The best rewards checking accounts of January 2021

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The best rewards checking accounts of January 2021

BankStandout featureOpening depositAPY

Discover Cashback Debit Account

Best for cash back rewards$0None

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Best interest rate for banks$50Up to 1.25% APY

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Best interest rate for credit unions$50.10% to 4.09% APY

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Best for a sign-up bonus$200None

When you think of bank accounts that offer the best bang for your buck, your mind might jump to a high-yield savings account, money market account, or CD.

In many cases, checking accounts are just places to hold your cash until you spend it. But a rewards checking account can work just as hard for you as a savings account can.

A good rewards checking account should offer a promotion that's enticing enough to make you choose that account over any other. The reward should also be relatively easy to obtain, whether it's cash back, interest, or a sign-up bonus.

You also don't want to sign up for a checking account that offers a great reward, only to be bogged down by high fees or poor customer support once you've opened the account. It's important that a rewards checking account be a good fit overall.

Below we've listed our picks for the best rewards checking account right now. We know "best" means something different for everyone, so we've listed each bank account's strengths, as well as its limitations.

Our expert panel for this guide

We consulted banking and financial planning experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best rewards checking accounts for your needs. You can read their insights at the bottom of this post.

We're focusing on what will make a checking account most useful, including rewards, costs, and more.

How our list compares to other publications

Research is an important part of choosing a rewards checking account, and Business Insider isn't the only website looking for the best rewards. To help you make a decision, we've compared our top picks with lists from other publications.

Keep in mind that each publication has different methodologies for identifying the "best" rewards checking accounts. We included a checkmark under each publication name if it also recommended an account we chose in its roundup.

 Personal Finance InsiderNerdWalletSmartAssetValuePenguin
Discover Cashback Debit
Axos Bank Rewards Checking 
Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking  
Chase Total Checking® 

We looked at the rewards when choosing our top picks — but we also looked at factors like how easy it is to get the reward, fees associated with accounts, and other perks or limitations.

Best for cash back rewards

Discover Cashback Debit Account

Discover Discover Cashback Debit AccountAxos Axos Bank Rewards CheckingConsumers Credit Union Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking AccountChase Chase Total Checking®

APY
Min Deposit
Featured Reward
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • 3.5 out of 5 Stars
    Editor's Rating
    APY

    None

    Min Deposit

    $0

    Featured Reward

    $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct depositA five pointed star

  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • A five pointed star
  • 3.5 out of 5 Stars
    Editor's Rating
  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
    • Enjoy a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit
    • Access to 16,000 Chase ATMs and nearly 4,900 branches
    • Chase Mobile® app: Manage your accounts, deposit checks, transfer money and more — all from your device
    • Open your account online now
    • Available online nationwide except in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. For branch locations, visit locator.chase.com.
    • FDIC insured
    Pros
    • No required opening deposit
    • Almost 4,900 branches
    • Cash sign-up bonus
    Cons
    • $12 monthly fee unless you meet direct deposit or minimum balance requirements
    • $2.50 fee for out-of-network ATMs
    • No out-of-network ATM fee reimbursements
    • 3% foreign transaction fee
    • $34 overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees

    Why it stands out: The Chase Total Checking® account pays a solid sign-up bonus of $200. You can find higher cash bonuses, but usually at banks that either have fewer locations than Chase or charge higher monthly fees. Chase also makes it easy to qualify for the $200 reward.

    How to get the reward: Open an account by January 20, 2021. Make a direct deposit within 90 days of opening the account, and keep the account open for six months, or the $300 will be deducted from your account at closing.

    Monthly fee: $12

    What to look out for: Monthly service fee. The $12 fee is a little steep, but Chase gives you several ways to waive it.

    Other rewards checking accounts we considered, and why they didn't make the cut:

    • Axos Bank™ CashBack Checking (Member FDIC): You'll earn 1% cash back, but you must maintain a $1,500 minimum balance.
    • Radius Bank Rewards Checking (Member FDIC): You need a minimum balance of $2,500 to receive cash back or earn interest with Radius. But if you qualify, then you can earn cash back on an unlimited amount.
    • Redneck Bank Rewards Checkin' Account (Member FDIC): You'll earn a high APY on balances up to $10,000, and a decent APY on any amount over $10,000 — but you need an opening deposit of at least $500.
    • Kasasa checking accounts: Kasasa is a company with partner banks all around the United States. You'll likely find a good rewards checking account if there is a partner bank near you, but rewards vary from bank to bank.
    • Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking (Federally insured by NCUA): You'll earn a high APY on balances under $15,000, but only residents of certain parts of the US can join this credit union.
    • HSBC Premier Checking (Member FDIC): You can earn a $450 bonus when you set up this account, or earn a 3% cash bonus up to $600, but you'll pay a $50 monthly fee unless you meet some lofty qualifications.
    • Associated Bank (Member FDIC): You'll earn a $200, $300, or $500 sign-up bonus, but there are only branch locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.
    • SunTrust Essential Checking (Member FDIC): You may earn $200 for signing up for this account, but it's not quite as easy to qualify as with Chase.
    • PNC Bank Virtual Wallet Checking Pro (Member FDIC): You may be eligible for a $200 sign-up bonus, but you might not like this account if you prefer traditional bank accounts.
    • HSBC Advance Checking (Member FDIC): You can receive $200 sign-up bonus or earn a 3% cash bonus (up to $240), but there's a $25 monthly service fee.
    • Citibank Basic Banking Package (Member FDIC): You'll get a $200 bonus, but it's harder to qualify for the bonus than with Chase.
    • Huntington 5 Checking (Member FDIC): There's no minimum deposit, and the $5 monthly fee is relatively easy to waive — but it's a little harder to qualify for the bonus than with Chase.
    • Huntington Asterisk-Free Checking (Member FDIC): There's no opening deposit or monthly fee with this checking account, but the $150 bonus is less than what you'll get with Chase.
    • City National Bank (Member FDIC): You'll receive a $100 bonus when you open one of several checking accounts, which is less than what you'll earn with Chase.
    • Bank of America (Member FDIC): This $100 bonus is significantly lower than Chase's $200 bonus.

    Frequently asked questions

    Why trust our recommendations?

    Personal Finance Insider's mission is to help smart people make the best decisions with their money. We understand that "best" is often subjective, so in addition to highlighting the clear benefits of a financial product or account — a high APY or sign-up bonus, for example — we outline the limitations, too. We spent hours comparing and contrasting the features and fine print of various products so you don't have to.

    How did we choose the best rewards checking accounts?

    We reviewed over two dozen rewards checking accounts to identify the strongest options. We also cross-referenced our list against popular comparison sites like SmartAsset and NerdWallet to make sure we didn't miss a thing. 

    We looked at the reward offered by a checking account — such as a high APY or sign-up bonus — but we also considered how easy or difficult it is to receive a reward. And we considered other factors that make a checking account strong or weak, including opening deposits, monthly fees, and ATM accessibility.

    What is a rewards checking account?

    A rewards checking account is one that offers more than just a place to store your money before you spend it. It offers rewards such as cash back, a high APY, or a sign-up bonus.

    Typically, you have to meet certain qualifications to receive a reward, like maintain a minimum account balance or use your debit card a certain number of times per month. Or there are limitations — for example, you can earn cash back up to a certain dollar amount per month, or you earn a high rate on balances up to $10,000.

    What bank has the best rewards program?

    Right now, the banks that offer the best rewards programs are Discover Bank (Member FDIC), Axos Bank (Member FDIC), Consumers Credit Union, and Chase. However, you can check our "Other rewards checking accounts we considered" section to see if another bank has a rewards program that suits your needs.

    What is a cash back checking account?

    You've probably heard about cash back credit cards, but there are a few cash back checking accounts, too. When you swipe your debit card, you earn a percentage of the money you spend back into your checking account — it's sort of like getting a discount on every purchase you make with your debit card.

    Do debit cards earn rewards?

    Typically, debit cards do not earn you rewards — but debit cards attached to rewards checking accounts are the exceptions.

    Many rewards checking accounts link your reward to your debit card in some way. You may earn cash back when you swipe your debit card or qualify for a higher APY if you swipe your debit card a certain number of times per month. However, not all checking account rewards are tied to debit cards.

    Are interest checking accounts worth it?

    It depends. Most banks place more emphasis on earning interest with a savings account than with a checking account. Because you probably spend from your checking account and deposit money into your savings account, your checking account balance gets smaller and smaller (at least until payday), and your savings account ideally gets bigger and bigger. 

    If you tend to keep a lot of money in your checking account, then an interest-bearing checking account could be worth it. If your balance typically stays low, you may want to look for a reward other than a high APY, like cash back or a sign-up bonus.

    The experts' advice on choosing the best rewards checking account for you

    To learn more about what makes a good checking account and how to choose the best fit, four experts weighed in:

    • Tania Brown, Certified financial planner at SaverLife
    • Roger Ma, certified financial planner with lifelaidout® and author of "Work Your Money, Not Your Life"
    • Mykail James, MBA, certified financial education instructor, BoujieBudgets.com
    • Laura Grace Tarpley, associate editor of banking, Personal Finance Insider

    Here's what they had to say about checking accounts. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity.)

    What makes a checking account good or not good?

    Roger Ma, CFP:

    "I would look at the ATM branch locations and then minimum balance amounts to not incur a monthly fee … I think there's other stuff that could make life easier, whether it's a free checks, online bill pay, are they in the Zelle network?"

    Laura Grace Tarpley, Personal Finance Insider:

    "I would make a list of the top three to five things you want out of a checking account. Is it a great mobile app, 24/7 customer support, no ATM fees? Then research the best banks for those features."

    How can someone determine whether a bank is the right fit for them?

    Tania Brown, CFP:

    "Obviously, you want to make sure it's FDIC insured. Also, your banking experience — do you like walking into a bank? Well, then you need someone local. Do you just not care if you ever see your bank? Then you're okay online. Do you write checks? Do you not write checks? So it's thinking through how your experience with it is going to be before you make that decision."

    Mykail James, CFEI:

    "The No. 1 thing about a checking account is you should know what provider the debit card is coming from. And a lot of people don't think about that, because there are places that don't accept MasterCard or don't accept an Amex."

    How should someone decide whether to choose a rewards checking account with a high APY, cash sign-up bonus, or cash back?

    Tania Brown, CFP:

    "I have checking accounts with all the above, because I use checking accounts for different purposes. I would tell someone, think through the experience of how you're going to use it. So I have my account strictly for bills and I don't attach a debit card to that. Well, I'm not going to get a lot of cash rewards out of that, because I rarely use that debit card, but I keep a pretty decent balance. So that one I use in particular for interest. I have a spending checking account. That one, I don't care if the balance is zero, the money that goes in there, I expect for it to go out. But because I use that often, that is the one I attached to a cash reward. And then I have another one that I use just for travel, and I actually have a travel reward attached to that one."

    Roger Ma, CFP:

    "I think if you're someone who is responsible with credit, then instead of focusing on a checking account that rewards you, look to a credit card that rewards you for the areas where you spend money. I wouldn't recommend people waste their time with a rewards checking account. Get the fundamentals right with fewer checking or savings accounts, and then start to move toward using a credit card to build your credit."

    This post was most recently updated on December 29, 2020.

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