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What is a checking account?

Checking accounts make everyday purchases and expenses easier.

Of all the banking products and services, checking accounts are one of the most common, useful and straightforward accounts to get. About 86% of Americans have a checking account, as reported by Finder’s Consumer Confidence Index.

Checking accounts allow you to directly deposit your paychecks from work, easily manage money via mobile apps, get a debit card for in-person purchases and much more.

What is a checking account?

A checking account is a type of deposit account designed for everyday spending. It allows you to pay bills, receive direct deposits, make purchases online and in-person, withdraw money at an ATM, write checks and more. A checking account gives you access to a debit card that’s tied to your account’s balance.

Most financial institutions offer FDIC- or NCUA-insurance up to $250,000 for checking accounts. This means your checking account is protected in case of a bank failure.

Most banks, credit unions and fintechs offer checking accounts. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a traditional bank or credit union that doesn’t offer one.

While most checking accounts work similarly, the best checking accounts have no or low monthly fees and offer rewards like cash back — and some even earn interest.

See top checking accounts and their features

Up to 4.60% APY

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  • 0.50% APY on checking balance
  • Up to 4.60% APY on savings
  • $0 account or overdraft fees
  • Get a $300 bonus with direct deposits of $5,000 or more

Up to 2% cashback

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on Upgrade's secure site
  • Up to 2% cashback
  • $0 monthly & overdraft fees
  • Get paid up to 2 days early with qualifying direct deposit

Early direct deposit

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  • $0 overdraft or monthly fees
  • Get paid two days early with direct deposit
  • Withdraw at any ATM in the world
  • Cash deposit in select locations

5 common types of checking accounts

Some checking accounts come with extra perks like cashback rewards or are suited for special circumstances. There are five main popular types:

  1. Interest-bearing checking — A high-yield checking account allows you to earn interest on your balance. But some have balance requirements to earn the highest APY available.
  2. Rewards checking — Similar to rewards credit cards, rewards checking accounts offer perks like cash back, membership points or discounts.
  3. Teen checking — Often designed for teens aged 13 to 17, teen checking accounts help ease them into the world of money management and offer control over their own funds.
  4. Student checking — Typically referring to high school or college students, student checking accounts are known for few fees and are designed to teach basic money management skills.
  5. Second-chance checking — For those with a poor banking history, second-chance checking accounts won’t review your past banking history when you apply. But they tend to charge higher monthly fees in exchange.

Is a checking account the same as a debit card?

No, but they come hand in hand. You can’t get a debit card without it being attached to an account, as it needs to be tied to funds. Also, checking accounts aren’t the only types of accounts that offer a debit card. For instance, you can get one with a money market savings or cash management account.

Common checking account fees

There are over 30 bank fees you may encounter with a checking account, but here are the five most common:

Type of feeTypical costWhy banks charge it
Maintenance fee$5 to $25 per monthBanks may charge this fee to maintain an account and help cover operation accounts.
Overdraft feeAverage of $35A penalty for attempting to run a transaction without having enough money in your account.
ATM withdrawal fee$2 to $3 per withdrawalOften charged when using an ATM out of your bank’s network, and used to cover ATM maintenance costs.
Foreign transaction feeTypically 1% to 5% per non-US transaction, with the average at 3%Charged for making a transaction outside of the US, and may come with a currency conversion fee as well.
Account closure feeUsually between $5 to $50Charged for closing an account immediately or soon after opening the account.

How to compare checking accounts

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a checking account.

  • Signup bonus. Some banks reward you with a checking account signup bonus for meeting certain requirements, like setting up direct deposit or maintaining a certain balance.
  • Opening deposits. Some require you to fund the account immediately, often $25 to $100 upon opening. But many don’t have opening deposit requirements.
  • Monthly fees. Traditional banks often charge you a monthly fee to maintain your account.
  • Travel perks. Larger banks with an international presence can provide you with certain services if you travel overseas, including free cash withdrawals at ATMs or fewer foreign transaction fees.
  • Interest and rewards. While it’s not common for checking accounts to offer interest or rewards, some checking accounts earn cashback bonuses and an APY.
  • Overdraft protection. Some accounts won’t allow you to overdraft on your account, while others allow you to overdraft up to a certain amount but charge a fee.
  • Early direct deposits. Several offer early direct deposit, letting you get access to your paycheck or tax refunds as much as two days earlier than expected.
A photo of Alexa Serrano Cruz, CAMS

Expert tip: Supercharge your finances with modern checking accounts

The world of personal finance has seen a real shake-up thanks to online banking, bringing a bunch of nifty features to checking accounts. But 72% of Americans have stuck with the same checking account for over five years, according to Finder's Consumer Confidence Index. If your current account is mediocre and burdened with pesky banking fees, explore what else is out there. You'll be surprised by how many banks are now offering free checking accounts loaded with features.

— Alexa Serrano Cruz, CAMS, Lead Editor, Personal Finance.

How to open a checking account

Most banks allow you to open an account online. You’ll typically need a Social Security number or ITIN, a government-issued photo ID, your address and contact information.

Can I open a checking account with no money?

Yes, it’s possible to get a checking account with no money as long as there’s no minimum opening deposit requirement.

Does opening a checking account affect my credit score?

Opening a checking account won’t impact your credit score. Banks and credit unions perform what’s called a “soft pull” when you apply, which doesn’t harm your credit score like a “hard pull” when you apply for a credit card or a loan.

When you apply for a bank account, the bank usually reviews your ChexSystems report, which keeps track of your banking history. Negative entries, such as unpaid overdraft fees, are recorded in the report and may potentially impact your eligibility to open another bank account in the future.

How many checking accounts can I have?

There’s no limit on how many checking accounts you can have, but it’s often recommended to have at least two. Some reasons to open more than one checking account include:

  • You’ve exceeded the typical insured balance of $250,000 in your primary account, so you need to open another account at another bank.
  • You want to split expenses and “fun” funds more efficiently.
  • You travel frequently and need an international account with fewer fees.
  • You have a spouse and need a joint checking account for shared expenses.
  • You want to open a kids’ bank account to teach your child money management skills.

Just remember to keep track of your multiple accounts — especially if there are monthly fees. And if you have more than two, it may be wise to enable push notifications for things like fraud alerts, overdraft warnings or account activity to keep things in order.

Checking vs. savings accounts

Checking and savings accounts are often lumped together, but they have key differences. For starters, nearly every savings account is interest-bearing, while most checking accounts aren’t.

Savings accounts also have withdrawal limits, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s Regulation D, which doesn’t apply to checking accounts. While Regulation D is suspended, most banks and credit unions only allow up to six free monthly transactions per month.

One of the biggest differences between checking and savings accounts is the access to funds. Checking accounts are meant for everyday purchases and come with debit cards. Some savings accounts come with an ATM card, which lets you make ATM withdrawals but not purchases.

Checking accounts are the most common financial product

Checking accounts are almost ubiquitous, with 90% of adults having a checking account.

Bottom line

Of all the bank accounts and products offered by financial institutions, checking accounts are one of the most useful — and often necessary for modern money management. With several types of checking accounts offered, comparing them will help you find the best one that meets your financial goals and needs.

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8 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    AryaJuly 22, 2019

    How can I open a business bank account in us for LLC? I am from India. I want to open remotely, is it possible? I can travel to the USA, if it’s impossible to open physically.

      AvatarFinder
      JhezJuly 23, 2019Finder

      Hi Arya,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You must meet basic eligibility requirements to open a US-based business account:

      -Valid Social Security or tax identification number
      -Valid state-issued ID
      -Valid US address
      -Sole proprietor, if applying online

      Looks like you need to ensure you have the above to open a business bank account. You can also review some tips and guides to open a business bank account.

      Regards,
      Jhezelyn

    Default Gravatar
    jgpingarAugust 28, 2018

    I need to open a checking account in U.S.
    I am a foreig citizen, so I don’t have a Social Security Number.
    What can I do?

      Default Gravatar
      joelmarceloAugust 29, 2018

      Hi there,

      Thanks for leaving a question on Finder.

      If you relocated to the US to work or study, it is possible for you to open a US bank account. As a new arrival to the US, you may find it more difficult to meet the requirements of a bank. You’ll typically need to provide a government-issued ID and a Social Security number as well as proof of your creditworthiness.

      Online banking is an option, but current laws in place to protect against money laundering could prevent you from successfully opening an account. You may find better results by talking directly with a client representative at a bank’s physical branch. You will need to confirm the requirements for the bank you’re interested in as well as gather the documentation necessary. Also, ask about maintenance fees so that you can plan ahead.

      Cheers,
      Joel

    Default Gravatar
    LorenzoAugust 15, 2018

    Want to know what bank would be best for my needs

      AvatarFinder
      JoanneAugust 16, 2018Finder

      Hi Lorenzo,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      Everyone has unique banking needs. Some prefer convenience and flexibility, while others want to earn points on their purchases. One of the great things about bank accounts are they can be a short term commitment.

      Review your needs regularly to see if your bank account still meet your needs.The best bank account will help you manage your finances efficiently and reach your savings goals.

      Learn more about the the different types of bank accounts, their benefits and what you need to consider before opening.

      Cheers,
      Joanne

    Default Gravatar
    StephanieJuly 24, 2018

    I need help with getting me bank account setup

      Default Gravatar
      nikkiangcoJuly 24, 2018

      Hi Stephanie!

      Thanks for getting in touch!

      To open a bank account, you can do this online (by visiting the website of the bank) or you can go directly to the bank’s offie and physically open an account there. May I ask for which bank account this is?

      Looking forward to your reply!

      Nikki

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