Which Banks Still Have Free Checking?

bankKnowing what banks still have free checking is important, especially if you’re working to reduce your monthly expenses. While there are a number of banks (and credit unions) that still offer free checking, I’ve decided to highlight a few that you can utilize no matter where you live.

Before diving into them, let’s take a moment to define free checking. I consider a bank to offer free checking so long as it has the following:

  1. No (or very low) opening balances
  2. No (or very low) minimum monthly balances
  3. Free online bill pay
  4. Earned interest, regardless of your balance

I didn’t concern myself with finding banks that provide free checks – few people actually use traditional, paper-based checks anymore (and if you still do, I strongly encourage you to consider learning to love free online bill pay systems, as they’ll streamline your personal accounting).

Alliant Credit Union Free Checking

Alliant Credit Union has a free checking account with the following features:

  • No service fees
  • No opening balance requirements (open your account with $0)
  • No balance requirements (minimum or maximum)
  • Free VISA Debit Card

The basic, free checking account doesn’t pay any interest at all, so I almost overlooked this account entirely. I eventually found out that you can easily earn up to 0.65% APY by opting out of paper statements and making at least one electronic deposit per month.

Electronic deposits that qualify your account for the upgrade include:

  1. Direct deposits
  2. Payroll deposits
  3. ATM deposits
  4. Transfers from other financial institutions

For most of the readers of this site, it should be no problem to cover the electronic deposit once per month. 0.65% isn’t fantastic, but it sure beats the 0.00% interest most local banks provide customers with their free checking accounts.

Oh, and if it’s important to you, there are 80,000 ATMs free of surcharges throughout the country.

Alliant Credit Union might not be a name you’re familiar with. Unlike many of the accounts that I decided not to detail, they’re a well established financial institution in existence since 1935. They offer plenty of other great services that can be linked up with your free checking account, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s), Health Savings Accounts (HAS), and even Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s).

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account

By now, you’ve probably heard about Ally Bank. They’re a customer-service oriented bank – they openly publish both positive and negative reviews of their accounts from real users right on their website. They’ve got nothing to hide from.

Their Interest Checking Account has the following features:

  • No minimum opening deposit (open your account with $0)
  • No monthly fees for maintenance
  • No account minimums
  • Free MasterCard debit card

The interest rate varies depending on your balance – accounts with less than $15,000 earn 0.4% APY, and those above $15,000 earn 0.75%.

Capital One 360 Checking

ING Direct was recently acquired by Capital One. The transaction took place early in 2012, but the two weren’t officially merged until November, 2012. At that time, the ING Direct Free Checking Account officially became Capital One 360 Checking.

It includes the following FREE stuff (as they like to call it):

  • No minimum opening deposit (open your account with $0)
  • No minimum monthly balance
  • No monthly service fees
  • Free MasterCard Debit Card

You’ll earn 0.20% APY on balances under $50,000. Balance from $50,000 up to $99,999.99 earn 0.80%, and anyone crazy enough to keep more than $100,000.00 in their bank account can earn 0.85%. I’m not a huge fan of Capital One, and compared to both Alliant and Ally, this account is pretty weak.

One thing it does have going for it is the free P2P payments system. You can send money to your friends and family members, fee-free, so long as they have a qualifying account with Capital One. It’s really nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick, designed to help you convince others to open accounts with Capital One.

PNC Virtual Wallet

Okay, this isn’t exactly a checking account. It is, however, one of the most intelligent bank accounts I’ve ever seen. This account doesn’t meet all of the criteria I laid out in the introduction of this article, but it has several features that more than make up for that.

It does feature no monthly fees, no minimum monthly balances, and interest rates.

What makes this account so utterly awesome is simple to understand. It consists of three “virtual accounts” in one – a spending account, a reserve account, and a growth account.

Whenever you use your debit card, online bill pay, or anything else – it comes from your spend account. You can immediately transfer money to your reserve account to help you save up for a rainy day, and money transferred in your growth account earns interest (of course, the rate varies).

As an additional advantage, there are tons of PNC ATMs, just in case you need to use one – but PNC will also reimburse fees charged by other banks, up to $8.

There are lots of other free checking accounts available, and I’d love to hear which are your favorite in the comments below.

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