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Checking accounts: What they are and how to open

Compare checking accounts by fees and features to manage your money.

What is a checking account?

A checking account is a bank 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.

Checking account features

Checking accounts commonly come with:

  • A linked debit card. Usually either Visa or Mastercard.
  • ATM access. Though some accounts will charge a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM.
  • Internet banking. This feature allows you to go online to access your account details and make transactions.
  • Branch access. This feature allows you to process transactions in a bank branch.
  • Checkbook. This feature allows you to make purchases with checks.

Types of checking accounts

You can quickly narrow your search for the right checking account by identifying which features are most important to you. Check out each variant below and compare each checking account option for that type.

Type of checking account


Learn more

Traditional checking accountBased on our experience reviewing and rating more than 110 traditional checking or mobile-based debit accounts, this is our curated list of the best overall picks.
Free checking accountWhen free and easy to use is at the top of your list, these are the accounts to pick from.
Interest checking accountDo more with your checking and earn an annual percentage yield (APY) on the money that’s just sitting there waiting for bills to be paid.
Rewards checking accountEarn points, miles or cash back with every purchase by opening an account that offers special incentives when you spend.Compare accounts
Online checking accountWithout the cost burden of brick-and-mortar branches, online checking accounts can serve your needs without fees.
Second chance checking accountIf you’ve been in trouble with a bank before, these accounts may give you a chance to regain the bank’s trust by improving your credit score.
Business checking accountKeep your business running smoothly with a checking account tailored to the demands of the business world.
Student checking accountPrepare your student for responsible financial management with a checking account for high school and college.
Digital bank accountBank from your smartphone with an app-based account and debit card.

9 factors to consider when comparing checking accounts

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

  1. Minimum deposits. Check if the account has a minimum opening deposit or if you need to meet a minimum ongoing balance to avoid fees.
  2. Monthly fees. Compare the fees various banks charge. Some banks charge if you don’t maintain a minimum balance, while others charge for checks, wire transfers, foreign transactions and out-of-network ATM withdrawals.
  3. Debit card. If your bank issues a debit card, find out how long it will take the bank to replace funds should your card information get stolen. Also, check to see how easy it is to freeze your card and get a replacement if you lose it.
  4. ATM. If you typically need to carry cash, choose a checking account that offers access to a large ATM network and includes reimbursements for out-of-network ATM fees.
  5. Signup bonus. Some banks reward you with a signup bonus when you satisfy certain requirements, such as maintaining a $2,500 minimum balance for 90 days within opening the account. But make sure the account’s features align with your needs before opening an account with a bonus.
  6. International transactions. Larger banks with an international presence can provide you with certain services if you travel overseas, including cash withdrawals at ATMs. Check the fees for international money transfers, overseas purchases and currency conversion when looking at different checking accounts.
  7. Interest-bearing or rewards. While it’s not common for checking accounts to offer interest or rewards, some checking accounts earn perks like cashback bonuses and APY.
  8. Overdraft protection. Different checking accounts have different policies regarding overdrafts and nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees. Some accounts won’t permit transactions that exceed your balance, but others will and charge up to $40 per overdraft.
  9. Early direct deposits. Several online-only accounts offer access to direct deposits up to two days earlier than they would typically land in your account. Some brick-and-mortar banks are beginning to provide this benefit.

Online Bank

Chime Checking account

Go to site
on Chime's secure site

  • $0 monthly fees
  • Paycheck up to 2 days early with direct deposit
  • $0 minimum balance requirements
  • FDIC insured

Traditional Bank

US Bank Smartly Checking

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on US Bank's secure site

  • Send and receive money with Zelle
  • Automated budgeting tools
  • Overdraft protection options
  • FDIC insured

Big cash bonus

BMO Harris Smart Advantage™ Account

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on BMO's secure site

  • $200 bonus after qualifying deposits
  • $0 monthly fee
  • Large $0 fee ATM network
  • No minimum balance
  • Member FDIC

5 most common checking account fees

There are over 30 bank fees you may encounter while managing your money, but here are the five most common:

  1. Monthly fee. The basic recurring charge to keep the account open. Not all checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee, and some banks will waive it when you meet certain minimum deposit requirements.
  2. Overdraft fee. The penalty amount if you spend more money than the available balance in your account. Typical overdraft fees can cost up to nearly $40.
  3. ATM fee. The small fee for using an ATM not included in your bank’s network. ATM fees vary from country to country, but most in the US cost less than $3.
  4. Foreign transaction fee. The amount, usually a percentage, of a debit card purchase made overseas. While some checking accounts don’t charge at all, others can tack on as much as 3% of your purchase for using your card outside the US.
  5. Account closure fee. Most banks will charge you a fee of $25 or so if you close your account within 90 to 180 days of opening.

Can I open a checking account online?

Yes, most banks will allow you to open an account online. To get started, visit the website of the bank you’re interested in, navigate to the application page and follow the onscreen prompts.

If you handled an account poorly in the past that led to its closure, check your specific state laws regarding forced closed accounts. Some state laws restrict you from opening a new account for a period of time. This may require you to opt for non-bank alternatives, like prepaid cards, for a while.

What do you need to open a checking account?

To open a checking account, you typically need the following:

  1. US address
  2. Social Security number or ITIN
  3. Government-issued photo ID
  4. Phone number
  5. Email address
  6. Opening deposit

Can I open a checking account with no money?

Yes, it’s possible to sign up for a checking account without funding it. As long as the account doesn’t have a minimum opening deposit, you can open an account and add cash whenever you’re ready.

How often should I monitor my checking account?

You should monitor your checking account at least once a week. This will help you keep track of your spending, avoid bank fees and spot any fraudulent transactions you may need to report to your bank.

Checking guides

Read more on this topic

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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 Customer Care
      JhezJuly 23, 2019Staff

      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.


    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.


    Default Gravatar
    LorenzoAugust 15, 2018

    Want to know what bank would be best for my needs

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoanneAugust 16, 2018Staff

      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.


    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!


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