a while. Banks have plenty of ways to make money. For example, your bank may earn revenue every time you swipe your debit card at a retailer. So don’t worry; you’re not running your bank into the ground by using a free checking account.