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When is free checking not really free? These days, many banking institutions offer checking accounts that they claim are free, but come with pesky fees and minimum balances.
A true free checking account is just that: free. There is no cost to open it and certainly no fees for keeping it open. Furthermore, some offer competitive interest rates and other amenities.
Where to get real free checking
If you’re a consumer looking for real free checking, you might want to steer clear of ginormous banks with national names.
Many smaller banks, especially online institutions and credit unions, offer far better deals when it comes to checking. While many people still prefer traditional brick and mortar banks over the digital variety, online banks are on the rise. Since they don’t have a lot of the overhead that traditional banks have, they can pass those savings to their customers.
Here are some online banks that you should definitely take a look at for free checking:
Ally: This bank is online-only and features around-the-clock live customer service, which sets it apart. Not only are there no monthly fees, but you can use any Allpoint ATM in the country for free and be reimbursed up to $10 for fees charged at other banks’ ATMs. The reimbursement is good once per statement cycle.
Simple: This online-only bank has no out-of-network ATM fee and requires no minimum amount to keep the account open. We love the “Safe-to-Spend” feature that automatically factors in your upcoming bills.
Radius: This one is online-only as well and features free access to your funds at ATMs across the globe. You can also earn up to 0.9% APY (annual percentage yield).
Free USAA Classic Banking: This one is online-only and features a host of amenities, including free direct deposit, no monthly maintenance fees, free transfers and no minimum balance requirement.
Another great option for free checking is credit unions. While most credit unions, which are classified as nonprofits, require some affiliation to join, many do not — and more and more people are taking advantage.
According to Bankrate.com’s 2017 Credit Union Checking Survey, 84% checking accounts at credit unions had zero monthly maintenance fees. That figure is up from 72% in 2015, the study reported.
Here are some smaller institutions that offer free or nearly free checking with some pretty awesome bells and whistles:
Alliant, which bills “free checking without the gotchas,” offers no minimum balance requirement.
Delta Community College, which is affiliated with Delta Airlines, also offers free checking, even with automatic overdraft protection.
First Tech Credit Union charges $1 to open a free checking account but has no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance fees. They do, however, charge a $28 nonsufficient funds fee.
Digital Federal Credit Union also charges a $1 fee to open a free checking account but has no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance fees. They charge a $30 nonsufficient funds fee.