How to choose a bank account that’s right for you

Knowing what to look for will help you find an account that fits.

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Bank accounts come with a lot of jargon. Learning to sort through and compare them can keep you from getting stuck with an account that doesn’t work for your needs.

Is there more than one type of bank account?

In the US, there are generally two main types of bank accounts: checking accounts and savings accounts.

Checking accounts
Savings accounts

Checking accounts

A checking account is available for frequent and immediate access and is most commonly used as an everyday account. If you want to purchase something, you would typically use this type of account. They 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.

Top 10 factors to consider when choosing an everyday checking account

  1. Fees. Are there any monthly fees?
  2. ATM access. Does your bank have a large number of ATMs?
  3. Branches. If you prefer to bank in person, does your bank have a national network of branches?
  4. Special account needs. If you’re a student, look for a bank that offers fee-free student accounts.
  5. Eligibility criteria. You’ll typically need to be 18 years or older to open an independent bank account. Other eligibility requirements may include US citizenship or permanent residency.
  6. Currency conversion fees. Look into how much it’ll cost to use your debit card overseas.
  7. Minimum deposits. Check if the account has a minimum opening deposit or if you need to meet a minimum ongoing balance to avoid fees.
  8. Debit card access. Look into what kind of debit card the bank offers and how easy it is to freeze your account and get a replacement if you lose yours.
  9. Bonus offers. Some bank accounts offer a cash bonus when you sign up. But don’t get an account just because of a freebie — look into all of the other features first.
  10. Earning capabilities. Some checking accounts earn cashback bonuses or even interest.

It’s OK if you don’t find the bank you want right away. It may take some time to sort through all the features of different banks, but it’s worth it to find the account that’s the perfect fit.

How do I open a checking account?

Most banks will allow you to open an account online. You’ll need to supply your personal information, including Social Security number, and a government ID.

To get started, visit the website of the bank you’re interested in, navigate to the application page and follow the onscreen prompts. When your application has been processed and approved, you’ll be notified and given the details of your new account so that you can transfer money into it.

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What are some of the best checking accounts?

The best checking account is the one that fits your needs, and every person will have a different best account. Our top picks include:

Aspiration Spend & Save Account

This interest-earning account operates like a checking account so you can grow your money while managing your day-to-day expenses.

  • No overdraft or foreign transaction fees
  • Up to 1% APY
  • 10% of the company’s earnings go to charity

BBVA Online Checking

This account lets you earn cashback rewards on your everyday purchases.

  • No monthly fees
  • 56,000 ATMs worldwide
  • Enrollment in the ClearBenefits program, which offers roadside assistance, cell phone protection and identity theft protection

Compare more checking accounts

Name Product APY ATMs Fee
BBVA Online Checking
No ATM fees nationwide at more than 64,000 AllPoint, participating 7-Eleven and BBVA USA ATMs
A full-service account with convenient, surcharge-free access to two massive ATM networks
Axos Bank Rewards Checking
1.25% on balances of $0+ with $1,000+ in direct deposits, 10 $3+ debit card transactions and 5 additional account transactions per month
ATM fees reimbursed at any ATM nationwide
Earn up to 1.25% APY while enjoying a suite of digital tools for smarter money management.
HSBC Advance Checking
0.01% on balances of $5+
Surcharge-free HSBC ATMs nationally and internationally, plus up to four rebates a month for using non-HSBC ATMs in all US states except New York
(can be waived)
Earn 2% cash back on qualifying direct deposits (up to $30 per month and $350 total during the first 12 months) with a new HSBC Advance Checking account. Offer ends March 29, 2020. Conditions apply. Deposit products are offered in the US by HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Member FDIC.

Compare up to 4 providers

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Savings accounts

These accounts earn interest to help you save. Most also put restrictions on your withdrawals, which can give you motivation to save — but the fees can also eat into your savings if you make too many withdrawals.

To find the account that’s the best fit, compare based on:

  • Interest rate. Even a small difference in interest rate can start to add up over time.
  • Minimum and maximum account balances. Not every account will be the right fit for the nest egg you’re tucking away.
  • Ongoing fees. Check what fees you’ll need to pay, and if fees can be waived by meeting certain account requirements.
  • Account requirements. Some savings accounts will require a linked checking account. Credit union accounts can require you to work at a specific place, live in a specific area or meet other membership requirements.

What are some of the best savings accounts?

The best savings account is the one that fits your needs, and every person will have a different best account. Our top picks include:

American Express® Personal Savings High Yield Savings

American Express is known for offering round-the-clock customer support, making this account a good fit for someone who wants access to help when they need it.

  • 1.7% APY
  • No monthly fee
  • No minimum balance

CIT Bank Savings Builder High Yield Savings Account

This account earns high interest rates, but only if you have a minimum balance of $25,000 or transfer in at least $100 a month, making it a top choice for serious savers.

  • 1.75% APY
  • No monthly fees
  • Can be linked to up to 10 external accounts

Compare more savings accounts

Name Product Interest rate (APY) Fee Minimum deposit to open
Barclays Online Savings
Earn 20x the national savings account average with no fees or minimums.
American Express® Personal Savings High Yield Savings
Enjoy no monthly fees and a competitive APY with this online-only savings account. Accounts offered by American Express National Bank, Member FDIC.
CIT Bank Savings Builder High Yield Savings Account
Special offer: up to $300 sign up bonus. Commit to saving $100 a month and watch your savings stack up at 1.75% APY.

Compare up to 4 providers

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What are the downsides of savings accounts?

These accounts can help you save, but there are downsides, too.

  • Variable interest rates. If your account has a variable interest rate, your APY could drop in the future — but it could also rise. Interest rates on variable accounts are influence by the economy and the Federal Reserve rate.
  • Withdrawal limitations. If you make more than six withdrawals per month, you could be charged fees.
  • Watch out for introductory rates. Some accounts offer a higher interest rate for an introductory period. If you sign up for one of these accounts, check what your long-term interest rate will be.

Compare checking vs. savings accounts

What are the other types of savings accounts?

Online savings accounts are popular because they’re convenient. You can make your deposits from the comfort of your living room. These accounts typically offer competitive interest rates due to the lower overheads associated with online-based institutions.

Encouraging children to start saving early can greatly benefit their financial habits in the future. Many banks offer savings accounts specifically for children. Most require a parent or guardian to open the account on behalf of the child or as a joint account holder.

Money market accounts tend to offer higher rate than traditional savings accounts, but may also require a higher deposit. Some operate like investment accounts, giving you more options for managing your money.

  • Retirement accounts

These can include 401(k) accounts, traditional or Roth IRAs or any other account with the main purpose of saving for retirement.

These are savings accounts that you generally can’t access until November. They generally don’t offer high interest rates, but can be a useful way to set money aside for the holidays.

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Bottom line

If you’re looking for a new place to bank, it’s worth taking the time to compare savings accounts or checking accounts to find one that’s the perfect fit. To avoid any nasty surprises, read all the fine print before signing up for a new account.

How did we choose the best accounts?

With so many checking and savings accounts out there to choose from, we narrowed down the options to just a few of the best by considering the key factors we highlighted in each section. That meant digging into account details like interest rates, fees, initial deposit and ongoing balance minimums, signup bonuses and ATM or debit card capabilities.

Frequently asked questions

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