There are likely three times in your life when you are going to look for a checking account. One, you've never had a checking account and you've decided you want to get one. Two, you have a checking account and you want another one. And three, you have a checking account you don't like and you want to shop for something that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out.
Regardless of which of these best describes you, let's see what we can do to help you find the best checking account to fit your needs.
What's best for you depends on your spending behaviors, how much money you like to keep on hand, and how you prefer to move your money. It may depend on whether you have a joint account with someone else, whether you are opening a business account, and if you want this account to be your primary, go-to account.
Let's take a look at what will best fit your needs, align with your values, and simplify your finances to find the best checking account for you.
Why do you need a checking account?
If you're looking to open your first checking account, kudos to you for taking the time to do a little research. If you feel like you have the gist of how a checking account functions, we can skip past the basic guide to checking accounts and start with the first round of questions.
Question 1: Are you looking for a place to deposit your paycheck? If this will be the primary account you use to manage money, pay bills, and buy everyday items, it makes sense to enroll in direct deposit. Just about every checking account allows direct deposit, as well as bill pay services, a debit card, and money sending services.
Question 2: Do you consider yourself tech savvy? Don't sweat it if you're not, because most mobile banking apps are designed to make managing your money easy. There are always online options, too, and they sometimes even include additional features you may not even realize you'd like to have. We'll come back to these.
More to the point is whether you plan to use paper checks or a debit card? Are you the kind of person who never carries cash? This may help you narrow down what type of checking account and what functionality you're most likely to use. Plenty of people still write checks (crazy idea for a checking account, right?), and that's great, because everyone should have their needs met regardless of how you choose to move money!
Question 3: Do you already have a savings account that you utilize? Keep in mind, it's not required. You might think checking and savings go hand-in-hand, and they often do — but not always. If this is not your primary checking account, it doesn't matter as much. If this is your personal checking account (not for your business), it might matter a lot.
If you already have a savings account at the same place where your parents bank and you love it, great. If you want to find something closer to where you live, it's okay to change financial institutions. Keep in mind that many local banks and credit unions have systems set up to allow you to access your money without being right around the corner, so you might want to stick with what you already know, even if it isn't right around the corner from you.
Question 4: How many fees do you like to pay? Obvious answer: none! There are plenty of options that will charge you fees, and sometimes those are unavoidable, especially if you are shopping for a business checking account with high-dollar transactions, employee payroll, and professional services. But for personal use, it’s possible to find checking accounts with no sign-up fees, and even checking accounts that pay you. (Read on!)
Your primary financial institution
f your new checking account will be at your primary financial institution, or PFI, then you might want to take a close look at the PFI as much as you check out the account itself.
You can deposit money, withdraw money, transfer money, and control your money through any checking account.
Having a debit card or checks are usually options, but not always.
Digital banking, whether online or mobile, will be an option.
Connecting to your savings account will be an option.
Finding an account that doesn't charge you fees isn't always a given, but fee-free checking and even rewards checking are easy to find if that's your highest priority.
What really matters is how responsive your PFI is to your specific needs and wants. Don't overlook this aspect of your search for the best checking account. How easy is it to get a replacement debit card when you lose yours? Who can answer your questions about a transaction error? A PFI that covers those bases is the best place to open a checking account.
The features you expect
Today, online and mobile banking are the most common requests for people looking to open a new account. Almost all banks and credit unions have these offerings. The big difference between one app and another is what features are offered. Can you check your balance, transfer money, pay bills, make a mobile deposit, and view your e-statements?
What features you want on your banking app may be similar to those you want from your PFI. You may want the ability to set up alerts when money is deposited or debited from your account. You may want to complete the whole account opening process online. You may want to be able to apply for a credit card and connect it to your checking account.
While all of these features are available at a variety of banks and credit unions, identifying what products and services are most important to you will help you narrow down what kind of checking account you want. If you only open a new account once every five or ten years, it may not be important that the website offers an online account opening process. But if you have an uncle overseas who occasionally sends money via wire transfer, it would be much easier if the process is automated and easy for both of you.
The technology you want
This isn't an either/or option. You can have the tech features you want and quality customer service.
Personal service may not be one of your top considerations. You may just want your account connected to your phone and other money apps, and for every outgoing payment to be virtual so you never have to handle cash. That's definitely an option, especially with a neobank. You may never have to speak with anyone in customer service, or ever carry a debit card. But it’s nice to have the option in case the app isn’t working, or you don’t see your mobile deposit showing up.
A traditional financial institution may still allow you to connect to other money apps. It's not uncommon over time for individuals to find themselves with oodles of accounts tied to a variety of apps and websites. In fact, even many neobanks are just fintech services with a more traditional bank managing the money in the background. That's handy because it offers the protections and security of a traditional financial institution.
For right now, you might just be looking for a bank account with an easy-to-use app, not a long-term banking relationship. Keep in mind that when you prioritize tech over personalized service, you may end up doing business with companies who do not have a stake in your financial success. And your financial wellness should take priority when making your decisions.
Spending and saving solutions
If you are considering opening a new savings account at the same time as a checking account, you should consider the purpose of the savings account in conjunction with your checking account. If you already have a savings account, you may not want or need another. However, if you plan on your new checking account being your primary source of spending, then having a linked savings account adds several benefits.
A savings account is a place to keep your money and let it accumulate. When it’s linked to your checking account, it can make saving money easier: just a quick transfer from one account to another and you've boosted your savings balance.
That flow of money works both ways. If you suddenly find your checking balance lower than you anticipated, your savings account can be a quick source of money to cover any shortfalls. Having a source of overdraft protection isn't necessary if you carry a significant balance in your checking account, but it can be a lifeline if you prefer to keep your checking balance low and put as much into your savings goals.
A savings account is also a great place to stash your emergency fund, so that if you ever find yourself in a pinch you have access to the funds you need. It's not a requirement to have both checking and savings accounts, but the more spending you plan to do from your new checking account, the bigger the benefit of having some of your savings closely joined.
Fewer fees and more rewards
While no one likes to pay a fee, bank fees are designed to encourage account holders to manage money effectively. Many financial institutions may charge a fee to receive a printed statement, but if you enroll in the option to view your statements electronically, you can download and print them yourself and eliminate that fee.
On the flip side, there are fees that you can avoid paying, like monthly maintenance fees. You can easily find a free checking account and eliminate that fee altogether. That monthly fee might be necessary if you are specifically looking at a business checking account, but for a personal checking account, you can easily dodge that monthly expense.
There are checking accounts that require a minimum balance to avoid a fee. Why? If your business matters to a bank or credit union, you should not have to meet a minimum balance requirement in order to deposit, access, or transfer your own money. Again, business checking accounts are the exception, but any personal checking or savings account that penalizes you for accessing your own money can be avoided.
Another common fee is a charge when you use an ATM outside your bank or credit union's network. Wherever you choose to open an account, you are at the whim of whatever financial institution owns the ATM where you withdraw money. But if you can find a checking account that will refund those ATM fees, that's another fee eliminated.
At Kasasa, we believe fee-free checking should be something to aim for. In fact, your checking account could be paying you.
Any personal checking account will have an interest rate, a percentage of your balance that the financial institution deposits in your account every so often (usually on a monthly basis). This interest (sometimes called a dividend) can be anywhere from a few cents to big bucks, depending on your balance.
Interest checking does not usually have as high an APY as a savings account, but you can find checking accounts that offer rates that are competitive. The requirement is to keep enough of a balance in your checking account to earn interest. If this sounds like your plan — to keep a healthy balance in your checking account — look for an account that will reward you for that effort.
In addition to looking for checking counts with a higher interest rate, also keep an eye out for accounts that offer cash back rewards.
Checking accounts with cash rewards (like Kasasa Cash Back®, for example!) may require you to use your debit card a set number of times each month and log in to your online account or mobile app. You might need to request e-statements or include direct deposit. Look at the fine print, but be advised that credit card-style cash back checking accounts are out there waiting for you.
Making your choice
If you're looking to open your first checking account, you have a wide range of choices available to you. Consider which features you want and your personal banking needs as your top priorities.
If you want to open an additional checking account, it's worth considering what you want that your current account isn't providing. Start with that wish list to find the best choice for you.
If you've decided it's time for a better way to improve your financial wellness and find a checking account (and a financial institution) that aligns with what is important to you, there are plenty of options for you to make the switch. Kasasa is biased: we work exclusively with community banks and credit unions because we think they provide something the megabanks and neobanks can't touch: direct economic support for the community where you live.