6 steps to choosing the best checking account

  • Decide whether you want a standard, high-interest, cash-back, or other type of checking account.
  • Choose between opening an account at a brick-and-mortar or online bank.
  • Find a checking account that charges low fees and has a strong mobile app.
  • See Insider’s picks for the best checking accounts »

A checking account is a tool for storing money you intend to spend. It’s different from a savings account, which you use to stash away money for the future.

Choosing the right checking account isn’t as simple as opening one at the nearest bank. You want to find one that helps you meet your goals, is affordable, and is easy to access. Here’s how to choose the best checking account for you:

1. Decide which kind of checking account you want

There are several types of checking accounts, and the right fit depends on what you want your checking account to do for you. Here are the kinds you can choose from:

  • Standard checking account: There aren’t many bells and whistles. You just want a place to keep your spending money, and for anything fancier, you’re more interested in a savings account or CD.
  • High-interest checking: Unlike most checking accounts, a high-interest account helps you earn money on top of your money. You can find interest checking accounts at many types of institutions, but they’re most commonly at credit unions. Credit unions also tend to pay the highest rates on checking accounts.
  • Cash-back checking: These accounts also help your money work for you. For example, Discover it® Cash Back pays 1% cash back on up to $3,000 of purchases each month. You could pocket $30 per month, or $360 per year.
  • Other types: Maybe you want to open a checking account for your child or college student. Some banks also have checking accounts that waive fees for senior citizens.

Once you know which type of checking account you want, you can start to narrow down your search.

2. Choose online or in person

Do you want to open a checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank or at an online institution?

Brick-and-mortar banks are good if you want the option to walk into a branch and speak with a professional. But online banks tend to charge lower fees. 

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If you want a high-interest or cash-back checking account, you’ll have more options at online banks and credit unions.

3. Make sure the bank is accessible

You want it to be as easy as possible to access your money. If you’re going with a brick-and-mortar bank, make sure there are branches and ATMs near your home or office. If you travel domestically, you may want a company with a large branch/ATM network so you can access your money when you’re away.

Online banks have ATM networks, too, so make sure there are nearby machines you can use for free.

4. Look at monthly service fees

A monthly service fee is money a bank charges you for working with the company. The fee is usually automatically withdrawn from your account each month.

Online banks rarely charge monthly service fees. Brick-and-mortar banks often impose fees, but you can usually waive them by maintaining a minimum checking balance or setting up direct deposits.

Monthly maintenance fees can really add up. You probably want to either choose a checking account with no fees or one that makes it easy to waive fees. 

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5. Think about other fees

You could face several types of fees with your checking account. Consider the following fees when choosing an account:

  • Overdraft fees. Banks typically charge $30 or more each time you overdraw. If you’re worried about this fee, you could choose an online company that doesn’t charge overdraft fees, such as Varo or Chime. If a purchase would overdraw your account, the banking platform simply denies your transaction. Or find a bank that offers free overdraft protection. For example, by linking your checking account to a savings account, the bank would transfer money out of savings to cover any overdrafts. Keep in mind, some banks still charge for overdraft protection, so find one that does it for free.
  • Out-of-network ATM fees. Most banks and credit unions have free ATM networks. But some charge you for using a machine outside of that network, and the ATM provider charges an additional fee. If you think you’ll use out-of-network ATMs frequently, open a checking account with no ATM fees — and maybe even one that refunds fees charged by ATM providers, like Axos Bank Rewards Checking or the Ally Interest Checking Account.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Do you expect to use your debit card abroad? You may want a checking account that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, such as Capital One 360 Checking or Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking.

6. Consider the mobile app

Do you like to bank from your mobile app? Make sure the bank you’re considering has a mobile app, then look at reviews in the Apple store or Google Play store.

Think about what you’ll need out of the app, too. For example, will you deposit paper checks into your checking account? Find an app with a mobile check deposit tool.

There are numerous great checking accounts out there. The trick is finding the one that’s right for you. By thinking about what you want out of your account and banking experience, you’ll choose one that’s the right fit.

Laura Grace Tarpley is the associate editor of banking and mortgages at Personal Finance Insider, covering mortgages, refinancing, bank accounts, and bank reviews. She is also a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF). Over her four years of covering personal finance, she has written extensively about ways to save, invest, and navigate loans.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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