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Checking account ratings methodology
How we rate checking accounts
A checking account is a core component of money management: It’s where your paycheck is likely deposited and where your bills are paid from. Our editorial team objectively compares and ranks these instrumental accounts to provide you an overall rating of how useful each can be to your overall money management strategy.
Our ratings are designed to help you compare the overall performance of a checking account or related spending-focused app and debit card — and not just the numbers. We analyze and weigh evenly seven distinct factors of checking: monthly fees, the ease at which monthly fees can be waived, the breadth of ATM networks, ATM fees, overdraft fees, features and customer service. But we rate APY and requirements to earn APY separately because interest isn’t a common checking account feature. We only consider this factor when rating interest-bearing checking accounts. For those that don’t earn interest, we don’t weigh an APY rating.
Our ratings are designed to provide you with a starting point. But what’s good for one person might not be best for your needs. Read our comprehensive reviews before signing up for a checking account, app or debit card.
We rate saving accounts using a system of one to five stars.
★★★★★ — $0/month
★★★★★ — Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Subpar
★★★★★ — Poor
How we rate monthly fees
Monthly maintenance fees on checking or spending accounts are becoming a sticking point within the industry, so our first two ratings scores focus on how easy it is to avoid paying a regular fee.
We reserve excellent ratings for accounts that forgo monthly fees. And the higher the potential fees on a checking account or the harder it is to get that fee waived, the lower its score.
Monthly fees can add up quickly, eating into your hard-earned income. While many banks offer to waive monthly fees on checking accounts, the balance some of them require you to keep up in order to avoid paying can be steep. And it often doesn’t earn you much interest, if at all. That money would grow more more quickly stored away in a savings account. We rate monthly fees based on this scale:
★★★★★ — $0/month
★★★★☆ — $1 to $5/month
★★★☆☆ — $6 to $10/month
★★☆☆☆ — $11 to $25/month
★☆☆☆☆ — $26+/month
How we rate ATM access and fees
Behind avoiding fees, accessing your money is often high on the list of important checking features. We reserve excellent ratings for accounts with banks that offer or partner with others to offer free access to the largest number of ATMs. Those with small networks or limited affiliations with ATM networks earn lower ratings.
ATM fees can also be a drain or hinder access to your money, so accounts with free ATM access, fee rebates or low ATM transaction fees fare better in our ratings.
★★★★★ — 50,000 or more ATMs
★★★★☆ — 35,000 to 49,999 ATMs
★★★☆☆ — 15,000 to 34,999 ATMs
★★☆☆☆ — 5,000 to 14,999 ATMs
★☆☆☆☆ — Fewer than 5,000 ATMs
How we rate overdraft fees
Checking accounts are designed for the constant inflow and outflow of money, but it means that your balance may run low before payday. We understand that banks need to protect themselves from losing money, but we also recognize that overdraft fees are a major source of pain for account holders. Many fees are excessive, given the advancements in technology and alternatives available to help you cover temporary shortages. For our ratings, the higher the fee, the lower the score.
★★★★★ — $0
★★★★☆ — $1 to $32
★★★☆☆ — $33 to $35
★★☆☆☆ — $36 to $38
★☆☆☆☆ — $39+
How we rate features
Checking accounts give you easy access to your money. But some offer features that set them apart from other accounts. For instance, some may offer rewards, automations, budgeting tools, cryptocurrencies and/or ATM reimbursements. We rate these accounts based on the number of features available.
★★★★★ — 5 or more features
★★★★☆ — 3 to 4 features
★★★☆☆ — 2 features
★★☆☆☆ — 1 feature
★☆☆☆☆ — No features
How we rate APYs
Since most checking accounts don’t earn interest we don’t consider this factor when rating APY. However, if it’s an interest-bearing checking account, we rate and weight them based on the following interest rates.
★★★★★ — 1%+ APY
★★★★☆ — 0.11% to 0.99% APY
★★★☆☆ — 0.04% to 0.10% APY
★★☆☆☆ — 0.01% to 0.09% APY
★☆☆☆☆ — We don’t issue ratings on this metric
How we rate requirements to earn interest
Although there are some checking accounts that earn interest, some make you jump through hoops to earn it. For instance, some may require you to maintain a specific minimum daily or monthly balance, make a certain number of deposits and/or complete a certain number of transactions with your debit card. For interest-bearing checking accounts we rate, we consider the following ratings based on account restrictions to earn interest.
★★★★★ — No APY requirements / Paid out on a daily/monthly basis
★★★★☆ — Easy APY requirements (e.g., keeping a low minimum balance or direct deposits)
★★★☆☆ — APY Interest paid out on a quarterly basis
★★☆☆☆ — Requires a high balance or high amount of transactions each month
★☆☆☆☆ — Difficult requirements / Paid out on an annual basis
How we rate customer support
We base our customer review rating based on how many options you have to reach a rep. When weighing options, we consider how you can communicate with the bank about your account. Higher ratings go to banks that offer phone support beyond traditional business hours, along with email, live chat and social media options.
★★★★★ — 5 or more options
★★★★☆ — 4 options
★★★☆☆ — 3 options
★★☆☆☆ — 2 options
★☆☆☆☆ — 1 option
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